Friday, April 10, 2009

Words for Easter perhaps

"IV

My fiftieth year had come and gone,
I sat, a solitary man,
In a crowded London shop,
An open book and empty cup
On the marble table-top.

While on the shop and street I gazed
My body of a sudden blazed;
And twenty minutes more or less
It seemed, so great my happiness,
That I was blessèd and could bless.

V

Although the summer Sunlight gild
Cloudy leafage of the sky,
Or wintry moonlight sink the field
In storm-scattered intricacy,
I cannot look thereon,
Responsibility so weighs me down.

Things said or done long years ago,
Or things I did not do or say
But thought that I might say or do,
Weigh me down, and not a day
But something is recalled,
My conscience or my vanity appalled.

VI

A rivery field spread out below,
An odour of the new-mown hay
In his nostrils, the great lord of Chou
Cried, casting off the mountain snow,
"Let all things pass away."

Wheels by milk-white asses drawn
Where Babylon or Nineveh
Rose; some conqueror drew rein
And cried to battle-weary men,
"Let all things pass away."

From man's blood-sodden heart are sprung
Those branches of the night and day
Where the gaudy moon is hung.
What's the meaning of all song?
"Let all things pass away."

(From "Vacillation", by W.B. Yeats)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Mr. Burns would be proud


"Since the beginning of time, man has yearned to destroy the sun."

Perhaps it isn't purely coincidental that in the picture above Monty is making an "O" sign with his hands. The Obama administration is seriously considering seeding the earth's atmosphere with pollution in order to control the weather. The pretext, of course, is the global warming that has been on hold for the past ten years.

Whatever will they think of next? Perhaps Obama can use the American nuclear arsenal to try to knock the earth into a wider, cooler orbit?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The shape of things to come

The first hundred days of Barack Obama's presidency are not yet fully elapsed, but even in this short space of time he has managed to drastically and perhaps even fatally weaken the standing of the United States in world affairs. Although there exists at the moment an emergent alliance of mutually cooperative nations such as Russia, Iran, Syria, Venezuela, North Korea and Cuba whose hostility is mainly driven by various anti- Western ideologies, Obama seems to imagine that the grievances of each of these countries have been provoked solely by the past mistakes of American foreign policy, and that everything can be smoothed over in the future with apologies and negotiations.

This is terribly naive. The Slavophile nationalism of Russia, the populist Marxism of Venezuela and Cuba, the fossilized Stalinism of North Korea and the anti- Zionist hatred of Syria and Iran are directly incompatible with American interests in every degree. The U.S. has nothing to offer these countries but its own acquiescence to their territorial and ideological ambitions, and this is exactly what has happened so far under Obama.

On Russia, it appears ever more likely that Hillary Clinton's famous "reset button" will entail the abandonment of America's nervous allies in Eastern Europe, many of whom are former vassal states of the Soviet empire; on Iran and North Korea, Obama will continue to pursue the futile U.N. route of strongly- worded letters and sanctions; on Venezuela and Cuba, the administration seems likely to seek a policy of rapprochement involving apologies for past U.S. imperialism in the Caribbean and South America.

It's notable that very little of Obama's would- be diplomacy so far has earned the respect of the targeted countries. Russia's Medvedev reproached him for "haggling" over the Polish missile defence shield, Hugo Chavez called him "a poor ignoramus" with a "stench" like that of George W. Bush, and Iran has so far snubbed Obama's attempts at outreach by setting impossible conditions for reconciliation. The reason is very simple: strong leaders despise weak ones. It is only the leaders of liberal Western countries who cling to the idea that an enemy is just a friend who hasn't yet been recognized.

