Friday, March 31, 2006

Sympathy with a nutter

Hamid Dabashi is the Hagop Kevorkian professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York and is the writer of several books on Iran. He recently published an article in the Egyptian weekly Al-Ahram which I found quite an eye-opener.

It is so extraordinarily vehement that most Western media would not have considered printing it (except maybe The Independent). It is difficult to imagine a more abhorrent evil than the West that he depicts here, not just politically, but also economically ("the US and the entire industrial calamity it represents") and culturally (responsible for "endemic patriarchy, economic inequality, social injustice, and gender apartheid [!]", among others). Very curiously, he puts Jews together with Muslims as the victims of white racism, and then moves on the say that the new Islamophobia is the direct descendent of anti-semiticism and implies that it may have the same outcome. "European opinion-makers, as fully evident in their leading newspapers and magazines, are letting loose their racist bigotry in ways unprecedented since the horrid records of European pogroms that ultimately led to the Jewish Holocaust."

Well, I think you get the picture even from this brief sample of a very lengthy rant. Typical, you might think (except for the anti-anti-semiticism). And it is. But what I found useful was at about 3/4 rant he says the following , which allowed me for a moment to see with another's eyes:

What these newspapers are effectively doing is to make it impossible for Muslims to oppose violence and barbarity of all sorts, particularly those done in their name, in any way other than denouncing their collective faith, dying their hair blonde, bleaching their faces white, and thus metamorphosing into a walking denigration of themselves. Those children are the principal targets of every ghastly newspaper in Europe that reprinted those cartoons -- to make sure that they are bullied in their schools and neighbourhoods, discriminated against in their future job markets, growing up ashamed of their culture and character, and obedient to a globalised and whitewashed Eurocentricity with which the classical European anti-Semitism now wishes to mark its history.
Let's assume that your view of the world is something similar to Dabashi's. (Yes, I know that he lives in the privileged world once inhabited by Edward Said - but leave that aside for the moment. I mean, does he sound like a mandarin?) Let's assume that your education, upbringing, colour of skin, religion mean that you see yourself forever outside the outlook and benefits of the Western way of life. Its norms and traditions you accept because you have to. That's where the power is. That's where the money is. Furthermore, your innocence is questioned (it must seem at times) by every passerby, and you imagine them imagining you as a bomber, or an abuser of women, or at the very least incapable of independent thought. And you do get bullied and excluded.

I found it useful to think like that for a moment because it seems to me likely that there are a great many people out there who think like that a lot. And I'm not sure what can be done about it. Crawling along to apologise every time they (or whoever is doing the 'representative' shouting) get offended is not going to help anyone. I really believe that many of them have a view of the world that is, shall we say, ill-adapted to a constructive relationship with modernity. A few of them are truly dangerous. That few are still too few to be dangerous to a whole culture, but they can certainly influence a whole culture far beyond their merits.

Once again, I think that the real question is how we react - whether we can be steadfast or accomodating at the right moments. I worry about the mind sketched above because it is so much with us, and it could go in many directions.


Thursday, March 30, 2006

Amos Oz wants divorce

Amos Oz on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"It's not a war of cultures, nor one of religions, even if certain people wish it were. It all revolves around the simple question: who owns the land? Our country is tiny. Both peoples have a right to be there. How could anyone dispute the fact that it's the home of the Palestinians? Which it is, just as Holland is home to the Dutch. And equally who would question the Jews' right to the land? Historically it's clear this is the only homeland they have, there's never been another. In this situation there's no good and bad as Europeans often like to believe. It's not a western film; it's not a fight between good and evil. It's a real tragedy because it amounts to a conflict between two rights to entitlement."
"Help us divorce!" He thinks the Wall might be helpful in stabilising the 'divorce'. It certainly worked in Berlin; the stabilisation, I mean. It was not a 'solution', but it kept the situation from deteriorating dangerously until a solution could be found. There is no just solution in Israel/Palestine; there can't be because of the contradiction that Oz points out. A wall might give enough stability for Palestine to develop some institutions and an economy, to become a country of sorts.

He says at one point, "We need to make peace, not love".

Original article (in French). Translation above from signandsight.

Tories break ranks

"While I recommend that my party support the amendment, let there be no doubt that my first act when I take over as home secretary after the next election will be to do away with the Bill," declared shadow home secretary David Davis in the Commons last night...

"It is still an unwarranted intrusion on the privacy of the individual," he said. "It is still ineffective, costly and potentially dangerous. It is still a massive reversal of the relationship between the citizen and the state."
Is this the start of something new? Conservatives with policies that are actually different to Labour's? Policies that will actually limit the power of the state? I dare not hope.

Article from The Register.

Blair the Brave

I regularly read a forum called Italians, hosted by the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. One of the themes that occupy the contributors (who often live abroad) is the cuddliness of interviews with Italian politicians. Several have written in to say how pleasantly shocked they were when they first witnessed a Jeremy Paxman-style mauling. This contrasts very much with what they are used to at home.

One recent post complained about Berlusconi stomping off a TV interview in reply to an only moderately awkward question and compared it to the practice where he lives now (he doesn't say, but it's fairly clearly the UK). In reply, the journalist Beppe Servignini, who has vast experience of both the UK and US, said this:

Most modern Heads of State are not used to aggressive questioning by journalists, at least without the portective shield of the press conference (Blair, to whom you may be referring, is an exception).
This occurred to me reading a report from Blair's tour of Malaysia, where, admittedly, it was hardly an interrogation. But I've always admired his willingness to face a hostile audience. In fact, he seems to get a buzz from it.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Gormless Madeleine

Everyone (Harry and Norm) is linking to one of the funniest (funny-cry, not funny-ha-ha) articles written for a long time: Madeleine Bunting wondering what all this sudden Enlightenment-evoking was all about. Is it just Islamophobia?

Then I began bumping into the subject with Muslim intellectuals who were acutely aware of how this legacy was being used (implicitly or explicitly) against Islam. It was as if the debate had shifted from the Reformation - why hasn't Islam had one? (it dawned on such questioners that a)the Christian Reformation led to several centuries of appalling bloodshed and b)there's a good argument that Wahabi Islam is precisely Islam's reformation) - to another tack: why hasn't Islam had an Enlightenment?

These Muslims then argue that the Enlightenment was a process of European definition in the face of the Ottoman Empire; it was shaped in opposition to Islam and hence has an inbuilt anti-Islamic bias. Montesquieu's 'Persian Letters' is a good example of this.
It is an urban myth started by Edward Said that the West defined itself merely in opposition to Islam, and made of Muslims the 'other', the perpetual outsider. Now, it may well be true that the Ottoman Empire offered a splendid example of how not to run a state (Montesquieu: "government should be set up so that no man need be afraid of another"), but it just wasn't about them. By the late 18th Century, they just didn't matter enough.

Of course, the Enlightenment is being used against them. They (or their representatives who make the noise) do nothing but rail against most of the consequences of the Enlightenment: free speech, the separation of powers, the separation of the private and public, equality before the law, rational enquiry and empiricism. However, the real problem is not the mullahs, but those who have benefited so greatly from all this: us. People like Madeleine Bunting, who don't understand what they have been granted and are consequently so ignorant and gormless as to ask, "why do people think an understanding of rationality which is over 200 years old is useful now?".

Europe and Italy

Still with Italy (with many thanks to Ninme). Having a go at his own people as only an Italian can in Europe and Italy. Watch Yes & No, as well, on how to drive.

Foot 'n Mouth (Berlusconi) rampant in Italy

Silvio Berlusconi, current Premier of Italy, is given to letting his mouth run free of brain interference and embarassing himself, his allies and his country. With an election coming up and his party behind in the polls, he's returned to a favourite theme, communists (yes, they still rustle about under the bed). In this case, Chinese ones.

I've been accused many times of saying that the communists eat babies. If you read the black book of communism, you'll discover that, in Mao's China, the communists didn't eat babies. They boiled them to fertilise the fields.
The Chinese government is upset.

Article (in Italian) here.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Abdul Rahman - Better like this

Some have protested that the release of Abdul Rahman on a techicality merely sidesteps the issue and is by no means a victory for religious freedom. True, but not the point.

