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Canadian Healthcare: The Dream becoming a Nightmare.         (June 12, 2015)

 

We were not surprised to see , in yesterday’s National Post, an account of a long wait in an Ontario Hospital Emergency Room.

An Ottawa man, Lee Parker, arrived on a Tuesday morning around 2:00 a.m. at a local hospital. Tests showed that he should be admitted, but a bed did not become available until Thursday afternoon.

We are not surprised simply because, in principle, a "free" but compulsory government operated system must inevitably succumb to the failure of all such "command economy" approaches to the allocation of resources.

We submitted the following commentary (minor changes have been made) to the online edition of the National Post. 

People always like to think that something can be had for nothing. But "free" lunches often turn out to be more expensive than advertised.

In fact, the price of "security" is usually liberty.

In Canada, the government promises the security of health care for all – a single-tier universal system.

But the cost is measured in two related areas of restriction.

The first is that citizens can obtain only that care which the government sees fit to provide, at the pace which the government deems appropriate.

The restrictive nature of the system is further emphasized by the fact that the alternative of a private system based on private insurance is not available.

Finally – and this is most galling – there is the egalitarian appeal – the pretense that the system is "single tier."

In fact, there is always some factor which influences the allocation of a scarce resource. If it can’t be money, then it is membership in a favoured group, or power, or influence.

Thus those on sports teams, clients of Workers’ Compensation Boards, those in the system, those of prominence, and those who know the right people represent different "tiers" in the hierarchy.

At its core, it’s just another socialist experiment. The track record of socialism is somewhat less than stellar -- but socialist promises always sound better than obdurate facts.

Einstein was correct --"Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

The Canadian Health care System , as we have suggested, is doomed to fail because it falls into the socialist trap – the belief that market forces are the winds of evil, and that they can be replaced with the kinder, gentler breezes of centralized government planning.

Indeed, the Canadian Health Care System draws attention to a central and enduring conflict in any human civilization.

There are two great and opposing truths.

The first truth is that the nature of reality is cruel, competitive, and unfair. Human beings – or any other animal species -- would not exist without the reality of blind, ceaseless striving, and triumph of the fittest. Evolution is a constant process of experiment: variations – like suggestions – are submitted to the environment. Those that work, that improve survival, are selected; those that do not are dismissed without qualm. No regrets are expressed; no tears are shed.

 

Nature is indeed, as Tennyson observed, "red in tooth and claw."

Our own Observation #8 points to the necessity of competition and inequality:

If, in the interests of an ideal circumstance, single-celled organisms had chosen equality as the ultimate good, then the present population of the world would consist entirely of single-celled organisms.

The second great truth is that civilization depends also on co-operation. Competition benefits from some degree of restriction.

The problem is the determination of that "degree." What is the best melding of competition and co-operation?

And here we have the great difficulty.

Co-operation, we would argue, is the child of human imagination.

Human beings have a wonderful capacity to imagine realities different from what exists. Thus it is not simply competition which is the spur to progress, but also the capacity to imagine improvements.

The tendency is, unfortunately, to imagine states which are simply inconsistent with the underlying reality. The world of the imagination is full of silk purses wondrously fashioned from sows’ ears.

Thus, a religious conception of the afterlife suggests perfect peace, rest, and joy. Gone are the anguish of struggle, the burden of uncertainty, the shock of disappointment. Playing the harp, praising God, and luxuriating in the balm of milk and the taste of honey – these are the perfect rewards of Paradise.

They are, of course, hopelessly boring and utterly impossible.

Similar, however, is the socialist paradise on earth. There is a wonderful brotherhood in equality, where goods and services are provided – for free – by the collective. Banished forever are the anguish of struggle, the burden of uncertainty, the shock of disappointment.

It is, of course, hopelessly boring and utterly impossible.

Like Einstein, Aldous Huxley was also correct. He said: "Dream in a pragmatic way."

That is the challenge. That is the difficulty.

The Canadian Health Care System is a socialist dream which can only become a nightmare.

For most citizens, the play of market forces – a private system based, when necessary, on private insurance – is the best means of allocating resources. This is how food is provided, and how houses are repaired after a fire.

Compassion – co-operation – require that market forces not be given full rein. A co-operative government system should be provided for those unable to compete in the market place.

The perfect melding of competition and co-operation may be elusive.

But the first step is to recognize that only pragmatic dreams should ever be considered; the socialist ones really don't work.

 

 

 

 

Some Reflections on Mankind    (April 9, 2015)

 

What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an Angel! in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals! (Hamlet)

We recently had occasion to submit a brief letter to the National Post for consideration to be published under the title: "Belief in God." The stipulation for entries was that they not exceed one hundred words in length. We immediately recalled the dear old days – sometime before the occasion of the Flood -- when students were asked, as part of the regular high school courses in English, to make a precis of each of a series of prose passages. This is a wonderful exercise in the use of language, for it enforces a great economy of expression and requires a discipline in thought.

Since religion is one of our greatest interests, and since it is our natural tendency to ramble on at length, we thought it a wonderful challenge to express our views on a large topic in very few words. Thus our final letter was the result of a very considered and careful choice of words.

Our letter was, indeed, published, but three crucial words were missing. It was as if we had submitted an entry in a magazine-sponsored limerick contest,  had won the third prize, and had our work published in the magazine, encircled with a bronze ribbon –only to discover that the rhymes of the third and fourth lines in our limerick had been altered by the editor.

What was the point of soliciting limericks, awarding prizes, and then altering the winning entries according to the whims of the editor? Why did not the editor simply write his own limericks and win all three prizes?

Similarly with our letter. If the editor thought it deficient, and in need of editing, why did he simply not choose another of the many submissions?  Or write his own -- instead of engaging in arrogant tinkering.

Now –we have admitted that we tend to write too much. It will perhaps, then, not come as too great a shock to the reader that the foregoing is merely an introduction to our real topic: Reflections on Mankind.

For, you see, once one has expressed, as succinctly as possible, one’s views on God, one seems drawn, ineluctably, to consider one’s views on mankind. The subject seems particularly attractive just now -- in that there is no foolish and arbitrary limit placed on the length of our ramblings.

Once one has dismissed the conventional views of God – those suppositions about a powerful, meddling, and at least partially benevolent Deity – one is left with three great mysteries – the origin of everything (or to put it minimally: anything) – the emergence of animate from inanimate matter – and the noble piece of work that is man.

Elsewhere we have concluded that the idea of "something" coming from "nothing" is an illusory concept – the term "nothing" used in the sense of complete nothingness is entirely theoretical – much like the blue-horned unicorn. It is a creation of language which has no relation to reality. Put another way – reality involves somethingness. The human brain is rooted in somethingness, and to say that "something" came out of "nothing" is not a comprehensible statement. Somethingness cannot conceive of its absence, or of its arising out of that absence.

Thus we will content ourselves – somewhat uneasily, we must admit – with the notion that something has always existed.* And to ask what was there before that something is a quick route to insanity. The answer "God" is no good at all – for the question remains: "Where did God come from?"

With respect to the emergence of animate from inanimate matter – we shall just say that we expect that scientists will eventually be able to explain the mechanism. Simply saying that God did it is a wimpish cop-out. We prefer our universes to be self-regulating and self-evolving, thank you very much. Running to God all the time suggests a huge immaturity – and a lack of backbone.

