Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Ijtihad gone missing

Have a look at this post by Perry de Havilland about the Danish cartoons affair. He highlights the difficulty of the two sides of the argument actually communicating and points to his experience of this in the comments to previous posts. Follow the link 23 December 2006 and scroll down the comments (there are many) until you get to Mohamad.

He and Perry have an exchange whose only outcome is that at one point Perry feels ashamed of mocking Mohamad's English. But it's hard yakka. Mohamad does little except cite dictats from He-who-must-not-be-mocked, and when Perry begs for a personal view, Mohamad responds that those are his personal views.

We see in action the consequence of the "closure of the door of ijtihad". The practice of ijtihad (cognate with jihad) was the interpretation, through reason and discussion, of the Qur'an and the Sunnah. In other words, while still sacred texts, their place in the world had not been fixed once and for all. There was still room for argument. Well, that room was walled up sometime between the 10th and 13th centuries and swallowed by the sands. Its location is currently unknown.

British bikes & the dead on holiday

My son's 14-year-old friend instructed me in modern orthodoxy. "Britain doesn't have a motor industry," he sneered. "It's all Japanese, German or American. We're crap at it."
Evidently, we're not anymore. Tim Luckhurst in the Independent.

I only rode a bike for a couple of years, was never really touched by the mythology, but I am glad to see that Britain can still make things, heavy things that people touch, sit on and collect and that others will pay lots of money for.

The living are just the dead on holiday.
Tom Baker quoting Maurice Maeterlinck in the Independent.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Boris Johnson, gladiator

Boris Johnson was on Start the Week this morning to flog his new book, The Dream of Rome. It is a study of how Rome kept the Empire together, militarily, administratively and imaginatively. One of its instruments was the arena. Spectators would watch barbarians decimate each other (We who are about to die salute you!), and sitting in the stands munching their pork scratchings would thank the gods that they were watching, and not performing in this grand structure that only the Romans could build. Quite naturally, Boris points out, they wanted to be on the winning side.

I remember reading in Tom Holland's Rubicon that the weapons and costumes of the gladiators took form during and after the defeat of the other Italian tribes and became their martial after-image, as it were. No-one used these arms and armour any more, but they were a constant reminder to Romans, Samnites, Sabines and Lucani alike of who was boss and who wasn't.

Boris quite innocently points out the inability of modern Europeans to create such unifying rituals.

Persian Fire. Greek steel.

Persian Fire by Tom Holland. The re-writing of Herodotus for modern times.

One of the most notable changes in our intellectual life since I went to university is the rebirth of the Classics. They have become, after lying dormant for several decades, 'relevant' again, popular even. When Lindsay Davies was casting about for a publisher in the early nineties, she was turned down time and again by editors saying that no-one was interested in whodunnits set in Ancient Rome. It would be difficult to count now how many such books there are, not to speak of conventional histories in the bestseller lists, such as Tom Holland's Rubicon. It requires no great learning to say why.

The 9th of September. For Bin Laden, at least, ancient history is now. In how many speeches beamed to a waiting world by Al-Jazeera has he hurled the word 'crusaders' at us and recalled the lands haunted by the dead caliphate. The enmity he spits at us surprised many. For all but the oldest of us, the only Great Enemies had been European creations: Imperial and Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia. But we don't have to go too far back to find trace of an enemy that had a much longer pedigree. I wondered in another post how Disney were going to deal with the several Narnian books in which the baddies are clearly modelled on Ottoman Turks. Lewis's use of them was not eccentric. After all, the Caliphate was only abolished in 1924 and for CS Lewis's generation the Old Enemy, though one whose teeth had long been pulled, was Islam. Folk memories are hardy, but the roots were deep and went back to the 8th Century and the Moorish invasion of Spain and were reinforced repeatedly up until the 17th Century. For Lewis as for Bin Laden, it's Christianity vs Islam, and Bin Laden, for one, has not forgotten.