Karzai obviously doesn't have the power base to take on the mullahs. It just wasn't a realistic option given the circumstances. Even releasing him in this way, without overt political interference in the judicial process, is going to cause him enough headaches. Allowing Sharia to take its course would have antagonised the very people who put him there (us), so that was out as well. This is the best solution in the circumstances.

Roman statue with paint? Don't want it.

For the first time, a Roman statue with the paint still on it has been dug up. Typically, we have an unprecedented natural disaster to thank for this good fortune.

Can't find a photo, but I'm sure I'm going to hate it. It's got to look tacky. Classical history is B&W, but especially W.

Article here. (via Wheat and Weeds)

Post No. 200

I would like to mark my 200th post with this poem by Rumi.

These spiritual window-shoppers, who idly ask,
'How much is that?' Oh, I'm just looking.
They handle a hundred items and put them down,
shadows with no capital.

What is spent is love and two eyes wet with weeping.
But these walk into a shop,
and their whole lives pass suddenly in that moment,
in that shop.

Where did you go? "Nowhere."
What did you have to eat? "Nothing much."

Even if you don't know what you want,
buy something, to be part of the exchanging flow.

Start a huge, foolish project, like Noah.
It makes absolutely no difference what people think of you.

Translated by Coleman Barks. More Rumi here.

Inbred fairness

There's a new branch of economics based on the study of human and animal behaviour. Research published recently suggests the upper primates are born with the capacity for sympathy, empathy and fairness, and that ethics is merely building on what nature has built in. The field is called neuroeconomics. The implications for micro and macro-economics are very interesting. Neuroeconomists are suggesting that excessive regulation can actually lead to worse behaviour than relying on people's sense of fairness.

Professor Paul Zak, from Claremont Graduate University in California, cites a fascinating study in which two daycare centres adopted different approaches with late parents. One centre merely reminded parents that turning up late inconvenienced the teacher, who had to stay behind. The other centre imposed a $3 fine. After several weeks, the “ penalty” centre was reporting more latecomers.
I'm not sure how far you can cast analogies based on this one experiment. But the mechanism here seems to be quite a simple one. One centre quantified the 'injustice'. Quantifying it has two effects.
1. You can make calculations based on penalty, so the cost/benefit analysis becomes easier for the offender. The penalty is not a big one, and if put against the incovenience of having to arrive earlier, will seem more than affordable.
2. The exchange becomes an impersonal one that can be concluded by handing over the cash. Compare this to the uncertainty of a person's (in this case, the teacher's) bad will, which is both incalculable and difficult to 'close'. The feelings of the offended person disappear from sight when the exchange is regulated by an amount of money.

The researcher's thesis is a satisfying one, even if there seems to be a lot more work to do on it.

(via Ninme)

Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa in the morning

Javier Marías has written a book of brief literary lives, Written Lives, now published in English in a translation by Margaret Jull Costa.

The one on Lampedusa, if typical, makes me want more. Here is how he describes this indolent aristocrat's normal morning.

While Licy, his Latvian psychoanalyst wife, recovered in bed from the hours which, by her own choosing, she spent working late into the night, Lampedusa would get up early and walk to a café-cum-patisserie where he would take a long breakfast and read. On one occasion, he did not move for four hours, the time it took him to read a large novel by Balzac, from start to finish. Then he would undertake his long tour of the bookshops, after which he would go to another café, where he would sit but not mix with a few acquaintances of his with semi-intellectual pretensions. He would listen to "their nonsense" and hardly say a word, and then, after all these marathon sittings and feeble peregrinations, return home on the bus. He is always described as walking wearily along, looking very distinguished, but with a somewhat careless gait, his eyes alert, holding in his hand a leather bag crammed with the books and cakes and biscuits on which he would have to survive until evening, since lunch was never served at home. He carried that famous bag with great nonchalance, quite unconcerned that volumes of Proust were sitting cheek by jowl with titbits and even courgettes. Apparently the bag always contained more books than were strictly necessary, as if it were the luggage of a reader setting off on a long journey, who was afraid he might run out of reading matter while away.
He was however armed against whatever perils he might face as he wandered.
According to his wife, he always had some Shakespeare with him, so that "he could console himself with it if he should see something disagreeable" on his wanderings.
No children. No job. No responsibilities. Where does the time go?
"I am a very solitary person. Out of the sixteen hours I spend awake each day, at least ten are spent in solitude. I do not, however, spend all that time reading; sometimes I amuse myself by concocting literary theories..."
About his one published novel, The Leopard, he said, "It is, I fear, rubbish". It isn't.

(via The Middle Stage)

Monday, March 27, 2006

Younger then?

I was wondering about the Simon Jenkins article (below) when I came across this. If Jenkins is right, will we look back and think this? Without the rhyme, maybe.

Yes, my guard stood hard when abstract threats
Too noble to neglect
Deceived me into thinking
I had something to protect
Good and bad, I define these terms
Quite clear, no doubt, somehow.
Ah, but I was so much older then,
I'm younger than that now.
My Back Pages, Bob Dylan

That's a great line: "Quite clear, no doubt, somehow".

Tony Blair's howler

Simon Jenkins launches into Tony Blair, and in particular into the speech that I linked to a few days ago. He contemptuously dismisses what he calls Blair's 'howler'.

Terrorism is not, as Blair keeps calling it, an ideology. It is a weapon, like a gun or a bomb. It can kill people and destroy property but it cannot win arguments or topple governments.
It certainly helped in Spain. But, no. Terrorism is not an ideology. But like a gun and a bomb, the important thing is whose hand puts it to use, and what consequences of that use are. And it is a fact that much of the terrorism in the world today shares an aim, and that aim is to damage the West as much as possible, and the justification for that aim derives from Islamic fundamentalism. Further, those that act to further that aim do so armed above all with their faith.

It is a fundamental mistake to assume that because terrorism in so many far-flung places does not have a centralised command it cannot be seen as one. But this weapon is powerful just because of that and because it resides inside the head. It really makes no difference whether the July 7th bombers had contact with al-Queda or anyone similar. They didn't need it. All that was needed was a word to catch fire in their heads, one that would draw on resentment, fear, alienation and cultural humiliation, one that would help them to glimpse a way out of the contradictions in their lives, and the weapon was forged.
Nor can I see how it serves any purpose to tar Muslim fundamentalism with this brush. Many (although not most) Muslims do not live in democracies and strongly disagree with Blair’s claim to superior “values”. They reject the West’s loose morality.
Unfortunately, that fundamentalism is a necessary (if not sufficient) condition for this weapon to exist. It is that particular vision of the world, one that sees past power and present weakness, one that has left far behind anything that could resemble the Enlightenment, one that sees no way out - this is the vision that empowers an otherwise ordinary member of this society, or others, to make a final play. And it is not, I believe, so much a rejection of Western values that they feel as a 'failure to thrive' in a 'Western' world.
Western democracy is one of the great constructs of human society. It has seen off the two ideological challenges in the 20th century, state fascism and state communism. To equate Al-Qaeda with such titanic forces is silly. As Lord Guthrie, formerly Blair’s chief of defence staff, points out in a new Policy Exchange pamphlet (Taming Terrorism: It’s Been Done Before), far tougher terrorist campaigns have been met and overcome in the past, without “declaring war”.
This is where I have had certain doubts. Considering the entities involved and their relative importance in the world, is it accurate or wise to call this a war? Concerning the accuracy, I am not sure and would like to leave it for a while. I don't want to get into definitions. However, I do consider that this 'process' we are living (or dying) through is but the difficult adjustment of a culture to the modern. Sort of the Luddites, writ large. But is it wise to give the idea, at least at home, that this is something that can be won with a battle? Obviously, it cannot. Will a great general, or army, do the job for us. No. Will there be a VI-Day? No. Does it not also play into the hands of Jihadist propaganda and allow them to paint the opposing sides as the Islamic version of David and Goliath? Doesn't it give them too much credit? So, while I do not doubt that this is a conflict about essentials (how to live), it should perhaps be fought more as a mopping-up than as a war.

Jenkins puts it like this:
To grant apocalyptic status to a loose and paltry network invites anyone with a grudge against the West to join in — or at least offer rhetorical support.
It is not the Bush/Blair rhetoric that opened up the field for anyone to join in. No. That had already happened before either came to power. However, I can see his point that they do conribute to it. He's wrong to attribute 'loose and paltry' to the movement. It misses the point, as I said above.

