Barrel Strength

Over-Proof Opinion, Smoothly Aged Insight

Barrel Strength - Over-Proof Opinion, Smoothly Aged Insight

Charles Taylor doesn’t get it

Charles Taylor is one of Canada’s most eminent philosophers, a Roman Catholic, a three time candidate for the NDP, and well decorated for his accomplishments. I heard him back in 1967 lecturing at McGill University on political science, where he demonstrated to me a complete misunderstanding of philosophers prior to the French Revolution. I mean howlingly wrong.




Thirty years later, or thereabouts, I heard Taylor again after a conference on communitarianism in Ottawa in the 1990s. Communitarianism is a view of society promoted by Amitai Etzioni, an Israeli immigrant to the United States.The founding idea of communitarianism is that  the community has rights; and it may reduce to something as simple as: where your neighbours mow their lawns, mow yours too. It is vain and socially detrimental to assert your “right” to turn your lawn into a weed-infested wild prairie in a carefully maintained garden suburb.

Wikipedia says:

His writings emphasize the importance for all societies to have a carefully crafted balance between rights and responsibilities and between autonomy and order.


Etzioni said to me that one of the most important aspects of Canada is its very strong sense of community order, which is stronger than that sense in the United States.

The meeting was held in the same building as the old Ottawa Press Club, and thus Charles Taylor, who had been one of the speakers, was interviewed by the CBC right after the conference. We were sitting in the bar of the old Press Club and we saw Taylor being interviewed live on CBC, saying something utterly wrong about Etzioni and what the conference had been about, rhetoric that communitarianism was a left-wing phenomenon about greater social spending rather than what Amitai Etzioni says it is, which is a call for the legitimacy of higher senses of community order.

Glendronach and I sped to the elevator, and to the CBC floor, whereupon the door opened and there appeared all six feet three of Charles Taylor, whom we greeted with a loud collective spontaneous cry of

“No it isn’t!”

And that pretty well sums up my view of Charles Taylor. I do not have the specialized knowledge of the subject to dispute him in his specialist domains, but wherever his views intersected what I already know about (politics, philosophers pre-French Revolution, and now the niqab issue) his rubber does not hit the road.


Today’s report in Huffington Post says:

Taylor said Harper is fueling anti-Muslim sentiment and that, in turn, makes alienated Muslim Canadians easier targets for recruitment by radical Islamist terrorists.

“Ask yourself what are the recruiters for Islamic State saying? They’re saying (to Muslims), ‘Look, they despise you, they think that you’re foreign, you’re dangerous, you’re not accepted here, so why don’t you come with us?'” Taylor said following a speech to the annual summit of the Broadbent Institute, a social democratic think-thank.

“The more you make it sound like that (is true), the more you’re helping them. And it’s strange that people don’t see this.”

Let us try to dissect this for a moment.

  • we despise those aspects of Islam which suppress the freedom of women to be present in society, and this is not a modern trend. Christianity has always allowed women to be socially present since its inception. Pagan societies too. Consider the existence of Byzantine Empress Theodora, AD500-548, co-ruler with the Emperor Justinian. Or how about Boudicca, the Celtic queen of the Iceni tribe who led the rebellion against Roman rule in Britain in AD 60-61? Women have been in power a long time on this side of the religious fence;
  • we do think many Muslims are foreign, in consequence;
  • they are dangerous, as has been amply demonstrated;
  • their practices are not accepted here;
  • so why do they not return to Islamic countries and practce their barbarous religion and social system where they came from, rather than try to colonize us?

Professor Taylor, what would you have us say to them? That we approve their social exclusion of women, their jihad, their violent intolerance of religious freedom, their attempts t o colonize us for Islam?

Who would believe it if it were ever said?

Taylor continued:

“We’re in a context where Islamaphobia is very powerful in the West,” he said.

“It’s perfectly understandable emotionally. We have to get over it and the worst and the last thing we need is for our political leaders to surf on it and encourage it.”


The fear of Islam is actually one of the few indicators that western society is healthy, and has a sense of itself as a community, despite the endless articulation and elaboration of “rights” of the individual against the community, so constantly promoted by our out of control legal culture. Islamo-phobia is healthy, same as Nazi-phobia, or Commie-phobia. Totalitarian political ideologies should be resisted by liberal society, and not, as Charles Taylor would have it, embraced as just another part of life’s rich tapestry. You do not let weevils ruin the tapestry.



