Friday, July 27, 2007

And though I once preferred a human being's company ...

... They pale before the monolith that towers over me.
I was having one of those irritating conversations with one of those people the other day.

You know the type? He's your friend, but every time he offers you a considered opinion you can't help but wonder what, exactly, made you friends in the first place? Was it that he spotted you the cost of drinking one night when you really needed it? Helped you out of the gutter that time when you stumbled face forwards in, and none of your proper friends would help you out because they were too busy laughing? You must have been drunk, anyway. Tricked.

Anyway, so: I was having breakfast with this chappy recently, somewhere in the vicinity of Bloor and University, when the topic of the new addition to the Royal Ontario Museum was broached. He wondered what my opinion of it was. I said I thought it was ugly and stupid, but that I was resigned to the inevitability of ugly and stupid things; that so long as I didn't have to look at it too much, it could go on standing there like a big, stupid, ugly idiot for all I cared.

My friend agreed with me to the extent that he too thought the "Crystal" unattractive, but--and here's the bit that made me take serious stock of our near ten year chumship--he then made a point of qualifying his verdict by saying that 1) his opinion was only his own, and 2) surely the new building was a great success to the extent that it was "generating interest."

I goggled at the man, to borrow a line from Wodehouse, my eyes protruding in the manner popularized by snails.

I mean! Yes, okay, your opinion is only your own--but so is Daniel Libeskind's! And being that his tastes are informed by his opinions, and being that he was able to erect a ginormous monument to those tastes squarely in the middle of downtown Toronto, why this inane deference to his subjectivity over your own? Doesn't this rather miss the point?

"Libeskind," I said, "just a man like you and me, turned his opinions into thousands of tons worth of concrete and steel. In the face, I hasten to add, of a not insignificant amount of popular opposition. A person could break their neck falling down the staircase of his opinions! But you! You shrink from even giving yours the form of words!"

"Don't you see the irony?" I cried, overturning my coffee cup as I did. "This is a man who makes a great self-righteous show of shunning the very designations form and function! But you somehow take from this the proof of an authority to which you are obliged to defer!"

"What's the matter with you?!" I added loudly, knocking my cup over again now that I'd just righted it.

But my friend didn't answer me. And, of course, I didn't press it. The question was taken to be a rhetorical one and, given how awkward things were becoming, I was willing to leave it that way. But there is an answer, you know. To this business of what's wrong with my friend, I mean.

Because Canadians are under the impression that if they pay enough lip-service to that nebulous concept "equality" they will then bring about the End of History, they have somewhere along the line gone and confused what is quintessentially average--or, if you like, mean--with with what is excellent. That is, with what is transcendent. And because that old human instinct remains (however contradictory it may be in this context) of elevating to positions of authority those who are deemed great by the standards of the day, we now see come to eminence only those persons who have met, most conspicuously, this criteria of having no advantage whatsoever over their fellow men.

It's a sad state of affairs. And it is thus, it seems to me, that Libeskind's Crystal represents, quite literally, the triumph of the ordinary over the extraordinary. That is: it is a triumph of the unabashedly tasteless and mundane, even the fleetingly barbaric, over what is (dare I say it?) objectively subtle, civilized, and beautiful.

Witness the sheer size of the thing! Were the addition proportional to the original building its inferiority would, I think, be evident to even the crudest sensibility. But it's been made to dominate the other (to humiliate it, as was pointed out to me recently)*; you half expect to see "Who's your daddy?!" or even "Squeal like a pig, boy!" in a gargantuan speech bubble over the Crystal's southernmost peak.

Bereft of any actual aesthetic value (though there might be a certain esoteric geometric value to it--but that's hardly the same thing), the Crystal has won its spot in the public square by virtue, purely, of force; by the power invested in it by a mediocratic intelligentsia who resent, to the point of violence, the practical and hard-won truth that while life can be nasty, brutish, short, there exist among us a privileged few (those whose talents are God's rather than Mob's) who can make it serve something decent, refined, lasting. The Crystal's ideological defenders seek to present us with an accessible alternative to the apparent tyranny of objective beauty, but give us only confusion and the degradation of the fragmentary, of the atomized. I am ugly, shattered, hollow, says the edifice, but so are you. See how I flatter you through my quasi-archetypal mimicry.

In the end, the undertaking is a testament to the drooling Darwinism underlying all such efforts at innovation in the 21st century West: rape the exceptional as a sop to the unexceptional, then grovelingly defer to the thug you gave the power so to do.

... One weeps, what?

But what really boiled my bananas about my idiot friend's little bit of equivocation was that second part there: that driveling business about the Crystal's being a "success" because it has generated so much "interest". It's hard to imagine a more confused piece of reasoning, don't you think? If, indeed, it can be called reasoning. I mean, even setting aside all those old-fashioned ideas about what makes a piece of architecture a success (i.e. something in the nature of a perfect balance of form and purpose, accessible as much to the untutored as to the refined taste), the idea that success can be measured simply as a function of the amount of interest a thing generates, particularly when that interest is so overwhelmingly negative and, likely, short-lived, just doesn't quite add up. Presumably, this way, grizzly school bus accidents become a manner of success given the amount of gaping and double-takes they elicit from passersby. Indeed, it seems to me that Libeskind should have been very much more successful by this standard if he had just stacked a bunch of cubed units to spell out LAUGHING ALL THE WAY TO THE BANK down the Bloor streetscape. Or, simply, FUCK YOU.