Jenkins rather lets the side (his side) down with his alternative approach.
But this community [he is referring to Blair's doctrine of international community] will only come into being if pursued through example and persuasion, not through war. Success lies in culture and capitalism, through the interpenetration of peoples and religions and the liberation of market forces.
Culture and capitalism are one strand, and the endpoint, of a far larger campaign, and in themselves are not enough. Jenkins has already claimed that the West's morality (which is that of capitalism) has been rejected. The result of that rejection is the application of violence, of terrorism. These cannot be faced down, as they must be, with culture and capitalism, with example and persuasion.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Boris on the case (Begum)

Bit late with this one, which I only picked up reading Scott Burgess' round-up of the press coverage.

Anyway, over to Boris, who needs no commentary.

This case wasn't even about religion, or conscience, or the dictates of faith. At least it wasn't primarily about those things. It was about power. It was about who really runs the schools in this country, and about how far militant Islam could go in bullying the poor, cowed, gelatinous and mentally spongiform apparatus of the British state.

They weren't doing it for Shabina; they weren't doing it for the other female pupils; they were doing it to show that they could, and to take another yard of territory in the kulturkampf of modern Britain.

All around us, in our courts, in the oppressive liberty-destroying Bills being rushed through Parliament, we see the disasters of multiculturalism, the system by which too many Muslims have been allowed to grow up in this country with no sense of loyalty to its institutions, and with a sense of complete apartness.

The law is an ass

Movement in Afghanistan? The Pope's been writing, too.

An Afghan official, who was part of the President's meetings, said the matter had become a "serious crisis" and Mr Karzai was "very upset".

There could well be a solution that would see Mr Rahman walk free by today, the official said.
On the other hand,
... the Supreme Court judge handling the case, Ansarullah Mawlawizada, insisted the court would not be influenced.

"We have nothing to do with diplomatic issues," the Afghan judge said. "We'll do our job independently."
Now, as someone who believes in the separation of executive power and the judiciary, I find it hard to disagree with the judge. He is right. So is Karzai. It is the law (called, by some, Sharia) that is the ass.

Update (18:18)
An Afghan man who has been charged with converting from Islam to Christianity is to be freed while his case is reviewed. Earlier today, a judge in Kabul dismissed the prosecution because of doubts over his mental state. Officials say the man, Abdul Rahman, will be released from custody soon.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Crusade Myths

I have banged on about this before. Here's someone with a lot more knowledge than me burying some of the usual myths about the Crusades (passed on recently by the dreadful Kingdom of Heaven).

He shatters 8 myths. The first.

Myth 1: The Crusades were wars of unprovoked aggression against a peaceful Muslim world.

This is as wrong as wrong can be. From the time of Mohammed, Muslims had sought to conquer the Christian world. They did a pretty good job of it, too. After a few centuries of steady conquests, Muslim armies had taken all of North Africa, the Middle East, Asia Minor, and most of Spain. In other words, by the end of the eleventh century the forces of Islam had captured two-thirds of the Christian world. Palestine, the home of Jesus Christ; Egypt, the birthplace of Christian monasticism; Asia Minor, where St. Paul planted the seeds of the first Christian communities: These were not the periphery of Christianity but its very core. And the Muslim empires were not finished yet. They continued to press westward toward Constantinople, ultimately passing it and entering Europe itself. As far as unprovoked aggression goes, it was all on the Muslim side. At some point what was left of the Christian world would have to defend itself or simply succumb to Islamic conquest.

(via Wheat and Weeds)

There are still nobles

This is a wonderful story, of the it's-a-wonderful-life variety. Read it; it'll make you feel grateful to somebody for something. Good feeling.

(via Ninme)

Gordon's doing OK

Take back all the nasty things you've been thinking about Gordon Brown. Dear Prudence!

This is a graphic from the Brussels Journal showing public debt and unfunded pension liabilities as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product.

Martin De Vlieghere and Paul Vreymans continue.

Unfunded pension liabilities now average some 285% of GDP [pdf], more than 4 times the officially published public debt figures. Total public liabilities now exceed assets in most EU countries, and are causing runaway debt service. Richard Disney calculates that if social policies are kept unchanged, tax hikes of as much as 5 to 15 percentage points will be necessary over the next couple of decades merely to avoid the rate of indebtedness increasing any further.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Why do it?

Mark Steyn in fine form.

... in the spring of 2003 the USAF and RAF were still policing the no-fly zone, ineffectually bombing Iraq every other week. And, in place of congratulations for their brilliant "containment" of Saddam, Washington was blamed for UN sanctions and systematically starving to death a million Iraqi kids - or two million, according to which "humanitarian" agency you believe. The few Iraqi moppets who weren't deceased suffered, according to the Nobel-winning playwright and thinker Harold Pinter, from missing genitals and/or rectums that leaked blood contaminated by depleted uranium from Anglo-American ordnance. Touring Iraq a few weeks after the war, I made a point of stopping in every hospital and enquiring about this pandemic of genital-less Iraqis: not a single doctor or nurse had heard about it. Whether or not BUSH LIED!! PEOPLE DIED!!!, it seems that THE ANTI-WAR CROWDS SQUEAK!!! BUT NO RECTUMS LEAK!!!!

In 2002, Amr Moussa, Secretary-General of the Arab League, warned that a US invasion of Iraq would "threaten the whole stability of the Middle East." Of course. Otherwise, why do it?
(via Tim Blair)

The Return of ...

I'm not sure I can bear to say ... that word. I'll just quote it. Safer that way.

If we try to eliminate manliness we risk a dangerous imbalance: a society that loses its capacity to protect, defend and even to regenerate itself.
It's Gerard Baker that actually says it, and he's quoting someone else. [Emphasis by -it wasn't me! - someone else again. I think he (or she) went that way. Hurry!]

Iraqi document haul

More on the Iraqi document haul in an article from the Weekly Standard by Stephen F. Hayes. It is mostly about relations between Iraq and the Abu Sayyaf group in the Philippines. But towards the end, there is this.

The final document provided to The Weekly Standard is a translation of a memo from the "Republican Command, Intelligence Division," dated September 15, 2001. It is addressed to "Mr. M.A.M.5."

Our Afghani source number 11002 (his biographic information in attachment #1) has provided us information that the Afghani consul Ahmed Dahestani (his biographic information attachment #2) has talked in front of him about the following:

1. That Osama bin Laden and the Taliban group in Afghanistan are in communication with Iraq and that previously a group of Taliban and Osama bin Laden have visited Iraq.

2. That America has evidence that the Iraqi government and the group of Osama bin Laden have cooperated to attack targets inside America.

3. In the event that it has been proven that the group of Osama bin Laden and the Taliban planning such operations, it is possible that America will attack Iraq and Afghanistan.

4. That the Afghani consul heard of the relation between Iraq and the group of Osama bin Laden while he was in Iran.

5. In the light of what has been presented, we suggest to write to the committee of information.
This document is speculative in parts, and the information it contains is third-hand at best. Its value depends on the credibility of "source number 11002" and of Ahmed Dahestani and of the sources Dahestani relied on, all of which are unknown.

This is going to grow and grow. Though I can't imagine that the Americans, if they did have evidence for bin Laden's contacts with Saddam, would not have produced it.

(via Gerard Baker)

England for the birds

The world's biggest bird survey has attracted a record number of participants, according to new figures.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) said 470,000 people - including 86,000 children - watched their gardens and local parks during the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch on January 28-29. The previous record was held by the 2004 survey with 419,000 people.
I confess that when I read that, I thought (hand on heart, mind's eye a-glisten, mind's voice a-croakin')
Though worlds may change and go awry
While there is still one voice to cry
There'll always be an England

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Honesty and payback - The Undercover Economist

Tim Harford, a columnist for the Financial Times, has written a book called The Undercover Economist: Exposing Why the Rich Are Rich, the Poor Are Poor—and Why You Can Never Buy a Decent Used Car! (it must have a big cover). Reason have published an article in which he seeks to explain why Cameroon is so poor. It is very good, especially as he gives some concrete examples.

The conclusion is, unsurprisingly, that corruption is key. If there is no trust in the system, effectively the only system is that of power. People will do what benefits themselves; therefore, things will work only if honesty pays. So simple. I selected quotes from the article, but they extended so far that you would injure your index finger from the scrolling. So just one.