And yet even his grievance-hungry memory does not encompass the span of this conflict. For in its basic formulation, East vs West, the script on this one was ready to go to production two and half thousand years ago. The basic plot concerned the world's greatest superpower, its empire managed by a superb bureaucracy and an unmanageable bunch of squabbling hotheads on its fringes. The superpower eventually sought to remove this annoyance with a multinational force greater than any that had ever been mustered or would be before the D-Day landings. Facing it were the aforesaid squabblers, groups united only by language and religion, and of negligible military clout. And yet, momentarily united, they beat back the superpower and went on to become one of the major cultural powers of world history.

Yes. This is the Persian Empire versus the Greeks by Herodotus. And yes, I loaded that account a bit for the sake of 'contemporary relevance'. And, no, I don't believe that we, the West, the US, are the latter-day Persians, or that the Islamofascists yonder could take on the role of the Greeks. The analogy collapses very quickly. For instance, the Greeks were already a commercial force (ie they were offering others products and ideas that the others actually wanted), and an innovating cultural one, with their experiment in democracy not yet 20 years old. However, one of the many virtues of Tom Holland's book is that it does allow you at least a glimpse of the world through Persian eyes. It's an intriguing sight.

It confirms some views of the East that would have a very long life: the luxuriousness of the court culture and the arbitrary and absolute power of its monarch backed up by a powerful religious idea, Ahuru Mazda, Lord of light and truth. But it also fills in many blank spaces. Its tolerance of foreign customs for the sake of stability and commerce, a tolerance that would even consider allowing some token democracy in its Ionian territories. The efficiency of its organisation that assigned rank and status precisely enough to regulate how many wineskins you were worth at the imperial roadside inn. The depth of its intelligence network, a superb weapon which allowed them, under a show of respect for native customs and beliefs, to use a people's devotion to its own traditions to enslave them. As Holland puts it: "harmony in exchange for humility; protection for abasement; the blessings of a world order for obedience and submission".

There could have been no greater shock, to the Greeks as much as to the Persians, than the defeat of the invincible forces out of the East. Just as nothing could have demonstrated the value of this new form of government, this democracy, better than these improbable victories. It was put down, yes, to their 'technology of war': the hoplites, their armour and their discipline. But more, it was the spirit of those who had a real stake in what they were defending that shone out in that moment, and then kept on shining. The Athenian trajectory, already rising, now soared and the truly great age came swiftly on, the age that we can look back on as one of the places that are our source-springs.

So, the 9th of September, yes, but not only. After all, Lindsey Davies started writing her Falco books in the early nineties. The threat we face from Islam focusses the question, but it was being asked before the Twin Towers fell. Could it be that it is indicative of a civilisation that had gone too far in denigrating and corrupting itself from within, and like the healthy organism it really is, started looking back in order to go forward? Just as it did in Florence 600 years ago.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Michael Yon and James Lileks

Two nice pieces via Instapundit.
An article on Michael Yon, the man who took this photo.

Michael's site is here.
And James Lileks on how to blog with attitude.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is the woman who wrote Submission, the film which led to its director, Theo van Gogh, being murdered by someone who took as his own the Koran's instruction to slay those who offend Islam. She is a very brave woman, one who has to live à la Rushdie under armed guard. She is, nevertheless, going to make Submission 2.
Fergal Keane interviewed her on the 24th of January in his series Taking a Stand. You can listen again here. Among much else, she says

"That's why I'm against the theory of multiculturalism. The minute you say, in a liberal society, well, it's freedom of religion to do as you wish within your own community, then anybody who questions the principles of Islam, and anybody who explains and exposes why these principles collide with the principles of universal human rights are labelled racist or Islamophobic, or personally attacked without argument... And it's pretty stupid to say we are going to spread it [freedom and tolerance] to the rest of the world, and we're going to tell the Iraqis how to build a democracy and at the same time stand by and watch how your own democracy is being decayed from within."
There's more at the Wandering Jew, including links to the film Submission and to the script. PC-users may need to download a codec to watch it. It is available here. Download, double-click and install.

War of the Worlds - book and film

I read the book only last week, and saw the film just last night. Both surprised me.