The fact that animate matter acquires sentience, and that sentience can develop into such varied forms is quite extraordinary. Many see this as the result of God, the conjurer. But this idea is very much at odds with the usual notion that God is benevolent – since the world of sentient creatures is very predatory, and predatory in ways that are simply inconsistent with any view but that God is a sadist.** And, quite probably, a sadist with bad breath and one eye in the middle of his scaly forehead.

A more reasonable explanation is that evolution proceeds by experiment: what works is preserved, what fails is rejected. Thus there is a certain truth in Alexander Pope’s phrase, "Whatever is, is right." The "right" has no moral component; it simply refers to workability.

The same argument must apply to mankind. The human brain is extraordinary, and is a testament to the innate capacities of the universe. The fact that it exists is proof of the marvellousness of matter. Indeed, this is why we tend to see --like Spinoza -- "God" as "the universe." As we have said elsewhere:

 

Divinity is not enthroned above, in a heaven amid the stars, but in ourselves, the dust of stars which encodes and reflects the creativity and the imagination of the universe. (Observation #130)

In olden days, it was considered that man was a creation between beast and angel. It is easy to understand why this was thought to be so. Man is an animal, but a very intelligent one, able to conceive of worlds better than the one he inhabits. Man’s cortex has developed in response to the need to solve the problems presented by adverse conditions. Like evolution itself, it develops through a process of experimental playfulness. Ideas are conceived, and tested against reality. Those that work are adopted; those that fail are, eventually, rejected.

We say "eventually" for man’s persistent idealism is a constant topic in these pages. Man would like to live in a world of equality and perfection. But reality provides only struggle, and the inequality of winners and losers. While idealism is necessary for advancement, it resists – by its nature -- reasonable limits. Angelic conceptions usually founder on the devilish details of the real world.

Thus it can be argued that man is involved in a constant, unresolvable battle with reality.

And besides the cortex, there is the primitive reptilian brain, the diencephalon. Whether there is such a thing as "free will" – as obvious as it may appear to be – is questionable. It is our understanding that it has been shown that decisions are made by the unconscious mind – some mix of experience and automatic forces – before the "I" comes to its conclusions. 

Thus man's angelic and bestial elements may be considered reflections of different parts of the brain.

Finally, it has been noted that our search for signals from other intelligent life in the universe has been, thus far, unsuccessful. The argument is, of course, that with billions of suns and billions of planets, someone, somewhere, must be capable of sending radio waves to say "hello."

On the other hand, we would note that our own planet has produced many forms of life, but only one that has discovered radio waves. It appears that man – and man’s brain – has developed in symbiotic relationship with the planet, its plants, and other animals.

On the whole, this development seems to have been a chancy proposition. Life has been destroyed or nearly destroyed many times.*** If the sweep of a butterfly wing can cause a tornado, consider how an alteration in the least element might have resulted in mankind simply not having developed, or developed into a creature with neither language nor an awareness of radio waves.

The most well known argument is that, had the dinosaurs not been wiped out sixty-five million years ago, mammals would never have had a chance to develop. In other words, mammals should express constant gratitude to the vagaries of an asteroid which decided to land in the Yucatan peninsula at an appropriate, felicitous time.

The other day – via radio waves – we heard a theory being advanced that homo sapiens competed the Neanderthals into extinction because they domesticated wolves, and cooperated with them in the killing and securing of prey.

Suppose the wolves had preferred Neanderthals? Would the Neanderthals have the CBC?

Thus, while it seems very likely that there is life elsewhere in the universe, it may well be that the precise conditions which have led to a form of life able to create radio waves are rather unlikely: the intelligence of homo sapiens may be extremely rare, or unique.

Also, it may not last very long.  Perhaps the intelligence that creates radio waves runs into other difficulties. Animals are predatory -- perhaps necessarily so -- and technology may simply increase predatory efficiency.  Perhaps very intelligent life always blows itself up after a couple of centuries of technological advancement. The radio waves are sent -- but they are a transitory, unnoticeable blip.

Just to be cheerful, we suspect that all species have their Achilles’ Heel, or contain the seeds of their own destruction. Before the date of the sun's final barbecue, mankind may well have engineered, one way or another, its own demise.

In the meantime, homo sapiens will continue to be caught between the ideal and the real, between the cortex and the diencephalon, and between dreams of God, and the acceptance of an imperfect and inegalitarian world.

The concept of God may be a comfy blanket, but there are grave consequences to confusing hope with reality – especially when the hopeful insist that everyone else share their confusion.

Perhaps the worst immediate danger we face is the conviction of those who think that God is on their side, and that He approves and expects the destruction of unbelievers. If the worst happens, it will be because of the triumph of idealism over seeing things as they are.

                                                                 *****

*We recently saw a science program which stated that something arose from nothing. The problem is that this explanation -- and the only alternative -- the idea that something always existed -- are both absurd.

**I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created parasitic wasps with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars. (Charles Darwin)

*** Richard E. Leakey, The Sixth Extinction

 

 

Lumpenbangen Piano Institute Significant Announcement    (April 5, 2015)

 

We think it fitting to announce the semi-retirement of the Serviceable Six.

This vehicle, a 2001 Ford Econoline 150 was purchased in 2009 for fifty-three hundred dollars. It had achieved a recorded distance of about eighty-three thousand kilometres in commercial service. It was employed as a Tim Horton’s delivery vehicle in St. Catharines.

A further sum was spent on a straightening of minor dents and scratches suffered in the delivery wars. A new coat of white paint was then applied, for a total expenditure of nineteen hundred dollars in a beautification protocol.

Dr. Dreimer himself constructed a barrier between the seating and cargo areas, with moveable panels of clear plastic to allow for visibility via the rear-view mirror, and to permit the loading of lumber up to a length of sixteen feet.

The serviceable six has been a faithful and loyal functionary for the Institute for the last six years.

It has not been perfect; perfection is not attainable in the real world. It has required occasional surgery for front end parts, and brakes; it had a famous encounter with predatory emergency personnel at a Canadian Tire Facility during which an ailing coil was replaced.*

There have been occasional failures to show up for work: this past summer, a starter motor attack placed it in an ignominiously towable condition; later, a water-pump failure did not result in towability, but caused a period of intense anxiety. On one occasion – we cannot remember the date -- it erupted in a cloud of angry steam. However, no permanent mental impairment was discovered; rather, a coolant hose had succumbed to heat and pressure, and a transplant was easily effected.

All in all, the Serviceable Six has been all that its name implies, hauling lumber, drywall and bags of concrete, delivering firewood, transporting doors and patio sets, and removing trash to garbage dumps with admirable efficiency.

Perhaps as a result, it has become the regular Lumpenbangen vehicle of choice except on those occasions where extra passenger accommodation has been required.

However, we must note that while the Six has maintained its physical capabilities, it has not escaped the inevitable signs of age. It has submitted to a yearly oil massage, but has expressed a disinterest in regular bathing. Secure in its masculine functionality, it has not sought cosmetic enhancements, spa treatments, or wrinkle reduction procedures.

It has been regarded as a utilitarian adjunct; it has not been pampered or fussed over. Lumber has scratched the dashboard; the cloth seats wear grime as a badge of long and dusty service.

Despite the annual oil massage, tentative signs of oxidization have become the tell-tale liver spots of its advancing years.

 

Dr. Dreimer has become aware that, in whatever parking lot the Serviceable Six is placed, it sends plaintive signals of weariness and neglect. It points an accusing finger to proclaim poverty, indifference, or both. It suggests a condition of dire indigence, or a moral lapse of compassionate care.

