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Does the NHL Discriminate against Canadian Teams?

Seven of the 31 current National Hockey League teams are Canadian. That is, Canadian teams make up about 30% of the teams, and so, on average, they should make up about 30% of the Stanley Cup winners. Stated another way, a Canadian team should win the Stanley Cup about once every three or four years. So how do we explain the fact that no Canadian team has won the Cup for the last 27 years, since Montreal in 1993? In the intervening years, 14 US teams have won the Cup, and only 10 US teams have failed to do so. The chances of reaching the Stanley Cup final series should be twice that of actually winning the Cup (since there are two teams in the final), so a Canadian team should reach the final series about every other year. But only 6 Canadian teams have reached the final series in the 27 years since 1993, and none of them has won.

The NHL headquarters are in New York. Gary Bettman is an American and has been NHL Commissioner since 1993, the last year a Canadian team won the Cup. His goal is to position the NHL alongside the big three American sports monoliths, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, and major league baseball (the National and American leagues). When he hears “National Hockey League,” Canada is not the “nation” Bettman is thinking of. This is why Bettman tried so hard to prevent Winnipeg from getting an NHL team. It is why, while the NHL has granted franchises to eight American cities during his tenure, it has denied franchises to Quebec City, Saskatoon, Hamilton, and Toronto from getting franchises. (I am not slamming the Maple Leafs here, but referring to the proposal that Toronto get a second team, which admittedly would have improved Toronto’s chances.) This is also why Bettman insists on keeping struggling teams in US cities such as Phoenix, Arizona. Bettman would not be terribly upset if Toronto or Montreal won the Stanley Cup occasionally, but his worst nightmare would be for two Canadian cities that most Americans have never heard of to be competing for the “national” championship. Think Ottawa-Winnipeg or Quebec-Saskatoon. How would Bettman sell that to American TV networks? How would he sell that to American TV audiences?

So, is there a conspiracy to keep Canadian teams from winning the Stanley Cup? How would that work? What power does the league have that could determine who wins?

Could the draft lottery be fixed? That might explain why the Vancouver Canucks have never drafted first in their entire 51-year history. But it wouldn’t explain why the Edmonton Oilers drafted first 4 times in 6 years. Besides, the draft lottery only affects a handful of teams at the bottom of the standings. Most of the draft order is determined by how well teams played the previous year.

Then there is scheduling. Most years, the Vancouver Canucks have racked up the most travel mileage of any team in the league. But that is a product of geography. Other Canadian teams, especially in the east, don’t have that problem. Teams have also complained about the uneven number of back-to-backs teams have to play (the number of times a team has to play two games in two days, sometimes with the second game being against a team that has not played the night before). Game timing can also be a problem, with the a west coast team playing “afternoon” games in the east, which can mean games as early as 10:00 a.m. for a west coast team. Playoff games are often scheduled in eastern time slots (for television) even when they are played in the west. But again, that affects only some Canadian teams, as well as some US teams that have won the Cup.

Then there is refereeing, including player suspensions. While the refereeing was considered consistently inconsistent in this year’s playoffs, it does not appear that this incompetence was directed at Canadian teams. The difference between Tampa Bay and Montreal in this year’s final was much greater than a couple of bad calls. Vancouver Canucks fans might have a better argument that refereeing tipped the balance in their close 2011 final series loss to Boston. But that is Vancouver, which has had a history of feuding with referees and the league officials who determine suspensions. And none of the Canucks’ four losses in that series were close games. Refereeing cannot explain why no Canadian team has won the Stanley Cup in 27 years.

Are there other factors? Free agency gives players some say in where they play. Some American-born players have refused to play in Canada, as have some star Russian players seeking better opportunities for fame and endorsement deals in the biggest American cities. But some Canadian players (and perhaps some Swedish players) have preferred to play in Canada.

There are financial considerations. Players are paid in US dollars, and a few decades ago, when the Canadian dollar was trading for just over 60 cents US, this was a problem for Canadian teams. US tax rates on players’ salaries are also generally lower than Canadian ones. But the salary cap implemented a few years ago has levelled the playing field, and most Canadian franchises are among the most financially solvent in the league, largely due to their rabid fan bases.