What will be the likely consequences of this way of thinking? One may turn out to be the abandonment of Israel. Joe Biden has claimed that it would be "ill- advised" of Israel to attack Iran, even though it is obvious that diplomacy with the Iranians is getting nowhere. In the event that Israel understandably tries to cripple Iran's nuclear programme, it can probably expect only condemnation from the Obama administration, and this effectively means that Israel will lose its only faithful ally on the world stage -- leaving the way clear for another round of anti- Israeli hysteria at the United Nations, and possible international isolation of the Jewish state through sanctions.

And what about Eastern Europe? Ukraine is directly menaced by the revanchist ambitions of Russia, which has already invaded Georgia in the interests of defending alleged "Russian citizens", most of whom were not ethnic Russians at all. But millions of genuine ethnic Russians do live in Ukraine, and the Crimea is a point of vital strategic importance for the Russian navy's Black Sea fleet. It can safely be assumed that the U.S. would do nothing for Ukraine, and that Russia has a free hand in this matter if it chooses to act. Even this would only be a preliminary, however, to the reconstitution of a new Russian empire, brought about by the absorption of surrounding countries under the same pretext of defending the interests of Russian- speakers -- who are practically everywhere in the region, thanks to Soviet- era policies of resettlement.

North Korea will continue to defy the U.N. and test increasingly more powerful missiles capable of reaching not only South Korea and Japan, but Hawaii, Alaska, and the western states of the mainland U.S. Decades of negotiations on this matter have achieved precisely nothing, and will continue to achieve nothing -- so that increasingly lethal weaponry will continue to accumulate in the hands of an ailing Marxist fanatic who, presiding over a half- starved and enslaved population, may feel he has nothing to lose in starting a major regional war.

Cuba will likely continue to stagnate under its Communist regime after the death of Castro, without even the moderate incentive to change provided until now by American sanctions and travel restrictions. It appears that Obama will pursue a complete renormalization of relations between the two countries. But this may not prevent the Cubans from further military cooperation with Russia and Venezuela just 90 miles from the coast of Florida, even as Obama feels paradoxically obliged to defer to Russian interests in the latter's alleged "sphere of influence" in Europe.

Syria will continue to sponsor terrorism against Israel, while holding out to American negotiators the elusive possibility that it will cease to do so once it regains the Golan Heights. Although there is not the slightest possible reason to believe that Syria will ever turn its back on its ally Iran and become a purely peaceful neighbour to Israel, U.S. diplomats will eagerly pursue this chimera for at least the next four years. That the Israelis -- already stung by their surrender of Gaza and that territory's transformation into a Hamas military base -- may be unwilling to trade yet more land for the deceptive prospect of "peace" will be taken by world leaders as a sign of incorrigible Zionist intransigence.

The only country I haven't mentioned so far is the one that may have the most impact of all on the fortunes of the Western world: China. It is true that the Chinese and American economies are at the moment interdependent, making any open conflict between the two powers unlikely for the foreseeable future. But this may change with the seemingly inexorable decline of the U.S. economy. A China which feels itself freed of the constraints of dealing primarily with America may find itself with a freer hand to deal with its own territorial preoccupations, such as Taiwan. Already, of course, there is abundant evidence of Chinese hostility to the U.S. Most notably, there have been significant attacks on American technological networks by Chinese hackers, who are in all probability working with the collusion of the Chinese government. Recently it was revealed that a China- based spy network had seriously compromised the security of foreign embassies and intelligence networks; today it has also emerged that sophisticated efforts have been made to undermine the U.S. electricity grid by the means of malware programmes that can be remotely activated to disrupt service. It is difficult to draw any conclusion from this other than that the Chinese are preparing for a possible future war with the U.S.

