Friday, November 11, 2016

Le Declin de l'Empire Americain

Soon-to-be US President Trump with the man whose achievements he will try to unravel - NYTimes Nov 11th.

The Beast and Beauty? It is Remembrance Day today. We remember those who died to preserve our democracies, including our right to elect demagogues. What a shame though that it has come to that.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

When a rich country acts like an international social service agency

 Figure 1 Foreign-born population, as a proportion of the total population, G8 countries and Australia
In a recent newspaper opinion piece "How much diversity do Canadian's want?" Margaret Wente, a prominent national columnist, discusses the dilemma faced by those who still believe that immigration is not a social service for distressed offshore societies.  She points out that here in Canada during the past year, our federal government brought in 320,932 immigrants and refugees – one-third more than the year before. This is into a population of under 35 million. Our new Prime Minister , Justine Trudeau, is fond of explaining away our extraordinarily high intake of Syrian refugees as, "We're Canadian and we're here to help".

Those who seek to justify this largess like to claim we're helping add folk to our depopulating small rural towns. There what actually happens is that, after the local churches and social services have made a refugee family comfortable, it does what all other refugee and immigrant groups have done before as they look to better themselves - it up-and-leaves to be with others of their ilk in the large cities, where a dozen or more Syrian kids are enrolling in each inner city school every week! These children are not like the Iraqi Baathist kids we took in after Saddam's fall - they at least had been to a school before. These kids, from overcrowded camps where might has been right, bring that viewpoint into any interaction with their new minders. Thus we are bringing in today large numbers of refugee families who have little or no concept of a civil society and a highly tribal view of who is acceptable. Indeed we now have some of the largest Somali, Ethiopian, Tamil and Haitian populations outside their home countries.

As Wente points out, publicly expressing perspectives like the above is likely to get one shunned as a racist. Just as the English are branded racists for voting that they need national control over who is sent their way via the Continent, and the Hungarians are now beyond the pale for buying into a referendum that denied the EU's right to send them whomever they will.

".. in liberal discourse, any resistance to immigration on any grounds makes you a racist, and any questions about immigration policy are perceived as illegitimate. People get frustrated by that. They’re also frustrated by a narrative that, in their view, only goes one way. They feel they’re constantly being harangued by their betters that it is they who must accommodate the newcomers.

No one ever talks about what the newcomers should do to accommodate them. And so they’re not thrilled when Kathleen Wynne, Ontario’s Premier, dons a head scarf to meet with the woman who insisted on her right to wear the niqab during the citizenship ceremony – and then tweets that it’s 'an honour.' They are not thrilled when their Prime Minister promotes inclusivity by visiting a mosque where the women have to sit upstairs. They don’t like it when a Muslim boys’ soccer team refuses to play against girls.

In defence of our now out-of-control multiculturalism where every tribe is welcome, it is often said that Canada should be proud that its motto is not 'E pluribus unum'/'Out of many one people'. However a society that is told by its political elites that maintaining a common national ethos and code of behaviour are not a priority is not one that appeals to those of us who believe that social order derives from common perspectives. 

It is doubtful that the recent two hundredth anniversary of the brutal War of 1812-14 that foiled American annexation would have had the celebrations it did under the new 'happy for today, tomorrow will be even better under us' Liberal regime in Ottawa. Next year is the 150th anniversary of the Act of Confederation of some British North American colonies and territories that began Canada. Government plans so far announced make it clear that today's multiculturalism and tomorrow's shining future will be the main focus, and that honouring the past will get short shrift. Historical heritage considerations get little space in both Federal and Ontario published plans for government action.

