Barrel Strength

Over-Proof Opinion, Smoothly Aged Insight

Barrel Strength - Over-Proof Opinion, Smoothly Aged Insight

What is a billion?

The NatPost today had an article on the subject of the London Inter-Bank Offered Rate, particularly the price-fixing engaged in a by bankers.

In it a certain Don Coxe, a “global portfolio strategist” for the Bank of Montreal in Chicago was quoted.

Coxe estimates that, overall, banks around the world have paid US$350-billion in fines “for all the frauds they are admitting to since 2008.”

$350 billion!

That is greater than the size of the spending of the Canadian federal government for the year 2015.


I apologize for the fact that the numbers in the chart may appear illegible, but the topmost number in the left-hand column is 351000, standing for $351 billion Canadian dollars, or less than total bank fines since 2008, measured in US dollars.

As Coxe remarks, we have yet to see any bankers in jail.

If you are a defender of the capitalist order, as I am, then you ought to be appalled by this figure, and these behaviours.

“Floggings will continue until morale improves.” – traditional management technique

The market ideologists  need to be sent to their bedrooms without supper, for about a decade. Hopeful they will starve.

Maybe it is time you looked up the brilliant movie, Margin Call, and paid very close attention to the speech at the end of the movie by Jeremy Irons, who played the Chairman of the Board, who recites the list of market crashes, bubbles and scandals since the invention of stock markets in the mid-1600s.

Al-Ghazali and the Closing of the Muslim Mind

I have been telling you people about this malign influence over the Muslim mind, the philosopher Al-Ghazali, for some time. Robert Reilly wrote a book about him in “The Closing of the Muslim Mind“, which you should read if you wish to understand why, for many muslims, everything in the world is “in’shallah” – as God wills- when the subject under discussion is as trivial as why the car tire has a flat.

In a world without natural causes, everything that happens happens directly from God’s will. Imagine a world without natural causes. Everything must be a human conspiracy, and act of a djinn, or an act of God. Imagine what happens to science and philosophy when there are no natural causes. They crash. They become quasi-heretical activities, when they are not fully heretical.

In this week’s New Yorker, there is a short story by Salman Rushdie about the f=great Islamic follower of Aristotle, Ibn-Rushd, and this is what he has to say about al-Ghazali:

There was a deep, sad wound in him, because he was a defeated man, had lost the great battle of his life to a dead Persian, Ghazali of Tus, an adversary who had been dead for eighty-five years. A hundred years earlier, Ghazali had written a book called “The Incoherence of the Philosophers,” in which he attacked Greeks like Aristotle, the Neoplatonists, and their allies, Ibn Rushd’s great precursors Ibn Sina and al-Farabi. Ghazali had suffered a crisis of belief at one point, but had recovered with such conviction that he became the greatest scourge of philosophy in the history of the world. Philosophy, he jeered, was incapable of proving the existence of God, or even of proving the impossibility of there being two gods. Philosophy believed in the inevitability of causes and effects, which was an insult to the power of God, who could easily intervene to make causes ineffectual and alter effects if He so chose.

The crude popular level of interpretation of al-Ghazali that has reached the islamic street is that God renders all causes not originating in Himself utterly null. Everything proceeds from God’s will. Hence why bother with science?


“What happens,” Ibn Rushd asked Dunia when the night wrapped them in silence and they could speak of forbidden things, “if a lighted stick is brought into contact with a ball of cotton?”

“The cotton catches fire, of course,” she answered.

“And why does it catch fire?”

“Because that is the way of it,” she said. “The fire licks the cotton and the cotton becomes part of the fire. It’s how things are.”

“The law of nature,” he said. “Causes have their effects.” And her head nodded beneath his caressing hand.

“He disagreed,” Ibn Rushd said, and she knew that he meant the enemy, Ghazali. “He said that the cotton caught fire because God made it do so, because in God’s universe the only law is what God wills.”

“So if God had wanted the cotton to put out the fire, if He had wanted the fire to become part of the cotton, He could have done that?”

“Yes,” Ibn Rushd said. “According to Ghazali’s book, God could do that.”

She thought for a moment. “That’s stupid,” she said, finally. Even in the dark she could sense the resigned smile, the smile with cynicism in it as well as pain, spreading crookedly across his bearded face.

“He would say that this was the true faith,” he answered her, “and that to disagree with it would be . . . incoherent.”