Lee Kwan Yew 1923-2015

Lee Kwan Yew-1955


The founder of the independent city-state of Singapore, Lee Kwan Yew, who has just died at 91, was undoubtedly the most intelligent and capable world leader of the past half-century.

So says Theodore Dalrymple, and I concur.

How many people in history manage to found a state? Since the days of Greek heroes of near mythology few men could rightfully say, “I founded a state”. Theseus and Athens? Oliver Cromwell tried, but was too early, and could not solve the succession problem. George Washington succeeded, with the assistance of an brilliant cadre of fellow founders. MacDonald in Canada? There are not many men of this illustrious calibre.

Let me tell my little story about Lee Kwan Yew. He had retired as Prime Minister of Singapore ten years before; it was the year 2000, though in the Chinese way he was retained as “Senior Minister”. I was reading the Singapore Straits Times in the lounge at Bangkok Airport, about 2 a.m., one of the best newspapers in the world.

On the inside front page was a report of a speech by Lee Kwan Yew to a Singapore business club. In it, Kwan Yew was basically saying that every major economic development policy he had imposed on Singapore was wrong, and needed to be changed. Singapore had made it through a nimble fingers approach to working up the production chain to ever higher value-added goods, with a significant measure of cultural repression.

Lee Kwan Yew had just then returned from California, and he had seen the future, and it worked. It involved making an economy work on brains, and it therefore involved policies that would attract talent. These policies would be tolerant and welcoming to a multi-ethnic citizenry.

I am not concerned with whether Singapore has managed such an about-face; I like to think it has. My point is that for Lee Kwan Yew to say this, he would have had to take stock fundamentally of where the world was going and had both the wit and the courage to see where his beloved and successful policies were no longer sufficient. Then he declared them to be insufficient, and called for new approaches to wealth development in Singapore.

Imagine if Harper or Chretien had said, at any time, that policies to which they had been personally committed were no longer sufficient? Not Harper criticizing Chretien, or the converse, but Harper or Chretien criticizing in public his own decisions: official bilingualism, multiculturalism, free trade.

We Canadians need to see the way the world is working out, and if we had leadership like Lee Kwan Yew’s, there would be little to stop us. Then again, maybe we do have leadership like Lee Kwan Yew’s in the current PM: unlovable, but possibly great.

Dalrymple again:

Lee Kwan Yew had no problems with elitism, provided it brought about an elite of intelligence and ability (not always quite the same thing); the fashionable theories of liberal educationists had no attraction for him. No politician has ever defended more fiercely than Lee Kwan Yew the importance for a society of fostering high intelligence….

He was educated in London and Cambridge, and he recalled admiringly the way evening newspapers were piled in the street in London and people paid for them by leaving their money without any compulsion to do so and without ever stealing what others had left. This, he thought, was a well-ordered and disciplined society, and he resolved to bring such good order and discipline to his own society.


I saw a mother with three young daughters out walking around the snow-covered park near me the other day. One was in a pram, the other children were about three and five years old. Mum had a plastic bag hanging from the pram, and one of her children was spotting waste paper left in the park, which they were encouraged to pick up and take home, as a matter of civic duty and pride. I felt that Canada had a great future if such values were being inculcated in young children. Just a little bit of Singapore and Japan, please. We do not want to live in mental strait-jackets, but we can always manage with high levels of civic engagement, trust, and public cleanliness.


lee kwan yew-2015




Conrad! Get an editor!

I am reading Conrad Black’s mighty Rise to Greatness: The History of Canada from the Vikings to the Present. It has much to recommend it. But I have a few quibbles, as you will see.

I have read Black’s previous works, a life of Nixon and a life of Franklin Roosevelt. They were both magisterial treatments of the persons in question.

Why I am annoyed with Rise to Greatness?

1) It is not a history of Canada, it is a history of the Prime Ministers of Canada. Black focuses almost exclusively on leaders and leadership; outside events are related insofar as they shed light on the situation of Prime Ministers and the actions they took to handle their crises. One can learn a lot by this method about how leadership has mattered: MacDonald’s handling of the simultaneous crises of Métis rebellion and deliberate attempts by rich Americans to undermine the financing of the CPR is well told.