Yet as a former Governor-General of Canada presciently said back in 1887, "A community is wanting in self-respect which does not take an interest in its own history and seek to preserve those records by which that history can be traced and authenticated.” Declaring every other culture is as good as ours belittles the achievements of pioneers who created the world's seventh largest economy in the world's second largest landmass over that 150 years. "Many progressives (including, I suspect, Mr. Trudeau) hold a romantic view of immigration as a sort of global social-justice project, which obliges us to share our good fortune with as much of the rest of the world as possible". Same may be true of some EU leaders.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Case Against Condominiums

"Condos for Boomers: This idea is so funny. I see boomers trying, but they have to dispose of their furniture, and hire organizers. I doubt that there will be mass adoption of the condo by boomers. I do see the upsurge of senior help services to help boomers stay in their houses and neighbourhood. The kind of shoe box currently being built by developers and bought by investors is kind of offensive to the Boomer lifestyle"  from 'Why Are Condos So Crappy' LANDLORDRESCUE blog 5/9/2016

When we mention to friends that, as we are both now in our 70s and either retired or close to it, we will be downsizing, they are most likely to say, "Oh, looking for a nice condo where you won't have to do much as everything is taken care of?" And we reply to their surprise, "Well no, actually - a condominium's not for us".

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Return of Demagoguary and the Big Lie

'This is not an honest man. This is not a trustworthy man. The fact that people believe he’s honest is a result of a failed media that aims its sincerest critique at Clinton’s deficiencies with the truth, but applies an entertainment standard to Trump that corrects falsehoods but doesn’t castigate him for them.

There is no reasonable explanation or saleable excuse for the media’s behaviour this presidential cycle. History will look back at this period and it will not be kind to the Fourth Estate. We will all have to one day ask ourselves, "Where was I on Trump and the truth?” Far too many of us will be found wanting.NYT Sept 8th 2016 Opinion

Boris and Trump, Putin and Xi Jinping - the return of the liar to world leadership. A paradox - social media reveals all, yet the lies told by some notable public figures today mimic in their size the Big Lie during the rise of communist and fascist totalitarianism. But Boris and Trump live in functional democracies so how come?

In these democracies, ordinary voters, they who were once the lumpen-proletariat, are now mostly literate,and have vastly improved access to information in comparison to the fascist and communist masses that came before. So why do they swallow lies of the magnitude now widely propagated by both professional and social media? Does this mean that the great C20 liberal experiment has failed; the idea that universal education would produce a rational polity? 

Too many people still seem unwilling to distinguish between hyperbole and falsehood, and demonstrable fact. In an era of increasing secularism where dogmatic belief is more frequently confronted by conclusions drawn from rigorous analysis, how is it that so many are willing to believe and vote for those who base their speeches solely on desired outcome? 

Is it too much information, the feeling of being overwhelmed by complexity so that we are willing to trust anyone who can make it simple? Is it frustration with the search for evidence when having an opinion provided by an admired public figure or celebrity makes for an easier existence? Are there just too many places to look for data and too few hours in a day? Why are decisions so often complex today when they seemed so straightforward 100 years ago? Is the person-on-the-street today just too soft-minded to cope with the nuances of navigating a civil community in the C21st?  

Is the degree to which we choose to trust those to whom media gives exposure a marker for our civilization's integrity and likely longevity? The social order building since the Enlightenment, is it now in self-destruct mode? 

It could well be so.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Le Declin de l'empire americain?

Netanyahu as Prime Minister seems to me to be the worst thing that has happened to Israel and I follow the Jerusalem Post (JP) as a fairly reliable guide to the growth under his watch of paranoia and ethno-cultural chauvinism within that country. 

This JP article, guest written by a history academic based outside Israel, is unusually outward focused in its views of the EU, (a grouping not on Mr. Netanhayu's friendship list these days): The European Union now does sometimes resemble a replay of Weimar’s combination of institutional perfection with violent and nationalist forces aimed at tearing down the "system." 

The slowly mounting civil disorder in Europe he refers to, created by open borders facing the breakdown of what passed for social order in the Arab world, does have some worrisome aspects that begin to resemble in some ways the breakdown of the social consensus on law and order that occurred a century ago. Although the Iraq War and other Western and now Russian armed interference in the Arab polity cannot yet be said to be as profoundly dislocating to world order as the dismemberment of Empires after WWI, the huge harvest of distraught and often dysfunctional incomers that advanced societies are reaping is becoming highly disturbing in is implications.