The West is in serious trouble. Western countries are already plagued with internal divisions, whether political -- partisan politics has sharply divided populations -- or ethno- religious, in those societies where years of mass immigration and multiculturalism have militated against a sense of shared national identity and interest. Even the economic might of the West is now on the wane. It is unclear that Westerners still have the will or the ability to defend themselves against a concerted attack from without, should one arise -- and with the formation of the new anti- Western alliance (explicitly touted as such by Hugo Chavez, who calls it a "new world order"), one may well arise sooner than we think. History tells us that wars of aggression and expansion have been far more common than prolonged periods of peace such as the one we have enjoyed since the end of World War II. And history is also sadly littered with accounts of societies which, having lost their will to survive, were submerged by others more aggressive or opportunistic. It may well be that the election of Barack Obama to the Presidency has marked the moment when the decline of the U.S. became irreversible, and its eventual death inevitable.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Out of the mouths of fools

Yesterday was April Fools' Day, and as in past years the British press expended great energies in creating fake stories that were just plausible enough to deceive the more gullible reader. The Guardian's contribution to this trend was to suggest that its newspaper was abandoning its traditional print format in favour of one consisting of stories delivered entirely by Twitter. Since the function of Twitter, a minimalistic blogging service, is to reduce every statement to an expression not exceeding 140 characters, the natural result was going to be "stories" such as "1832 Reform Act gives voting rights to one in five adult males yay!!!" and "JFK assassin8d @ Dallas, def. heard second gunshot from grassy knoll WTF?"

And that's pretty funny. But it's worth asking seriously what the popularity of Twitter (and other so- called Web 2.0 applications) tells us about contemporary culture. I'm already perplexed enough by the fact that, whenever I am using one of a bank of public computers, everyone sitting around me is looking at a picture of themselves on Facebook. Granted that other people are also sometimes in the same picture (and usually with the same idiotic expression on their face), how is this an improvement on simply seeing that other person in real life or -- if they are not available -- going home and staring at oneself in the mirror? It all seems so incredibly narcissistic.

Now, I'm willing to admit that I may just be too old to understand. (I'm two years shy of forty, which in modern technological terms is the new eighty.) The principal audience for this sort of thing is teenagers, and isn't the whole point of being a teenager that you think the world revolves around you, and that every little drama in your life is worth sharing with the world? But I see disturbing signs that over-25s -- and even over-40s! -- are getting into the act with this sort of thing, and enjoying trying (for example) to "poke" each other in some sort of boring, non- sexual way.

Which brings us to Twitter. Because whereas a normal blog has the natural disadvantage of allowing you to write an extended, complex, and well- reasoned entry that no- one will ever read, Twitter allows you to publish the online equivalent of a brain fart that no- one will ever read either. The maximum number of characters ensures that every observation is impossibly trivial and reductive. Still, isn't this what we've been working towards for the past forty or fifty years of Western civilization? Most of us by now feel that our lives are nothing more than journeys of personal self- discovery and self- fulfillment. Why on earth wouldn't we take this to its natural conclusion, and assume that every one of our random daily thoughts was worth being immortalized by being broadcast to a potential worldwide audience? "I ate a delicious pie today." "OMG pie is coming back as acid reflux." "WTF? Why does this always happen to me?"

There comes a time in everyone's life when, no matter how hard they've tried to keep up with new developments, they realize that they don't care anymore and that they may in fact even prefer the way things were in the past. And that is when they finally realize that they are old. Most people strive furiously to postpone this day of reckoning, but not me. I've had years to get used to it. After all, I don't have a cellphone either! So get off my goddamn lawn, you punks.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Why capitalism rules...

There is an ill wind blowing Master Wu.

We are seeing articles like this piece in the Independent announcing the end of capitalism, neo-liberalism, or whatever it's called these days. The new socialists like to believe that capitalism has failed.
These arguments lack credibility because there is no evidence that capitalism has failed in any way. Quite the contrary, it is government intervention that has led to today's crisis.
Let's start by looking at Clinton's lobbying for more mortgages to low income families in 1999 described in this NY Times article.

In July, the Department of Housing and Urban Development proposed that by the year 2001, 50 percent of Fannie Mae's and Freddie Mac's portfolio be made up of loans to low and moderate-income borrowers. Last year, 44 percent of the loans Fannie Mae purchased were from these groups.
The change in policy also comes at the same time that HUD is investigating allegations of racial discrimination in the automated underwriting systems used by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to determine the credit-worthiness of credit applicants.