HG Wells' scientific adventure directs its gaze in several directions that are not very novel-friendly and make life difficult for the film-maker, as well. Literally, in several directions. First of all, he wants both the individual story and the panoramic. The first story takes place south of London where the narrator lives, where the Martians land, where their attack begins. The grand vista, however, is to be seen north of London, in which direction, naturally, the people of the city flee. The narrator cannot be in two places at once, so he has to make use of his brother's testimony. This split, though it allows for one of the best set pieces in fiction (the fleeing crowds), does weaken the link between reader and main character. Interestingly, Speilberg does not try to have it both ways. There is one fleeing crowd scene, but it is minor compared to Wells'; the director stays with his main character and sacrifices the panorama. (I was a little puzzled by this: why is everyone so keen to get to Boston? Why should they be better off there?)

One more obstacle for the film-maker. The plot itself is not resolved by the hero. Survival and victory do not come about because of the hero's heroics, but rather because the martians lack immunity to earthly bugs, something completely out of his, or anyone else's control. Such a plot is always difficult in that the emotional attachment of the audience to the hero cannot be used to fuel the climax - there's no release, no shout of 'Yes!' as he defeats the baddie. Spielberg's only concession to heroics is that he has the Cruise character destroy one of the tripods with grenades.

Wells' gaze is concentrated in another place from which Speilberg fixedly averts his eyes, not this time for formal reasons, but for idealogical ones. One of Wells' main concerns is the crowd's reaction to events completely outside their experience. The first words of the book are 'No-one would have believed ...', and that is the dominant key for the opening chapters: the inadequacy of humanity's mental preparation for the attack. In terms of words, he spends far more on that than on the immense gap in technical prowess. It is the main motif of the crowd scenes north of London, one that Speilberg takes up at the Boston Ferry crossing. The collapse of order is a theme close to our hearts these days. But Wells goes further: he makes a point of ridiculing the main idealogy in the West that deals with the greater questions of Man's destiny: Christianity. In the character of the vicar with whom the narrator is trapped for 2 weeks, we see a man whose whole mental structure has suffered irreparable damage. He reverts first to 'thunder and brimstone', but in the end to madness. His 'worldview' is shown to be not just inadequate, but irrelevant. Speilberg's only acknowledgement of this is in the opening scenes when the earth tremor caused by emerging tripod splits the facade off a church. His avoidance of the theme is inevitable given the prevailing political climate.

And one question. In Wells' book the Martians land and construct the tripods. In the film, the tripods have been underground for millennia and are merely activated by the Martians. Why? Is the enemy of Man already among us?

Friday, January 27, 2006

Highlights from the Hamas Covenant

"Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it."

"The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf consecrated for future Moslem generations until Judgement Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be given up. "

"There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors."

"After Palestine, the Zionists aspire to expand from the Nile to the Euphrates. When they will have digested the region they overtook, they will aspire to further expansion, and so on. Their plan is embodied in the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion", and their present conduct is the best proof of what we are saying."

From mideastweb.

Stuck on 1968

Good article by Arnold King on how we can to continue to uphold any worldview because we don't have to face the consequences.

Recently, economist Jim Miller used the term moral free riding to describe adopting a precarious ideological position when it has little personal risk. George Mason University economics professor Bryan Caplan says that such free riding is the normal state of affairs. He argues that people are insulated from the consequences of their beliefs by the fact that the typical voter has a low probability of influencing the outcome of an election.

(via Instapundit)

The gender perspective of landing on the moon

The South Australian curriculum describes Western science as "the most dominant form of science but it is only one form among the sciences of the world", while in the Northern Territory science is treated "as a way of knowing ... constructed in a socio-cultural context". While the traditional view of science is based on absolutes that can be empirically tested, the West Australian curriculum says truth is culturally determined.
"(Students) recognise that aspects of scientific knowledge are constructed from a particular gender or cultural perspective," it says.
When you are being blasted towards the moon with 40,000 tons of fuel under your bum; when you read this message on a worldwide network of over a billion computers; when you look at an image of your unborn baby produced by bouncing sound waves off your innards; when you switch on a light or do do any of a thousand things we do every day, what exactly is the cultural or gender perspective you adopt to benefit from it?
See the article in The Australian about science syllabuses.