It is worth reminding ourselves that the Roman Empire fell not because of enmity from without, but because those tribesmen just beyond its borders, impoverished and hard pressed from the East by hostile invaders, wanting the benefits of being inside the Empire’s borders surged in at a time when Roman social order was breaking down!

P.S. Le Déclin de l'empire américain was a 1986 Canadian comedy-drama film directed by Denys Arcand. Ominously it was followed by two sequels called The Barbarian Invasions in 2003 and Days of Darkness in 2007!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Russia - The Enemy Of a Lifetime

I was born after the Second German War ended in 1945, a few months before the Japanese Empire was eliminated by an atomic attack. Early in my childhood Churchill's prediction that Stalin's Soviet Union had the potential to be an even worse enemy was proving correct. Soviet espionage, aided by the fascination with Marxism that possessed some Western intellectuals, gifted Russia an atomic bomb after only a few years. My parents joined the Civil Defence, which was charged in Britain with preparing us for Soviet nuclear attack. As they had experience in the Blitz, Mum and Dad were made officers and our family was awarded a space in the underground bunker under our County Hall.

Even at breakneck speed this was a ten minute drive away, yet Soviet ICBMs were calculated to be over London in only four minutes. There was a certain amount of public education about how to survive the initial blast at home, but from the experience at Hiroshima and Nagasaki everyone knew it was basically hopeless. MAD (mutually assured destruction) was the political solution and the nuclear powers, soon joined by a virulently communist China, built up their arsenals, with the West, China and Soviet Union all trying to keep pace.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Rhodes Must Fall - Rejigging the Past

'R. W. Johnson, an author who is an emeritus fellow of Magdalen College at Oxford, compared the (Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford) campaign to remove the monument to what Al Qaeda and the Islamic State “are doing in places like Mali when destroying statues”. '  - NYT 'Oxford University Will Keep Statue of Cecil Rhodes' Jan 29th 2016.

I was brought up in East Hertfordshire. One of its fine old towns is Bishop's Stortford. Cecil Rhodes came from there. After going up to Oxford University, he went on to shape much of Africa, becoming what we thought of as a 'great imperialist' - the man who was determined to make the map pink from 'the Cape to Cairo'.

Julius Caesar was also a great imperialist. He moved the boundaries of the Roman Empire all the way north to the English Channel. In doing so he butchered many thousands of Gauls. However the influence of Roman civilization on those Celtic tribes later lead on to the Empire of Charlemagne and the languages and literature of much of Western Europe.

A couple of summers ago I had a conversation with an American academic who is a leading expert  on what are called the Jacksonian Wars (the wars of Andrew Jackson). He was up in Ontario as to take part in the celebrations honouring the bicentennial of the War of 1812 (a Jacksonian war). He often goes to Britain as part of his research and we discussed what I was taught at school in Hertford about that war and the earlier French-Indian War, both pivotal to the formation of modern Canada. According to him the teaching of imperial history in Britain today is abysmal - the whole Empire thing is to be regarded as an embarrassment. 

A prominent feature of dictatorships has always been the rewriting of history to suit the narrative of those in power. However today's social democracies are also becoming captured by a narrative that redefines time in their past as something to be ashamed of, and for which all visible reminders must  be removed. According to the NYT article above, 'The petition and protest in Oxford had provoked an intense discussion about whether Britain’s colonial past should be judged by contemporary standards' and 'The dispute was characterized on one side as an exercise in political correctness and a desire to erase history, and on the other as a test of the university’s willingness to acknowledge the sensitivities and values of minority students'.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Ammon Bundy Defends the US Consitution

"Clad in boots, cowboy hats and camouflage, a small band of antigovernment protesters stood in the snow and subfreezing cold on Monday at a federally owned wildlife sanctuary they have taken over, called themselves defenders of the Constitution, and declared that they were at the vanguard of a national movement to force Washington to release its hold on vast tracts of Western land."
NYT Jan 4th 2106 '..Armed Oregon Protest'

Mr Ammon Bundy at a Monday 'news conference'. Photo Credit Jarod Opperman for The New York Times

Wanna bet that this will be a movie soon (e.g. a present-day Western)?  Ever wondered if Hollywood helps setup these all-American armed shindigs?