Wish I’d said that – May 15, 2017

“As long as people think you’re dumber than you are, you’ll make money.”

Marcellus Mature to his son Victor when the latter set off for Hollywood to become a movie star, arriving with 11 cents in his pocket (according to www.victormature.net/victormatureradio/aboutme.htm as of June 6 2013, which also credited Marcellus with saying “Life owes you nothing no more than a man deserves a woman merely because he happens to love her” so you get two for the price of one today)

 

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Climate change in Calgary?

If you’re in the area I really hope you’ll join us for “Meeting the Climate Change Challenge“, the 2017 annual conference by the Economic Education Association of Alberta, in Calgary this coming Friday and Saturday March 17 and 18. We’ve got a terrific lineup of speakers including climatologist Dr. Tim Ball and Friday lunch keynote speaker Marc Morano. And I’ll have something to announce during my own talk on March 17.

The time is right to stand up to the hysteria, confront bad science and assess policy rationally. So please join us for two days of outstanding presentations and timely discussion on this crucial issue.

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Wish I’d said that – January 11, 2017

“If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.”

“Herbert Stein’s Law” coined by economist and chair of the U.S. Council of Economic Advisors Herbert Stein; often rephrased as “Trends that can’t continue, won’t.”

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Hail Dr. Caesar

In my latest National Post column I lament the casual way the Ontario government has breached doctor-patient confidentiality including laughing off search warrants.

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Freeing too few slaves

T.S. Eliot says the last temptation is to do the right thing for the wrong reason. Which brings me to the first mass emancipation of slaves in North America.

It happened on November 7, 1775, in Virginia. Which is 156 years too late, as slavery began in Virginia in 1619 in the same place and same year, in bitter irony, as the first representative legislature in the New World. But we’ll take it, right?

Well, not this way. The problem is, royal governor John Murray, a.k.a. Lord Dunmore, issued his proclamation under duress, offering freedom to any slave who fought for the British. It is hard to think of a less promising moment or setting, including by making emancipation seem like a threat to the freedom of the white inhabitants.

It would have been far better had the British gently encouraged and facilitated growing sentiment for abolition in the northern colonies before 1776, instead of actively opposing it (to the point that Thomas Jefferson, in a monumental act of gall, included an indictment of George III for encouraging the slave trade in an early draft of the Declaration of Independence).

Dunmore’s proclamation didn’t free every slave because slavery was wrong. It made it conditional, and conditional on something difficult and dangerous that not everyone could do. Despite which hundreds, possibly as many as 2,000 slaves did indeed join the royalist forces… who lost anyway. Indeed Dunmore himself had to pull out of Virginia in 1776, taking about 300 ex-slaves with him and leaving the rest in the lurch, if they hadn’t already died of the smallpox epidemic that ravaged his forces.

In 1779 General Sir Henry Clinton issued a more general emancipation decree, freeing slaves owned by revolutionaries throughout the colonies whether or not they enlisted. But even there, the counsel of pseudo-prudence that left humans in bondage if their owners were loyal undermined the moral and even practical impact of the policy.

I do not know that there was anything the British could have done to end slavery in North America in 1775. And indeed a vigorous effort earlier might have produced revolt sooner, at least in the south. Unless of course it had been undertaken in the 17th century before this hideous thing took root. But sometimes you just have to do the right thing.

Doing it at the wrong time for the wrong reason in the wrong way is unlikely to work. So you might as well try to get at least a few of the lesser things right as well.

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We finally surrender

On November 6, 1865, the Confederacy surrendered. If you’ve heard or read otherwise, allow me to introduce the CSS Shenandoah, a tribute to the military skill and doggedness of the South in a cause unworthy of the devotion it inspired.

Shenadoah was a commerce raider, initially launched as the Sea King in August 1863, with teak planks on an iron frame and both sail and backup steam power. Originally a cargo vessel, and built in Glasgow, she was converted to a man-o-war in October 1864 after a rendezvous with another ship carrying officers, guns, ammunition etc. (And no, I don’t know why a ship is “she” but a “man”-o-war. That was before pronouns like Xe and everybody getting their own gender.)

Now you may be thinking October 1864 is a bit late to join the U.S. Civil War, which by that point was just a matter of rather bloody mopping up. But Shenandoah went on a tear, striking at Union merchant and whaling ships in the Indian and Pacific oceans. And she captured or sank 37 of them, a majority after the war was formally over.

Of course there was no Internet in those days. And even after her captain, Lieutenant Commander James Waddell, got hold of a months-old San Francisco newspaper reporting the flight of the Confederate government from Richmond, he preferred to believe the statement by Jefferson Davis that the war “would be carried on with re-newed vigor”.

Finally he learned in August that the armies had surrendered and President Davis and much of his cabinet had been captured. So he headed for Liverpool, the unofficial HQ of the Confederate overseas fleet, concerned that if he surrendered to the Union his crew would be hanged as pirates. In the end they weren’t, and when Shenandoah struck her colours the Confederate flag was lowered for the last time.

Five years too late, of course. I have great admiration for many who fought for the Confederacy, and for their attachment to limited government. But the whole thing was about the loathsome institution of racial slavery and all that courage, dash and grit was not merely wasted but entirely misguided.

P.S. If you’re thinking the Confederate flag still flies grotesquely in places like Mississippi, that’s the battle flag not the actual Confederate flag, and the far greater popularity and familiarity of the “Stars and Bars” reflects, I think, the fact that those who fought for the South were by and large far better than their cause.

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And Michelangelo said, Let there be God

Is Boris Karloff funny as Frankenstein’s monster? Almost unwatchably corny? If so, it’s because he’s such an exact, stereotypical imitation of… of… himself. Which naturally brings me to Michelangelo.

Well, it could be worse. It could bring me to Karloff’s interactive ad for Butter-Nut coffee which trades on his exceptional, campy resemblance to Boris Karloff. (And if you haven’t seen it, I urge you to Google it and drink deeply.) But in a desperate lunge for high culture cred, I’m going with Michelangelo instead because it was on Nov. 1, 1512, that his fresco on the roof of the Sistine Chapel was first shown to the public.

Yes, that one. With God with flowing white beard reaching out to touch Adam. The one you’ve seen parodied so often, from the Simpsons to the Muppets to bank card ads to the Pastafarians, that the original itself seems like a parody. Including that business of God as an old man with a big beard. Which is, of course, proof of its transcendent genius.

I’m sure there were one or two people who saw it on that Nov. 1 and went “Oh, I don’t like that.” But the majority must have known at once, like the audience for the 1st performance of Beethoven’s 9th, that the world was somehow changed, that something had been created that was as original as art can be, and technically brilliant, yet as natural that the reaction was half “It can’t be” and half “Of course.”

There’s a lot more up there, of course. Just as there’s a lot more to Karloff including, dare I mention it in this context, his iconic “mummy” on which every subsequent mummy movie is in some sense a commentary. Indeed, to have created two characters so worth parodying is a mark of the man’s genius. As is the fact that the only major award of his long acting career was a Grammy for the LP of… I presume you know that too. How the Grinch Stole Christmas. (And the name, a stage name adopted while doing theatre in Canada; his actual name was the deeply not spooky “William Henry Pratt.”) And the fact that he parodied himself superbly, including in the original stage production of Arsenic and Old Lace where he played a gangster infuriated at being continually mistaken for Boris Karloff.

Oh, by the way, Michelangelo also did sculptures including the much-parodied David. (A Google search for “Michelangelo David parody” returned “About 7,510,000 results (0.88 seconds)”.

Not bad.

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