But a history of the  Prime Ministers of Canada is not the same as the history of Canada. Black is relentlessly elitist in this sense, and has every right to be. But calling this a history of Canada when this is a history of Canadian political leadership, almost exclusively at the federal level, is misleading.

2) In the vein, the books wants charts, graphs, or tables: population growth, railway growth, GDP per capita, family size, immigration, electoral maps and other basic factors are utterly missing. That is not the story he is telling.

3) Finally, he ought to have set the book before Barbara Amiel, his wife, and asked her to read it. Or someone who could speak plainly to him. Here is a sample – there are many – of what I am referring to:

Lord Curzon (1859-1925), the foreign secretary – who had been sent as the brightest of the Souls (an elite British group of talented and stylish aristocrats that included Tennants, Wyndhams, Lyttletons, Asquiths, Coopers and Balfour) to be, at forty, the youngest viceroy of India ever – had just been passed over by King George V as prime minister (to succeed the terminally ill Andrew Bonar law) for Stanley Baldwin, whom Curzon described, with some reason, but typically, as of “the most profound insignificance”. (p.518)

Got that?

I still have 501 pages to go. <sigh>

Conrad Black may well deserve to belong among  the talented and stylish aristocrats whom he admires, and possibly envies, and whose literary and historical writings surely merit inclusion in the pantheon of the truly accomplished of Canadian letters (who, by that way, do not include Margaret Atwood, and most of those wet Toronto leftists held up for our admiration by a fawning press no longer owned by him), yet his inclusion in this august company is held back not merely by the envious agitations of the second-rate, but by a tendency on his part observed by many – not wholly without justice – to write annoyingly heavy books with sentences in need of emendation.

<Satire alert>

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is at it again

In her latest book, Heretic, Ayaan Hirsi Ali says that Islam is not a religion of peace and desperately needs reform.

Nothing that we do not know already.


Ali argues for five amendments to the faith. “Only when these five things are recognized as inherently harmful and when they are repudiated and nullified,” she writes, “will a true Muslim reformation have been achieved.”

Those five notions are:

  • The infallibility of the Prophet Mohammed and the literal interpretation of the Koran
  • The idea that life after death is more important than life on earth
  • Sharia law
  • Allowing any Muslim to enforce ideas of right and wrong on another
  • Jihad, or holy war

Rejecting these ideas, some of which date to the 7th century, is a shocking proposition to the faithful.

“The biggest obstacle to change within the Muslim world,” Ali writes, “is precisely its suppression of the sort of critical thinking I am attempting here.”

Sorry, Ayaan, that is not an amendment to the faith, that is the abandonment of any specifically Islamic idea of religion. Shari’a is the expression of the faith; Islam is a totalitarian social ideology, and Shari’a constitutes the ideology.

You cannot give up the idea of the divinity of Jesus and still be a Christian. Just look at the vapid stew of leftism and progessivism that the Unitarians have ended in. Likewise there are beliefs you cannot give up and still maintain that you are a member of a specific religious community.

Though I agree with Hirsi Ali, I expect some resistance from the faithful.

The best thing about Islam is its insistence on a superintending, transcendent God, but the worst thing about their idea of God is that the the almighty does not allow Himself to be known by the operations of human reason, nor does He love us, nor is the universe He created intelligible.

Thence flow all the errors and evils of Islamic life, in my opinion: irrationality, desperate clinging to formulaic obedience to behaviours called “religious”, a lack of love in society and family life,  and a lack of interest in or concern for the operations of the natural world. This leads to a society without love and science. Try that as an explanation of what you see in the Islamic world, and see if the theory is explanatory.


The colonization of Britain

A most surprizing entry today in the Guardian, about the genetic origins of people in the United Kingdom. Surprizing because the great unmentionable in PC circles is genetics, and surprizing – to me – in that the article says that most people in the United Kingdom are of germanic origin.

This finding contradicts those of Bryan Sykes, in his Saxons, Vikings and Celts, who says that most people of Great Britain are, with limited exceptions, “aboriginal”, that is, they have been there since the end of the last ice age (13,000-11,000 years ago), and that scandinavian and germanic  admixtures were relatively rare and confined to the eastern shores.