So, how do we explain why Canadian teams are not winning the Stanley Cup more frequently? The best explanation is small sample size. If you flip a coin 10,000 times, heads will come up about half the time. But if you flip it only 10 times, the result could be drastically skewed one way or the other. Twenty-seven years is not a very large sample size. And winning is affected by more than statistical averages. Winning is determined by millions of decisions by players, coaches, referees, scouts, general managers, and others, not to mention injuries, illnesses, bad bounces, broken sticks, and other factors. It is impossible to control all of those variables. This is why the NHL could not be preventing Canadian teams from winning the Stanley Cup. And why it is so difficult for a team, any team, to guarantee it will win.          

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Belated Reflections on the London Atrocity

It has been a few weeks since 20-year-old Nathaniel Veltman ran down a Muslim family in London, Ontario. It was a horrific and senseless violent act. Since then, there have been rallies against Islamophobia and racism across Canada. Canada’s House of Commons has unanimously passed a resolution calling for an emergency summit to combat Islamophobia. Ontario’s legislature has unanimously passed a motion condemning Islamophobia. The atrocity apparently has a simple explanation (Islamophobia) and a simple solution (denouncing Islamophobia).

But we know little of the 20-year-old who committed the crime. He apparently attacked the family because they were Muslim. Yet I have seen no evidence presented so far that he was part of an organized movement to attack Muslims or was influenced by online hate groups. It is possible, but not yet certain. There is also no evidence that Islamophobia is a widespread or pressing problem in Canada. One deluded 20-year-old does not indicate a nationwide social problem. So, why the nationwide reaction? More specifically, why blame the attack on a widespread social problem called Islamophobia instead of on Veltman himself?

There have also been suggestions that Veltman targeted this family because of their race, the colour of their skin (they are Pakistani). That is also possible—their race was more apparent at a distance from a moving vehicle than their religion—but not yet proven. Despite the widespread misconception, racism and Islamophobia are not the same thing. There are white Muslims and Pakistani Christians. There are white and Pakistani atheists. Faith is a matter of choice, while race is determined by birth. But a 20-year-old is unlikely to understand this. The crowds denouncing Islamophobia and racism do not seem to have understood it either. Justin Trudeau, who often seems to have less grasp of public issues than most Canadians, has also talked about “anti-Islamic racism.” There is a widespread assumption today that religion is a component of culture and culture is inextricably tied to race, but this is simply not true. From the beginning of time, cultures have been constantly changing, evolving, and interacting, as have religious beliefs. Even races have been changed by intermarriage.

There were suggestions that Nathaniel Veltman had some kind of Christian upbringing, but he seems to have left that behind.

There have also been suggestions that Veltman was suffering from mental illness and possibly drug addiction.  

We have also been informed that Veltman became lost in the midst of his parents’ bitter divorce. Could his attack on the Muslim family also have been partially motivated by his anger at his own family? Maybe instead of a campaign against Islamophobia, we should launch a campaign to encourage parents to love each other and their children. But that does not sit well with today’s self-centred ethos or the widespread desire for simplistic explanations.

Human relations are complex. Human motivations and human problems are complex, and so are their solutions. Nathaniel Veltman’s motivations are likely complex, more complex than a simple march or legislative resolution can resolve. Will these responses have any impact on preventing the next angry young man from striking out? On the other hand, the outpouring of support for the grieving family and the Muslim community in London have no doubt had some very positive and healing effects.

But there are no easy or simple answers. Television news and social media excel at whipping people into a frenzy on the basis of a one-minute news story (a sound bite) or a simplistic slogan. It is the lynch mob mentality, an emotional reaction on the basis of limited knowledge. Politicians, seeking an easy path to gaining votes, are often no better.

Court cases are decided by judges or juries after weighing weeks or months of complex evidence and testimony. Yet, when the news media (and social media) report on violent incidents and the subsequent court cases, they encourage listeners to make a snap judgement based on a brief snippet of usually one-sided information. Complex issues are often reduced to a single explanation or slogan—police brutality, racism, Islamophobia, homophobia. Often when I hear these stories, I say, “I am not sure what really happened or what the motivation was or what the exact judicial decision should be. I wasn’t there. I haven’t heard all of the evidence. I don’t have enough information.” But the news media encourage the general public to assume they have a ready answer.

Let’s be clear. Murder is wrong. Hate is wrong. Racism is wrong. But we should be wary about jumping on bandwagons and joining lynch mobs. That is how most of the atrocities we complain about began. Whether it is a white mob in the past lynching a black man accused of rape or a politically correct modern mob blaming an individual’s action on society, Western civilization, the church, the government, or the police, rushing to judgement rarely brings justice or peace. Simplistic explanations and solutions rarely solve complex problems.