And yet this thinly-veiled justification of merit based purely on shock-value persists.

To give another example:

To the resoundingly appalled reception given the logo produced by the London Organizing Committee for the 2012 Olympics, the concerned parties were quick to counter that the negative reaction was itself all part of the plan; that they had succeeded because they had 'engaged' the public with their Futurist shitsplat; that now! people would be "talking about London and the Games." ( ... Because, you know, the big problem with Olympics is that nobody ever notices them. Particularly when they're in sleepy little towns like London.)

Thus legitimized, Sebastian Coe, chairman of the LOC, felt at liberty to take the argument one giant step further and said:
We don't do bland. This is not a bland city and we are not going to come out with a bland corporate logo that would just appear on a polo shirt you do your gardening in in a few weeks.
(Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! You don't do bland do you, Lord Coe? Then why is your logo so incredibly bland? ... But that's not my point.)

Behold the depths to which this art-as-spectacle-audience-as- rubbernecker casuistry has brought us: things that aren't ugly are, apparently, bland! Craft, talent, vision? The inspired and naturally privileged individual channeling what Oscar Wilde called the 'divine facts' (or even the average talent aspiring to same)? Pah! What laughably outmoded dreck! Repeated, you should know, mostly by fat, semi-educated suburbanites. And old people. Yes, indeed, what absurdity that anyone should be caught dead wearing a golf shirt with a 2012 London Olympics logo on it; best that that should be saved for the loose-necked t-shirt and ironic wifebeater wearers who could only ever be found in an English garden if they were pissing off their night's drinking in it.

... But I'm getting carried away.

It's not as bad as all that, I suppose, given that all this stuff is, in the long view, a particularly fine grind of dust. Purest transience. What disturbs me is the degree to which my friend, and so many others of the apparently educated classes, are taken in by it. How willing they are to abandon (rather than what seems more obvious: to pursue) their own better instincts; and how willing they are to supply the inevitable want with mere drag--the gunge and fraud of populism. No doubt my friend, next year, will bemoan something his set's calling 'Crystal kitsch' or whatever, and this'll be but a distant (if frustrating for the contrast) memory. But will I be able to keep myself, then, from saying to him, "Twenty damns to your great pig face!", and belting him in the nuts?

Does any man, however far gone he might be on the dope of ephemera, really deserve this?


*Mrs. EMG offers this interpretation of the addition which I think is very notable: that it presents a still-life explosion of the original building; a commemoration of the very act of deconstruction.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

So much spleen and yet SO little spine ...

Oh God, Warren! Stop! Please, please, please stop!

Your capacity to make people so elaborately ashamed of the humanity they share with you is beyond reckoning. It's got to the point where I can't even begin to keep track of the compound absurdities you offer us in each new glimpse of the Bizarro World you inhabit.

Where to begin?

First: he posts this picture--of Randy Hillier, John Tory, Lisa McLeod and Scott Reid all at a recent Progressive Conservative BBQ-thing--to which he added various tenth grade level petulances in the form of thought bubbles next to each of their heads. (I particularly like the line "mental note to self" next John Tory's. Yes, Warren--the thought bubble rather implied that it wasn't a verbal note to self).

Now, take a good look at the photo and observe that the only truly offensive thing about it is its being so completely devoid of any phrase that is, in any sense, actually funny. (Would that he had unloaded a proper old misogynist line or two and those thirty seconds of my life wouldn't have been so utterly wasted.)

So what happens? The Progressive Conservatives concerned--in what I would've thought was a ludicrously far-fetched bid to hoist Kinsella by his own petard--make a great big stink over the apparently sexist overtones attributable to what Ms. McLeod is meant to have been thinking in the picture. (i.e. "I very much wish I was somewhere else, at this very moment. Baking cookies, perhaps. Oh my.")

So what does Kinsella do? Does he shrug off the accusation as absolutely pathetic? Does he tell the people concerned that he just as easily could've put the caption above John Tory's head as Ms. McLeod's? ... Well, no, obviously. That would require a spine or testicles. So does he suck it up and just offer the apology that his lack of spine and testicles requires of him? Well, not quite. An unreserved apology would, unfortunately, require the bare minimum of a lingering sense of honour.