Take your pick.



The latest DNA research from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, in Oxford, claims “astonishing results”. According to its author, Peter Donnelly, there was no specific Celtic people before the Romans arrived, or after: only genetic clusters. There was no Anglo-Saxon genocide after the Romans left but a steady westward movement of Germanic peoples, intermarrying with the pre-existing Britons.

The Oxford team has studied the genes of 2,000 Britons who can trace their parentage back to the late 19th century. The results mostly confirm conventional wisdom. The Celtic scholar Barry Cunliffe has long argued that after the last ice age the British Isles were repopulated by waves of migrants returning from warmer climes. With his emphasis on “mobility, connectivity and the sea”, he separates the “west side story”, of Atlantic colonisation, from the “east side story”: of Germanic and other northern Europeans’ migration across the North Sea. We already knew that by the sixth century Frankish-German tribes occupied most of what is now England.

What we do not know is when they came, how they settled and who, if anyone, was there before them. Donnelly claims that his gene map shows a Saxon migration “moving into what is now eastern England from AD450-600 after the collapse of the Roman empire”. It shows 20-40% of the study’s English gene pool to be north European, spread across what is now considered England.

This migration was apparently so potent that in just a few centuries it eliminated almost all trace of indigenous language and archaeological remains in its newly settled lands. Donnelly’s co-author, the geneticist Sir Walter Bodmer, adds that “Britain hasn’t changed much since 600AD”.

(As long as you ignore recent immigration from former parts of the Empire and a massive influx of Eastern Europeans in the EU).

The original Guardian article from which the Simon Jenkyns article is drawn is found here.


National-socialism without the interesting uniforms

My constant theme about Quebec is that it puts a kindler, gentler face on fascism. Fascism with a small “f”: everything for the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state. Nationalism for the people, socialism for the people, and those who are not part of “the people” will have to dwell in the outer darkness of competitive capitalism and live without state subsidies. Those not part of the people include  the “ethnics”, the Jews, and the English, as we are bluntly described in la belle province. This is a caricature, but it is uncomfortably close to the truth.

Pierre-Karl Péladeau made the mistake of speaking truth in public again.

Péladeau was speaking at the end of a debate at Université Laval in Quebec City on Wednesday evening when he summed up his belief that the march toward sovereignty should be conducted at double time.

“We won’t have 25 years ahead of us to achieve this. With demographics, with immigration, it’s clear that we’re losing one riding a year,” he told the crowd.

“We would like to have more control of it, but don’t be fooled. Who controls the immigrants who settle in Quebec? It’s the federal government. Of course we have shared powers, but they swear allegiance to the Queen.”

Mr. Péladeau, new arrivals are not made federalist because they swear allegiance to the Queen. What makes them anti-separatist is that, being obliged to go to French-language schools in Quebec, courtesy of Quebec’s Official Language Act, they encounter French Quebecers. Closer acquaintance with French Canadians inside Quebec exposes immigrant kids to the difficult-to-imagine levels of ethnocentricity, exclusion and hostility endemic to many levels of Quebec society.  Immigrants learn that, no matter what, they are not part of nous-autres, us-guys, but remain eux-autres, those guys.

People keep saying it is changing, but Quebec’s attitudes  were laid down by Louis XIV and will never change: uniformity in religion, conformity in society, and exclusion in economics.  If I may quote myself from an earlier blog:

The attitudes are: there ought to be one kind of steeple in the town, teaching one orthodox doctrine. Diversity is weakness, argument is divisive, we must be unified and strong to deal with our enemies, who happen to be everyone who is not us.

To wit, the recent decision in the Loyola High School versus Quebec Minister of Education case, in today’s postings.

I can sympathize with Quebecers’ natural desires to remain French-Canadian, and in control of their own province. This is the deal they got on Confederation in 1867 and it is natural for a people to want to continue to be.  Nevertheless, they share a space with other ethnicities, tribes, and nations. Unlike the English-speaking liberal society which surrounds them on three sides, they seem to have little aptitude for forming allies. Make the effort to befriend us, my fellow French-speaking citizens, and you might find life less fraught with dangers.