The justification was that Hispanics and Blacks couldn't get on the property ladder. Unfortunately, this led to the very same group defaulting on their mortgages 10 years later. Who could have seen that one coming?
Next comes the fatuous claims by leading socialist leaders like Chavez that capitalist countries are on their way down. Tell that to the hundreds of millions of Indians and Chinese who have emerged from poverty as a result of their countries adopting free market policies. Contrast these to countries such as Venezuela and Iran that have adopted aggressively anti-capitalist measures while relying on high oil prices. As this excellent article by Aiyar points out, socialism has eroded their oil producing capability and has seriously eroded their capabilities to diversify. It is precisely these socialist havens that are seeing their fortunes impacted the most.
The US will recover, unless Obama tries the social democratic model that has failed in Europe. American capitalism is about hard work, innovation, and rewarding those who can do both. Thatcher famously said that the conceit of collectivism is "the illusion that government can be a universal provider, and yet society still stay free and prosperous.... The illusion that every loss can be covered by a subsidy. The illusion that we can break the link between reward and effort, and still get the effort." We should remember that before we try to attack the most successful model in history.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Dim bulbs

It's Earth Hour tonight. Turn off your lights for a whole hour and you will be illuminated from within by the glow of your own sanctimony. And just think: if a billion people take part, the energy saved will be equivalent to six seconds' of China's consumption! --No, it's not going to make a bit of difference, but perhaps it's not intended to: instead it's about raising "awareness", which as the ever- incisive Christian Lander tells us, "is the process of making other people aware of problems, and then magically someone else like the government will fix it."

I once saw a reproduction of an old cartoon published at around the time London introduced gas lighting for its streets, in 1807. It had a caricature of a dour Scotsman gravely eyeing one of the lamps and saying, "Aye. But what is this, compared to the light within?" Poor Jock, he never lived to see Earth Hour.

If the van's a-rockin'...

...because a Chinese prisoner is being executed and having his organs removed for resale, then don't come a-knockin'. Really. Just don't.

Still, this does make an improvement over shooting a criminal in the back of a head in front of a crowd of thousands at a soccer stadium, then scooping out the bullet and sending it to the victim's family along with a bill. When it comes to China, we always have to be grateful for the slightest example of progress.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Retro-cinema: "A Bucket of Blood" (1959)

Despite the needlessly lurid title, Roger Corman's 1959 production is thankfully short on the red stuff and long on insightful social commentary. More of a late film noir than a true horror film, A Bucket of Blood explores the beatnik subculture of the late 1950s and satirizes both its pretensions and its assumptions. The story revolves around the downtrodden busboy Walter, who waits tables in a café patronized by snobbish hipster would- be artists and their hangers- on. Despised by the regulars, Walter longs to be recognized as artistic in his own right, but he lacks both the talent and the audacity to persuade anyone else that he is worth noticing. By accident, though, Walter does eventually hit upon a way to create unique works of art through the most macabre means imaginable; and even as he is subsequently feted by the cognoscenti he is able to justify his crimes to himself by appeal to the beatniks' own sub- Nietzschean credo that the artist is the ultimate lord of creation, one who is above all moral accountability.

Interestingly, this is all very reminiscent of the subject of Alfred Hitchcock's 1948 drama Rope, in which the professor -- played by Jimmy Stewart -- preaches the expendability of ordinary people in the interests of a higher "will to power", and so unwittingly inspires two of his students to engage in a pointless thrill- killing. Again, it is Nietzsche who is ultimately being targeted here, but more broadly the movie aims to say something about the darker side of a modern way of thinking that fuses elitism with nihilism in order to to come up with something that is truly horrible.