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Canadian Rights and Freedoms

Human rights are under attack in Canada. This is scarcely surprising. Throughout history, human rights have always proved to be fragile and endangered. Perhaps what is surprising is that human rights are particularly being threatened by the son of the man who insisted that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms be embedded into the Canadian constitution. Pierre Trudeau was confident that this would protect human rights from infringement by governments and other forces. Oblivious to all of this, Justin Trudeau’s government has led many of the recent attacks on human rights and freedoms.

Perhaps circumstances have played a role here. Pierre Trudeau was an outsider, a radical thinker battling entrenched ideas and institutions. Justin Trudeau grew up in the corridors of power and has stated that he was born to be prime minister, a modern recasting of the medieval concept of the divine right of kings.

The immediate issue is Bill C-10, An Act to amend the Broadcasting Act. The issues involved in the bill are complex and sometimes unclear, but here is how I understand what is involved.

The stated purpose of Bill C-10 was to modernize the Broadcasting Act, to regulate the internet and social media in addition to radio and television. The government wants to gain tax revenue from these new media and also to regulate them. Radio and television broadcasters in Canada are required to provide “balance” and also “Canadian content,” and the government wants to apply similar regulations to the new media. The government also claims to want to protect Canadian copyrights by having browsers such as Google compensate Canadian programmers when their content is rebroadcast.

So how did this bill become an assault on Canadians’ human rights? The original draft of the bill contained clauses exempting posts by private Canadians from being regulated. But during study of the bill in a House of Commons committee, these protective clauses were removed.

One underlying problem with all of this is that it is applying past solutions to present problems. When the Broadcasting Act was first passed, there were a limited number of radio and TV stations, so it made some sense to require some balance. This need is less obvious now that cable has multiplied the number of channels. Furthermore, the new media are different in their approach. The internet (the worldwide web) is international by definition, and there can be as many producers of content as there are people. Essentially anybody can start a blog on the internet or post on Facebook or Twitter or some other social media platform. Therefore, any attempt to regulate the content of the new media will regulate and limit the freedom of expression of all Canadians.

It is helpful to remember that the fundamental freedoms are freedom of thought, freedom of expression (speech and communication), and freedom of belief (religion). Contrary to popular understanding, the fundamental rights are not abortion and sexual orientation and practice. Where there is no freedom of the mind (ideas), there can be no freedom of the body. Put another way, if you control communications, you can impose whatever restrictions you want on everything else.

It can be argued that government regulation was necessary when there were a limited number of radio and television stations in order to prevent a few large corporations from controlling the flow of information. And it can be argued that Canadian content regulations prevented Canadian culture from being swamped by American media giants. Canadian content regulations were successful in creating a Canadian music industry in the 1960s. (Rock and roll not requiring any great genius or talent, Canadians could produce it as well as Americans.)

But government regulation has had mixed results. It has not prevented the movie business from being controlled by the big distribution companies, which favour Hollywood blockbusters and freeze out smaller producers. The “balance” requirements forced “Christian” TV stations to give time to other religions (resulting in a confusing and contradictory message and implying that all religions lead to the same place). The balance requirements did not require other stations to balance their content by providing religious programming.

Part of the problem with Bill C-10 is that it treats all new media the same. Streaming services such as Netflix are large corporations that operate much like radio and TV stations, producing programs and earning huge profits. Social media such as Facebook and Twitter are also large corporations that earn huge revenues through advertising, but they don’t produce content. They are simply platforms, and the content is provided by others, both large corporations and single individuals. It makes some sense to tax them like other corporations, except that they operate in the international world of the internet and therefore it is difficult, if not impossible, to draw a line through the air and try to enforce national borders.  

The Trudeau government wants to tax streaming services such as Netflix in order to increase government revenue. It also wants to enforce the same content regulations that it imposes on Canadian radio and TV stations and networks and to increase Canadian content on these streaming services. Since Netflix is international, it will be difficult for the Canadian government to enforce content controls. It has already convinced Netflix to “voluntarily” spend millions of dollars to produce Canadian content. But now it wants to go further, by taxing Netflix and giving the money directly to Canadian producers. The problem with the government having control is that it would not just fund Canadian content but “progressive” Canadian content. That is, the Liberal government wants to produce content that will promulgate its ideas. Groups such as Christians and conservatives need not apply.      