So instead he offers something calling itself an unequivocal apology, but which, of course, contains a staggering number of equivocations, followed by a slurry of false and semi-articulate sentiment, topped off with the usual dose of 'far from any of this making me look bad, it actually proves that I'm a much better person than even I had assumed.' Here's a sample (given the absence of a permalink):

I could equivocate, I suppose. I could be a spin doctor, and query whether the media organizations which have assigned reporters to the story (the Globe, the Star and the Sun) did so because of my ongoing freelance column gig (media critic at the National Post). Or I could suggest that Cheri di Novo’s outrage relates to the fact that I loudly opposed the political candidacy of a person who had actually smuggled drugs in Bibles (which I did, and still do). Or I could wonder why Lisa MacLeod is upset about what I said, but not at all about her fellow Conservative candidate, Randy Hillier, who opposes support for “Quebec, Native, Arts, Homosexual, Urban and Multi cultures” (that’s what he said). Or I could point out that I have columnized against violent pornography, and anti-women movies, and the terrible prostitution ads found at the back of a certain Toronto media organization’s entertainment weekly (they know who they are). Or I could quote one of my editors at the Post, who emailed this to me an hour ago, when I gave him a head’s-up that I would be a media football tomorrow in the competition: “Kinsella a sexist? Honestly Warren it is beyond absurd. I don't think anyone who knows you would ever believe such tripe.”

Or, you know, I could give some other excuse. But I won’t. As I have myself advised others before: when you make a dumb mistake, admit it, apologize, and learn from it.

... Nothing like watching a guy getting forced to lick a pair of boots clean, only to have him then bend over and crap on them so's he can lick 'em clean again voluntarily. Not only doesn't it stink, it tastes good too!

Verily, Warren, you are our own real life David Brent.

H/T Dust My Broom

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Free Free Dominion!

Jay Currie quotes various quotes of the apparently criminal material that has brought a human rights complaint against the web site Free Dominion:

04/24/06 “I can’t figure out why the homosexuals I ran into are on the side of the Muslims. After all, Muslims who practice Sharia law tend to advocate beheading homosexuals.”

03/09/06 “I defy Islamic censorship and speak about what I believe is the truth about violent Islamism and its threat to religious liberty in Canada.”

“Gentes also claims she was discriminated against [remember, she is not a Muslim] due to the appearance of the following posts which she claims appeared at Free Dominion:”

“How many of us pay nothing but lip service to the Muslim threat here in Canada?”

“Probably everyone want to jail a Muslim.”

“I have to ask why we are importing them here?”

“Islamic fundamentalism and its threat to Canada’s religious and civil liberties.” relapsed catholic

To which Jay adds:

As I have, on many occasions, published similar material, I double dog dare the Human Rights Commission to come after me.

One of the things which appalls me about our current Liberal-lite government is that the Human Rights Commission still exists. Grab a brain guys and put a bullet right through this Kangaroo Kourt. (Sorry if I offended any kangaroos.)

Hear hear! This is a farce (I refuse to stoop to calling it an offense) of the highest order. Tell all your friends, and don't skimp on the civic and moral outrage.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

On the Prospect of Global Elders

Sir Richard! Peter! I appreciate a good laugh as much as the next person, but this is a bit much, don't you think? I mean, making fun of the elderly? Now really.

I'll admit that the idea of twelve once-vital statesmen and stateswomen all fussing over a .8% increase in the inflation rate on the international bran market--sorting the difference out from their brass-clasped, mothball-smelling change purses, each shaking their fuzzy blue heads at one another in incomprehension because they can't get close enough to hear without all their hearing-aids creating a fatal feedback loop ... I'll admit, I say, that this has the potential to be very funny. But it's just too cruel.

Of course, yes, it's difficult to put a price on this sort of senility addled gobbledygook:
Archbishop Tutu emphasised that much of their work is likely to take place behind closed doors. "There may be things we can accomplish because people have been able to use their persuasive abilities in confidence. One of the ways to be effective is that no one gets to know precisely what we have done," he said.
Particularly when one considers that what'll be going on behind these closed doors will be a lot of impromptu napping with half-clutched cups of exceptionally milky tea dribbling into so many prosthetically reinforced laps. But let Li Zhaoxing recite just one more Shakespearean sonnet to another slack-jawed, watery-eyed retiree of the same gender and I think you'll find that the laughter will give way to epidemics of despair and a sky-rocketing suicide rate amongst the 70 pluses.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Burke on the Progressive's Method of Tyranny

When all the frauds, impostures, violences, rapines, burnings, murders, confiscations, compulsory paper currencies, and every description of tyranny and cruelty employed to bring about and to uphold this Revolution, have their natural effect, that is, to shock the moral sentiments of all virtuous and sober minds, the abettors of this philosophic system immediately strain their throats in declamation against the old monarchical government of France. When they have rendered that deposed power sufficiently black, they then proceed in argument, as if all those who disapprove of their new abuses must of course be partisans of the old; that those who reprobate their crude and violent schemes of liberty ought to be treated as advocates for servitude. I admit that their necessities do compel them to this base and contemptible fraud. Nothing can reconcile men to their proceedings and projects, but the supposition that there is no third option between them and some tyranny as odious as can be furnished by the records of history, or by the invention of poets. This prattling of theirs hardly deserves the name of sophistry. It is nothing but plain impudence. Have these gentlemen never heard, in the whole circle of the worlds of theory and practice, of anything between the despotism of the monarch and the despotism of the multitude? Have they never heard of a monarchy directed by laws, controlled and balanced by the great hereditary wealth and hereditary dignity of a nation; and both again controlled by a judicious check from the reason and feeling of the people at large, acting by a suitable and permanent organ? Is it then impossible that a man may be found, who, without criminal ill intention, or pitiable absurdity, shall prefer such a mixed and tempered government to either of the extremes; and who may repute that nation to be destitute of all wisdom and of all virtue, which, having in its choice to obtain such a government with ease, or rather to confirm it when actually possessed, thought proper to commit a thousand crimes, and to subject their country to a thousand evils, in order to avoid it? Is it then a truth so universally acknowledged, that a pure democracy is the only tolerable form into which human society can be thrown, that a man is not permitted to hesitate about its merits, without the suspicion of being a friend to tyranny, that is, of being a foe to mankind?