The rot starts with government, but it afflicts the entire society. There’s no point investing in a business because the government will not protect you against thieves. (So you might as well become a thief yourself.) There’s no point in paying your phone bill because no court can make you pay. (So there’s no point being a phone company.) There’s no point setting up an import business because the customs officers will be the ones to benefit. (So the customs office is underfunded and looks even harder for bribes.) There’s no point getting an education because jobs are not handed out on merit. (And in any case, you can’t borrow money for school fees because the bank can’t collect on the loan.)

Islamic Law

"We will try to see if he converts to Islam, for Islam is the religion of compassion. But if he does not, Islamic law will be enforced," he [Supreme Court judge Ansarullah Mawlavizada] said, adding that Karzai would have the final say.
One state prosecutor, Sarinwal Zamari, said: "We think he could be mad. He is not a normal person. He doesn't talk like a normal person. If he is proved mentally ill, then he wouldn't be tried."
"He is not mad. The government are playing games. The people will not be fooled," said Abdul Raoulf, cleric at Herati Mosque [Kabul]. "This is humiliating for Islam. ... Cut off his head."
Raoulf is considered a moderate cleric in Afghanistan.
"We will cut him into little pieces," jail employee Hosnia Wafayosofi told the Chicago Tribune as she "made a cutting motion with her hands".

Prosecutor Abdul Wasi demanded Rahman's repentance and called him a traitor: "He is known as a microbe in society, and he should be cut off and removed from the rest of Muslim society and should be killed."

Multiculturalism - Then and Now

Denis Dutton reviews The Defeat of the Mind by Alain Finkielkraut, a book that traces the genealogy of multiculturalism, especially in its post-modern form. Unsurprisingly, it goes back to a reaction against the Enlightenment.

For Johann Gottfried Herder,

“There was no absolute . . . only regional values and contingent principles.” Each epoch and every culture thus possessed its own version of “reason.”
He wrote this in 1774 at the height of the Enlightenment so he didn't win many followers. That changed after Napoleon routed the Prussians at Jena in 1806, the trauma of which made many Germans look inwards to uncover their cultural identity, their Volksgeist, which became seen as a good in itself however irrational or prejudiced it might be. Herder again:
“Prejudice is good in its time and place, because it makes people happy. It takes them back to their center, attaches them firmly to their roots, lets them flourish in their own way, makes them more impassioned, and, as a result, happier in their inclinations and purposes. The most ignorant nation, the one with the most prejudices, is often superior in this respect.”
(Is this beginning to sound familiar?)

Finkielkraut traces the uses of the Volksgeist through the Dreyfuss Affiar and Fascism to its rebirth after the war in, of all places, UNESCO and Claude Lévi-Strauss's 1951 essay, “Race and History”, which it commissioned. The intention was to confound racial prejudice and the idea of cultural superiority (especially that of the West). The consequence was that the bathwater thrown into the backyard still had the baby in it: the ideas that had made the West dominant along with the sense of superiority that had engendered.

The cost?
Quoting Hélé Béji, Finkielkraut points out that the very idea of cultural identity which was used as “a means of resistance under colonial rule . . . became an instrument of repression after the Europeans left.” Just as the values that constituted indigenous cultural identity were not to be questioned by individualist universalism of Europe, once Europeans were gone they were not be challenged by anyone. In many cases, “the formerly colonized became their own captives; stuck in a collective identity that had freed them from European values... there was no place for the individual in the logic of identity politics.” Hence, the frequency of one-party rule in former colonies: the Volksgeist triumphant.
The book and review also mention Julien Benda’s The Treason of the Intellectuals (1926), a prophetic book which "critiqued the culture-idolotry of European intellectuals and their readiness to turn their backs on principles of freedom and rationality". Benda had seen the Dreyfuss Affair as a defining moment which brought the Volksgeist out of the closet to smash the crystal in the Enlightenment drawing room. There was now a split
between those who saw patriotism as “part of your blood and bones,” a matter of deep feelings for ancestors, flag, and soil, and Dreyfusards like Benda, who still believed in the Enlightenment. He warned that this was all taking Europe toward “the most total and perfect war the world has ever seen.”
And if all that isn't depressing enough, read about what this type of thinking leads to. This editorial from The Australian protests at the "feral postmodernism and hyper-relativism" that informs what they're teaching the kids there. An example: In South Australia, kids are taught that
"Western science ... is only one form among the sciences of the world".

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

A clash about civilisation

From a speech by Tony Blair.

There is an interesting debate going on inside government today about how to counter extremism in British communities. Ministers have been advised never to use the term "Islamist extremist". It will give offence. It is true. It will. There are those - perfectly decent-minded people - who say the extremists who commit these acts of terrorism are not true Muslims. And, of course, they are right. They are no more proper Muslims than the Protestant bigot who murders a Catholic in Northern Ireland is a proper Christian. But, unfortunately, he is still a "Protestant" bigot. To say his religion is irrelevant is both completely to misunderstand his motive and to refuse to face up to the strain of extremism within his religion that has given rise to it.

... we must reject the thought that somehow we are the authors of our own distress; that if only we altered this decision or that, the extremism would fade away. The only way to win is: to recognise this phenomenon is a global ideology; to see all areas, in which it operates, as linked; and to defeat it by values and ideas set in opposition to those of the terrorists.

This is not a clash between civilisations. It is a clash about civilisation. It is the age-old battle between progress and reaction, between those who embrace and see opportunity in the modern world and those who reject its existence; between optimism and hope on the one hand; and pessimism and fear on the other. And in the era of globalisation where nations depend on each other and where our security is held in common or not at all, the outcome of this clash between extremism and progress is utterly determinative of our future here in Britain. We can no more opt out of this struggle than we can opt out of the climate changing around us. Inaction, pushing the responsibility on to America, deluding ourselves that this terrorism is an isolated series of individual incidents rather than a global movement and would go away if only we were more sensitive to its pretensions; this too is a policy. It is just that; it is a policy that is profoundly, fundamentally wrong.

That to me is the painful irony of what is happening. They [the Jihadists] have so much clearer a sense of what is at stake. They play our own media with a shrewdness that would be the envy of many a political party. Every act of carnage adds to the death toll. But somehow it serves to indicate our responsibility for disorder, rather than the act of wickedness that causes it. For us, so much of our opinion believes that what was done in Iraq in 2003 was so wrong, that it is reluctant to accept what is plainly right now.
Read it all.

(via Samizdata)

Human Rights here and there

The House of Lords today rejected the claim on the part of 16-year-old schoolgirl that her human rights had been infringed by the local high school's ban on the jilbab.

Madeleine Bunting points to the strange contradictions here.

This case was so strongly against Begum. Denbigh High School's behaviour was exemplary; they had consulted with the community on a suitable uniform for the 75% of their pupils who are Muslims of a shalwar kameez and head covering. At the time Begum attended the school, the head teacher was a Muslim. Begum knew the uniform requirements when she started. In the end, the law lords argued that there was nothing to stop her changing schools if she wanted to wear the jilbab - faith sometimes might have to cause some inconvenience. She couldn't attend the school of her choosing in the clothes she chose to wear.
What makes the case so intriguing is that Begum and her brother used Western concepts of individual human rights and choice to fight their case against the school and the local community. Traditionally, Islam has put a strong emphasis on conformity to the community's rulings - the rights of the collective trump those of the individual - but the Begums were turning this on its head to argue against the majority.
I am a little torn here. It is sad that a school should find it necessary to ban particular clothing, but it is, evidently, a cause of dissension and bullying. It puts pressure on others to match the displayed devoutness. This seems a little thing, except for the involvement of Hizb'ut Tahir, whose aim is the establishment of Sharia law and which has a reputation for targeting vulnerable youth. Shabina Begum is an orphan, and thus a valuable tool in a campaign that seeks to push institutions as far as possible towards recognising an extreme Islamic viewpoint. Denbigh High School's reasoned compromised seems a model is civilised behaviour.

And speaking of civilised behaviour, apart from the Council on American Islamic Relations, has any Muslim group either condemned the trial of Abdul Rahman in Afghanistan or at least asked for clemency? Any European group that is so quick to call on the state to protect their human rights?