Bill C-10 becomes even more problematic when it tries to apply content regulations to social media. The internet, including platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, allow anyone to post anything and anyone to say anything. It is perfect democracy. The Trudeau government is saying it won’t censor what individuals post, just enforce content regulations on corporations such as Facebook. But how will it do that? The only way it can do this is to force Facebook to do its censoring work for it.  The government would be forcing Facebook to censor some things and carry other things. And even when it did not censor posts, it would force providers such as Facebook to give priority to some posts over others. Those individuals not producing preferred content might still be able to post, but few people would ever see what they posted.

Due to the spread of “fake news” in the Trump era, social media such as Facebook and Twitter have been under increasing pressure to “fact check” and “blacklist” or censor certain posts. Since there is so much content being generated daily, this is hard to do. Social media platforms have developed algorithms (computer programs) which censor certain content based on the use of certain words. It is a clumsy instrument at best. Through Bill C-10, the Canadian government wants to gain control of these algorithms. It is a dangerous precedent for Facebook and other social media platforms to censor posts. It will be an entirely different and more draconian thing to give that power to a government.

It is true that social media are awash with misinformation, lies, racism, and other forms of hatred. But the question is who should be trusted with the responsibility to control that. 

Liberal Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault, who was responsible for presenting and guiding Bill C-10 through Parliament, accused the Conservative Party of catering to an “extremist element” of the party by opposing Bill C-10.

The New Democratic Party supported Bill C-10. NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said that his party “supports stronger regulation of misinformation and hate speech on social media platforms.”

It is no coincidence that the Liberal government is also planning to introduce legislation to further criminalize “hate speech.”

Who could argue with opposing hate and misinformation? The problem is with who gets to define hate and misinformation. Do we really want to give this power to Justin Trudeau, whose government excels at spreading misinformation and who himself has shown a tendency to lie outright to the Canadian people? This is a man who insisted that his office did not interfere in the SNC-Lavalin prosecution until Jody Wilson-Raybould produced tape recordings showing exactly that and the man who said that he only wore brown-face one time until more photos appeared. Trudeau is also a prime minister who has deepened the divisions in Canadian society. While opposing hatred against certain groups, he has fostered hatred and discriminated against other groups.

It should be noted that Justin Trudeau’s government is not the only government in the world trying to regulate and control social media. But the other governments trying to do this are mainly totalitarian regimes, Muslim and communist. When imposing censorship, totalitarian governments always say they support human rights but are punishing lies and hate speech. Russian opposition critic Alexey Navalny is currently on trial for “defamation,” and the Russian government has called his organization “extremist.”

Justin Trudeau does not believe in democracy and human rights. He believes in his own right to rule and the superiority of his own ideas. Bill C-10 has been roundly criticized by many advocates of free speech, but the Liberals have not only refused to add safeguards to protect free speech to the bill. They have in fact removed safeguards that were already there. Justin Trudeau’s government is not just making a mistake. It is deliberately taking steps to control the flow of information and strengthen its hold on power. Justin Trudeau is therefore a dangerous man who is endangering human rights and Canadian democracy.

The Trudeau government rammed Bill C-10 through the House of Commons, using “closure” to limit debate on the bill. Bill C-10 has not yet been passed by the Senate, and it could yet be challenged in court for violating the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However, if Bill C-10 becomes law, posting blogs such as this one might no longer be possible.

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Prediction: The Vancouver Canucks Will Make the Playoffs Next Year

Anyone who bets on sports is an idiot. An individual player’s performance can be affected by many things: an injury, an accident, an illness, depression, loss of confidence, practice, an addiction, divorce, a fight with a girlfriend, a death in the family. Not to mention luck. The difference between a goal and a goalpost is less than an inch. Multiply that by the couple of dozen players on an NHL team, and the variables are enormous. Then add team dynamics into the mix: coaching, personality clashes, compatibility of playing styles, trades, scheduling, etc.

So why do I think the Vancouver Canucks will make the playoffs next year? The Canucks finished dead last in the North (Canadian) Division this year. Why would I expect them to do better next year?

There are several reasons. First, it is unlikely that their top offensive player, Elias Pettersson will miss most of the next season due to an injury as he did this year. The Canucks finished the year with half of their forwards injured. That is unlikely to happen next year.

Second, the Canucks will not likely be struck down with COVID-19 next year. Almost the entire team became sick mid-season. The lingering effects of the disease and the brutally compressed schedule that followed devastated their chances of success.

Third, the Canucks have some good young players likely to join the team next year, including Vasili Podkolzin and Jack Rathbone.