Edmund Burke Reflections on the Revolution in France

Thursday, July 12, 2007

When Men weren't Boys, and Boys weren't Girls ...

... And children imagined that, one day, they should be something called "grown-ups", capable of making "grown-up" decisions about "grown-up" things:

Now what've we got?
"We need to stress to our children that guns are not toys, but deadly weapons which should always be regarded with extreme caution and handled with respect," Scutari said. "Restricting access to imitation firearms will help to drive that point home." [...]

If the measure is enacted, New Jersey would join several states that have restricted access to realistic toy guns to minors.

... What sublime absurdity that we should think it progressive that certain toys only be made available to those who have just crossed the threshold into adulthood!

Chesterton bellows from the grave:
When this progress has gone on for a century or two, it might begin to dawn on people that there was something wrong with their moral principle. What is wrong with their moral principle is that it is immoral. Arms, like every other adventure of art of man, have two sides according as they are invoked for the infliction or the defiance of wrong. They have also an element of real poetry and an element of realistic and therefore repulsive prose. The child's symbolic sword and bow are simply the poetry without the prose; the good without the evil. The toy sword is the abstraction and the emanation of the heroic, apart from all its horrible accidents. It is the soul of the sword, that will never be stained with blood.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Rockin' the Casbah

The clash of civilizations, indeed.
A female Muslim juror has been arrested in Britain after allegedly listening to an MP3 player under her hijab headscarf during a murder trial, police said Monday.

The woman in her early 20s was spotted by a fellow juror listening to music as she was meant to be helping try the case of a pensioner accused of bludgeoning his wife to death after 50 years of marriage.
Specifically, apparently, she was listening to it during the presentation of the defendant's evidence.

The mind reels! I mean, on the one hand, I expect there's a type of person who will look at this in a positive light; that'll conclude that the case for the secular West's and Islam's common humanity--or lack thereof--is only made the stronger by events such as this ... And let's be honest: was there ever anything so quintessentially materialist/fear-of-godless-Western as the sort of indifference that persuades a person that it is okay to listen to some tunes while a man's fate is being determined? Fehgetaboudit! This chick is Paris Hilton in a long hat!

'Thing is: I can't help the feeling that the likely default verdict of even such as Paris Hilton in a case like this would be one of innocence, given that she had absented herself in all but body from any evidence to the contrary ... But this jury--including, obviously, the Muslim woman in question--found the man guilty!


Priceless Reporting

'Tis but a trifle, I know, but could somebody please explain this to me:

"I don't judge people. My job is to talk to them and get them into custody if they're out there and they could be dangerous, to hand them over to investigators. And that's where it stops."

His willingness to speak his mind and call it like he sees it has earned Mr. Poirier a reputation for fairness and impartiality.

"I've never been one to be cozy with the police. The police never call me -- only sometimes if they're stuck," he said.

"I've never taken the side of the police or for the criminal underworld. I just report the facts, and now I do commentary." [my emphasis]

If Monsieur Poirier only reports the facts, and if he makes all this fuss about not judging people, it would seem to me that it is precisely his unwillingness to speak his mind or to call it like he sees it that has earned him this little reputation.

... In any case, it's always nice to hear that a "68-year-old plain-spoken chain-smoker" is making good. I look forward to tomorrow's letters-to-the-editor condemning the Post roundly for such flagrant pro-smoking propaganda.

Friday, July 06, 2007

What happens when minorities talk off script?

They get lynched. Biographically speaking that is ...

Here are the opinions, or absence of acceptable opinions, for which [Arnold] Rampersad holds [Ralph] Ellison at fault:

He gave insufficient credit to the influence of the writers of the Harlem Renaissance on his own career. He had a low view of all-black colleges. He held to a line of "liberal cosmopolitanism," which meant that he remained committed to the grandeur of high modernism in art and cultivated friendly contact with whites. In a letter about Vermont to his friend Ida Guggenheimer he failed to mention "the tragic fate of the Algonquin and Iroquois nations." He tended to be optimistic in matters of race. Sometimes he spoke as if there were things more important than race: "Here's to integration," he wrote in later years to one of his teachers at Tuskegee, "the only integration that matters: integration of the personality." He even claimed that "my problems are not primarily racial problems, that they are the problems of a writer." The developing countries, those in Africa prominent among them, meant little to him, or at least he failed publicly to voice his concern about them; he never even had an African in his and his wife's home. He "refused to blame [the poverty and squalor of Pakistan and India] on European colonialism." He was not for affirmative action, even thought it in fact likely to be deleterious to young blacks.