In short, while it continues to function, it has become an embarrassment. It is no longer an appropriate ambassador for the standards and principles embodied by the Lumpenbangen Institute.

Now, it is true that the Institute also has, on call, the Geezermobile Eight.** However, the Geezermobile has now reached the age of twenty-seven. It is not driven in winter, and, in terms of fuel efficiency and vulnerability to reduced availability of parts, it might not be the best choice for a trip to Florida.

Accordingly, Dr. Dreimer has authorized the expenditure of a vast sum – indeed a palpitation-promoting, sweaty-palm-making, vertigo-inducing amount for the acquisition of another vehicle.

Delivery of a 2012 GMC Terrain is expected shortly. It has the advantages of being relatively fuel efficient, and has an excellent reliability rating. Most importantly of all, it eschews the "dart profile" of so many modern vehicles.

We confess we have become obsessed with the perversity and aesthetic failures of the age as shown in automobile design. Vehicles suggest the frightened scuttling of insects, or the suicidal impulse to confront the pavement directly ahead. They have swoopy loopy curves which are fantastical and feminine. We have made it a principle that we will never own a vehicle which suggests that we are suicidal, frightened, or aesthetically numbed.***

The 2012 GMC Terrain has a square, truck-like masculinity. True, it has a very slight downward slope at the window line, but this is countered by an overall sense of stockiness which has all wheels planted firmly on the ground.

It cannot, of course, be a complete replacement for the Serviceable Six. However, it will serve as the regular Lumpenbangen Vehicle, an appropriate representative of the Institute in the parking lot at Wal-Mart, at Food Basics, or at the Deep Discount Centre.

The Serviceable Six will be called upon for those journeys which require hauling and lugging of large objects and heaps of stuff. When driving it, Dr. Dreimer will wear the full Burka in order not to attract attention, and, through a modest anonymity, help to avoid damage to the reputation of the Institute.

 

*See Drivel, February 27, 2010

**Lincoln Town Car.

*** We would note that some recent vehicles suggest some return to sanity. We have seen depictions of a Lincoln Continental Concept car, a Cadillac CT6, a Chevrolet Malibu, and a Chrysler 200 – all of which suggest that the era of madness-in-design may be approaching its long overdue demise.

 

 


 

Conrad Black and the Atheists – Again  (March 29, 2015)

We see that Mr. Black has responded to his "atheist critics" (see below) in the March 28th edition of the National Post.

In this piece, Mr. Black, once again, cannot resist the refuge of reference to the mathematical professor, John Lennox, whose scientific credentials are held aloft as a talisman of intellectual rigour. This is done, we suspect, in the hope that they may serve as a potent -- perhaps magical -- force to counter the satanic promptings of atheistic doubt.

Indeed, perhaps not surprisingly – among believers – reference to authority is seen as a convenient substitute for argument. Thus Mr Black also refers to Bismarck, Darwin,* Einstein, Napoleon, Shakespeare, and Lincoln -- as believers. The general idea seems to be that we common folk should not attempt to use our lamentable excuses for brains; we should tip our hats, genuflect, and bow to the superior insights of our betters.

Enough already!

We admit that we are one of the common folk. Our eyes are set just slightly too far apart to suggest intelligence. Our jaw is somewhat slack, and there is, alas, a drop of drool threatening to fall embarrassingly -- revealingly -- from our chin. The wizardry of Professor Lennox can make the unbelievable disappear with an algorithmic equation; Mr. Black can batter it into submission with thunderous incantations of multisyllabic nonsense.

We, however, are always left with the simple questions that a ten-year-old child might ask. Just as one example – we imagine how all this saving business started out:

 

Jesus Saves

 (In which the arbitrary, unfair, and absurd nature of a basic Christian premise is revealed.)

Scene: Heaven. A typically cloudless day. Some angels are strumming on harps. Others are playing croquet. God is seated on his throne, clasping a telescope, and peering down towards the Earth; he seems mightily disturbed. He mutters, mumbles, and sighs. Under his breath, he exclaims: "Jesus! Holy Jesus!" Finally, as if in disgust, he calls to stage right:

God: Jesus! Hey Jesus!

Jesus: (entering from stage right, holding a croquet mallet) What’s up, Dad?

God: Y’know–this human race thing isn’t working out. Bloody wars, selfishness, envy, ambition, greed, gluttony, fornication and I don’t know what all. Mebbe something wrong with the formula. Mebbe not. Anyway, I want you to go down there and save them.

Jesus: What does that mean?

God: O.K. Here’s how I got it figured: you go down there and get born as a human being, and spread my word. Those that believe in you get to come up here after they die – I figure they might be kinda useful what with the way Heaven is expanding. We’re gonna need a lotta harpists and Croquet Leagues. I think the Arcularis Avengers need some real competition for a change.

Jesus: O.K. How long’s the gig?

God: Not to worry. We’ll have you outta there in no time – a bit of unpleasantness, a kind of – er –  crucial event – and you’ll be back in time for the Finals.

Jesus: (a bit tentative) Oh. But I will be coming back here...I’d hate to miss the Finals?

God: Have I ever lied to you before?

Jesus: No, of course not Dad. And of course I’d be glad to do my bit to save mankind. But what about all the people alive now – I mean before I go down and spread the word – they can’t exactly believe in me, can they?

God: No, they sure as hell can’t.

Jesus: So what happens to them – all those generations and generations of human beings trying to make ends meet, doing the best they can under all that rotten Earth development stuff: volcanoes, floods, earthquakes, tectonic plate shifting, and asteroid bombardment?

God: Son, it’s a tough world. That was the past. Screw them.

Jesus: Hey! Whatever, Dad. You’re the Boss!
 

(From Dr. Dreimer’s Drivel, April 12, 2011)

 

*In fact, one of our favourite quotes from Mr. Darwin reads thus: "I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created parasitic wasps with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars."

 

 

 

 

Mr. Conrad Black on Religion  (March 23, 2015)

 

We see that Conrad Black has fired a volley into the ranks of the "shabby shallow militant atheists" in the pages of the National Post. (March 22, 2015)

Mr. Black takes much comfort from the fact that Dr. John Lennox, "a professor of mathematics at Oxford University" – in whose mathematical glow Mr. Black has had the pleasure of basking for "two enjoyable hours" – is a "most rational and persuasive advocates of a Christian theistic view of the world."

According to Mr. Black, the mathematical professor, in a debate with Mr. Dawkins at the University of Alabama in 2009, struck the militant atheist dumb, by asserting that atheism, like theism, is also a faith.

We would quibble that the burden of proof would seem to be on those who claim to have discovered a God, and who seem to have a very good idea of his motives, desires and benevolent propensities. Those who are atheists simply say that the evidence for a benign and meddling omnipotence is simply not suggested by the reality of what appears to be an indifferent and self-managing universe.

Science continually nibbles away at the contentions of religion. First it was the notion that the earth is the centre universe; more recently it has been the discovery that life forms were not created separately, but evolved. Most shatteringly, it has been observed that all creatures are composed of the same basic building blocks. The argument for human uniqueness and special qualifications for an afterlife would seem to have been dealt a significant blow.

Mr. Black seems to think that without God, there would be no good or evil, just "pallid formulations of like and dislike."

He also criticizes atheists for not "grappling plausibly with the limits of anything, or the infinite."

But to posit the existence of God suggests no more convincing a grapple: it does not answer the question: but where did God come from?

