Here Comes The Flood… Again – It Happened Today, January 16, 2017

St. Marcellus

English weather is proverbially lousy partly because it’s so wet all the time. But January 16 of 1362 was especially bad, the onset of the Grote Mandrenke which if your low Saxon is in good working order will alarm you because it means the “Great Drowning of Men”.

Also known as the “Second St. Marcellus Flood” because it peaked on his feast day, January 17, the Grote Mandrenke took at least 25,000 lives in the British Isles and northern Europe from Denmark to the Netherlands. A previous “First St. Marcellus flood” had hit in 1219, drowning some 36,000 people in northern Europe, which surely indicates that extreme weather did not begin when Al Gore hit middle-age.

In fact the Grote Mandrenke was the result of a massive southwesterly Atlantic gale that sent a storm side surging far inland, sweeping away islands, cutting off parts of the mainland and wiping entire towns off the map to the point that some cannot now be located even through archeology. And it was, as the “Second St. Marcellus flood” business indicates, far from unusual in that period.

Wikipedia notes blandly that “This storm tide, along with others of like size in the 13th century and 14th century, played a part in the formation of the Zuiderzee, and was characteristic of the unsettled and changeable weather in northern Europe at the beginning of the Little Ice Age.” But hang on. Doesn’t that sound exactly like “climate change”? But hardly “man-made” or, if you like long words, “anthropogenic.”

OK then. If drastic, menacing climate change has been clearly happening since long before humans invented factory mass production, and has been known to have been happening, it tells you what?

The politically correct answer is nothing. Everybody contemplating any issue other than the current panic knows climate has always varied, often suddenly and with dramatic consequences, and says it openly. Glaciers suddenly advance and suddenly retreat. The Earth warms and cools repeatedly. But never mind. Pay no attention. The science is settled. It’s all our fault.

Except the science is no more settled than the climate itself. The famous “Little Ice Age” itself, which brought the Middle Ages to something of a screeching halt and lasted into Victorian times, was not caused by humans. But nor logically then was its end, which set off the warming trend that persisted through most of the 20th century. Indeed most of that warming awkwardly preceded the large increase in atmospheric CO2 to which it is attributed by those who do not believe that causes must precede effects for science, or life, to make any sense.

Blaming humans for unstable weather is about as rational as blaming St. Marcellus. Which people in the Middle Ages were too sensible to do, I might pointedly add.


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Wish I’d said that – January 10, 2017

“I hope I shall always possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain (what I consider the most enviable of all titles) the character of an honest man, as well as prove (what I desire to be considered in reality) that I am”

George Washington, in a letter to Alexander Hamilton August 28, 1788


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Across the River and Into the Italy – It Happened Today, January 10, 2017

On this date, January 10, back in 49 B.C., Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon, cast the die, and waded into an unending series of metaphors as well as a civil war that he won unless you count the bit where he was assassinated.

Especially in an era where cultural literacy is being lost, if not actively buried, it’s important to remember what crossing the Rubicon meant technically. The Rubicon is a shallow river in northeastern Italy, the crossing of which is not necessarily memorable as a rule. But (assuming the name has not wandered in the last 2000 years, which is a matter of some dispute) crossing it was a very big deal back in Caesar’s day because it was the frontier between the conquered Roman province of Cisalpine Gaul, and Italy proper. And while appointed governor held military authority (“imperium”) in the provinces, only elected magistrates could do so within Italy itself given its proximity to Rome on which, just possibly, a man with soldiers under his command might suddenly march to seize power or some such.

For instance Julius Caesar. Caesar led his 13th legion (“Gemina”) into Italy for the specific purpose of seizing power. And when he did so, he uttered the once-famous phrase “alea iacta est” (“the die is cast”) meaning he had gambled everything and it was now too late to turn back because for an appointed governor to bring soldiers into Italy was open revolt and a capital offence.

Generally speaking if we use the metaphor today with any concept of its meaning, we refer simply to a decisively bold act. But there is a bit more to it, and it is less unequivocally praiseworthy. The reason crossing into Italy, over the Rubicon or any other otherwise insignificant marker, was a capital offence was that it was an attack on established authority and moreover in Caesar’s day, as Rome was still a Republic albeit very rickety by that point, an attack on civilian rule by those meant to be defending it instead.

The crucial political problem, then, now and always, has been to create a government able to protect liberty without being able to threaten it. It is by no means a simple problem or it would have been solved more often including in Rome. But Caesar’s contribution was to shove it aside in favour of the question of which strongman should rule, whose answer is far simpler but far less satisfactory.

The main difficulty through history is that most governments have been too weak to sustain themselves against invasion or upheaval even when plenty strong enough to oppress their citizens in the average course of events. You could not solve the former problem by further strengthening it without making the latter even worse. And you could not solve the latter without making the former worse.

The Romans did better than a lot of people, sustaining a Republic for nearly five hundred years. It had its flaws, both in its internal law and in its tendency to expand without regard for the niceties of law or justice, although it was on the whole a great deal better than its rivals in foreign as in domestic policy. But it caromed between anarchy and tyranny until the latter finally prevailed decisively, alternating the two problems rather than finding a solution that transcended them.

Not until medieval parliaments, backed by an alert and armed citizenry, did a more stable and attractive solution emerge, one we still enjoy today although its foundations are showing worrisome cracks and signs of crumbling. And so when we recall that in crossing the Rubicon Caesar cast the die once and for all, we should recall not merely his admirable boldness and directness but also his understandable but regrettable determination to bury popular government which, after the conspirators buried him, did succeed in the persons of Augustus, Tiberius and on down through the imperial centuries.