The list goes on: He didn't care for the dark, often drug-driven Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker strain in jazz, preferring the music of Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong. He didn't think Norman Mailer much of a writer, and thought that he and the Beats were "all trying to reduce the world to sex." He never opposed the Vietnam war, having felt indebted to Lyndon Johnson for his civil rights legislation and for his personal courtesy to him, Ellison. His response to the death of Martin Luther King "would remain muted." He preferred to be called "Negro." He argued for the need for a solid black middle class. Once a member of the Century Association in New York, he put forth no fellow blacks and opposed the membership of women when it was up for a vote: "No women, and especially young black women," were among his inner circle of friends. The only black artist that he praised without qualification was the painter Romare Bearden. And to complete the checklist, though he was generally liberal, "exuberant gay culture offended him."

With such ghastly opinions as these, is there anything that could redeem Ellison? Redemption isn't Rampersad's game; instead he sets out to nail his subject more firmly to the cross by filling us in on all his personal peccaddilos. [...]

[...] This biography is, in short, a lynching, and the coarse rope used to hang the victim is political correctness.

The full text of Joseph Epstein's review can be found here.

Nobody Expects the Climate Inquisition!

Man-made climate change sceptics may have to endure their period of excommunication now, but they do so--I'm quite confident--in service of the noblest of causes. For the moment, at least, their labour will keep a certain Florentine sepulchre from shaking quite so violently from the spinning bones within.

Give it 500 years though ...

"C'mere Zarquon 5000, m'lad. Sit yourself down on your great-great-great-grandclone's cyberknee for a second. That's the way. Did I ever tell you, Zarquon, about the 21st century? No? Well here's the hyperdeal. Whereas the Renaissance gave us, amongst many many other things, the proof that the Earth is not the centre of the universe, the 21st Century provided us with the proof that we aren't the centre of time either ... Yeah, I know. Doesn't seem like much, does it ... No, that was about all they gave us."

Thursday, July 05, 2007

From: Snook (The Elder) at Home

Of the Treachery of Nostalgia

I observed the following a couple of weeks ago, while out and about on College Street during what is called A Taste of Little Italy:

A boy of roughly four years, his younger sister (in a pram), and his handsome and taxed looking parents were slowly making their way through the thicket-like mob. The hour was late--something on the order of ten-ish--and the little tyke had that stricken look that little tykes get when the body is weary, the embryonic soul aching, and the senses loaded well-past capacity. I nudged Lenore and began counting down. Five ... Four ... Three ... Two ... And, sure enough, he burst into hysterical tears.

I laughed avuncularly, Lenore cooed maternally. The beer is just the right temperature, thought I and lit my second Tooney stinker of the evening.

The boy's father was quick to the rescue--and particularly resourceful, I thought. On bended knee at the man-child's side he produced from his pocket a small chocolate bar, unwrapped it between caresses of the boy's shockingly blonde head, and handed it to him with heartfelt apologies for all this whatnot and whatnot. Then he swept the lad up onto his shoulders, affording him a view of the whole fascinating human landscape stretched out before and behind him, that, I'll admit, I was not a little envious of.

To say that the child's mood was improved by these measures would be to stretch understatement too far past the polar extremity. It wasn't so much that Junior cheered-up as that he seemed to have been exchanged for another little boy altogether. Thus perched and brandishing his candy bar like a caramel-tipped conductor's stick, he laughed, he gleefully and incoherently babbled, he cheered and waved his chocolate smeared hands at every scowling face that passed him. His smile was so wide I feared the top of his head might actually come unbalanced and fall off.

Now it was Lenore's turn to laugh (though not avuncularly; it was more along the lines of the three witches) but I just smoldered ... For I realized then, with a sudden, stark, almost blinding clarity: there's a strong risk that boy'll be plagued by happy memories of this night the rest of his life! That the hardships of his adult life will be only further burdened with nostalgia for the charmed days of his youth when Papa held him on his shoulders, and he, Prince among boys, devoured a whole trucker's forearm of a Caramilk and garbled cheek-ballooned nonsense at all the tiny passersby ... The abysmal low that got him so directly to that high forever lost in the contrast.

I wanted to fling something at him (for his sake, you understand) so's that the apparent goldenness of the moment wouldn't take. But there was nothing to hand but an ashtray, and it was too heavy ... And thus, I'm sorry to say, misery's capital was swept away and invested in life's great Bank of Loss, to be drawn upon incrementally for three score years and ten, whereupon the account'll be closed with a little lingering interest. Alas!


Speaking of childhood: I find it odder and odder still, the older I get, that while all my boyhood chums spent their idle time hoping one day to be lion tamers or firemen, I only ever aspired to be a pair of very comfortable walking shoes.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

A Choice of Tyrannies

So apparently an Ipsos Mori poll has revealed that 56% of a cross- section of Britons "believe[s] scientists [are] still questioning climate change."