Good and Bad in religion

Norm and Ophelia (of butterfliesandwheels.com) have been getting very intense over Good and Bad in religion. For Ophelia, whatever good there may be in religion is so outfaced by the bad that it is justifiable to reject the lot out of hand. Norm thinks that this is all too simplistic and prefers to retain the capacity to distinguish the good from the bad, and, I suspect, to judge from actions rather than from the 'worldview' that supposedly inspired those actions. I think Norm is right, though for reasons rather less sophisticated than his. As an athiest who thinks that evolution is the best idea that anyone has ever had, I cannot reject religion.

1. I would hesitate before condemning a practice that has existed in 99% of human societies for 99% of human history. Ideas are tools and insofar as they are useful they survive. This idea (the belief in a 'supernatural superstructure', if you will excuse the phrase) has survived probably from the moment the species acquired consciousness until now. Therefore, it is more than likely that it has something in it that is worthwhile.

2. How you go about weighing up the good and bad in a phenomenon as widespread and varied as religion is quite beyond me. To make such a judgement with regard to specific religious practices or beliefs is as necessary as it is with political practices or beliefs. But condemning religion per se is like condemning politics per se.

3. Finally, and without wanting to sound flippant, I have often wondered if religious belief might not be, in evolutionary terms, a very important, even essential, survival mechanism. The shift in scale between my individual viewpoint and the size and multiplicity of the world was impossible to deal with rationally until technology made it seem so. Our minds can now manage that, by reducing it to a varying crudeness. But what will happen when we start space travel. Space, if I understood Hitchhiker's Guide correctly , is very, very big (remember the Ultimate Perspective Vortex?). Could religious belief be merely the best technique for dealing with the monstrous difference between 'little me' and 'the rest of the universe'?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The da Vinci Code purportedly

Susan Vigilante saw a Community Education course being offered called Da Vinci Code Historical Seminar, whose ad announces that the Dan Brown book is "tied to events purportedly recorded in history". She decided to investigate. She spoke to the teacher.

He then explained that the crucial point is that Opus Dei is "not a part of the Catholic Church. It's an arm of the pope. They're patterned on the Jesuits. The Jesuits' motto is 'The end justifies any means.'" (That would have to be a somewhat loose translation of "Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam," more typically rendered as "To the greater glory of God.") Not all that surprisingly, Mr. Tkach didn't know very much about Opus Dei, not even many lies. He was strongly of the opinion that it is "elitist." "If you want to be a member you'd better have a master's degree and a couple hundred thousand in the bank. They own a 47-story in midtown Manhattan, you know." (It's 17 stories.) When I asked him why he thinks it is frightening that Opus Dei exists "right here in the USA, today!" he told me if he had it to do again, he would have left "frightfully" out. In fact, he'd had concerns about the word at the time, fearing it might be too controversial.
I'm relieved to hear that she didn't finish the book, either. I lasted a page and a half.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

John Howard: The centre will hold

A very important speech from Australian Prime minister, John Howard. In the wake of the Cronulla riots, he doesn't flay himself and cringingly mutter contrition. He asserts and re-asserts Australia's founding values, which are those of the Enlightenment and British Parliamentary democracy. He calls for a renewal in the teaching of History that ,without ignoring the condition of the Aborigines, passes on to the young the sources of Australia's achievement. Funnily enough, those sources are all European.

Australia's ethnic diversity is one of the enduring strengths of our nation. Yet our celebration of diversity must not be at the expense of the common values that bind us together as one people: respect for the freedom and dignity of the individual, a commitment to the rule of law, the equality of men and women and a spirit of egalitarianism that embraces tolerance, fair play and compassion for those in need...