“So anything can happen if God decides it’s O.K.,” she said. “A man’s feet might no longer touch the ground, for example. He could start walking on air.”

“A miracle,” Ibn Rushd said, “is just God changing the rules by which He chooses to play, and if we don’t comprehend it, it is because God is ultimately ineffable, which is to say, beyond our comprehension.”

The point is, the differences between Islam, on the one hand, and Christianity on the other, including secular societies proceeding from Christian belief, is that the universe is intelligible. It can be figured out. This is why science as we understand the term emerged in Christian lands and not anywhere else (despite what they tell you in university). Neither India nor China, for different reasons, developed science in the sense in which the practice originated in the christian west. But in Islam, the development of philosophy and science was cut short by the fanatics and by the baneful influence of the philosopher who renounced philosophy, Al-Ghazali.


The Professor tells us what we (should) like

The Daily Telegraph reports:

Men value intelligence in women far above large breasts and long legs, a Cambridge evolutionary biologist has claimed.

Although having a large bust and never-ending pins are deemed by western culture as the epitome of femininity, when choosing a mother for their children, men look for brains first,

Professor David Bainbridge, of the University of Cambridge said that intelligence is by far the most attractive quality for men looking for a long term partner because it demonstrates that his chosen partner is likely to be a responsible parent.

My theory is that the human brain is the largest sex organ in the body, and good brains means adventurous sex. Intellectual or smart girls make better bed partners. That’s my well-tested theory and I am sticking to it.


More seriously, while I agree that good brains indicate good genes, you do not marry only a body, you marry a mind. You will be living with that mind long after the peak period of sex and fertility has passed, if you are so lucky.

Temperament and character matter hugely, more even than beauty, though beauty is its own reward.

While I do not disagree with the evolutionary views of Professor Bainbridge (who could?), I find them incomplete. We mate with the whole woman. As a friend used to say: “It is not how you [women] look, it is how you make us feel’. If more women understood this fact, they would worry less about their looks and more about their manners.

This is a subject on which everyone is qualified to have an opinion.




I am NOT concerned

When is it right for you to say to any number of pressing social, religious, political, or economic concerns: “I am very sorry, but I am NOT concerned”?.



If you are conservative your list differs from that of the leftist, but for everyone there comes a time when you find yourself saying, despite many good reasons to be concerned about any of the following:

  1.  the violent anti-spiritual nature of Islam
  2. the ecological stress of overpopulation
  3. global warming
  4. the absence of global warming
  5. the decline of intelligence
  6. the decline of social and intellectual standards
  7. increasing economic inequality
  8. the ongoing sexual revolutions
  9. the decline of Christianity
  10. my growing waistline
  11. the anemic recovery since 2008
  12. Obama
  13. posting more blog entries

“I am terribly sorry, I am NOT concerned.”

When is it right to say, I don’t care? Because right now, I do not care, or care less than I used to, about a growing number of things that, as a conservative, I ought to be worried about. Nor have I added to the list anything lefties are concerned about.

I have not become unmindful of any of them. I am simply sweating less about stuff I cannot control.

I have several possible explanations

  • age – people become happier as they age
  • career – I am highly occupied in work that interests me
  • responsibilities – I have responsibilities upward to aging parents and downwards to children, and have less time for abstract concerns.

I am not saying it is a matter of right or wrong to be more or less concerned, though it may be. I am saying I bother myself less with all of it.



A control issue

A Canadian federal scientist observes, concerning the gag orders on communications from federal government scientists:


“It’s hard to fathom. It seems to be simply a control issue. You could sort of understand the rationale if you were potentially talking about a controversial subject and whoever is in government quite rightly has the right to make sure there are no critical statements about policy. But when you go to the extent of silencing just talking about facts, that just doesn’t make any sense.”

“Silencing just talking about facts”. The problem for the Harper government is that long term conservative supporters, such as me, are starting to think that there is truth in this accusation: that the control is not designed to prevent talking about global warming when it is not happening, or caribou declining in some federal park. These might be controversial. No, the view I get is that the control is for the sake of control. And people are tiring of the thuggish style. The horse will overthrow the rider, if enough of us come to think we are perceived by Team Tory as horses.

Tory voters are not less sensitive to the potential erosion of their rights; they are ready to trade potential claims upon the state for actual security, if they can believe that the government actually has a plan, and can execute that plan.