Our reply to Mr. Black in the National Post commentary thread – after being held up by the moderation process for several hours – reads as follows:

A shabby, shallow atheist cat among the pious pigeons:

Woody Allen perhaps said it best: "If God exists, I hope he has a good excuse."

The existence of matter, and the emergence of life are indeed miraculous. But things miraculous do not justify comforting speculations about God, his motives, or his beneficence. Further, "God" does not solve the problem of the beginning – he is just a convenient but spurious endpoint for infinity. The question still remains: where did God come from?

By your works ye shall know them. The nature that we see is ultimately predatory; most animals depend for their existence on the consumption of other animals. If this is the creation of a benevolent God, then he seems the kind of entity one would not like to meet in a dark alley. As Charles Darwin noted: "I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created parasitic wasps with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars." Graham Greene: "They are always saying God loves us. If that's love, I'd rather have a bit of kindness.’

Far more reasonable is Spinoza’s notion that God and the universe are the same. Or as I have said elsewhere: "God is just the universe struggling to create himself."

The evidence suggests that the universe is indifferent; this is not a happy thought. Happy thoughts are preferable, and this is undoubtedly why there is such desperation for a meddling benevolence.

It was easier to believe in man’s special place between beast and angel in the old days, before evolution and the discovery that all life is composed of the same building blocks. Thus, one of the key elements of theocratic benevolence — an afterlife – would seem to imply an all-or-nothing situation: what is good for homo sapiens is good for the cougar, the bat, and the cockroach.

Mr. Black seems to see "God" as an essential to perceptions of right and wrong: "Without God, ‘Good’ and ‘evil’ are just pallid formulations of like and dislike."

Even if that were true – and I cannot imagine anyone who lives beyond childhood not acquiring a powerful sense of injustice and the randomly tragic nature of existence -- it is the concept of God that is important. Different Gods have been created by different societies which have come to similar conclusions about good and evil. Isn’t it most likely that God is not the creator, but the creation of the human imagination?

Further, experiments with non-human primates have suggested that they also have concepts of fairness and justice. Should this be attributed to their religious sensibilities? Or is it more likely that concepts of good and evil arise naturally among social animals?

Certainly spiritual perceptions exist; so do Shangri-la and the Big Rock Candy Mountain. The difficulty arises when works of the imagination are not tested by ordinary --i.e. monkey-like -- concepts of fairness and equity. The great danger of religion is shown both now and in the past: too often the claim of divine sanction is used as a cover for human oppression: "A certainty divine is what men crave/ That they, with conscience clear, may misbehave."

In conclusion: "As to belief in God, definition is critical. If you say that God is the universe, I too, believe in God, for I have sensory experience of the universe. If you say God is an initiating force beyond the universe, I say that is an interesting but rather unhelpful speculation. If you think God has a "human" mind, and a benignly meddlesome preoccupation with the human race, or particular individuals, I say you are a victim of wishful thinking in the absence of evidence. If you go further, and govern your behaviour on what you imagine to be God’s wishes and intentions, I must pity you as a fool, or fear you as a lunatic."

 

 

 

The Niqab Again        (March 17, 2015)

We are not always puzzled when we encounter opinions contrary to our own; however, in the case of the wearing of the niqab while swearing allegiance to Canada, we can scarcely conceive that any would uphold the notion. As David Frum points out in today's National Post, there is a conflict with the Islamic State which is based on beliefs. The Islamists are not fighting to be "left alone[:] They're fighting to change the world, and Canada with it." Mr. Frum sees, as do we, the niqab as a symbol of those principles which are in opposition to our own, and hence have no place in "Canada's most fundamental ritual of self-definition: the citizenship ceremony."

Despite what seems obvious to us, some Canadians see the wearing of the niqab not as a symbol of a culture which seeks the imposition of a theocracy on the world, but as a symbol of personal and religious freedom. Thus Mr. Trudeau -- wrong as usual -- has called the banning of the niqab as "not in the spirit of Canadian liberty."  (National Post March 17)

Mr. Frum, more correctly sees it not as a "violation of freedom," but as an illustration of "how freedom is sustained and protected."

                                                           ***

We recently contributed the following to a National Post commentary thread:

"Tolerance" is not a universal good. Tolerance is like alcohol: in moderate amounts, it softens hard edges, and lubricates the machinery of social interaction; in excess, it leads to foolishness, incoherence, the annihilation of principle, and the destruction of the essential self. Or, as G.K. Chesterton put it: "Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions." Tolerance extended to intolerance looks very much like stupidity.

Symbols do matter: as a cultural symbol, the niqab is as appropriate at a Canadian Citizenship Ceremony as a swastika painted on a synagogue door, or the hoisting of an ISIS flag -- as a gesture of inclusive tolerance -- on the lawn at 24 Sussex Drive.

The niqab makes a profoundly anti-Canadian statement; it stands in opposition to those cultural norms which hold that citizens should be identifiable (in part for reasons of security), and that there should be an equality of transparency in an interaction among citizens.

 

 

The niqab, as Mr. Harper correctly points out, is associated with cultures in which women are oppressed. The niqab, while not a religious requirement, is claimed to be such, and thus becomes a symbol of cultures in which there is no separation of church and state. Surely that separation has been crucial to the development of science and all the advantages which come from the attempt to see things as they are – rather than according to religious preconceptions of much earlier – and more primitive-- times.

The claim of freedom of religious practice should not trump secular norms. To argue otherwise is to throw science and reason into the dustbin. As Thomas Jefferson said: "Man once surrendering his reason, has no remaining guard against absurdities the most monstrous, and like a ship without rudder, is the sport of every wind.".

While we might not wish to ban the niqab in day-to-day life – as has been done in Belgium and France -- it is important to send a symbolic message that face masks are not in accord with Canadian values.

Thus, testifying in court, or acquiring a driver’s license are both occasions on which Canadian norms should be asserted. In the private sphere, I see no reason why the owner of a jewellery store should be required to admit those wearing masks onto the premises.

Above all, the wearing of a niqab during a Canadian citizenship ceremony is inappropriate. Indeed, it suggests a mockery of the occasion. At the very least it is hypocritical –since it is a symbolic rejection of the values of the country to which allegiance is supposedly being pledged.

The Niqab

A concealing niqab at the pledge
Cuts deep with a cultural wedge;
A chosen derision
In guise of religion --
It wounds with an arrogant edge.

 

 

The Niqab and the Citizenship Oath             (February 19, 2015)

Tolerance extended to intolerance looks very much like stupidity. (Observation # 234)

Some ideas are better than others; ideas should be judged according to the best evidence available. The danger of religious beliefs is that their claim for acceptance is based not on merit, but on a sacred -- and manifestly  unverifiable--origin.   (Observation #380)
 

The other day we expressed our dismay at the judicial ruling which overturned the ban on the wearing of the niqab by those making their oath of citizenship.

We see the ruling as an example of three interrelated errors: an inappropriate cultural deference; a false assumption about the religious nature of the niqab; and the tendency towards reflexive appeasement of claims made in the name of religious freedom.

We are intrigued to see Marni Soupcoff of the Canadian Constitution Foundation writing in favour of the ruling in the National Post of February 17: 

Concerns about what cultural, religious and social signals are being sent by an individual’s choice in clothing should have no place in lawmakers’ minds, or at least, not in their actions.

Well, we are not so sure about that. Context is all. A bikini goes well at the beach. Nudity is fine in the shower. The occasion under discussion is the swearing of allegiance to a country which has certain cultural norms and values.