But the most compelling reason the Canucks will make the playoffs next year is that they will be in the Pacific Division next year, not the Canadian Division. (The divisions were temporarily realigned this year due to COVID.) There are eight teams in the Pacific Division, and four will make the playoffs. Only seven teams had worse records than the Canucks this year, but three of them are in the Pacific Division. The California teams—San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings, and Anaheim Ducks—are struggling to rebuild while saddled with bad contracts (large contracts being paid to declining veterans). One or more of them could rebuild enough to have a successful season next year, but the odds are that it will take longer than that.

The Calgary Flames, whose players did not have COVID, finished only five points ahead of Vancouver and are facing a rebuild after another disappointing season.

The expansion Seattle Kraken are also in the Pacific Division. Expansion teams usually do not do well. General managers of other teams will be better prepared and will likely handle the expansion draft better than they did the Vegas Golden Knights’ expansion draft a few years ago. Seattle’s draft choices are unlikely to produce at a higher level than expected, as Vegas’s did. Seattle is therefore unlikely to repeat the instant success Vegas enjoyed.

The Edmonton Oilers are the seventh team in the Pacific Division, a team with two superstars and some obvious weaknesses. Vancouver won three of nine games against Edmonton this past year. I do not expect the Canucks to pass Edmonton in the standings next year, but they will at least get some points out of the games. The Vegas Golden Knights are expected to win the division.   

The bottom line is that there are five teams that the Vancouver Canucks have a decent chance of surpassing next year, and they only have to outplay four of them. That is why I am confident that the Vancouver Canucks will make the NHL playoffs next year. But I wouldn’t bet on it.


Protestors and Activists

TV news tells us what we need to know:

• “Protestors block logging operation for six months.”

• “Climate activists shut down bridge.”

• “Protestors blockade pipeline construction.

But the news does NOT always tell us what we WANT to know.

For instance, one of the things I would like to know and the news media never tell us is: Who are these protestors and activists? Another is: How do they have all that free time to do what they are doing?

They obviously don’t have jobs. Can you imagine telling your employer: “I’m sorry, but I can’t come to work today. I need to go and block traffic” or “I won’t be here for the next six months. I need to blockade a logging road”? I am sure that your employer would be understanding. In fact, he is likely to give you even more time off work to continue your protests. Like, permanently.

Yet these protestors and activists don’t seem to be starving. Somebody must be providing them with food. Somebody must also be giving them money for travel and transportation, clothes and accommodation, signs and other protest materials.

I suppose I could do what the news media don’t do—engage in some investigative journalism and find out who these people are. But that would be an invasion of privacy. They seem to be all about getting into somebody else’s business, but they don’t want anybody poking around in their business. If we actually found out who they were, I wonder how they would feel about someone else blockading their driveway. Or having a sit-in in their living room. Or preventing them from doing whatever it is they want to do. I suppose we could do all of that, but I for one don’t have enough spare time.  

Instead of research, I think I will do what they often seem to do, speculate and make bold claims without offering any evidence. Based on my observations of what I have seen on TV, this is what I have concluded.

I considered the possibility that they are all rich. But frankly they don’t look rich. They don’t dress well enough.

I noticed that some of them are old. These protestors are likely on pensions, so they no longer need to work.

But most of them are not old. Most of them are young.

Some of them say that they are students, although what they are supposed to be studying is not clear. Nor is it clear how they can afford to skip class. I was a student once and earned a few degrees along the way. It is a long, hard grind requiring dedication and work.        

I suspect that some of them are rich kids, or rather the children of rich parents. That would make some of them the sons and daughters of the industrialists who own the logging companies and oil companies and automobile companies. In that case, they would really be protesting their own parents, perhaps out of guilt for their privileged social status or perhaps because they are angry that their parents were too busy making money to devote time to them. But how is that anyone else’s problem?

A few might be politicians or university professors, people with secure government incomes, being paid by the public to disrupt the public. If all of the logging companies and oil companies shut down, they expect to continue to be paid.

Some of them claim to be professional activists. That is, they are paid by social action groups. That begs the question of who is funding the social action groups. Some of the donors are no doubt well-meaning, ordinary people. Some of the donors are likely wealthy people with inherited money whose livelihoods do not depend on economic activity. And some of the donors do not bear scrutiny. There is evidence that American oil companies fund protest campaigns against Canadian oil companies and American forestry companies fund protest campaigns against Canadian forestry companies.