A Bucket of Blood is only 66 minutes long, so the plot moves very quickly through its development and resolution, and there is enough satirical humour in it to keep any real film enthusiast engaged -- at least until the film is over and he can pop the next DVD into the slot.

H.L. Mencken on death

This is undoubtedly morbid, but I think it's funny enough to be worth repeating:

"Men upon whom we lavish our veneration reduce it to an absurdity at the end by dying of cystitis, or by choking on marshmallows or dill pickles. Women whom we place upon pedestals worthy of the holy saints come down at last with mastoid abscesses or die obscenely of female weakness. And we ourselves? Let us not have too much hope. The chances are that, if we go to war, eager to leap superbly at the cannon's mouth, we'll be finished on the way by being run over by an army truck driven by a former bus- boy and loaded with imitation Swiss cheeses made in Oneida, N.Y."

(from "Exeunt Omnes", 1920)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Brazil nut

The UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown was apparently embarrassed when, while on a recent trip to Brazil to discuss economic matters, he was treated to the Brazilian President Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva's impromptu attempt to interpret the global financial crisis in explicitly racial terms. According to Lula, "this was a crisis that was fostered and boosted by irrational behaviour of people that are white, blue-eyed..."

Even among white people (and even bankers!) blue eyes are comparatively rare; but leaving that aside, it can just as easily be argued that the crisis was largely precipitated within the U.S. by those disproportionately minority and poor homebuyers who, in taking advantage of civil- rights stipulations that they receive the same credit as anyone else, found themselves vastly overextended in mortgage debt at the time of the collapse of the housing bubble. If it is offensive to note that many of these people were non- white and had non- blue eyes, why is it any different to focus on the physical characteristics of the bankers as a clue to their behaviour? But Lula's remarks serve as another reminder of how strongly racial theories -- ones that are usually hostile to people of European descent-- continue to taint the political discourse of South American countries. Evo Morales and Hugo Chavez, I'm looking at you...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Dyslocation

There have only been a few occasions in my life where I've felt the advance of technological change so keenly that I can honestly say I've been overwhelmed by it, and on each of those occasions computers have been involved in some way. I remember back in 1994 my first exposure to the Internet, and my discovery that I could read newspapers from the UK on the day they were published, and for free! That seems ridiculous now, of course, but during the 1980s my family used to make a twenty- mile trek downtown every week to buy outdated British newspapers at an inflated cost; we were otherwise mostly at a loss for news from the old country. When I first loaded up the website for the Times of London, I knew that all of that was at an end, and there was a curious feeling that went along with it: a kind of dizziness at the thought that the world was shrinking and being brought more easily within our grasp.

I experienced that same feeling again this week, thanks to Google's Street View UK. One of the 22 British cities to be faithfully photographed in every detail was Belfast, where I once lived as a boy and where I still have numerous relatives. My grandparents had a house on an estate in East Belfast until their death in 2007, and thanks to Google -- whose camera car stopped about four feet from the back gate -- I could see that the new owners of the house were renovating it from top to bottom. I was also easily able to track other changes to the neighbourhood: I noticed that the kind of grants given by various official bodies to the community tended to result in the creation of ostentatious signs and memorials, for example, even while the main street continued to wither away and die for lack of entrepreneurial activity. I remember the Newtownards Road of only twenty years ago as being a hub of thriving small businesses such as groceries, chemists, and newsagents, but unsurprisingly the extinction of the major local industry of shipbuilding resulted in a terrible blight that is evident from the numerous boarded- up and burnt- out storefronts.

There was one small sign of hope, which was that an actual office building was being constructed in the area at the time Google took its pictures. The neighbourhood is located only about a half- mile or so away from downtown Belfast, so from an economic perspective it isn't surprising that firms are beginning to consider moving there, but to someone like me who knows the local people and their ways it almost seemed as if an advanced alien civilization was constructing a distant and beleaguered outpost on a primitive planet. While the development is promising, it's not likely that many local people would yet have the professional or even social skills necessary to work in such a place.