Houellebecq to anger Muslims (again)

Michel Houellebecq will work with Calixto Bieito to adapt his novel, Platform, for the stage and a premiere at this year's Edinburgh Festival. This will be interesting.

Platform tells the story of a French tourist who sets up a Thai travel agency specialising in sex tourism. In the book, the business meets the wrath of Islamic fundamentalists, who murder his girlfriend and more than 100 others in a terrorist attack on a leisure centre.

The book features embittered diatribes against Muslims from the bereaved businessman character.
Betting should start now on how long before the opening it will be pulled. The article is here.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

L'état c'est nous (The Boys)

From France: Pity the Students, by Paul Belien.

France is dying. We are witnessing its agony, while the patient refuses to take the medicine that can cure him.
He is referring to the CPE (Contract Premier Embauche, or First Employment Contract) and gives an utterly depressing account of why this is happening. It could be summed up in 4 words: they never had Thatcher.

What he says about the lack of upward mobility in France tells you a lot about why Blair has tried to push certain reforms in this country. He quotes Australian author Joel Shepherd.
"There’s just no damn jobs. White college grads can’t get jobs, what hope do immigrants from regions with bad schools have? […] They can’t change schools to get a better education because the government says you have to go to the school where you live, and they live where they do because of the zoning laws... which I’m no expert about, but I do know that the government owns 30 percent of all housing in France, and poor immigrants basically live where they’re told."
Not only is your school dictated by your address.
In general students are not even free to choose their university, but have to go to the one nearest to where they live.
And the universities are second-rate by definition. It is the grandes écoles, such as the ENA, the École nationale d’administration, that count. In fact, they count so much that every major French politician, except Sarkozy, is an old boy of one of them. They are l'état, and it is l'état that commands. Left and Right are united on this. The word 'libertarian' just doesn't translate.

Belien explains, as well, why the CPE was passed with such a large majority and makes a cruel comparison with the prospects for American graduates.

Life under Saddam

More of Iraqi documents released last week by the the U.S. Joint Forces Command. This article confirms the connection between the Iraqi government and Abu Sayyaf, a Philippino Jihadist group founded by Osama bin Laden's brother-in-law.

A much longer article in Foreign Affairs summarises the findings of a group commissioned to study the documents by the U.S. Joint Forces Command.

There are some great snapshots of life in Saddam land. They are utterly typical of behaviour under dictatorship, of behaviour dictated by fear.

One senior Iraqi official alleged that the commission's leaders were so fearful of Saddam that when he ordered them to initiate weapons programs that they knew Iraq could not develop, they told him they could accomplish the projects with ease. Later, when Saddam asked for updates on the nonexistent projects, they simply faked plans and designs to show progress.
The source of the fear is not hard to find. Why is it that you want to laugh when you read stories like this of such a blatant display of brute power? Is the reminder of adolescent pique?
At one low point during the Iran-Iraq War, Saddam asked his ministers for candid advice. With some temerity, the minister of health, Riyadh Ibrahim, suggested that Saddam temporarily step down and resume the presidency after peace was established. Saddam had him carted away immediately. The next day, pieces of the minister's chopped-up body were delivered to his wife.
Again, I want to laugh at the precautions a military commander needed to take before having a meeting. This sounds just like Soviet Russia.
The Second Republican Guard Corps commander described the influence of the internal security environment on a typical corps-level staff meeting:
"First a meeting would be announced and all the corps-level staff, the subordinate division commanders, and selected staff, as well as supporting or attached organizations and their staffs, would assemble at the corps headquarters. The corps commander had to ensure then that all the spies were in the room before the meeting began so that there would not be any suspicions in Baghdad as to my purpose. This kind of attention to my own internal security was required. I spent considerable time finding clever ways to invite even the spies I was not supposed to know about".
Is it any wonder that the intelligence out of Iraq was so bad?
For many months after the fall of Baghdad, a number of senior Iraqi officials in coalition custody continued to believe it possible that Iraq still possessed a WMD capability hidden away somewhere (although they adamantly insisted that they had no direct knowledge of WMD programs). Coalition interviewers discovered that this belief was based on the fact that Iraq had possessed and used WMD in the past and might need them again; on the plausibility of secret, compartmentalized WMD programs existing given how the Iraqi regime worked; and on the fact that so many Western governments believed such programs existed.
(via Melanie Phillips)

Monday, March 20, 2006

Ensuring quality

Queen Quality and the Demon of Risk is a parable born out of exasperation and frustration.

It tells the story of William, a carpenter entrusted with a great commission by the Queen. He is to make a chair. Not just any chair. "It must be a great chair, the very finest you can create, and free from all imperfection." This he understands, for he is a great craftsman. Then, without hesitation or deviation, she adds, "We must ensure quality".

It is not recorded what William thought when he heard this. Perhaps in the innocence of his craft, he only thought it strange. Perhaps he had no idea what such a statement portends.

He soon found out. It heralded the Project Initiation Document; it foretold the Risk Assessment Spreadsheet; it evoked the Performance Appraisal Overview. It meant he made a crap chair.

It is very easy to laugh at the anal terminology that covers the crying need to make people promise (really, really!!) to do a good job. Yet, it is not hard to see why it must be continually renewed and, however outlandishly, re-stated. It's simply because none of us any more are Williams, none of us are craftsman. Nor would any of us want to be. The craftsman of the parable has dedicated his life to that work; it's all he knows. We couldn't spend 20 minutes with William without having to stifle a yawn or four - he wouldn't know much else. More, he wouldn't have experienced much else. Do you think he's been to France, let alone Asia? Has he skied, won a trophy, hiked for the fun of it and come home soaking? No. His life has been dictated by necessity. Now, no-one can say that it's not a good life; it's just that 99% of us would not be willing to live it, however nice it is to read about.

The upshot of this is that William, narrow as his experience of the world may be, is far more independent that most of us, takes far more responsibility for his work (who can he blame?), doesn't need anyone to talk about quality - he does quality. He depends on it to live. Which of us is like that? Which of us in the vast chain of links that we work in cannot make the excuse of the weakness in the link two down, or four up? In fact, the product failed more than likely, not because of a weakness here or there, but one spread out among all. Because all of us can walk away.

That's why they have processes. To make something half-decent. We work under the new necessity of process to make something half-decent. The real skill is finding some satisfaction in it.

Print media condemned

About half an hour ago on the Today programme, the performance of the print media with regard to the Iraq War was unequivocally condemned. "I think they've done quite a good job." Dixit Tariq Ali.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Sewers and Big Brother

I also learn (à propos of nothing) that

Peter Bazalgette, the “chief creative officer” of the production company that makes Celebrity Big Brother, is the great-grandson of Joseph Bazalgette, the engineer of genius who built Victorian London’s sewer system.
This, by the way, is in a review of Marshall McLuhan's essays. I read Understanding Media at university, and aside from the pleasure of picking up a lot of previously unthinkable (and possibly untenable) connections between one ordinary object (such as a spitoon) and the grandest ideas, took very little from the process. Except that, much later, I remember reading somewhere that McLuhan, a devout Catholic, had written this as a sort of imaginative projection of where we were headed without God. That it was sort of satire, on the lines of Swift's Modest Proposal. No idea of the truth of that assertion.

Cricket - cold champagne to tepid beer

Did you know that, numerically, cricket attracts as great a global following as football? No, nor did I.

I learnt that from Jonathon Keates' review of The Match by Romesh Gunesekera. The review also quotes the main character:

It was not meant to be about expectations”, he decides. “The experience ought to be meditative. The game, like life, was at best a slow slide from cold champagne to tepid beer.
I think Norm would have words to say about that.

Books about the Iraq War

Very good mini-survey by David Aaronovitch of the many books already published about the Iraq War. One quote.

Packer (George Packer in The Assassins’ Gate), who spent a lot of time before the invasion talking to policymakers, and much time afterwards dangerously unembedded inside Iraq, begins by asking himself the question, why did the war happen, and answering the question with a laconic: “It still isn’t possible to be sure.” His ambivalence is like clear, cold water in a landscape parched by certainty.

(via Norm)

Books that changed the world

Melvyn Bragg makes a list of 12 British books that have changed the world.