Now you may well rejoice at the prospect of so many sane people still left in the world, but you'll forgive me if I save my Hosannas for some time much later. I'm sorry but, given the choice between public opinion and settled science, it's less a matter of which one I'm more likely to trust, than which one gives me fewer chills.

But I like (Royal Society vice-president) Sir David Read's, ahem, reading of the situation. He got very upset and said:
People should not be misled by those that exploit the complexity of the issue, seeking to distort the science and deny the seriousness of the potential consequences of climate change.
That is to say, I like that he assumes that people have been made sceptical of man-made climate change theory because of all the supposed Big-Oil-funded propaganda that the media have been dispersing all over the place and so irresponsibly. Rather, that is, than imagining that they have been made so simply by the flagrant inaccuracies and utter falsehoods to be found in the only scientific statement upon the matter that they are likely to have seen.

Just you try and stay the flood of Sir David's scientific rigour!

Monday, July 02, 2007

Dawg Fight

I've been really belting the cats about the place the last couple of days in the hopes that it might inspire a suitable set of replies to Dr. Dawg, re. his criticisms of my criticisms of one of his recent posts. This is what I came up with. (With apologies to all for the absurd length of this thing.)

Dr. Dawg's first point:
My post was about the pro-spanking lobby in general, not the Citizen piece, which served simply to set the stage. It was entirely appropriate to cite other lobby groups, given my theme.
No, it wasn't, Dawg. Not unless you consider it appropriate that a production of Richard III be performed on a stage set for Julius Caesar on the grounds that both plays were tragedies ... But it doesn't bother me so much that you cite lobby groups that advocate the beating of children with neutral objects, as it does that you don't bother to distinguish them from the position of Ms. Mrozek and Mr. Quist, who do no such thing. (Indeed, they even go so far as to affirm the Supreme Court ruling of 2004 that condemns the use of neutral objects!) You did this, clearly, so that you could then paint both lobby groups--indeed the entire "Right"--with the same shit-slathered brush: they are sadists. All of them.

Brutally reasoned, demonstrably untrue, and deeply unfair, Dawg.

Dr. Dawg's second point:
I did indeed seek to make the case that the pro-spankers hail from the conservative side of the spectrum. It's not a hard one to make. I'll gladly stand corrected if anyone here can point me to a left-wing lobby to retain Section 43 of the Criminal Code.

Was my point as absurd as all that? With the crickets and everything?! Sorry, but it just seemed to me that if, say, it's possible for the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party to support something as apparently ultra-conservative as the war in Iraq, then it's just possible too that there are non-conservative Canadians who wish to retain Section 43. No doubt I'm wrong ... But this is indeed terrifying that apparently all of the "Left" (as per Dawg's "Right") are so willing to allow their partisanship to eclipse the need that all free societies have for a bit of well-reasoned debate and devil's advocacy, at precisely the moment when it is required, in the matter of the protections they are afforded by the law. (Which are just so hard to get back once they're gone, don't you know.)

Dr. Dawg's third point:
He takes issue with my claim that the authors cite studies to indicate that "spanking is good for you," but he doesn't provide the original context, only a statement that the authors state that spanking is "neutral."

But here's what he left out:

It is not accurate to say that spanking necessarily has negative repercussions. In fact there is some evidence from reputable studies that it is, as always, done appropriately -- gasp -- good.

The grammar of the last sentence is non-existent, but the sense is clear enough. The authors then go on to cite a study that concludes that "physical discipline reduc[es] drug use" and another, from New Zealand, that finds that spankees in later life "appeared to be particularly [emphasis mine] high-functioning and achieving members of society."
Yes, okay. But surely the "good spanking" business was employed here as a counterbalance to the bad spanking assumption that has brought section 43 to this pass. Mrozek and Quist don't deny the existence of child abuse. (Quite the opposite, I'm afraid.) Rather, they employ the "good" data here to mitigate (or, if you like, falsify) the conclusions drawn about the bad, bringing us back to "neutral". (Perhaps "indifferent" or "inconclusive" would've been better characterizations.) And yes, I know, it works both ways, i.e. that the bad mitigates the good ... But that's precisely the point. A parent's right to swat their child on the keister is, clearly, not the problem here. The problem is, rather, parents who abuse their children. And we do know, as you yourself point out, quite specifically what abuse is, as per the SCC's rulings of 2004.

S-207 seeks to treat a symptom as a cause. And that sort of thing never works out.

Dr. Dawg's fourth point:
I didn't deal with the claim by some lawyers from the Justice Department (not the op-ed authors, who argue instead that a spanking ban is unenforceable) that repeal will lead to a number of frivolous charges against parents, because I think, bluntly, that it's nonsense. Prove it with facts from jurisdictions that have outlawed spanking--say, Sweden, Switzerland, Iceland, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Austria, Germany, Italy, Cyprus, Croatia, Israel or Latvia. Otherwise, stop this silly alarmism. Our police are so stretched that they don't even investigate routine burglaries any more. The idea that they'd proceed against a parent firmly placing a toddler into a child's car seat strains credulity, to put it mildly.
I don't remember stressing this point myself--so I don't think I can be accused of alarmism on this front--but your apropos-of-nothing qualification here does make me wonder a bit.

