Wente Watch

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Wente Family Values

Wente thinks traditional, heterosexual married, non-adoptive families are best for children. Exactly how she knows this she doesn't say. The only actual study she cites compares Ozzie-and-Harriet style families to divorcees and single-parent families. What relevance does that have for adoption or same-sex couples?

None, of course. And Wente's penchant for junk science is here in all its glory. Biological parents share half their genes with their kids. That means they're hard-wired to look out for them. It means nothing of the sort. Humans in general are hardwired to take care of children they believe are theirs. Usually this is through biology, but it can just as easily be adoption. Or does Wente (who, it should be noted, has no children of her own) think adoptive parents don't truly love their children?

The nuclear family is often painted by social conservatives as the mainstay of human society for millenia, but as usual the truth is more complicated. In fact, the model of man as breadwinner, wife as stay-at-home cook/maid is a largely twentieth-century invention. For most of history, entire extended families lived together. A child might be raised as much by grandmothers and aunts as by his or her own mother. Men and women (and frequently, children too) worked side by side in the fields. Nor were family arrangements always benevolent; biological parents regularly sold their children into slavery or abandoned them in times of famine or other hardship. (Remember the story of Hansel and Gretel? It didn't come out of a vacuum.)

The implications of Wente's argument render it absurd. For if children need to be raised by their biological parents, then any form of adoption or divorce becomes something to be discouraged. The results are clear; shotgun marriages, broken homes, wife and child abuse, pointless suffering.

There was a time when, indeed, millions did live this way. But we have moved beyond that kind of life, and recognize that people should be free to choose the family structure that works for them, not have sanctimonious busybodies like Wente dictate one.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Even a stopped clock...

I fully agree with today's Wente. There is nothing positive I have to say about Joe Volpe, Belinda Stronach, and most odiously of all, Conrad Black.

What's interesting is what's not in the column. Two of Wente's three targets are Liberal, and the third owns newspapers that are direct competitors of Wente's Globe.

Would Wente be snarking at Stronach if the latter was still a Conservative? Somehow I doubt it.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Math Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Wente

A common meme in conservative circles is to crow that educational standards are too low, and schools spend too much time teaching students to think and not enough on rote learning and obeying orders. Such is today's Wente.

To answer that, here is a simple problem:

A carpenter has a board 200 inches long and 12 inches wide. He makes 4 identical shelves and still has a piece of board 36 inches long left over. How long is each shelf?

This is really the essence of mathematics: using basic tools - division and subtraction, in this case - to solve real-world problems.

Notice here that memorizing the times tables and how to long-divide and add and subtract with pencil and paper is not enough. If you do not understand the principles of what to do, the calculator will not help you. Neither will rote learning. The actual calculations are not the hard part - figuring out what the calculation should be is.

Any Grade 7 student should be able to solve this problem, but I'd guess even many adults in North America cannot. This is a real issue, but getting into silly ideological wars over whether rote learning or calculators should be used will not solve it.

A more likely explanation for Asian schools' better performance in mathematics is cultural. In Asia, the mathematician or scientist is admired and honoured. In North America, he (and it is, overwhelmingly, "he") is looked down upon, dismissed as a "nerd", regarded as a social misfit with ugly glasses and buck teeth.

Wente dates 1989 as the beginning of the decline in American math standards, but Asian schools were outperforming Americans even before that. Usually conservatives love to have culture explain everything, but maybe that only applies to the culture of dark-skinned peoples.

Now she cares about the poor

Wente gets to gloat about the World Health Organization's policy reversal over DDT. Wente has never liked environmentalists, and finding an issue like this where they really were wrong must be making her head explode with delight.

But as is usual with Wente, she contradicts herself. She blames Western aid agencies for the spread of malaria, saying they refused to fund DDT-spraying programs. Since when has Wente believed aid agencies should even exist, let alone fund anything? In column after column, Wente has decried corruption in Africa, accused Western governments of perpetuating it by supplying the continent with aid or debt relief, and jeered at activists like Bono or Bob Geldof.

Apparently forgiving onerous debt burdens, funding schools, building roads, or giving out condoms are a waste of aid money, but DDT spraying is an exception, just because environmentalists used to oppose it.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

We tortured Goldstein

Today Wente calls the media to task for its treatment of Maher Arar. There is nothing in the column I disagree with. But there is plenty more that needs to be said, and isn't.

The Maher Arar case is an inevitable byproduct of the "war on terror", a largely bogus construct designed to fuel public hysteria for the pursuit of political ends. It is what Orwell depicted as Goldstein: the shadowy enemy of all that is good, the object of mass fear and hate, relentlessly pursued, always defeated, but who never seems to actually disappear. As John Mueller pointed out in a recent Foreign Affairs article:

the total number of people killed since 9/11 by al Qaeda or al Qaeda­like operatives outside of Afghanistan and Iraq is not much higher than the number who drown in bathtubs in the United States in a single year...the lifetime chance of an American being killed by international terrorism is about one in 80,000 -- about the same chance of being killed by a comet or a meteor. Even if there were a 9/11-scale attack every three months for the next five years, the likelihood that an individual American would number among the dead would be two hundredths of a percent (or one in 5,000)

Al Qaeda isn't a giant, shadowy organization with tentacles poking all over the West, ready to kill or maim. It is nothing more than a small group of extremists in northwest Pakistan who got away with one big strike and several small ones. It inspires various amateur groups around the world, including a few socially alienated second-generation Muslim immigrants in Western countries, who more often than not are foiled by law enforcement well before their planned attacks.