If members of the Pongo-Pongo tribe should decide to appear at a Canadian Citizenship Ceremony wearing only their traditional loin cloths, it would be considered inappropriate. If they should additionally choose to bring their spears, their shields adorned with shrunken heads,  and, during a lull in the proceedings, attempt the traditional sacrifice of a small goat, we are not sure that such accoutrements and actions would represent much of a commitment to the Canadian way of life.

The occasion is symbolic. While we are in favour of mockery in general, we think that it should be restricted according to location and occasion. To allow those swearing an oath of citizenship to mock the occasion by making symbolic statements directly contradictory their outward protestations, is to signal a complete lack of conviction concerning Canadian values.

The niqab is a cultural symbol, and is claimed -- falsely -- by some, to be a religious requirement. Even though the claim is false, it does have the effect of making the niqab, in the minds of many, a religious symbol.

As a cultural symbol, it is profoundly subversive. It rejects the notion that citizens should be able to identify other citizens in ordinary daily interactions. This may be considered primarily a matter of security. Why should a jewellery store owner be required to accept masked customers on his premises? Why should a citizen be required to interact with someone who, masked, may commit a crime and escape unidentified? It is our cultural tradition that, with very few exceptions -- Halloween and extreme cold weather come to mind -- those covering their faces are considered to have anti-social motivations.

Beyond security considerations, there is simply a cultural norm: we feel uncomfortable in speaking to those whose faces we cannot see. Why should we allow our faces to reveal our emotions and motivations, but be forced to deal with those who do not wish to show the same openness? The niqab is a barrier to communication, to a sense that there is an equality of transparency among citizens. The wearer of a niqab is sending a strong message that she wishes to remain remote, unengaged; she cloaks herself in a superiority of inaccessibility.

Thus the wearing of the niqab is a symbolic rejection of Canadian culture, and an assertion of preference for another.

It is worth considering the nature of that preferred "superior" culture. The niqab is most usually associated with an oppression of women in a culture dominated by religion. It is associated with cultures in which there is no separation of Church and State -- which is an idea of crucial importance in the governance of our society.

Thus, as a cultural symbol, the niqab is antithetical to Canadian values. It is therefore inappropriate as a garment to be worn by a prospective citizen who is professing a desire to become a Canadian citizen.

We would also note that to allow the masking of one prospective citizen suggests a principle, which, carried to its logical and egalitarian conclusion, leads to absurdity. If one person is allowed to appear masked, then so is everyone else. What kind of symbolic statement would be made if an entire contingent of new citizens were to make their commitment to this country while hiding their faces? Would not such a circumstance simply reinforce the notion that Canada is a country without any confidence in its culture?* It would announce to the world that Canada is a land with nothing of value to offer: it is simply a bank slate upon which new citizens may write their own agendas.

It is rather interesting that, in her article, Ms. Soupcoff makes the comparison between the wearing of the niqab and the "ultra-Orthodox Jewish tradition that married women wear wigs or otherwise cover their hair in public." Why, she asks, is the government not equally concerned about addressing this sort of offensiveness which might quite likely occur during a ceremony of citizenship?

The comparison is not apt. The answer, of course, is simple: the covering of the head simply does not carry the weight of offensiveness represented by a covering of the face – for all the reasons cited above.

 

Next, we should deal with the contention that the wearing of the niqab represents religious freedom. Our first response is that it not a religious requirement. Our second response is that, even if it were, there should be limits to the expression of religious freedom.

Ms. Soupcoff ends her article with the lament:

Even if the niqab ban is not reinstated on appeal, we won’t be able to escape the real sense that Canadians’ freedom of religion is on shaky ground.

Nonsense.

Freedom of religion -- the freedom to worship the imaginary God of one's choice -- is inappropriately equated with the  freedom to engage in virtually any religious practice. It is accorded far too much deference. Indeed, "freedom of religion," seen through the clear unblemished pane of reason, is no more or less than the freedom to chose among stupidities, inanities, and absurdities. Religious practice, in the public sphere, should not be allowed to trump common sense. The great danger of ideas based on religious belief, as we have observed above, is that they claim acceptance, not because of merit, but because of a sacred – yet entirely unverifiable -- origin.

Religion has absolutely no basis in credible evidence of any kind. It is merely supposition and conjecture. As Mark Twain said, "Faith is believing what you know ain’t so." Those societies which have made religion a primary influence in governance, have rejected science -- and common sense-- and have done a poor job in providing wealth, comfort, convenience -- and freedom for its citizens. Freedom of religion is certainly superior to religious coercion, but freedom from religion is something which deserves far greater respect than it is currently accorded.

Ms Soupcoff, along with many Canadians, appears to have drunk deep from the Kool-Aid of Political Correctness in this matter. The resulting staggering incoherence is not difficult to find.

The malignant inebriation is shown, for example, when turbans are worn by members of the RCMP.  The Stupidity appears to be contagious -- it is a scandal that at least two Canadian police forces have indicated that they would be pleased to employ officers wearing the hijab.

The wearing of religious symbols by police officers is a truly terrible idea. That is because police uniforms are meant to suggest that the wearer is acting, not as an individual, but as a representative of the (secular) legal framework in the jurisdiction in which he or she is employed.

When the officer wears a religious symbol – such as a turban or hijab – two messages are being sent. The first is that the officer is acting, at least in part, as an individual with a very specific religious commitment. The second is that the state approves of a particular religious viewpoint. This is, in our view, is not merely a sign of intellectual folly, but extremely divisive. It is worrying to those citizens who may have other religious viewpoints -- who may perceive that they are potentially subject to unfair treatment. It is outrageous to atheists who expect religion to play no part in the administration of the law.

It seems to us that our Government is, quite rightly, secular. While there may be perfunctory and token references to God in early documents, religion plays no official role in the governance of the country. There is a separation of Church and State. If this is not the case, then we are in significant trouble.

We were astounded at the cries of horrified moral outrage when the Quebec government proposed a Quebec Charter of Values which would ban the wearing of religious symbols by government employees during working hours. Religion -- being on such unstable and dangerous intellectual ground --should be a private matter. Religious symbols are no more appropriate to the workplace than symbolic expressions of support for the death penalty, gay marriage, abortion, the theory of anthropogenic global warming, or Mr. Trudeau's hair. The government should be able, through a code of dress required in the workplace, make a clear statement that it is secular, and not influenced by religion.

We are not, of course, opposed to the wearing of religious symbols per se. While we think that the wearing of religious symbols at a citizenship ceremony should not be actively encouraged, such symbols do not suggest any abandonment by government of secular principle; they are simply rather irrelevant expressions of private idiosyncrasy.

In conclusion, it should be seen from the above that the niqab is not primarily offensive as a religious symbol, but as a cultural statement. That statement is antithetical to those being professed in a Canadian Citizenship Ceremony; it exposes and proclaims an unseemly hypocrisy, and suggests an element of moral vacuity.

The attempt to justify the cultural offensiveness of the niqab on the grounds of "freedom of religion" should not succeed, because of the greater importance of certain essential cultural -- and invariably secular -- principles of our society. Those principles relate to security, transparency, and the equality of citizens in their right to recognize their fellows, and assess the spontaneous and natural configurations shown during human interactions by the human face.  They are significant -- and almost certainly crucial -- strands woven by long tradition through the fabric of a successful society. That success is measured both in terms of  material wealth and comfort, and in the less tangible but equally important elements of gender equality and a superior degree of freedom for all citizens. Indeed, it stands in stark contrast  -- in all these measures -- to cultures where the niqab is accepted -- where religious thinking dominates the governance of society.