It seems awfully cynical to say that people are overreacting when they express concern over being made criminals in the eyes of the law, even if they aren't actually being apprehended as such by law-enforcement. I don't think it's so much the case that people are concerned that they mightn't be able to get away with a crime, as that they aren't criminals in any sense in the first place.

Dr. Dawg's fifth point:
The examples of punishable child abuse I gave were carefully chosen: they increase in severity from using a belt to mistreatment of children leading in one instance to death. The Supreme Court of Canada, as noted in my post, took a softer view than Focus on the Family and that frightful pastor in the who believes in whipping babies. But the SCC decision does not necessarily define where the pro-spanking lobby would draw the line if they had their druthers, given the references I quoted and linked to. I'd like to know where they would in fact draw that line.
Sorry, dude. Carefully chosen they might have been, but the problem is a) they all happened in the States, b) none of them happened in the same state, and c) as news, they are (respectively) one week old, five years old, and one year old. They bear no relation to one another, nor do they to the topic at hand (i.e. the distinction between reasonable and unreasonable force under Canadian law). Your claim that they illustrate an "increase in severity" is, frankly, painful. The "increase" exists only on your web page because of the order in which you yourself put them, certainly not in reality.

As for the SCC "defin[ing] where the pro-spanking lobby would draw the line" ... Why would it do that? The point is where the SCC draws the line, isn't it? ... I think I must be misunderstanding something here.

Dawg's sixth point:
My critic imagines that I was confining my argument narrowly to Sn. 43 of the Criminal Code. Perhaps he should read my post again. I am far more interested in the pro-physical punishment folks and their politics in general, which have burst forth during the current Senate hearings. My reference to Singapore was followed by quotations from two Conservative MPs, who assuredly do support flogging.
It wasn't so much that I imagined that you were confining your argument to section 43, as that I thought it only proper that you should, given your point of entry into the debate (i.e. section 43), and that you swing back to it in your sweeping conclusion. The problem with your not confining your argument to section 43--with your blurrily transitioning to a discussion of the pro-floggers as though it directly followed from a discussion of section 43--is the implicit suggestion that if section 43 is upheld, then Canada will consequently become pro-flogging. Which is ridiculous. (For the reason that it isn't pro-flogging now, under the provisions of section 43.)

I've gotta say, your line of reasoning on this really confused me at first. He seems to understand how arguments work, I thought, and yet he's made this huge and glaringly obvious--and totally false--causal leap.

But then it dawned on me.

Indeed, Dawg, it was as if I had seen the whole process with my very own eyes:

There he was
, sitting there. Brooding over the possible retention of section 43 of the Criminal Code. He says aloud: "Don't these people see where this sort of thing will lead? This is insanity! Countenance the argument of a person who accepts even the least sort of violence, and where does it end?! Where?! ... Well, I'll tell you where, idiots! Flogging! That's where!" So he starts blasting away at his keyboard, connecting the dots for everyone to see: "If you do this, then this will happen, then this, then this!" ... But then it dawns on him! Indeed, it seems to him that the spectre of Richard Rorty himself is standing right there behind him, waggling his index finger and frowning fatly "... Wait a second! ... I can't put it this way! This is a ... No, it can't be! ... No but ... No, but it is! ... This is a ... a ... Slippery-Slope Argument! No! ... Well, I can't do that! That's a crazy conservative thing! ... Better just make it seem like section 43 is, of itself, an endorsement of flogging and take my chances that way."

Thing is, Dawg, I would've had so much more time for your argument if you'd just come clean and said that you were worried about where the upholding of section 43 might, eventually, lead. There's at least some reason to this. But, instead--so, as I say, that you might avoid the shame and embarrassment of stooping to the conservative level of debate--you decided to create a totally artificial sequence of cause and effect that flies in the face of two glaring facts: 1) that the momentum of the current social and political climate is working towards the repeal of section 43, not against it; and 2) the conservatives have introduced no bills (in spite of the comments made by two MPs more than ten years ago!) proposing a return to corporal punishment as a means to deter criminal behaviour.

By all means, talk about the pro-floggers and your concern about the risks that they might take-over the "pro-spanking" agenda. Just please don't cultivate this absurd falsehood that it already has, and that it is trying to introduce new legislation here when the issue is of preserving something that already exists.

Dr. Dawg's seventh, and mercifully last point (but, alas, I'm forced to break it up into two sections!):
The rebuttal ends with two questions allegedly put by the original op-ed authors, indicating his overly light reading of the op-ed itself:

How [will] the outlawing of spanking improve the protection of those children who currently suffer very serious abuse (that is, by people who disregard the law even as it stands now)?

The problem with this sort of question lies in its unspoken assumptions. Suffice it to say that, even if repealing Sn. 43 doesn't prevent serious child abuse, it will prevent or at least discourage milder forms of it (hitting a child). So, even if the answer to the question is "maybe not much," so what? In the longer term, of course, a society that does not tolerate the use of physical force against children will become more intolerant of child abuse of any kind.
It's funny that you should mention the problem of "unspoken assumptions" as I was just thinking the exact same thing about yours ... About your assumptions, I mean, and how unspoken they are and everything.