The oddest thing about the Street View journey was the sensation of being able to move at will through my old neighbourhood while remaining stationary, and at a distance of thousands of miles. It was one of the first times that the endlessly over- hyped phrase "virtual reality" began to have any meaning for me at all. This is a truly revolutionary thing, to be able to travel and to explore a place from far away -- and after any session with Street View, I came away feeling as if I had actually been somewhere else for that time; all the while I felt the sensation, familiar to travellers, of having to adjust to new surroundings! Thanks to Google, the world has just become that much smaller again.

Friday, March 20, 2009

State of nature

Environmentalism being the dominant secular ideology of our age, its prejudices and preconceptions are always worth challenging wherever they are found. One of the ideas frequently put forth by Green thinkers -- and recently repeated by an in- house philosopher on Canada's CBC Radio -- is that Western societies are somehow unique in being responsible for environmental degradation because of Christianity's views about nature. We can assume from its mainstream exposure that this isn't a very controversial idea; but what does it really mean?

It's true that, according to the Biblical account, God commanded that man have "dominion" over all the earth in the book of Genesis, and that subsequent Christian thinkers saw nature as having fallen at the same time as Adam and Eve, who were supposed to have inhabited a perfect Creation. Environmentalists conclude from this that Christians have never had any reason either to respect nature or to have refrained from exploiting it mercilessly.

There are numerous problems with this. Most glaring is the historical fact that the two states in which pollution and the destruction of the environment have been most marked have not been Christian at all. The Soviet Union was officially atheist, and it gave us (among many other things) the disgraceful legacy of Chernobyl and the disappearing Aral Sea; while today China -- which is either Communist or Confucian in its values, depending on who you believe -- is happily blighting its landscape to an almost unimaginable degree. Neither of these societies have taken their inspiration from the Book of Genesis. But both have manifested to an extreme the desire to act on an impulse that is not Christian but simply human, which is the desire to make the best of living in what is essentially a cruel world.

It's naturally true that Nature is not "fallen" in some theological sense; Christians were always wrong to say this, not only because it was unclear how or why the Fall of Man would have altered the rest of God's creation beyond recognition, but also because that Creation itself was always so plainly hostile to man in the way it was designed. Even if the lion were destined to one day lie down with the lamb, there was no reason for the lion to be so swift on his haunches and powerful in his jaw unless he had been created to eat smaller, slower animals. Where the Christians were right, however, was in believing that nature was irredeemably hostile to mankind now, and that this would always be the case until the end of the world. It is difficult for affluent modern Westerners -- who unsurprisingly make up the vast majority of environmentalists -- to appreciate this simple fact, since they are insulated by advances in medicine and technology, or even by simple geography, against the crueller ravages of what the natural world has to offer: volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, infectious diseases, large predatory animals, and so on. Our ancestors knew all of these dangers well, and so do many of the world's poor today.

The rejection of the Christian idea of dominion of nature is supposed to lead us to the opposite conclusion, which is that man is just one animal out of many and that we have no more right to exist than any other. But this is inconsistent with scientific perspective. Environmentalists may oppose the building of a subdivision on the grounds that it will disturb the habitat of (say) a particular rodent or bird. But to deny the human being his habitat in favour of that of the animal is to give the priority to the animal, which is not the same as treating the human and the animal equally. And besides, it is a uniquely human trait to assign an objective value to another species and to worry about its continued existence. God knows that the antelope isn't concerned about the continued existence of the cheetah, and anyway if the antelope could express an opinion on the matter at all we can easily guess what it would say.