In this particular case, the attempt to justify the niqab on religious grounds is weakened by the fact that the wearing of the garment is not a religious requirement. But even if it were, it should still fail in its opposition to the defining secular values of our society. In the public sphere, religious beliefs should have to compete in the marketplace of ideas; they cannot be allowed to claim supremacy simply because of an imaginary, unverifiable, divine sanction.

We would think that this point should be particularly obvious when the dangers of taking religion too seriously – both abroad and in our own country – are manifested virtually every day in the news. The horrors produced by the current enthusiasm for a theocracy --which sees seventh century religious repression as a source of wisdom in the governing of society --should, surely, lead to a certain hesitancy in using the idea of "freedom of religion" to justify a significant symbol of cultural subversion. 

 

*Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions. (Chesterton)

 

 

 

The Niqab and the Citizenship Oath       (February 17, 2015)

 

We have learned that a judge has struck down a ban on the wearing of the niqab by those taking the Oath of Citizenship. Justice Keith M Boswell of the Federal court of Canada has ruled:

To the extent that the policy interferes with a citizenship judge’s duty to allow candidates for citizenship the greatest possible freedom in the religious solemnization or the solemn affirmation of the oath, it is unlawful.

We find this statement peculiarly odd, if not absolutely oddly peculiar.

Instead of proclaiming that candidates for citizenship should have the greatest possible freedom to make the ceremony one of "religious solemnization," Judge Boswell says that the ban interferes with the duty of the citizenship judge to grant that freedom. He carefully avoids making any judgment of his own about the suitability of various modes of dress or variety of religious symbols. It suggests that the citizenship judge may determine the limits of that freedom – the freedom is as great as possible, but not, perhaps, infinite. Perhaps, if the citizenship Judge were to be experiencing a bad wig day, he might accept turbans but ban niqabs, accept yarmulkes but reject faravahars.

It is interesting that Judge Boswell accepts the notion that the niqab is a religious symbol. It is our understanding that it is not. It is a cultural symbol. And, indeed, as a cultural symbol it is most often associated with a repression of women in societies quite unlike our own.

It would appear that the judge wishes to cover all bases, since he goes on to say that the Citizenship Judge should allow the greatest possible freedom in the "solemn affirmation of the oath." Thus, even if the niqab is merely a cultural symbol, the greatest possible freedom should be allowed in the manner of "solemnization."

We think the ruling reflects two extraordinary sentiments which seem current in Canadian society. The first is that tolerance is not a relative concept, but an undiluted good: the more Canadians deny, repress, and denigrate their own culture, the more tolerance is shown, and the greater the sense of moral virtue and superiority is thereby obtained.

The second sentiment–which is rather odd in a society which has benefited so greatly from a separation of Church and State – is the primacy given to the notion of religious freedom. But mention "freedom of religion" – and it is a trump card before which all other values must give way.

 

We suspect that, were we to found a religion which had as its chief tenet that all adherents are forbidden to enter a courtroom without a loaded machine gun in their possession -- after a few token mumblings, a hasty consultation with the Human Rights Commission -- the right to religious freedom would be affirmed. Loaded machine guns would be allowed in all courtrooms – provided they had been blessed by the appropriate bishop, and bore the ribbon of rectitude affixed to the barrel.

We find it extraordinary that freedom to worship the god of one’s choice has become confused with the right to engage in religious practice – the right and extent of that practice being determined by those adherents of the religion in question.

This is particularly absurd when one considers that there is no credible evidence for any religion. It is all hypothesis, supposition and conjecture. No one seems to consider, for a minute, that there is a legitimate claim to freedom from religion.

Our best example of the perversity of current Canadian thinking on this matter was the bellowing of moral outrage when Quebec proposed that Government employees be banned from wearing religious symbols during working hours.

It seems to us entirely legitimate that governments should wish to send a symbolic message to its citizens: this government is not influenced by and does not represent or approve primitive superstitious thinking of any kind. Religion is a private matter and should not intrude in interactions between the government and its citizens.

Yet all the bien pensants, "the pusillanimous pooh-bahs of punditry...postured in paroxysms of outrage and moral superiority." (Observation #258)

When the horrendous effects of taking religion seriously are in the newspapers daily, it would seem appropriate to reconsider the unseemly reverence accorded "religious freedom."

Voltaire saw clearly about these matters in the Eighteenth Century: "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities."

We need to be more careful about the mindless, spineless sacrifice of our collective reason at the altar of absurdity.

(To be continued)

 

 

Dangerous Words                   (January 28, 2015)

Science

The truth is not determined by popular vote; the fact that an overwhelming majority of scientists, doctors, Baptist ministers, or organ grinders believe in a proposition is irrelevant to its validity. (Observation #224)

Scientists have not yet discovered the inoculation against hubris, or the effective incantation against self-interest; nor are they immune from the contamination of an ill-considered enthusiasm for a cause. (Observation #175)

Be hesitant in accepting the claims of those who speak in the name of science; one must determine first whether that science is indeed the master, or merely the tool of self-interest, self-aggrandisement, or political agenda. (Observation # 176)

We were recently surprised to see Andrew Coyne stating in the National Post (January 24) "But climate change is a global phenomenon, requiring global action."

Apparently, Mr. Coyne has joined the ranks of the climate alarmists. We used to think Mr. Coyne was reasonably sensible; now, we have some concern for his mental equilibrium.

When we contributed our note of climate skepticism* to the commentary thread of the article by Mr. Coyne,  another reader replied that the odds in favour of climate alarmism are 98:2.

We must assume that the responder was referring to the often heard mantra that 97% of scientists believe in the theory of anthropogenic global warming.

And then, just the other day, we saw an exchange between Ezra Levant and media maverick Jesse Brown, during which Mr. Brown averred that, on the matter of climate change, he would defer to the opinions of scientists.

These three incidents have led us to reflect that the words "science" and "scientists" should be added to our list of "most dangerous words." Thus far the list consists of "equality," "tolerance," and "racism" – all of which are widely misunderstood and misused.

"Equality" is dangerous because people fail to distinguish among equality of opportunity, sameness of opportunity, and equality of result. It is also not generally recognized that people who say they want equality actually do not: they want improvement. Once someone has attained "equality" with his neighbour, his desire is not satisfied. He wishes further improvement, even if that should result in inequality.

"Tolerance" is dangerous because it is often seen as a universal good. On the contrary, tolerance of thieves, murderers, and the intolerant should not be applauded.

"Racism" is dangerous because it is used where race is not a factor; it is used as an unanswerable term of opprobrium in discussions that have nothing to do with race.

The trouble with the word "science" and its derivative "scientist" is that it immediately suggests an aura of infallibility concerning an idea. Real science, indeed, is based on evidence and fact – as opposed to supposition and conjecture, which is the province of religion.

But not everything claiming to be based on science, and not everything said by scientists, can be relied upon.

It is necessary to ask whether a conclusion based on "science" has been adequately tested. Is there some flaw in the process by which the conclusion was reached? Even more importantly -- those who are recognized as "scientists" may not always reflect "science" in their pronouncements:  they may be simply reflecting a current imperfect state of knowledge at the moment; they may be speaking to a matter which is outside their area of expertise;  their statements may be influenced by considerations which have nothing to do with "science." Occasionally "scientists" will deliberately mislead.