We've moved on from a time when multiculturalism, in the words of historian Gregory Melleuish, came to be associated with "the transformation of Australia from a bad old Australia that was xenophobic, racist and monocultural to a good new Australia that is culturally diverse, tolerant and exciting". That view was always a distortion and a caricature.

Most nations experience some level of cultural diversity while also having a dominant cultural pattern running through them. In Australia's case, that dominant pattern comprises Judeo-Christian ethics, the progressive spirit of the Enlightenment and the institutions and values of British political culture. Its democratic and egalitarian temper also bears the imprint of distinct Irish and non-conformist traditions.

Quite separate from a strong focus on Australian values, I believe the time has also come for root-and-branch renewal of the teaching of Australian history in our schools, both in terms of the numbers learning and the way it is taught...

Part of preparing young Australians to be informed and active citizens is to teach them the central currents of our nation's development. The subject matter should include indigenous history as part of the whole national inheritance. It should also cover the great and enduring heritage of Western civilisation, those nations that became the main tributaries of European settlement and, in turn, a sense of the original ways in which Australians from diverse backgrounds have created our own distinct history.

It is impossible, for example, to understand the history of this country without an understanding of the evolution of parliamentary democracy or the ideas that galvanised the Enlightenment. In the end, young people are at risk of being disinherited from their community if that community lacks the courage and confidence to teach its history. This applies as much to the children of seventh-generation Australians or indigenous children as it does to those of recent migrants, young Australian Muslims or any other category one might want to mention.
(From The Australian. My highlighting.)

‘Who said that?’

I saw this joke among the comments to a post by New Sisyphus. There's no permalink, but it's the post on January 19, 2006 called 'This Just In: Generalisimo Francisco Franco Is Still Dead'. It raised a bit of hay and New Sisyphus had to write another to explain himself. Both are worth reading.
Anyway, the joke, from a commenter going under the moniker of Lawrence of Arabia, and who translated it from Spanish.

It's the first day of class at a US high school and the teacher introduces a new student called Akito Suzuki, son of a Japanese business man. The teacher starts the American history class by asking who pronounced the sentence, “Live free or die”.
Suzuki quickly raises his hands and replies, “Patrick Henry 1775”.
“Excellent”, said the teacher and continues, “Who said “Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth”.
The whole class remained silent until suddenly Suzuki said, “Lincoln, 1863”.
The teacher was flabbergasted and said to the whole class, “You all should be ashamed. Akito Suzuki, who just arrived in our country, knows more history than you Americans”.
Then someone in the rear of the classroom whispered: “To hell with those damn Japanese”.
“Who said that?” the teacher inquired.
Again Suzuki raises his hand and says: “General McArthur, 1942 and Lee Iacocca, 1982”.
The whole class was silent when one of the students said: “I am going to throw up”.
The teacher asks again this time: “Who said that?”
Without hesitation, Suzuki says: “George Bush Sr. to the Japanese prime minister, 1990”.
One of the students totally mad shouts at Suzuki: “Suck my dick”.
Akito intervenes again: “Bill Clinton to Monica Lewinsky, 1997”.
At this point in time, the smartest guy in the class yelled: “I was the first until this bloody Japanese arrived”.
And Suzuki answered: “Mario Vargas Llosa, Peruvian elections 1990”.
The whole class became hysterical, the teacher fainted. The students gathered around the teacher and said to one another: “We screwed up, now how do we get out?'.
And Akito Suzuki said: “Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, 2005/2006”.

It's so easy to criticise America

Justin Webb on Radio 4's Feedback programme replying to critics who accuse him of sounding like Fox News. His explanation of why is everyone so critical of the US thankfully lacks the grand superstructure of conspiracy theories and the squalid drama of 'selling out'.
So why is everyone so critical of the US? It's easier, (or, as Ninme puts it, they're just lazy).

RB. But you're saying there's a greater readiness to criticize America than there is to criticize China, or perhaps Saudi Arabia or other countries in the Middle East?