For the world as a whole, the toll from violent deaths comes overwhelmingly from wars and civil wars. The war in DR Congo alone took over four million lives, or more than a thousand times as many as have died from terrorism in all human history.

But people don't think logically with respect to terrorism. It is an unknown that can seemingly strike anywhere, it undermines our sense of safety. So we let our imaginations run wild, worrying about a terrorist under every bush. We vow to move heaven and earth, engage in whatever war it takes, undermine any civil liberty, torture any suspect to give us our elusive sense of safety.

Is Islamic terrorism a threat? Yes. But it is not a major threat. It only feels like one. American foreign policy since 2001 has been a giant emotional overreaction, like a homeowner maniacally spraying his entire neighborhood with insecticide because he saw a single roach on his dinner table.

And Margaret Wente is one of Canada's leading scare-mongers. She has repeatedly stereotyped and stigmatized Muslim immigrants. She has cheerleaded wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and called for more human rights abuses there. She has done her best to whip up a climate of fear and distrust, where every Muslim is looked at with suspicion, every illegal imprisonment justified as a sacrifice needed to beat Goldstein the nefarious Islamofascists.

Who knows how many more like Maher Arar there are now, or will be in future?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Guns don't kill people; blacks do

I could almost agree with today's Wente: random murders happen, and they tend to set off moral panics way out of proportion to the actual loss of life.

But suppose Kimveer Gill had been black or Muslim. Does anyone believe Wente would have written a just-stay-calm column like today's?

Compare today's piece with Wente's reaction to the Boxing Day shooting, where the shooters were black. She waxed eloquent on Jamaica's "violent culture", claimed flatly that "80-percent or more of the city's gun crime is Jamaica-related" and went on to blame that old punching bag, gangsta rap music.

Margaret Wente's grand sociological theory: gangsta rap causes crime! Somehow blaming actual weapons for crime is a "moral panic", but blaming CD players and radios is not. Do the new iPods fire bullets too?

Millions of people listen to rap, and they don't start shooting people, but in a December 2005 column, Wente had an answer for that too. It's okay for whites to listen to rap, she allows; they're civilized at heart and just listen to violent lyrics to blow off steam. But black people are different; apparently their culture is so dysfunctional that merely listening to 50 Cent music turns them into murderers. Wente quoted two American black conservatives in support of this point, but that doesn't make it any less offensive. Or any less nonsensical.

(Wente has a particular animus for 50 Cent; she once freaked out merely because he sang about oral sex.)

The bottom line: moral panics are perfectly fine with Wente as long as they target darker-skinned people, but let the panickers move to the ideological left, and she gets on her high horse and preaches about "logic".


Sunday, September 17, 2006

God save our gracious whatchamacallit

So Wente doesn't like Adrienne Clarkson. What else is new?

Instead of the colourless, virtually unknown governors-general Canada had had for a quarter century, we got someone who actually behaved like a head of state. But, of course, Clarkson was a left-winger (she even worked for the CBC, the Commie Broadcasting Corporation itself!) and even worse, a nonwhite. Wente thus has nothing but snark for her.

She deliberately twists Clarkson's words - saying the former governor-general "compares herself to Tolstoy", when it is clear from Wente's own quotes that Clarkson was using Tolstoy as an analogy, not claiming to match Tolstoy's prowess as a writer.

More ugly is the implication that Clarkson disapproves of her successor, Michaëlle Jean. How does Wente know this? Merely because Clarkson says her own appointment was painstakingly vetted by the prime minister's office. That "implies", Wente writes, that Clarkson believes Jean was not similarly vetted, so must be unqualified.

It means nothing of the sort, of course. It means Wente thinks Jean is unqualified. This is what Freudians call "projection". Wente would admittedly not be alone in this opinion, but she lacks the intellectual courage to come out and say so.

It would be nice if Wente were to write a column which actually had a point, not a motley collection of snide remarks. (It would be even better if she stopped writing altogether, but we can't have everything.)

Friday, September 15, 2006

Those funny accents are so cute

Trust it to Margaret Wente to put ethnic stereotypes in a column about nail bars.

Wente doesn't just quote her Vietnamese-born stylist, she quotes the stylist's accent, by conveniently omitting verbs. "My English not good...your eyebrows beautiful...". And of course, Wente can't resist describing how stereotypically petite the stylist is.

To Wente, nonwhite people are a strange, exotic breed. Even when she has praise for them, she has to emphasize whatever can be laughed at, whatever can be found unusual or different.

And if she wonders why immigrants flock to small businesses, one very good reason is their exclusion from the formal labour market. Canadian employers are notorious for insisting on "Canadian experience" for even the most highly educated immigrants. This leads to the phenomenon of Indians with medical degrees driving taxis in Toronto while Canada has a doctor shortage.