Another thing I don’t understand is why the police and governments allow protestors to disrupt traffic and businesses. If I piled some debris on the highway, the police and highways department would remove it, and I would likely be fined or arrested. If I tried to stop other people from doing their jobs, I would quickly be taken away. But protestors are allowed to inconvenience and harm other people because, well, because they are protestors. It is another example of their privileged position. 

It is not so much that I question the values they are standing up for as the free time that they have to devote to it.

Perhaps most of all I object to the media calling these protestors activists. It is a misnomer. The fact is that these protestors aren’t actually active. They don’t do anything. They don’t discover more efficient and less damaging ways to produce energy. They don’t abstain from using fossil fuels, plastics, wood, and other environmentally unfriendly items. They don’t run for election so they can engage in public debates and attempt to change public opinion, gain power, and change the laws. Their blockades don’t save energy, just waste more of it as vehicles idle for hours in traffic jams. The recent image of protestors campaigning against logging on Vancouver Island while burning wood to keep warm comes to mind.

No, activists don’t act. They protest in an effort to get somebody else to act. Often their goal is to force governments to force other people to act. They don’t work, just prevent other people from working. They don’t personally fund green projects, just block other projects.

I don’t personally know any activists. But I know a lot of active people. I know people who work two jobs to support their families. I know single mothers who raise their own children, work full-time, and further their education, all at the same time. I know people who have worked full-time for 45 years or more. I know a lot of productive people like that. But they are all far too busy to be activists.

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Getting to the Bottom of Things

Raising sons can be challenging. Consider the following conversation.

The mother says, “I have just been folding the laundry.”

The seven-year-old shrugs. This is a topic that clearly holds no interest for him.

The mother continues, “Can you explain why your little brother changed his underwear nine times last week and you only changed yours twice?”

Another shrug. “Nobody checked them, so I just kept wearing the same ones.”

This is not a good answer from someone whose favorite word is “fart.” (He is, after all, a seven-year-old boy.) The mother moves into lecture mode. “You need to be more responsible. Nobody should have to check your underwear. It is your responsibility to change your own underwear. Your little brother changes his underwear more often than you do.”

Another shrug. “That’s because he has more accidents than I do.”

It is hard to argue against logic. The mother changes the topic. “And can you explain why the two of you only wore three socks between you last week?”

Another shrug.

“And why none of them match?”

The seven-year-old has no answer. There are some things in life that must remain a mystery. Many of them have to do with parenting.


Erratic and Ineffectual

Recent events have confirmed my assessment that Donald Trump is dangerous because he is erratic but not so dangerous because he is ineffectual. He talks a lot (a lot!), but he doesn’t do much. He doesn’t follow through. He has been far more focused on tweeting on Twitter than on issuing orders to the administrators under his nominal command.

Donald Trump received more than 74 million votes in 2020 (Joe Biden received over 81 million), but the vast majority of Republican voters refused to follow him in denying his election loss. As commander-in-chief, Trump could have ordered the American military to stage a coup, but he did not even attempt this, and there is no evidence that the armed forces would have obeyed if he had. The judges he had appointed refused to overturn the election. Republican politicians, including Vice-President Mike Pence, senators, and congressmen, abandoned him. The governors and administrators in Republican states refused to change election counts for him.

In the end, Trump’s incendiary words incited a mob of a few hundred people to storm the Capitol building. But they had no organization, no plan, and no significant weaponry. They caused some damage but only succeeded in discrediting Trump and his followers. Hitler’s brownshirts would have been much more ruthless and effective. They would have seized and kept control of government buildings. They would have intimidated judges, election officials, and politicians, and would have killed those they could not intimidate.

In the end, Donald Trump will be remembered as an erratic and bombastic president whose boasting and clumsy efforts at propaganda were undermined by incompetence and an inability to follow through. Americans should be grateful he did not do more damage.

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Church, State, and the Pandemic

I will state at the outset that during the current surge of the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically in our geographic area where worship services have been suspended by health authorities, I am convinced that churches should not be meeting. That is, I don’t believe the minority idea, more common in US churches than Canadian churches, that churches should continue to meet because “God’s laws take precedence over human laws” and “Christians should obey God rather than the government.”