You are allowed to teach Christianity as if it might be true

A very welcome decision of the Supreme Court this morning in the Loyola High School  case: you are allowed to teach Catholicism in a Catholic school as if it might be true.
The case concerned the rights of a Catholic private school in Montreal, Quebec to teach a religion and ethics course without being forced to teach the view that all religions, being worthy of respect, were actually equally true.

If anything, the Minister’s decision – which was the basis of Loyola’s decision to appeal – shows that the Government of Quebec has established secular humanism as its official state religion, and that it is prepared to enforce the idea that all religions, being somehow worthy of respect, are in a sense equally unworthy of belief.

A religion need have nothing to do with a God, gods, or the metaphysical, and still be a religion. National Socialism (Naziism) and Communism were state religions, though both were anti-Christian and atheistic.  The Government of Quebec has merely transferred its state religion from an ultramontane version of Roman Catholicism to secular humanism, but it retains is collectivist and authoritarian impulses.

From the judgment:

Held: The Minister’s decision requiring that all aspects of Loyola’s proposed program be taught from a neutral perspective, including the teaching of Catholicism, limited freedom of religion more than was necessary given the statutory objectives. As a result, it did not reflect a proportionate balancing and should be set aside. The appeal is allowed and the matter remitted to the Minister for reconsideration.


The majority decision was written by Judge Rosalie Abella (who knew?) and for once I agree with her.


Freedom of religion means that no one can be forced to adhere to or refrain from a particular set of religious beliefs. This includes both the individual and collective aspects of religious belief. Religious freedom under the Charter  must therefore account for the socially embedded nature of religious belief, and the deep linkages between this belief and its manifestation through communal institutions and traditions.

The context in this case is state regulation of religious schools. This raises the question of how to balance robust protection for the values underlying religious freedom with the values of a secular state. The state has a legitimate interest in ensuring that students in all schools are capable, as adults, of conducting themselves with openness and respect as they confront cultural and religious differences. A vibrant, multicultural democracy depends on the capacity of its citizens to engage in thoughtful and inclusive forms of deliberation. But a secular state does not — and cannot — interfere with the beliefs or practices of a religious group unless they conflict with or harm overriding public interests. Nor can a secular state support or prefer the practices of one group over another. The pursuit of secular values means respecting the right to hold and manifest different religious beliefs. A secular state respects religious differences, it does not seek to extinguish them.

                    Loyola is a private Catholic institution. The collective aspects of religious freedom — in this case, the collective manifestation and transmission of Catholic beliefs — are a crucial part of its claim. The Minister’s decision requires Loyola to teach Catholicism, the very faith that animates its character, from a neutral perspective. Although the state’s purpose is secular, this amounts to requiring a Catholic institution to speak about its own religion in terms defined by the state rather than by its own understanding. This demonstrably interferes with the manner in which the members of an institution formed for the purpose of transmitting Catholicism can teach and learn about the Catholic faith. It also undermines the liberty of the members of the community who have chosen to give effect to the collective dimension of their religious beliefs by participating in a denominational school.


In a multicultural society, it is not a breach of anyone’s freedom of religion to be required to learn (or teach) about the doctrines and ethics of other world religions in a neutral and respectful way…..

Preventing a school like Loyola from teaching and discussing Catholicism, the core of its identity, in any part of the program from its own perspective, does little to further the ERC Program’s objectives while at the same time seriously interfering with the values underlying religious freedom. The Minister’s decision is, as a result, unreasonable.

Unfortunately, Madame Justice Abella sent the case back to the Minister of Education for reconsideration, rather than granting the relief sought immediately.

Per McLachlan,C.J., Moldaver and Rothstein:

The communal character of religion means that protecting the religious freedom of individuals requires protecting the religious freedom of religious organizations, including religious educational bodies such as Loyola….

The freedom of religion protected by s. 2 (a) of the Charter  is not limited to religious belief, worship and the practice of religious customs. Rather, it extends to conduct more readily characterized as the propagation of, rather than the practice of, religion.

Indeed, presenting fundamentally incompatible religious doctrines as equally legitimate and equally credible could imply that they are both equally false.  Surely this cannot be a perspective that a religious school can be compelled to adopt.