Principia Mathematica (1687) by Isaac Newton
Married Love (1918) by Marie Stopes
Magna Carta (1215) by members of the English ruling classes
Book of Rules of Association Football (1863) by a group of former English public-school men
On the Origin of Species (1859) by Charles Darwin
On the Abolition of the Slave Trade (1789) by William Wilberforce in Parliament, immediately printed in several versions
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) by Mary Wollstonecraft
Experimental Researches in Electricity (three volumes, 1839, 1844, 1855) by Michael Faraday
Patent Specification for Arkwright’s Spinning Machine (1769) by Richard Arkwright
The King James Bible (1611) by William Tyndale and 54 scholars appointed by the king
An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776) by Adam Smith
The First Folio (1623) by William Shakespeare
I think most people would agree that the changes wrought by these books are largely positive. What about negative change? What books would be on that list? From abroad, we could put down Mein Kampf and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (which, though more a symptom than a cause, has been a great magnifier). Many would put the writings of Marx, though even someone as anti as I am finds him an equivocal evil. It's much more difficult, isn't it? Appeals so much more to opinion and prejudice.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

US National Security Strategy

In pursuit of our goals, our first imperative is to clarify what we stand for: the United States must defend liberty and justice because these principles are right and true for all people everywhere. No nation owns these aspirations, and no nation is exempt from them. Fathers and mothers in all societies want their children to be educated and to live free from poverty and violence. No people on earth yearn to be oppressed, aspire to servitude, or eagerly await the midnight knock of the secret police.

America must stand firmly for the nonnegotiable demands of human dignity: the rule of law; limits on the absolute power of the state; free speech; freedom of worship; equal justice; respect for women; religious and ethnic tolerance; and respect for private property.
Not short on ambition, especially in those 'nonnegotiable demands of human dignity'. Kennedy was little less specific. I haven't read all the document, but those lines stood out.
For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal.
Maybe it comes down to the same thing. It is hard to imagine how Kennedy's dreams of peace (for that was the concern of the speech that quote comes from) could be realised without those demand being met.

Losing the Information War

The underlying reason why America is doing so poorly in the field of 'information warfare' against the jihad is that its traditional organs of articulation–the academy, media, Hollywood–are largely hostile to the war on terror itself. It's conceivable that an Iranian might flee persecution only to be taught at a U.S. university that he ought to embrace it by the many academic departments whose point of view is exactly that. In a fundamental sense, the war on terror is twinned to the greatest single issue dividing the left and the right, which is whether the United States, as a nation, is legitimate or whether, as some would maintain, it is Amerika: an abomination whose demise must be hastened by any means necessary.
That (from The Belmont Club) just about says it.

It could be objected that there is no need to adopt either of these extremes, that the latter view is just a Straw Man erected by the Right to better fight the war at home. And indeed there are many who are against the war for quite respectable reasons. But the problem is that neither Hollywood nor the Academy deal in subtleties; the second, infected with the virus of revolutionary politics for the last 40 years, goes down either the road of relativism ('it's just their way and we must respect that') or that of grandstanding from the moral high ground ('against the oppression of capitalism'). They provide no alternative, no policy except for opposition to the US.

Saddam document haul

In an extraordinary move, or maybe just an admission that they don't have enough Arab-speakers, the Pentagon has put on the net vast quantities of documents captured and gathered in Iraq. Bloggers take this as an direct appeal for help.

There's a slow drip-drip of 'revelation' from these documents. Including (from

Directorate 9, we discover, "is one of the most important directorates in the Mukhabarat. Most of its work is outside Iraq in coordination with other directorates, focusing on operations of sabotage and assassination."

The document also discusses the Mukhabarat's Office 16, set up to train "agents for clandestine operations abroad." The document helpfully adds that "special six-week courses in the use of of terror techniques are provided at a camp in Radwaniyhah."
In one document translated by Omar at Iraq the Model.
Our Afghani source #002 (info on him in paper slip '1') has informed us that Afghani consular Ahmed Dahistani (info on him in paper slip '2') had spoken before him of the:following

1-That Usama Bin Ladin and the Taliban group in Afghanistan are in contact with Iraq and that a group from the Taliban and Usama Bin Ladin's group had conducted a visit to Iraq

2-That America possesses evidence that Iraq and Usama Bin Ladin's group had cooperated to strike targets inside America
Melanie Phillips has referred to this haul of documents and videos before and reported some intriguing snippets, all as yet unconfirmed. See here and here.

Evidently, the section above quoted by is "a print-out from the web site of the Federation of American Scientists"
(powerlineblog) accompanied by comments on it by the Mukhabarat, which are still in Arabic.

Care will be needed in dealing with these documents; there are going to be claims and counter-claims flying thick, low and fast and very little verification, at least for some time.

"Iraq can be deadly, but, more often, it's just dreary."

The Independent tells us every day that Iraq has descended into civil war (to its barely concealed glee). Not so, according to Ralph Peters, an ex-soldier just back from the war zone. He seeks to dispel the 'media myths' about the country's current situation.

It is so difficult to read this situation aright, though I suppose it could not be otherwise given the confusion inherent in re-founding a nation and the discord on the Home Front. You could read the British withdrawal of 800 soldiers as a good sign if you didn't know the political (and military) pressure here for such a move. The attack on the mosque of Samara could be a fatal blow, or a desperate one. The politics of Iraq, daily getting-on-with-it does not have the inertia to keep normalcy in front, at least to judge from the news (which itself seems to be part of the problem).

(via Melanie Philips)

Mark Steyn explains himself

Nothing conspiratorial or even censorial. Read his interview with Radioblooger here.

(via Ninme)

Friday, March 17, 2006

Highlights of another history

IN MARCH 2003 Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, of the UN, secured a remarkable, last-minute deal that averted war and seemed to guarantee the disarmament of Iraq.

In Oslo there was talk of a Nobel Peace prize.

Over the following months Arab terrorist groups demanded the expulsion of infidels from Muslim lands and a series of attacks sapped the morale of allied servicemen and women.

The reporters were not allowed to see that Saddam was channelling the money to terrorist groups around the world, as he had before March 2003.

At the notorious Abu Ghraib prison: the sort of abuses that Saddam and his sons had always most enjoyed: the rapes, beatings and brutal murders of innocents. There were no congressional hearings or judicial proceedings. Saddam’s torture-mongers faced not a trial but promotion and honours.

Syria tightened its grip on Lebanon, with targeted murders and intimidation. To distract attention from their own abuses, tyrants continued to support the Palestinian intifada against the Israelis, which grew steadily more murderous.

In Iran the theocrats’ regime interpreted Saddam’s reprieve as a green light. (cont)
Read all of Gerard Baker's alternative history.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The One-of-a-kind Ring

King Solomon, the wisest man in the world, had a servant that was his favorite. Why? Because anything he asked him to do he did perfectly. But the other servants in the palace got very jealous. The wise king knew that the jealousy is very bad and he had to do something about it. So the king decided that he would give this servant a job that is impossible to do. The king thought that the servant will not succeed, he will put him down in front of all the other servants, it will make everybody equal and there will be no jealousy in the palace.

So the king called the servant, one month before "Pesah holiday" and he made up a story. He told the servant that he heard about a special ring that when you wear it when you are sad you become happy and when you wear it when you are happy you become sad. The king said: "I want it. Can you get it?"
"Did I ever disappoint you? " said the servant; "Of course I can get it!"
"Very well" said the king, "bring it to me in 'Pesah' evening."
"'Pesah'?" asked the servant " it is one month away, I can get it to you in couple days."
"No, no" said the king, "bring it to me as a present from you, for 'Pesah' and give it to me at the "Seder" dinner in front of everybody."
"Yes, my king" said the servant.

The servant took a group of people, divided them to four different groups and sent one to the North, one to the South, one to the East, and one to the West, telling them "go on the way, stop anyone you meet, and ask him about the ring. If he knows something or heard something or knows somebody who heard or knows something, come back to me, with the information, so we can take directions and get the ring for the king".

After two-three days the first mission came back but "Nada" (of course, the king made up the story and there was no such ring). The second mission came back and again "Nothing", third mission, fourth mission and three weeks had passed and the servant got "zipo". He got so nervous. The "Seder" is one week away, and he must find the ring. He started searching for the ring on his own and started walking from place to place, from town to town, from village to village, door to door, house to house, didn't sleep, didn't eat, asked everyone he met and, nothing ("nada").