Now, you don't bother to say what you think the unspoken assumptions of my question are--it is, apparently, enough for you to make your case simply by suggesting the dark prospect of a veiled agenda. But all this labouring in obscurity avails the debate little. Let me see if I can tell you what I think your "unspoken assumptions" are and hopefully this will give you a clearer sense of mine.

You say, "even if repealing Sn. 43 doesn't prevent serious child abuse, it will prevent or at least discourage milder forms of it (hitting a child)." This, I believe, is what's called begging the question. That is, in order for you to present this as an answer to the question, you are taking it as read that "hitting a child" is ALWAYS unreasonable--is always "abuse". Which is precisely the matter under contention, right? And while it's an argument that I'm totally willing to listen to, you haven't bothered with it.

Still. That being said, if it is the case that hitting a child is always abusing a child, then I am definitely inclined to agree with you about the "longer term" consequences you mention of the repeal of section 43 ... Being a fellow slippery-slopist, though, you'll forgive me if I worry that the "intolerance" you mention might carry a cost far higher than you suggest. You say that "a society that does not tolerate the use of physical force against children will become more intolerant of child abuse of any kind," but what of the things an enterprising lawyer might construe as child abuse given Jim Munson's assertion that "there's no such thing as reasonable force"? Shouting? Sending a child to his room? The confiscation of his toys? Surely--I say in all seriousness--these can be vehicles of abuse? Indeed, given that it is often argued that psychological violence is a great deal worse in its long term effects than physical violence, can we really afford to distinguish between reasonable and unreasonable harassment or forceful confinement of children?

You're rolling your eyes at this point, and saying something along the lines of "He-llo?! Ever heard of the common law?"

Yes, yes. Of course. The idea being that it "will continue to prevent individuals from being charged or convicted for trivial slaps and spanks" (my emphasis); that, in particular, it makes provision for parents who find themselves in the awkward position of the car seat example you give in your fourth point ... The thing is, Dawg, by repealing section 43 on the grounds that "there's no such thing as reasonable force," you have created a glaring contradiction between the Criminal Code and the common law. This because the common law clearly DOES accept that there's such thing as reasonable force. So ... which is it? Either there is a distinction between reasonable and unreasonable force--and the reasons for the repeal of section 43 have to be radically reformulated--or there isn't, and the common law will, presumably, come to reflect this too.

The second part of Dr. Dawg's seventh, and last, point (he begins by quoting me in italics):
How it [i.e. the repeal of section 43--ed. EMG] will protect all children from possibly falling victim, in their adolescence, to the sorts of epidemics of violent behaviour Mrozek and Quist outline in their, as yet unchallenged, Ottawa Citizen op-ed piece?

The authors "outline" no such thing. Rather, they make two oddly contradictory statements: first, that spanking, although illegal, is on the rise in Sweden, and that the state cannot control it; and secondly, that youth violence has risen after the spanking ban, the suggestion being made that the latter caused the former--even though the authors have just finished claiming that spanking, too, is on the rise!
Well, fair enough. I'll confess that my reading of this probably gave the authors' more than their fair share of the benefit of the doubt. Shall I explain to you how I understood it? And I'll leave it to you to dispose of my interpretation as you see fit.

I don't think Mrozek and Quist were suggesting that the two types of negative consequence they mention bear a causal relationship. The idea rather seems to be that on the one hand you have a bunch of kids who have been too severely punished because their parents were deprived of a formal framework distinguishing effective physical punishment from child abuse; and on the other hand, you have a bunch of kids who were raised in an atmosphere so barren of consequences that they are running amok ... Not sufficiently examined, I agree, but not something to be dismissed out of hand either.

In any case, the thrust of the example (given the context) seems straightforward enough: if the objective of outlawing spanking is to achieve a net reduction in harm, then there is much to suggest that this strategy, at best, will achieve nothing--at worst, it could create a whole new set of problems. This is an entirely reasonable conclusion, Dawg, and one that is supported by legitimate studies. I hasten to add too, that it takes into account the inevitability of very real and very regrettable child abuse--and at no point does it advocate spanking as a solution to the problems of disciplining children. The line is very clearly that while the merits of spanking are debatable, it remains to be the least of many other evils; that the cost of the repeal of section 43 outweighs the benefits.

Now, as I say--and if I can somehow wrap this too-long mishmash up--I would have had all sorts of time for your argument if you had taken issue with that particular synthesis. But you didn't. You completely ignored it and went about this really underhanded business of trying to say that all conservatives are sadists based on quotes taken from three sources (Focus on the Family and two Reform MPs (now Conservatives)), which stand in clear contradiction to the position of Ms. Mrozek and Mr. Quist ... Which, even then I guess, wouldn't have been so bad--except that you state by way of conclusion that this incredibly limited selection of conservative opinion represents the conservative "take on this issue"! Which issue was that again, Dawg? The one that neither Focus on the Family nor your pro-flogging MPs were talking about?

... Sorry, dude. But this just doesn't qualify as an argument.