The minority differed principally in seeking to grant Loyola the relief it sought immediately, rather than sending the decision back to the Quebec Minister of Education for reconsideration

Hold the gene splicing, please

Nicholas Wade, the British-American science writer, reports that scientists do not feel confident enough in their wisdom or skills to engage in permanent modifications of the human genome by means of new genetic technologies. This must be the first time in recent memory that scientists have not claimed triumphant infallibility.

A group of leading biologists on Thursday called for a worldwide moratorium on use of a new genome-editing technique that would alter human DNA in a way that can be inherited.

The biologists fear that the new technique is so effective and easy to use that some physicians may push ahead before its safety can be assessed. They also want the public to understand the ethical issues surrounding the technique, which could be used to cure genetic diseases, but also to enhance qualities like beauty or intelligence. The latter is a path that many ethicists believe should never be taken.

“You could exert control over human heredity with this technique, and that is why we are raising the issue,” said David Baltimore, a former president of the California Institute of Technology and a member of the group whose paper on the topic was published in the journal Science.

The concern arises from improvements in the accuracy of techniques for genomic editing:

The new genome-editing approach was invented by Jennifer A. Doudna of the University of California, Berkeley, and Emmanuelle Charpentier of Umea University in Sweden.

Their method, known by the acronym Crispr-Cas9, co-opts the natural immune system with which bacteria remember the DNA of the viruses that attack them so they are ready the next time those same invaders appear. Researchers can simply prime the defense system with a guide sequence of their choice and it will then destroy the matching DNA sequence in any genome presented to it. Dr. Doudna is the lead author of the Science article calling for control of the technique and organized the meeting at which the statement was developed.

Though highly efficient, the technique occasionally cuts the genome at unintended sites. The issue of how much mistargeting could be tolerated in a clinical setting is one that Dr. Doudna’s group wants to see thoroughly explored before any human genome is edited.

Scientists also say that replacing a defective gene with a normal one may seem entirely harmless but perhaps would not be.

Apart from uncharacteristic outbreak of humility in scientists, the article is also welcome evidence of Nicholas Wade’s return to science writing. He was in trouble with the Thought Police for his most recent book, A Troublesome Inheritance, (the hyperlink is to a review by the New York Times) which exposed the public to what we know for certain about the genetic basis of human races, and for speculations – always dangerous – on what those racial  characteristics might mean. The book itself is a must read for all people who wish to be informed, and may be bought here.

Thus while we might soon expect hangover-free wines, the possibility of stupidity-free humans must, alas, await further developments.

I love Camille Paglia

My favourite excoriator of the political Left, in its American manifestation, is Camille Paglia. She is a rational exponent of western culture, a fervent exponent of  responsible sexual behaviour, of personal responsibility in general, and a fierce debater against political correctness in all its forms. Sure, she talks too fast and too loud, but so do 80% of Americans.

“The absolute collapse of any intellectual standards in American colleges…”

“I can feel the nothingness in American  cultural criticism…”

“The conservative movement has been a victim of its own success…”

“sexuality is a delicate interaction of culture and biology…”

“Western culture is an advanced state of decadence…”



What is the degree of intersection between  the read-meat conservatives who like the defence of gun ownership and the cultural conservatives who think western culture and art are hugely important and, in general,  superior?

Hangover-free wine?



Drinkers may, I repeat may, eventually be freed from bad hangovers by genetic engineering of yeasts, or so says the Daily Telegraph.The breakthrough concerns a gene slicing “knife” that permits precise elimination of certain molecular sequences.


A professor of microbial genomics at the University of Illinois, Yong-Su Jin, has found a way to change the way yeast reproduces. By altering its DNA, his team can increase the amount of nutritional components in the yeast while at the same time reducing the toxic byproducts that cause hangovers.

My instinct in this kind of announcement is to wait awhile before declaring victory. Inasmuch as a hangover may still be primarily the result of alcohol stripping water from the body – which is why you have to piss so much when drinking – no genetic change in yeasts or grapes will eliminate the sad consequences of too much pleasure.


I shall cite Johnson writing to Boswell:

“I must entreat you to be scrupulous in the use of strong liquors. One night’s drunkenness may defeat the labours of forty days well employed.”
Johnson: Letter to Boswell