The night before the "Seder" he came back to Jerusalem but he was ashamed to come to the palace, everybody was talking about him and he was walking around the streets like "meshugi" (crazy). Eventually he found himself in the poorest neighborhood of the city and there in a small alley he saw a petit, tiny little shop with an old man inside, a jeweler. So he was thinking to himself "if I can't get the ring maybe this old man can make it. I have nothing to lose, I will give it a try."

He went into the shop and said to the old man: "The king wants a ring that when you are wearing it when you are sad you become happy but when you are wearing it when you are happy you become sad. Can you make such a ring?" The old man thought for a second then he said: "Sure, it's a piece of cake". He took one of the rings he had on the table and engraved on it something in Hebrew. The servant was only a slave and he didn't know how to read, but he had nothing to lose so he took the ring.

Everybody knows about the story and they want to see what will happen. Everybody is happy they are smiling, singing, telling jokes. The king at the head of the table with a big smile on his face. Except the servant, he is in the corner shaking praying, maybe the king forgot. But the king didn't forget he was waiting especially for that moment. Then the king pointed at him showing him to come over with his finger. Silence. Everybody got closer to listen and see what happens. The servant was terrified, he came to the king shaking his eyes on the ground.

The king smiled and said: "Did you get the ring?"
The servant was so afraid he was whispering with a broken voice: "I hope so my king…"
"I can't hear you!" said the king.
"I hope so," said the servant louder.
"Hand it over," said the king. He gave him the ring with a shaking hand. The king took it with a big smile, he put the ring on read what was written on it. Then the face of the king turned over and he become sad. When the servant saw that the king was sad he realized that he got the right ring, and smiled. And on the ring there was a simple sentence in Hebrew "Gam Ze Ya-avor". Which means: "This too shall pass".

You can find this story, and others here, and can even download an mp3 of Baruch telling it, which is even better.

(via My Wife)

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Another one bites the dust

Acton Gorton is the editor of a The Daily Illini, the newspaper of the University of Illinois. Sorry, Acton Gorton was the editor of the Daily Illini. But Acton Gorton published the Khartoons, and like Gordon before him has gone down before the Mahdi's faithful. Actually, it was a board of academics and students who voted unanimously to sack him. The mujahidin didn't even need to fire a shot or a building.

Lots of it going round. Civilizations don't die. They ... oleaginously sink between the floorboards.

(via Instapundit)

Kein kind

What's Canadian wit Mark Steyn been saying? What's Danish wit Mullah Krekar been saying? Confirmed.

The German birth rate has fallen to the lowest level since the Second World War. So low that several towns in East Germany may soon cease to exist (except for the mosquitoes).

The consequences?

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has calculated that, given the current demographic trend, the best economic growth Germany can hope for in 2025 is half a percent.
All is, however, not lost.
Despite the seeming inability of political policies to boost the birth rate, German politicians are not giving up.
Oh, no? What are they going to do? Is state intrusion into private parts going to go even deeper? Article here.

The Nazi church

The stark entrance hall is lit by a black chandelier in the shape of an iron cross. The pulpit has a wooden carving of a muscular Jesus leading a helmeted Wehrmacht soldier and surrounded by an Aryan family. The baptismal font is guarded by a wooden statue of a stormtrooper from Adolf Hitler's paramilitary Sturmabteilung (SA) unit clutching his cap. Friezes depicting the eagle of the Reich and helmeted soldiers' heads have been carved into a giant stone arch framing the chancel. The organ was used at the 1935 Nuremberg rally of the Nazi party.
I must confess, I had never thought of churches with Nazi imagery. As with so much Nazi self-projection, this description just makes me want to laugh. But it's real and there in the Martin Luther Memorial Church in Berlin, now unused and appealing for funds for development as a museum. It is, evidently, unique (how many were there?) so it should be kept.

The article from Spiegel is here. Have a look at the images. They have a sort of grim fixity of purpose.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Third Language

I came across this verse from Miroslav Holub's The Third Language, and it reminded me of the essay by André Glucksmann I linked to on the 6th of March.

The poem is a reaction to the end of Communism in Czechoslavakia, the end of living the Big Lie, which was the daily lie that every person had to put on before they went out in the morning. Suddenly, the Big Lie wasn't there any more.

And so it happened
that something like a disinherited idea
thought people up.
The idea conjured up people
with three hands, people
with three colours above the gray dirt,
people with three languages,
Czech, Slovak
and another one.
I love that line: 'and another one'.

The dictionary of the third language
lay in the square
and the newborn windwas leafing through it. In this language
oxygen was oxygen
and a conic section passed through a fixed point
and intersected a fixed line.

From Scanning the Century. Translated by David Young, Dana Habova and the Author.

Do you recall in 1984, the injunction to remember forever that two plus two made four, and, no matter what the state said, never five?

There's info on Holub here and here.

Like mosquitos

Has Mullah Krekar, an Iraqi refugee in Norway, been reading Mark Steyn, or are they both just on to a good thing?

"We're the ones who will change you. Just look at the development within Europe, where the number of Muslims is expanding like mosquitoes. Every western woman in the (European Union) is producing an average of 1.4 children. Every Muslim woman in the same countries (is) producing 3.5 children. By 2050, 30 percent of the population in Europe will be Muslim."
Once again, the simile that stops you. The literary training of these clerics is obviously not of your Western namby-pamby sort. Do they never talk about flowers?

(Via Wheat and Weeds)

Adventurism of the heart

Faisal Sanai in Arab News reflects on what the cartoon protests reveal about the Muslims of today. It's worth reading it all both for the content and the style. English may be his second language, but that doesn't intimidate him or make him shy of the 'purple'. I like this phrase.

We seem unable to harness the incalculable power of the mind over adventurism of the heart.

(via Ninme)

Monday, March 13, 2006

Credit to what produces

A friend has pointed out an interview with Perry Anderson (editor of the New Left Review), recently described by Christopher Hitchens as 'the most profound essayist currently wielding a pen' (without explaining why, unfortunately). Anderson speaks about why the Left failed.

[It] greatly underestimated the internal strength of capitalism as a socioeconomic system. Its capacity for self-adaptation, for continual adjustment; the extraordinary resources of productivity which spring from its reliance on competition as an essential mechanism of economic life -- these were greatly underestimated, I believe.
So, what is the case against capitalism?
"... the central case against capitalism today is the combination of ecological crisis and social polarization. It is the greed."
There are others. I linked some time ago to a post by Norm in which he sets out why alternatives to capitalism need to be sought.
... capitalism perpetuates eliminable forms of human suffering, blocks human flourishing, perpetuates deficits in individual freedom and autonomy, violates liberal principles of social justice, is inefficient, is environmentally destructive, and limits democracy.
Now I'm not denying that there's a case (or several) here. However, I continue to ask: in any other system you want to suggest, where does the wealth come from? Why do they never talk about a better way to stimulate innovation, to provide incentives for people to work better and harder? It's great to talk about re-distribution, but you first you need something to re-distibute. Socialism, communism, fascism, whatever, don't produce, or produce insufficiently and inadequately. They re-distribute, but from a pie that gets smaller and smaller until it's not worth sharing.

Secondly, to achieve any of the aims listed above, has any alternative method been proposed that is not a centralisation of power 'at least in the initial period'? To halt global warming, one agreement for them all, one ring to bind them. To close the gap between rich and poor, tax. Yet the more you centralise, the less well you produce because competition is taken out of the system. Only in capitalism is there the incentive to produce more and, above all, better. That is why it is only capitalism that innovates. That is why it will only be capitalism that will innovate sufficiently to avert ecological crisis, not the oppressive and all-too-visible hand of beurocracies and committees. Perry Anderson himself refers above to capitalism's 'extraordinary resources of productivity'. He doesn't say how else such resources are to be tapped.

The conversation with Perry Anderson was recorded on April 27, 2001. I wondered what change if any 9/11 wrought in him. In the Hitchens article, there is mention of a New Left Review editorial in 2003 where it was announced
that the need of the hour was solidarity with the “resistance” in Iraq, Afghanistan, and—yes—the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Taliban converts

Excellent piece about an ex-Taliban spokesman now studying at Yale.

Both this and the post below are via The Watchers' Council Carnival, which is in turn via New Sisyphus.