In practice all of us, whether allegedly eco- conscious or not, behave much less sentimentally when it comes to the matter of our own personal survival: we have almost entirely eradicated the smallpox virus, for example, in the selfish interests of guaranteeing our own longevity, and many of us also have no qualms about eradicating unborn human beings if they pose the slightest threat to our peace of mind. Even in our daily interaction with others, the vast majority of us have no problem with the idea of ruthless competition with other people. One can only conclude that in the vast majority of cases our alleged humanitarianism is a sham, and that our sentimentality about nature is only a flimsy cover for our contempt for human beings. --Even Hitler, they say, was very fond of his dog.

No Love

The saddest thing about this story is that so few people are going to be surprised or concerned by it. A citizen of a modern Western democracy is facing his fourth arrest simply for speaking his mind, and the fact that he is a probable white supremacist with a fondness for ugly shirts doesn't make it any less alarming. Canadians are apparently only permitted to express their opinions at the sufferance of the government: say something unkind or unpopular enough and you will be punished for it by the State. Well, this is no more than we deserve. Censorship is an inevitable outgrowth of self- righteousness, and self- righteousness is the defining Canadian sin. Most of us are quite happy to point our fingers at other people and characterize them as intolerant, which is how we justify our refusal to tolerate them. The idea that anyone could say the same thing about us has never even crossed our minds. But the prosecution of so- called hate speech is now increasingly moving beyond fringe targets like Brad Love, and setting its sights on more mainstream figures. Once you normalize punishing people for "hate", you only have to expand the definition of "hate" in order to silence all inconvenient dissent.

Incidentally, it would have been nice for Canada's paper of record to have told us just what it was in Brad Love's speech that warranted his being dragged away in handcuffs by eight (!) officers. The article said vaguely that Love spoke of "black crime", but what exactly does this mean? If he were only making the observation that young black men commit a disproportionate share of urban crimes, he'd only be referring to an unfortunate statistical fact -- a fact which is incidentally often repeated by leaders in the black community who want to see that situation improve. Or did Love perhaps baselessly speculate that black people are genetically disposed to commit crime? It'd be at least some small consolation to know that Love was arrested for a falsehood rather than for a fact, but the Globe and Mail didn't seem to think that distinction worth mentioning at all. (And note that they disabled comments for the story as well! O delicious irony...)

Unnatural selection

The endless petty controversies in Canadian politics remind me of the old joke about student politics being so bitter because absolutely nothing real is at stake. Ours is still a small country whose importance on the world stage is minimal, but you'd never know it from the degree of partisan rancour found in the House of Commons every day, and in other fever swamps such as the Comments section of the Globe and Mail.

The latest storm in a teapot concerns whether or not the Conservative Minister of Science, Gary Goodyear, believes in evolution or not. Now, making fun of Christians is like shooting fish in a barrel for the mainstream Canadian media, whose sympathies almost always lie with the opposition Liberals anyway. This particular inquiry would be justified if Goodyear's beliefs were at all relevant to his ability to do his job, but there is no evidence to suggest this is the case. Goodyear is more likely being targetted for political reasons because of his preference for funding for applied rather than "pure" research.

I can't help but sympathize with creationists, for two reasons. One is that most of them are victims of poor science education in our schools. In most cases, they haven't been presented with enough information to reach an informed conclusion, so they've reverted by default to whatever they were taught at home. The other reason is that they are unfairly and selectively criticized for doing something which the vast majority of Canadians indulge in, which is holding irrational beliefs. If you were to add together all the believing Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, New Age- enthusiasts, Native spirituality adherents, Gaia devotees, and Toronto Maple Leaf fans, you'd have very few people in this country left over who could consider themselves to be perfect rationalists -- especially if those people had ever done something so foolish and ultimately unexplicable in their life as to fall in love or attach special significance to a material object such as a wedding ring or family heirloom. It is simply impossible for human beings to be logical and reasonable all the time. This doesn't mean that we ought to excuse superstition and sloppy thinking - quite the opposite; we should go after them with all of our energies, especially when they have dangerous consequences for others, but at the same time we should recognize that most beliefs don't have dangerous consequences, and we should also have the humility to remember that we ourselves are not perfect.