The tipping point for the Tory voter may come later than for those who are  endemically opposed to a conservative government, but it does come, and it comes when enough of us conclude that the controls serve no useful purpose, and merely suppress scientific discourse for the sake of showing who is boss. Controls of scientists remind us of more of Jean Chretien than it does of the old Reform.

Elizabeth May RIP

Elizabeth May, Canada’s Green Party leader, behaved so badly it finally had to be noticed. About time.

Although the annual Ottawa Press Gallery Dinner is known for its unorthodox speeches, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May cast an awkward pall on the proceedings with an extended speech that ended with her being led off the stage.

Elizabeth May overdid it. She was awkward, emotional, hot-tempered, rambling and out of tune with the emotional context of the Press Dinner. So what else is new?


I recall her in the Munk debates on global warming a few years ago. She was debating Bjorn Lomborg and Viscount Monckton of Benchley. Lomborg’s view was that man-made global warming is occurring and it is about 100th on a list of one hundred problems the world needs to solve. Despite the fact that one look at Christopher Monckton’s snooty face would make you long to punch it, Elizabeth May had the shouting meltdown at Lomborg. Quite out of control with wrath.

Christopher Monckton lomborg
Christopher Monckton  Bjorn Lomborg

The debate organizers had to silence her microphone so that she could not be heard. So why was the inoffensive gay vegetarian Dane more offensive to May than the snooty, witty hereditary peer?

I do not know, but I have met Elizabeth May types all my life.

They frequently have families, which they terrorize. Dutiful husbands cast their gazes downwards as the wife goes into yet another tirade. They are never in doubt. They feel it is vitally important to save the planet, and that by a diligent effort to recycle, and use paper bags rather than plastic (or is it the other way around?), and with a bit more effort on all our parts – including especially yours – we can avert the ecological catastrophe that your careless and anti-social plastic bags will inevitably cause. And they feel the need to tell you this as you meet in the village store, the church, or by chance on the sidewalk. This is how they converse.

I can think of at least half a dozen bossy-boot women, all past fifty, who have never managed more than their families, and whose default mode is to snap, shriek, bark, and hiss in outrage. All social intercourse with them may be the occasion for their ire and recrimination.  The ecology merely gives them the excuse they need to be overbearing. In another century it would have been sexual impropriety that gave them the vapours. Now it is global warming.

Elizabeth May has been caught out in her default mode. Her toothy smiles and the touching concerns and  kissy-face greetings are a micron-thin layer barely covering her burning rage. She belongs to the Anglican women’s branch of cosmic scolds, and of that tribe of women there is no lack.

One of these days they are going to have to be called on it, and I observe that Elizabeth May had one of those humiliating but necessary moments. I can think of a few other women of that ilk who could also use a similar, well-deserved comeuppance.

Scolding will not make the world a better place.

Steyn nails it

The immaculate Mark Steyn on freedom of speech:

Alas, we have raised a generation of But boys. Ever since those ridiculous Washington Post and AP headlines, I’ve been thinking about the fellows who write and sub-edit and headline and approve such things – and never see the problem with it. Why would they? If you’re under a certain age, you accept instinctively that free speech is subordinate to other considerations: If you’ve been raised in the “safe space” of American universities, you take it as read that on gays and climate change and transgendered bathrooms and all kinds of other issues it’s perfectly normal to eliminate free speech and demand only the party line. So what’s the big deal about letting Muslims cut themselves in on a little of that action?Why would you expect people who see nothing wrong with destroying a mom’n’pop bakery over its antipathy to gay wedding cakes to have any philosophical commitment to diversity of opinion? And once you no longer have any philosophical commitment to it it’s easy to see it the way Miliband and Cotler do – as a rusty cog in the societal machinery that can be shaved and sliced millimeter by millimeter.

The point of all the Islamic outrage is to render Islam beyond discussion. This effort is abetted by liberal stooges. Two facts it is dangerous and soon to be illegal to notice aloud.




Amsterdam is one of those places that challenge every libertarian’s ideas about how things should run. It is intensely left-wing in many respects: its citizens evince a strong social cohesion predicated on non-market values, the city enforces minute regulation of architecture, zoning and social behaviour, while a high level of government spending maintains social and municipal services. Yet Amsterdam also manages to show how capitalist it is in every store-front. In some ways, I thought, this place is a Potemkin village, and then thought “No” it is a Disney-like theme park maintained by millions of tourists and the willing cooperation of its citizens.