Like a few other great conquerors, such as Alexander and Napoleon, Julius Caesar has always seemed to me to combine military genius and political adroitness with a curious vagueness about what it was all for. And while it takes nerve to cross the Rubicon and courage is in principle a virtue, it was not in Caesar’s case directed to a praiseworthy end.


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Common sense on carbon taxes

In my second video for Canadians for Energy East, a project of the Economic Education Association of Alberta, I explain what opponents should not say about them and what supporters should.


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Why the Energy East pipeline makes sense

In my new video for Canadians for Energy East, a project of the Economic Education Association of Alberta, I explain why Energy East is the right practical answer to the actual choices we face in energy policy in Canada.


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Wish I’d said that – January 5, 2017

“There are few words which are used more loosely than the word ‘Civilization.’ What does it mean? It means a society based upon the opinion of civilians. It means that violence, the rule of warriors and despotic chiefs, the conditions of camps and warfare, of riot and tyranny, give place to parliaments where laws are made, and independent courts of justice in which over long periods those laws are maintained. That is Civilization— and in its soil grow continually freedom, comfort, and culture. When Civilization reigns, in any country, a wider and less harassed life is afforded to the masses of the people. The traditions of the past are cherished, and the inheritance bequeathed to us by former wise or valiant men becomes a rich estate to be enjoyed and used by all.”

Winston Churchill in 1938, quoted in Daniel Hannan Inventing Freedom: How the English-Speaking Peoples Made the Modern World


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Wish I’d said that – January 4, 2017

“You cannot legislate the poor into freedom by legislating the industrious out of it. You don’t multiply wealth by dividing it. Government cannot give anything to anybody that it doesn’t first take from somebody else. Whenever somebody receives something without working for it, somebody else has to work for it without receiving. The worst thing that can happen to a nation is for half of the people to get the idea they don’t have to work because somebody else will work for them, and the other half to get the idea that it does no good to work because they don’t get to enjoy the fruit of their labor.”

Adrian Pierce Rogers in his 1996 Ten Secrets for a Successful Family (frequently misattributed online, incidentally)


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Never Darken My Altar Again – It Happened Today, January 3, 2017

On this date in 1521, January 3, Martin Luther was excommunicated. And frankly it served him right.

Now perhaps this view might trigger controversy. In the modern world it might even “trigger” people, whatever that means. Many of them seem to be sprinklers or something. But the simple fact is that Luther’s teachings were, by 1521, incompatible with Roman Catholic doctrine.

The odd thing about many criticisms of Luther’s excommunication is that they seem to come from people whose ideas are also incompatible with Catholic doctrine. Which being the case, I don’t see why you’d want to be in communion with that particular church or to feel resentment that a person who rejected its views should be told in no uncertain terms not to darken the altar again.

To be sure, there was a major issue at the time to do with the entanglement of God and Caesar. The Roman Catholic Church was not “that particular church” in those days. It was “the church” and had a nasty habit of seeking to exert secular power very directly, grasping the wrist of the hand that held the sword. And I can find much to criticize in the secular and political consequences of being cast out of communion with it in 1521 in Germany. But to say so is not to say that the church ought not to have told people then, or that it ought not to tell them now, that there are certain core doctrines on which it is necessary to accept the official Vatican position if one wishes to take the communion wafer and wine in a Roman Catholic mass.
The modern world being what it is, this point is often strangely obscured. For instance National Geographic asserts that “Months earlier, Luther had written a pamphlet criticizing many aspects of the church, including nepotism, corruption, and the sale of indulgences. Indulgences were grants that could be bought to allow the buyer to escape spiritual punishment for misdeeds. Luther had been warned that his views may lead to his excommunication, and refused to recant them.” And it goes on to say that “In spite of his excommunication, Luther remained very popular. His outspoken belief in reform inspired the Reformation.”

To some extent this canned version of Luther the brave dissenter is correct. And there was much to dislike about the manner in which the Catholic church conducted its affairs in those days, and in others. Indulgences in return for money were especially crass, and Luther took rightful aim at the alleged slogan “As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.” But these were corrupt practices not dogmas, which many Catholics strove mightily to reform within their own church, and with considerable success, in the wake of the “Reformation”.

Luther went much further. In addition to rejecting many of the Catholic sacraments, he actually denounced to the whole notion of salvation through good works. And while the relationship between free will and grace is a very complicated doctrine on which many Protestants and Catholics are beginning to suspect they do not differ as greatly as they once thought, I consider pure predestination a loathsome doctrine that simply cannot be true as it reduces life to a cruel puppet show. Whether you agree or not, there is no room for argument that Catholicism insists on the efficacy of good works under some circumstances. In rejecting that idea, Luther rejected the church and not the other way around.

It should also be noted that while his views on the subject of church and state are complex to the point of apparent inconsistency, Luther’s theology led in practice and during his lifetime not to a separation of the two but to the establishment of Lutheran and other Protestant churches in those parts of German where the ruler was of such persuasion, and the enforcement of theological orthodoxy in a manner at least as ruthless as in areas that remained Roman Catholic. So on the main point on which he might receive interdenominational praise, for resisting the rendering unto Caesar of that which is God’s, he is by no means clearly or entirely innocent. He was also a gruesome anti-Semite although in that respect, alas, he again resembled the 16th-century Catholic church to the great discredit of both.

However that may be, the basic point remains. By 1521 Luther was not an orthodox Roman Catholic and he openly challenged the church not only on its unsavory practices but on its core doctrines. For that he was shown the cathedral door on Jan. 3, 1521, and rightly so.


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