Let us consider a few examples of "science" proclaimed by "scientists" which have been shown to be misleading.

One of our favourites is the conclusion of Ancel Keys, who, in the 1950's, set out to prove that saturated fat was a contributory cause of heart disease. He studied data from 22 European countries, and concluded that a link existed. The difficulty arose from the fact that the seven countries he chose proved his point; had he chosen other countries, no link would have been found. As a result, while saturated fat is gradually being removed from the list of dietary demons, it is still regarded by many as a near-fatal option.

Secondly, consider the fact that – if you were diagnosed with an ulcer about thirty years ago, your doctor – he’s a scientist isn’t he? – would have known the exact cause: stress. He would have advised you to divorce your spouse, sell your kids to the highest bidder, and retire to a cave in the wilds of Pongo-Pongo. There, he would recommend that you live an uncomplicated life with a simple diet of pureed roots and mashed berries.

But that was thirty years ago. In 1984, Barry Marshall was the only doctor in the world who thought that ulcers were caused by helicobacter pylori. His opinion was widely reviled at the time. According to Wikipedia: "Marshall has been quoted as saying in 1998 that ‘(e)veryone was against me, but I knew I was right.’"

In fact, today, if you have symptoms of an ulcer, it is quite likely that your doctor will test for helicobacter pylori before advising you to retire to Pongo-Pongo.

Dr. Suzuki -- widely recognized as a climate guru -- is a wonderful example of a scientist pronouncing on matters outside his area of expertise. Although he is known as a committed alarmist, he was originally an expert in the study of fruit fly genetics. When he recently appeared on television in Australia, he admitted that he was not a climatologist, and said he relied on the findings of the IPCC. When questions were put to him by the audience, it became clear that Dr. Suzuki has astoundingly little knowledge of the nuts and bolts of the study of climate.

And sometimes, of course, pronouncements of scientists are the result of outright fraud.

Andrew Wakefield did a Study in 1998 which showed that autism is linked to vaccination. By 2005, the conclusions had been refuted, and in 2011, it was shown that the entire study was fraudulent.

Thus, it should be evident that "science" is not always in accord with fact.

In general, we should not be surprised to discover that scientists are human beings. Human beings sometimes pretend to greater knowledge than is justified by the facts. Human beings have been known to be motivated by fear, greed, and self-aggrandisement.

 

As an example --climate alarmism has been a wonderful bandwagon to jump onto. It is akin to a new apocalyptic religion which promises salvation based on repentance and human sacrifice. But it has the added attraction of being based on "science."

One wonders what the "scientist" does who hops on the bandwagon, and notices that the wheels are crooked, and the path is headed towards an abyss. A few, like James Lovelock, hop off and call for new wheels, and a better compass. But it would not be outrageous to think that the "scientist" who has staked his reputation on a particular viewpoint exhibits some degree of reluctance to give up his comfortable seat. Perhaps the wheels, with enough encouragement, can be induced to a perfect circularity. And perhaps the abyss is a temporary illusion. Besides, walking exposes one to the elements -- and the opprobrium of one's peers

And if one is a young, ambitious scientist, how prudent is it to seek a place in the carriage which promises grant money, promotions, and the respect of one’s peers?

When it comes to climate alarmism, we should note carefully the role of "science." That "science" consists of making certain assumptions, constructing a computer model, and predicting events in the future. This is not the three times table -- which seems to have proved its validity over some considerable period of time.**

Predictions of the future are notoriously difficult. It may be legitimate, perhaps, to trust the sunrise predictions of the scientist who, over the course of a year, has accurately forecast the time of sunrise in a particular location. It is a rather different matter to place one’s trust in the scientist whose predictions have never been shown to be justified by subsequent events.

It would also be remiss not to notice that, from the beginning, climate alarmism has been associated with a political agenda. That agenda seeks to destroy industrial civilization and replace democracy with an expertocracy – like the United Nations.

Real scientists are interested in facts which may disprove their theories – their aim, after all, is to discover how the world really works. But climate "scientists" have always been devious. They have attempted not to argue with – but to discredit and silence their opponents. They seem undeterred, in their theorizing, by an important fact -- the lack of global warming – the warming which they predicted – in the last eighteen years.

They have shifted terminology when it suits their purpose. At first, they were fond of the term "global warming." When that failed to appear, they started to talk of "climate change" – an undeniable fact that has been occurring since the earth was formed. But it is not, of course, the same thing as anthropogenic "global warming."

Despite all its flaws, climate alarmism appears to have gained the status of a faith which must be defended at all costs. Thus we have Dr. Suzuki calling for the imprisonment of those politicians heretical enough to espouse climate apostasy.

In a way, perhaps, the politicization of climate "science" was inevitable. It is not about an asteroid which might hit the earth a hundred years hence. It is about the idea that human beings, if they act quickly enough, can avoid Climageddon. Once this is accepted as truth, then the niceties of scientific debate are subject to prompt defenestration. Facts be damned! We need action, and we need it now!

We think too many have been awed by the term "science." The first thing to determine in considering statements made by "scientists" is whether they are speaking about phenomena which have been carefully examined and tested, or whether they are speaking about matters which have not yet been proven, or about predictions dependent on a methodology for which there is no established record of reliability.

"Science," we must conclude, is a dangerous word. The "scientist" is not someone who should be welcomed, reflexively, like an old friend. Before we invite him into our house of intellect, we need to see his credentials, and assure ourselves he is not simply a politician – or high priest – in disguise.

*****

*The following is our comment on Mr. Coyne’s article on the need for a carbon tax.

"But climate change is a global phenomenon, requiring global action."

Huh?

Few have the expertise to understand the "science" behind the claims of climate alarmists.

Thus, the average citizen has only recourse to the facts that are evident, and the behaviours of the alarmists which speak to their credibility.

The most obvious facts relate to the inability of "scientists" to make correct predictions of global temperature. Surely the test of any scientific theory is its reliability -- is an experimental result repeatable? Can it be used in making predictions?

"Scientific" predictions of flooded islands, hordes of climate refugees, the submerging of Manhattan, the disappearance of polar ice, and continual warming have all proved false. The fact is that, despite an increase in greenhouse gasses, there has been no warming for the last eighteen years. In the light of this circumstance, some degree of caution in making further predictions about climate change would seem warranted.

Secondly, there is the matter of the credibility of the alarmists. One of the first alarmists, Maurice Strong appears to have had an agenda. He has said:

Isn’t the only hope for the planet that the industrialized civilizations collapse? Isn’t it our responsibility to bring that about?

Indeed, the Club of Rome, in 1993, admitted that global warming was a means to an end:

"The common enemy of humanity is man. In searching for a new enemy to unite us, we came up with the idea that pollution, the threat of global warming, water shortages, famine and the like would fit the bill. ...The real enemy then is humanity itself. Democracy is no longer well suited for the tasks ahead." —From the Club of Rome’s "The First Global Revolution" p. 71,75 1993

This element of politics wearing the mask of science seems clear whenever one looks at the behaviours of the alarmists.

The examples are too many to detail here, but "Climategate," the hypocrisy of alarmists who preach restraint, but stride the world with Sasquatchian footprints, the call by Dr. Suzuki for the imprisonment of politicians who disagree with him, the recent switch in terminology from "global warming" (because there was no warming) to "climate change" – and the recent headline pronouncement of the unprecedented heat of 2014 – followed by the fine print that NASA’s confidence level amounted to 38% – all these suggest that climate alarmism has little to do with science.