It seems to gather every hipster in Holland into one place: there are tiny stores selling electrical fixtures of the 1950s, micro-art galleries, baroque music concerts, weird antique stores of every description, ecological butcheries, and apartments which, when revealed by walking by, are contemporary art-galleries with dining room tables. Indeed, I was informed that the police check out every potential inner-city resident of Amsterdam; that to live there requires a permit. And the permit is issued if you are Dutch enough, which is to say,  willing to abide by the rules of the place, as the police may explain to you.


Make no mistake. This place has rules, visible and invisible. Once, more than a decade ago, I was with a bunch of guys at a restaurant on one of the outer ring of canals. It was October, dark and cold. We headed out the door for a doobie, because it was a non-smoking bar. Eventually the young lady of the place came out and politely informed us that we could not smoke a joint in front of the place, because that might imply the restaurant tolerated dope smoking , but that we could smoke dope at the end of the block, at a construction site a few yards away. A Dutch compromise of behavioural zoning worked out precisely to the meter.

A place as well run as Amsterdam must run on behavioural zoning. Stuff allowed in the red-light district cannot be tolerated a block away from it. By the way, if you do not wish to find the red-light district, you can avoid it for your first seven trips  to the place, as I did. Nothing to see: move on.


Indeed the charms and delights of Amsterdam are found in the walking around, in the architecture so carefully maintained, in the thousands of great bars and restaurants, in the amiable way the Dutch manage to live in the crowded spaces, in their friendly inhabitation of the place, in their tolerance of the tourists in their midst.

The annoyances of Amsterdam for the North American conservative are the arrogant sit-up cyclists in their damned cycling lanes whizzing by, who have rights of way against pedestrians and motor-cars;but more importantly,  in the idea that minute planning and regulation, formal and informal, could actually work, that a great capital of 17th century capitalism could actually be preserved more or less intact for centuries without  redevelopment, high rises, and modern architecture, but at the price of this regulation, that a highly capitalist people – including the hipster artists – might choose to live in a highly regulated way.


Does this not send Ayn Rand spinning in her grave? I hope so. Amsterdam epitomizes every thing that Jane Jacobs had to say about cities, communities, and markets: that highly creative and capitalist places are one and the same, and that markets are embedded in, and contained by, societies, and that the rules of markets co-exist within non-market institutions and rules. Do yourself a favour. Read Jane Jacobs’ “Systems of Survival”, which is scarcely a hundred pages long, and see if your views of markets and society are not deepened.

Or join me for another ramble through Amsterdam, as we discourse about markets, societies, religious freedom, and how to hold them all together in some harmony. The walk will do us good.






David Warren flogs me for being a simpleton

I published a post the other day on Michael Coren’s retreat from Catholic orthodoxy, which he said was instigated by the Roman Church’s attitudes towards homosexuality. I concluded that we are in the presence of a vast shift of opinion on the subject,comparable to the changes in opinion that led tot he abolition of slavery and the reduction of cruelty towards animals.

As I wandered through David Warren’s always enlightening blog, I came across this:

Perhaps the most irritating argument for “gay” is “changing public attitudes.” It is the chief argument used from liberal pulpits, in both church and media. It comes down to this: Once upon a time, people took slavery for granted, or cruelty to animals, or many other wicked things. We would justify them by the Bible, in the old days. But today we know better!

This is pure charlatanry, though to be fair, the people who make this argument sometimes believe it. And when they do, they may be extenuated insofar as they are invincibly ignorant — of history.

Opposition to, and voluntary rejection of, the ancient pagan institution of slavery, came in with Christianity itself.

To the latter I say, “Perfectly true”. The elaboration of Christian ideas has led to the abolition of slavery, the emancipation of women, the change in attitude towards cruelty to children, cruelty to animals, and, I would argue to increasing sensitivity to the infliction or occurrence of suffering everywhere.

My point is quite limited. It is my belief that the massive change in attitudes towards sexuality, hetero, homo and every point in between,is the result of increasing sensitivity to the infliction of social pain and ostracism on outliers. While the birth control pill had a dramatic and immediate effect on social mores, and should not be discounted, the change in attitude toward homosexuality is driven by some portion of Christian-influenced sentiment to realize more fully the command of universal love that Jesus taught.

David Warren may disagree,  with his usual erudition. His blog is admirable, informed, and even if wrong at some points, the man ain’t for turning. My favourite reactionary.