The Bloody Borders Project

Baron Bodissey and Dymphna of the Gates of Vienna have created a new blog. Called 'The Bloody Borders Project', it tracks Islamist violence across the world, and presents it on an interactive map. It is already up and running with blood - excuse the phrase, but the figures and the spread of the incidents are extraordinary.

Dymphna describes the project here.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Wafa Sultan - Profile

New York Times profile of Dr. Wafa Sultan.

(via Instapundit)

The State and your interior life

Guy Herbert of Samizdata at a conference called Turning the Tables on the State came across this demand.

We need a right to a rich interior life.
Sorry, but it does remind me of the famous Land Rights for Gay Whales badge.

Herbert had attended to speak on encroaching government power, but is surprised that the rest of the speakers build their cases on the evils of transnationals and globalisation. He should have looked on the website of the organising body, A World to Win. This is a movement that calls for
the building of new democratic institutions at local, regional and national level. The first task of these assemblies will be to encourage workers in every sector of economic life to take control of their workplaces and set up democratic management systems.
Haven't these assemblies already been tried? Weren't they called 'soviets'?

More for students

Once again, thanks to Dorothy King.

David Brooks has written an article for the New York Times with the headline Harvard-Bound? Chin Up. He has 7 recommendations for the neophyte, of which this is one:

Take a course on ancient Greece. For 2,500 years, educators knew that the core of their mission was to bring students into contact with heroes like Pericles, Socrates and Leonidas. "No habit is so important to acquire," Aristotle wrote, as the ability "to delight in fine characters and noble actions." Alfred North Whitehead agreed, saying, "Moral education is impossible without the habitual vision of greatness."

That core educational principle was abandoned about a generation ago, during a spasm of radical egalitarianism. And once that principle was lost, the entire coherence of higher education was lost with it. So now you've got to find your own ways to learn about history's heroes, the figures who will serve as models to emulate and who will provide you with standards to use to measure your own conduct. Remember, as the British educator Richard Livingstone once wrote, "One is apt to think of moral failure as due to weakness of character: more often it is due to an inadequate ideal."
I have often complained to the Heavens and anyone else I could ensnare that though my university education was not bad, politically it was loud noises of the Feminists and Marxists (of various shades) that dominated with ne'er a dissenting view from the assembled imparters of knowledge. Perhaps it is a good thing that you have to learn alone what has made your society so successful, but I resent the fact that the university paid for by the same society did so little to pass on to its youth a just appreciation of its value and rareness. I resent the fact that the classics were not shoved down my throat.

Fair Trade does not incentivize quality

Gregorio Martinez grows coffee on 30 hectares of land in Lepaera, Honduras, where he lives with his wife and four children. In 1998 Hurricane Mitch destroyed his crop, leaving him deep in debt; by 2004 he was set to lose his farm to foreclosure for lack of $800. That same year, he sent a bag of beans to the Princess Hotel in San Pedro Sula, where a U.S. nonprofit was hosting a contest known as Cup of Excellence. Martinez took top honors, attracted attention from buyers, and auctioned off his crop for $19,500. In his acceptance speech, he expressed relief that he would be able to pass his farm on to his family rather than the bank.
Gregorio Martinez cannot get Fair Trade certification - he isn't part of a co-operative. Not only that, if the quality of his work and beans remains high, and the demand for them justifies hiring even one worker, then he will fail on two counts. Fair Trade farmers cannot have hired labour, no matter how good the wages or conditions are.

An interesting article by Kerry Howley on the marketing success of the Fair trade movement, and on how it may well be failing just the people it set out to help. In passing, he also shows how the success of Starbucks with their fetishisation of coffee might be doing far more good than you think.

I like the quote about the Starbucks lingo.
“It’s amazing to me that these terms have become part of the language,” Starbucks’ Dawn Pinaud confesses in Mark Pendergrast’s coffee history Uncommon Grounds. “A few of us sat in a conference room and just made them up.”

Friday, March 10, 2006

John Profumo and shame

What I know about John Profumo is really what is in the papers today. The sex scandal that carries his name has, to my mind, about as much of interest as any other sex scandal: none. What I find more interesting, and even uplifting, is what Profumo did after his disgrace.

Within days of his political departure, Mr Profumo turned up at the refuge centre Toynbee Hall in east London and asked to help with the washing up.
He stayed for nearly 40 years, using his political skills to raise huge funds, and expanding the charity's activities to include social programmes and youth training.
Do that for a week or so, and it's a photo opportunity. Do it for a year, and you've got stamina. 40 years? That's something else.
"No one judges Jack Profumo more harshly than he does himself," his friend, the late Jim Thomson, the Bishop of Bath and Wells, once said. "He says he has never known a day since it happened when he has not felt real shame".
The Bishop says so, and I believe him. Much has been written recently about the need to keep religion out of the constituted political system, and I am in agreement with that position. I haven't read anything, however, about the virtues of religion in the training of those given power by that system. The story of John Profumo seems to illustrate (and I am only guessing here) the value of a sense of duty in driving public life. A sense of duty underpinned by a religion that inculcates notions of sin, repentance and penance. He must have seen his sin as heinous and his wrong as undeniable, and therefore his need to rebalance the scales as imperative. Profumo's sense of duty was also a reflection of his privelaged upbringing, one of the last generation coached from boyhood to rule. In his case, the responsibility inherent in that position was as strong as the thirst for office. He'd relished the fruits of power, been the playboy in gilded halls, so now he would put on the sackcloth.

I am not saying that only religion gives people this backbone. I am wondering if other means of developing it are as efficient.

Profumo had done great service before 1963.
But in a Commons motion, five MPs pay tribute to John Profumo, saying the country owes him "a huge debt of gratitude" for voting against his party in 1940 over the "appeasement" deal with Germany by the then Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain.
This vote paved the way for the resignation of Chamberlain and the accession to power of Churchill.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Guide to Life for Graduates

Dorothy King has reprinted an article by Mary Schmich first published in 1997 in the Chicago Herald Tribune. She calls it a 'Guide to Life for Graduates'. Some excerpts.

Whatever you do, don't congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else's.

Get to know your parents. You never know when they'll be gone for good. Be nice to your siblings. They're your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.
It is very sensible and I would sign up to most of it, but, as she says, it's all wasted on the very people it is intended for. Most young people would find it so timid, so unambitious and uninspiring. Where are the great themes and questions of life? Where is the political/spiritual message? Is there no place here for achievement?

I don't think those things are necessarily excluded; maybe it's just that they shouldn't be everything - you can't rely on them. Notice how much of the advice is about making the most of what you were born into rather than what you set out to make - your parents, siblings and friends of your youth. Notice how she implicitly denies a divine plan for you ('Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else's'); it's much more a matter of your attitude to what you are and have. It is personal rather than public knowledge; the sort of thing no-one can really tell you. You have to do it yourself, like love. So that when you pass on the fruit of your experience, you're really only talking to yourself. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)
Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it's worth.
It reminds me of that testament to Stoicism, If by Rudyard Kipling.

DJ Galloway

George Galloway has landed a job with a radio station ( TalkSport). Now there's a surprise.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Liberalism in Arabic

I have quoted before the UN Arab Human Development Report regarding its figures for translations done into Arabic. To wit, fewer translations in a year than Greece with its 11 million people; 10,000 translation over a millenium - the same number as into Spansih in one year. Jonathan Rauch quotes them too in this article, but only as context to a wonderful figure of a man. A man who

somewhere in Baghdad ... is working in secrecy to edit new Arabic versions of Liberalism, by the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises, and In Defense of Global Capitalism, by the Swedish economist Johan Norberg. He is doing this at some risk of kidnap, beating, and death, because he hopes that a new Arabic-language Web site, called -- in Arabic -- can change the world by publishing liberal classics.
The man cannot be named for fear of the consequences. Here is a list of some of the authors he is putting into Arabic, including the two above.
Frederic Bastiat (The Law); Mises, Norberg, Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, Voltaire, David Hume, F.A. Hayek.
I am ashamed to say that I have never read them. Not only that, but apart from the British and Voltaire, I've never even heard of them. Yet it is just these thinkers who have been shown to be right again and again in the last 200 years or so. Why, at university, was I encouraged to read Marx, Trotsky, and Foucault and sundry French wankers, and not these? Why must I rely on blogs (in this case RC2) to learn what it is that has built this civilisation? Why wasn't I told?