I absolutely believe that Christians are commanded by God to obey governmental authorities (Matthew 22:21, Romans 13:1-7, Titus 3:1, 1 Peter 2:13-17) but that if there is ever a conflict between God’s commands and a government’s laws, Christians should obey God rather than the government (Acts 5:29). However, the idea that Christians should continue to meet during the pandemic is too simplistic an application of the general rule. I have great respect and admiration for Christians who are willing to risk their lives for their faith. But that is not all that is involved in this situation. Because Christians who get infected can endanger others by passing on COVID-19, they should refrain from unnecessarily attending events where they could contract the disease. In this case, not attending church is obeying God’s command to love our neighbour as ourselves (Matthew 22:39). It is not a question of whether to obey God’s law or human law but a question of how best to obey God’s law.

So, Christians should do their part and avoid large gatherings just like everyone else. Just like everyone else. And there is the problem. Governments are also partly to blame for some churches disobeying the rules by holding church services. If governments had forbidden all gatherings, then of course churches should not meet. But inconsistencies in the rules create confusion and frustration. After all, the ways that Canadian Christian churches in our area have been meeting in recent months—with precautions such as keeping meeting sizes small, wearing masks, practising social distancing, and even having drive-in services—have been very effective. Governments have not offered evidence of widespread outbreaks of the disease due to church services, at least in our area. Churches can rightly question why they are forbidden from meeting when, in some cases, bars, movie theatres, ski resorts, shopping malls, and schools (whose safety protocols are much lower than churches’ protocols) continue to operate. More to the point, churches can rightly question why they are forbidden to have services when legislatures continue to meet, politicians violate their own restrictions for photo ops, and some governments have even conducted election campaigns in the middle of the pandemic. Governments seem to be saying that governments and some other activities are essential and churches are not. In other words, the attitude of at least some governments is that human laws take precedence over God’s laws, that the state is more important than the church. These governments are implying that the church and religion are not important and can be dispensed with whenever the government decides to ban them.

While obeying the law, churches should be demanding that governments give them clear reasons for ordering churches to close, that governments apply the same rules to everyone, that governments and politicians obey their own rules, and that churches be allowed to re-open as soon as practicable.

I am still convinced that God’s command to love our neighbour means that churches in our area should not be meeting at the present time. Christians should obey all reasonable government laws, including health regulations. Christians should set a good example.

But—and this is a very important “but”—churches should also be wary. The precedent of governments ordering churches to close is a very dangerous one. Churches and Christians should not let the current health crisis blind them to the principle that God’s laws should always take precedence over human laws, that Christians should obey God rather than other human beings. They should understand that their primary purpose for not meeting during the current crisis is obeying God’s command to love their neighbour and God’s command to submit to government authorities when appropriate.

It is useful to consider that in communist China, in Muslim countries, and in other countries with totalitarian regimes, Christianity and churches are not usually forbidden or outlawed in an absolute sense. These countries claim to retain a semblance of freedom. But churches are constricted by zoning regulations, fire regulations, health and safety requirements, and municipal bylaws. Christians are accused of human rights violations, anti-government agitation, disloyalty, treason, blasphemy, and numerous other crimes, often on trumped-up charges with no evidence of wrongdoing. Totalitarian governments do not mind if churches exist as long as they accept that the government is the ultimate authority and that churches operate only by permission of the state. But that is what true Christians cannot accept, and that is why totalitarian governments (dating back to the Roman Empire) persecute them. In these countries, churches are slowly strangled by a myriad of regulations until they finally cease to function, suffering death by a thousand cuts. Christians and churches here should be on guard against something similar happening to us.

If I were a church leader in the current situation, I would not be holding church services. But I would remain vigilant, I would be voicing my concerns to governments, and I would insist that, if there is a conflict, I will obey God rather than humans and their governments.

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Fake News

Donald Trump is a buffoon who lives in a world fabricated out of his own delusions. He is able to dismiss any unpleasant reality as “fake news.” A racist police officer shooting an innocent black man? Fake news. Economic problems? Fake news. A pandemic raging across the country? Fake news. Trump lost the 2020 election to Joe Biden? Fake news. Clearly he is foolish and dangerous.

But what about all of the people, including some evangelical Christians, who voted for him? Why would so many of them believe his outrageous claims of “fake news”? Are they also delusional?