Self-employment is not always a path to riches. If one divides profit by hours worked, it can be well below the legal minimum wage. Sweatshops, where owners exploit workers with ultra-low wages, are illegal in Canada, but self-exploitation is not. So we have Vietnamese immigrants working 80-hour weeks cleaning newspaper columnists' nails, for ridiculously low prices. Does Wente really believe they would be doing that if they had any other choice?

Wente pays $38 for a mani-pedi to an immigrant struggling to pay the rent, a service that once cost much more. To her, that's justice.

Wente's trip to Damascus

Margaret Wente now believes that nothing can stop global warming!

That's certainly news, coming from her. Wente has spent years denying that global warming exists, and that there is a scientific consensus on that fact. She has approvingly quoted cranks who tried to deny the evidence with junk science. She arguably plagiarized a John Tierney column to make the same point.

As a matter of fact, it is indeed too late to stop global warming. Why was action not taken earlier? In no small part because of the denialism of gasbag conservative pundits like Wente.

Jimmy Carter's 1977 energy plan, beaten back by Big Oil, would have left the United States self-sufficient in oil by now. Joe Clark's much-maligned 1979 gas tax plan might have cut Canada's energy use by the same amount. We'll never know now.

Wente says politicians should become more scientifically literate. As DeSmogBlog puts it: would it be too obvious to add newspaper columnists to that list?

Would you like freedom fries with your crow?

Margaret Wente now writes: It was in October, 2003, when I began to realize the U.S. mission in Iraq was probably doomed.

Ha, bloody, ha.

There were plenty who realized that in October 2002, a full year earlier. And Wente had nothing but contempt for those, alternately sliming them as lefties, peaceniks, appeasers, Saddam apologists, and (to her) the strongest epithet of all, "anti-American".

The leftists were right and the conservatives were wrong. And the price has been terrible. In July of this year alone, three thousand perished in Iraq's civil war, a war the American invasion set off and which the Americans are powerless to stop. Military intelligence has concluded that Anbar province, which takes up a third of Iraq's land area, is already lost.

But Wente lacks the humility to simply admit that she was wrong. The Iraq quagmire is squarely the fault of those who implemented the policies she cheerleaded in 2003. So she puts the blame where she always does: on a non-white people. The Middle East is a profoundly tribal place. For a Western secular individualist, its deepest values...are almost impossible to comprehend. The colossally foolish American mistake was to think that the Iraqis, after all, are really just like us.

They are not like us, Wente believes. "We" whites are the proud, democratic, peaceful people, the kind who would never invade a country halfway around the world on a pretext long since proven to be bogus. No, it is they, the furriners, who are "tribal", violent, primitive, barbaric.

Having overthrown a dictator, would the United States proceed to disband the invaded country's army and police as well, virtually guaranteeing the breakdown of law and order? Of course not. Westerners respect the right of self-determination; they would never continue to construct 14 permanent military bases in a land where surveys show the people have wanted their troops out for over two years.

Americans would surely never use white-phosphorus weapons on civilians. Their constitution is founded on liberty; they would never arrest suspects and hold them without a trial. And we cannot imagine, of course, that Americans would sexually torture prisoners, at Abu Ghraib or anywhere else.

After all, we're not tribal.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Exterminate the brutes

Last week Wente posited that Canada is too "nice" in Afghanistan.

Wente loves to sit on a high horse and sneer at anyone who has a sense of compassion towards their fellow human beings. We're too nice, apparently. Presumably, we should bomb villages indiscriminately and massacre anyone who looks like a terrorist in order to prevent another 9/11.

Is brute force was the only thing the brute Afghans understand? The Soviet Communists certainly thought so. The Red Army committed massacres on a nationwide scale. Villagers were bombed, shelled, gassed, or bayoneted one by one. Suspected mujahdeen rebels were tortured; among the favourite techniques were electric shocks, slow pulling out of fingernails, and hanging women by their arms and beating their legs. Perhaps most hideously of all, the country was dotted with land mines disguised as toys, with the deliberate aim of luring young children to death or dismemberment.

Afghanistan had 15 million people in 1978; a decade later it was down to 10 million. Fully half of the world's refugee population - four million people - was Afghan.

And did all this savagery win the war with the Islamist rebels? Quite obviously not. The Soviet Union no longer exists, in no small part due to its Afghan misadventure, but the Islamists are still there. Wente's own column has the answer to why: killing off civilians is bound to alienate the locals. Islamic extremism became as powerful as it is in no small part in fury at the viciousness of the infidel invaders of the day. Years later, Osama bin Laden would boast that, having taken down one superpower, he was ready to go for the other one.

Wente has on occasion pontificated on how the Soviet Union showed that state intervention in the economy doesn't work. Would that she paid as much attention to its lessons in counterinsurgency.


Why have there been no posts recently? Because I went on vacation, and forgot to post as much before heading out. Sorry to anyone who came by looking for a refutation and didn't find one - I should have posted an away message first.

I will be posting rebuttals to Wente's recent columns over the next few days. Promise.