Proposals for carbon taxes seem like opportunistic bamboozlements of the excessively gullible.

**When each of three rows of bananas contains eight bananas, it will be found -- with a remarkable degree of consistency -- that there are twenty-four bananas in total.


 

A Funny Thing Happened on our Way to the Dermatologist.        (January 15, 2015)
 

Up "early" this morning in anticipation of a visit to the dermatologist. No day – dermatologists notwithstanding -- can proceed without the retrieval of the daily newspaper. Even if there is no grist for any of our particular mills, we will at least be able to refer to the chess puzzle.*

On this particular morning, we discovered some grist: an article by Andrew Coyne, entitled Humour busts taboos.

Mr. Coyne makes some sensible points about humour, but comments that "Nobody really knows why people laugh." He also makes reference to a Sarah Silverman joke:

I was raped by a doctor. [Pause] Which is, you know, so bittersweet for a Jewish girl.

Mr. Coyne says: "There’s no defence for this joke. It’s just indefensibly funny."

Now, the subject of humour is one of our favourites. We think – although some might disagree – that we have a natural tendency to view life through a quirkily satiric prism. Thus, we thought, we will add to the sum total of human knowledge by going online, and posting our ineffable (largely stolen) insights on the matter of humour – on the commentary thread beneath the article.

This is what we said: 

I think Leacock was correct in his speculation that laughter represents a cry of triumph – and might have had its origin as the victory cry of caveman "A" as he felled caveman "B" with a large rock. That cry of triumph is echoed as we perceive the incongruity of some human pretension – or even the incongruity created by two meanings created in a sentence. (Would you hit a woman with a baby? No, I’d use a brick instead.)

There is always a tension between the intellectual triumph of perception of incongruity and emotion. We laugh when the man wearing fancy clothes – including a top hat – slips on a banana peel. But the laughter dissipates – commensurately -- when we discover that he was en route to attend his daughter’s wedding -- that he has broken his leg – or that he is paralyzed for life.

Thus, in Mr. Coyne’s example, Ms. Silverman’s joke is funny if the satiric perception – that Jewish culture places an unusual emphasis on professional qualifications – overcomes any emotional taboos concerning rape.

In the example of the woman with the baby given above, it is entirely possible that the humour would not be seen at a convention whose chief purpose was to lament the Status of Women in a Cruel and uncaring Society, or at a Bricklayers’ Sensitivity Training course.

The issue of the moment -- the Charlie Hebdo cartoons -- reflects exactly the tension between the intellectual and the emotional. Those who object to the cartoons – or who refuse to reproduce them – do so on emotional grounds. Either cherished beliefs – emotional commitments -- are mocked, or censorship is justified on the grounds that feelings will be hurt.

 

Since the cherished beliefs are without evidential foundation, it seems entirely appropriate to mock the huge gulf between the pretensions of religion, and the realities which so often characterize it. In this case, reason should trump emotion, as suggested by Thomas Jefferson: "Man once surrendering his reason, has no remaining guard against absurdities the most monstrous, and like a ship without rudder, is the sport of every wind."

As we posted the Comment, we noticed a warning: This comment is awaiting moderation.

We were not surprised. One of the foundation stones of our current state of paranoia is that any comment we add to commentary threads at the National Post is immediately ushered to the back of the bus – the very last comment on the list. In this way, of course, our opinion is effectively muzzled -- since no one ever reads more than the first page of a commentary thread.

We assume that all our comments will be moderated, and will sink to those depths where no light shines. Nor will they leave a trace behind.

After about fifteen minutes, we checked to determine the status of our contribution. Not only could we not find our words of ineffability; we couldn’t find the article.

A check of the Disqus record** about an hour ago showed that the comment – 4 hours after submission – was still "pending moderation."

It would seem reasonable to conclude that our comment contains material offensive and questionable. Like Josef K in Kafka’s, The Trial we are left in a wonderment of self-recrimination.

We suspect that that terribly old joke about the woman with the baby – from another era entirely – has acquired a new toxicity in our modern age. The quivering sensitivity of delicate emotion may have overcome the intellectual delight derived from the play on words.***

We doubt, somehow, that we will be seeing our comment in print in a public forum in the near future. Thus – unwilling to let the effort go to waste – we have published it above, where it will pass almost entirely unnoticed.
 

*That puzzle, we have come to realize is either too easy or too difficult. If it is too easy, we solve it with disappointing rapidity. If it is too difficult, we know we are simply on the wrong track, and look at the answer. Tracks we can see, we can follow; tracks we can’t see will never lead us out of the woods. Better to call the rescue squad.

** Under "Dr. Idel Dreimer" in a Google search, there is an entry containing all our comments made through Disqus.

***We have discussed that particular joke at greater length in Drivel, December 14, 2012: Of Comics, Comedians and Humorists.

 

 


 

Media Response to the Murders of French Cartoonists

(January 9, 2015)

 

The murder of satiric cartoonists in France has given rise to two diametrically opposed responses with respect to the publication of examples of those drawings which are deemed to be the causative elements.

On one hand, we have the statements of David Studer, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Director of Journalistic Standards and Practices. Mr. Studer denies that the images are needed to understand the story, and claims that the Corporation has a duty which supersedes the mere providing of information:

A part of our job as Canada's national broadcaster is to promote tolerance and respect and to recognize that unlike some other religions, where you see statues and you see pictures of deities, it's one of the tenets of Islam that the Prophet not be depicted in pictures or cartoons. (CBC News, January 9)

On the other hand, there are those who argue that the provision of such images is important to a faithful reporting of the facts of the case, and that a failure to do so is a betrayal of the principle of freedom of speech. It is an appeasement of those who would have our society defer to the religious principles which they themselves espouse.

Were the images in question obscene, or subject to some other prohibition of our legal system, Mr. Studer might have a point. But they are not. Mr. Studer is myopic, and in error.

 

 

 

To concur with Mr. Studer’s argument is to express belief in a Never-Never Land -- in a crystal palace of perfection where none can be offended, where every man is a piano key, to be depressed and released in the service of an imposed, centrally planned, harmony. Indeed, it is the view of the Brave New World of Human Rights Commissions, and of Orwellian repression. If not being offended is the ultimate aim of mankind, then the "harmony" achieved is no more than the buzzing of insects, programmed and controlled, in the home sweet home of the hive.

The progress of mankind has been marked by a willingness to examine the real world, to find out how things actually work, rather than relying upon suppositions and assumptions for which no evidence is available. Those societies which have allowed scientific enquiry, and which have promoted a free exchange of ideas, have achieved comfort, convenience, and much freedom for ordinary citizens. They stand in marked contrast to those societies whose citizens are bound and trapped in a seine of oppression and restriction – a condition arising from an acceptance of the primacy of religious belief -- of hypothetical conceptions of the world.

Why would successful societies – those who have made great strides towards achieving "the greatest happiness of the greatest number" – defer to the primitive beliefs of societies in thrall to perceptions of the world current in the seventh century?

Such deference may provide the short-term benefit of a feeling of moral superiority – the warmth of a self-congratulatory tolerance – but the appeasement of bad ideas can have no lasting benefit. Indeed, it is well known that bullies are encouraged, not deterred by submission to their demands.

In the real world, offence will be given, and offence will be taken. Better ideas will thrive; bad ideas will fail. To limit freedom of speech in the hope that none will ever be offended is a blighted seed – a precursor of decay. Its flower is failure, its fruit, the imprisonment of the mind .

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