There is another aspect to the situation. Consider that the media in the United States—television and movies—are largely produced in New York and Los Angeles, two urban areas of the country that vote heavily Democrat. They present an incomplete picture of American life. In the comedies and dramas they broadcast, all of the characters have multiple sex partners both and after marriage, if they get married at all. It is the norm, at least for the people who make the shows. The idea that two virgins could marry and remain faithful to each other throughout life is inconceivable to them (even though many people in other parts of the country have done it and still do it). About 30 percent of Americans faithfully attend church every week, but almost no one on television and in the movies does. When ministers and priests are portrayed, they are invariably presented as ineffectual fops, sexual abusers, domestic abusers, hypocrites, racists, hateful bigots, and murderers. Pro-life advocates are usually presented as extremists who bomb abortion clinics, murder abortionists, oppress women, and have no love for children after they are born. Meanwhile, mobsters, pimps, hit men, drug dealers, shady lawyers, money-driven advertising executives, and power-hungry politicians are portrayed as heroes, pursuing just another lifestyle choice. Late night talk shows ridicule Christians, Republicans, and middle Americans. But the TV networks say there is no problem because in their newscasts they can be trusted to present the truth in a fair and impartial way.

But they don’t. It has been observed that Walter Cronkite used to tell people what happened and modern newscasters tell people what to think about it. The news media don’t generally lie, but they not infrequently present a somewhat distorted view of reality through what they choose to report and how they report it. They tend to have a secular, liberal bias. It is no wonder, then, that many middle Americans distrust the media and have tuned out.

In reaction, those who do not feel represented in the mainstream media have created their own media sources, presenting alternative news with their own and opposite biases.

If we wonder how two groups of Americans could perceive reality in such different ways, the answer is that they are perceiving the world through the lens of different news media. They aren’t talking to each other or listening to each other. The bias, on both sides, exists both in what “news” is selected to be presented and in how it is presented. And the “information” passed around on social media, of course, is frequently far more biased, extreme, hateful, and downright dishonest. There is a culture war raging in the United Sates, and, as has been observed by the ancient Greek writer Aeschylus and many later observers, the first casualty in any war is truth.

This also explains why Canadians, who get their news from mainstream American media, cannot understand how anyone could vote for Donald Trump. They have no means to access what Trump supporters are thinking, except through the distorted lens of the mainstream media.

Perhaps the media conglomerates in the United States should pause their daily and nightly attacks on Donald Trump and his followers long enough to look in the mirror. Perhaps they should examine how well they have fulfilled their own responsibilities. Perhaps they should ponder the role that they have played in creating  the strange phenomenon known as President Donald Trump.

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Financial Folly

Imagine that you earn $33,000 a year. It is a moderate income. But you like to spend money, and so you habitually spend about $2,000 more each year than you bring in in income. Five years ago, you were $50,000 in debt. As a result of your recent overspending, you are now $60,000 in debt.

But then, this year, you get sick, and you cannot work as much. Your income drops below $30,000. You have some additional expenses in order to deal with the effects of the sickness, but you decide to respond to the situation by spending more than $70,000 this year. That is $40,000 more than your income this year. In fact, it is considerably more than twice your income for the year. You are not sure of the exact amount because you have been too busy to make a household budget for the year.

As a result, your debt has risen to well over $100,000. Interest rates have been very low in recent years, but you have still been spending $2,000 or more every year just to pay the interest on your debt. Now, even though interest rates have dropped even lower, you have doubled your debt, and that means you might soon be paying much more just to cover the interest. If interest rates rise to what they were a couple of years ago, your interest payments could consume 15% to 20% of your income. If interest rates rise even more, the interest charges would consume an even larger portion of your income. You are in a very vulnerable position.

Already, your bank is becoming hesitant to lend you more money, and if it does, it might charge you a higher interest rate. You could turn to other lenders, but they would charge you even more. If that happens, you would likely be unable to pay all of your bills. You could lose your car or be evicted from your residence. You could be facing serious suffering. And there would be no easy way out.

Even worse, included in your current spending are some long-range commitments. You have made agreements to continue to spend at levels higher than your income even beyond this year. And you are even making plans to do some additional spending. As a result, it will be very difficult for you to lower your spending to a level even close to the level of your income, let alone making any effort to pay off your accumulated debt. You are in deep financial trouble.

You might ask: What kind of incompetent idiot would practice such an irresponsible approach to financial management?

The Canadian government under Justin Trudeau, of course. Except that instead of an annual income of $33,000, the government had an annual income of $330 billion. And instead of spending $40,000 more than its income this year, the government is spending an estimated $400 billion more than its income, more than twice as much as it is bringing in. And instead of a debt of over $100,000, the government has accumulated a debt of over $1 trillion. But the ratios and the incredible level of mismanagement are the same.