JW. And the reason is, I think, that it's easier, that we have a problem reporting open societies, particularly in a time of great international turmoil and war. It's just easier to criticize, it's easier to get information, it's easier to find people within the society who are immensely critical of it. Yet when you think of China, when you think of the Taliban...when you think of the situation in Iran it's just more difficult to get a handle on what's going on in those places. And I think there is a tendency, which we always have to guard against, of being tougher on democratic societies simply because it's easier.
(via Ninme, with links to Clive Davis, who gives the background)

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Wood Has Been Made into a Boat

John Derbyshire I find one of the most honest, down-to-earth writers in journalism. As a conservative, and a pessimist, he is asking a very basic question: which changes (whether I like them or not) are here to stay because you just can't go backwards, and which come and go.
I remember reading somewhere about a general delivering his valediction at West Point. He said something along the lines of 'I have introduced many changes, but only at the right moment: when there was no choice'. The assumption underlying this seems to me a healthy one: that we can never presume to know the full significance of any institution or idea, or the consequences of removing or changing it - therefore, do so only when the force behind the change is irresistible, or when not to change would damage the whole.

The start of the nuclear hysteria campaign

Scott Burgess 'facts out' the front page story in the Independent which seeks to whip up hysteria about nuclear waste. There's going to be a lot of this now, but it's an old warhorse that's still got a good few miles in it.
The Independent article is here.

War Debt

On the 31st of December this year, the Treasury will send a cheque for $83 million to the United States, and so will finally pay off Britain's war debt. Its World War 2 debt. The story is here.

Chinese discover America. Yes. And ... No.

You may remember the story of the Chinese map, purportedly a copy of one made in 1418, which showed the 2 Americas. I posted about it on Friday the 13th. Well, yet another hoax.

Even normally chauvinistic Chinese scholars have rubbished the find. They pointed out last week that the cartographic portrayal of the Earth as two circles on a flat sheet is European. The most obvious "mistake," showing California as an island, is clearly borrowed from mistakes made in 17th-century European maps.

Nor are the Chinese characters properly medieval, that for the western God postdating the arrival of Jesuit missionaries. Zheng He's 15th-century travels in the Indian Ocean were indeed sensational, but they were well authenticated. Why diminish them by faking a circumnavigation? Besides, since the map is a copy, there is no way of verifying any original.
I read in La Repubblica that Italian geographers had been quite sure that the map was a fake, and yet were fearful of spoiling the party and that no-one would listen to them. In addition,
in the Anglo-American world, scientifically hegemonic, there is a strong urge to discard Columbus, an Italian, son of an immigrant people with cardboard cases. He couldn't possibly be the father of the world's greatest power.
You see what passions and resentments these things arouse.

Monday, January 23, 2006

On roots and La Patrie

I linked to an interview with Bernard-Henri Lévy on Saturday and quoted what he had to say on revolution. I also gave a quick summary of the distinction he made between the United States and France. Here is what he says in full

"In France, with the nation based on roots, on the idea of soil, on a common memory . . . the very existence of America is a mystery and a scandal." This is a particular source of pain, Mr. Lévy says, for "the right." ... America gives the French right "nightmares," as the country is based on "a social contract. America proves that people can gather at a given moment and decide to form a nation, even if they come from different places." The "ghost that has haunted Europe for two centuries"--and which gives fuel, to this day, to anti-Americanism there--"is America's coming together as an act of will, of creed. It shows that there is an alternative to organic nations."
In French, there is a word for their country, la patrie (and in Italian, la patria) for which English has no real equivalent. The literal translation would be 'fatherland', which just sounds German to our ears. You might occasionally hear 'motherland', though personally I can't remember the last time I did. Now, of course, in the US, there's 'homeland', as in the place that needs security, but that has none of the marital ring of 'patrie'. So why do we, here or in America, not have such a word?
Obviously, French and Italian are Romance languages and inherited the word from Latin. However, English imported tens of thousands of other words from Latin, so why not that one? Is it something to do with ethnos, the soil, the racial memory, sources not available to the US? Maybe, but this country has those sources, and yet is equally bereft. Is it something to do with those sources plus a republic? In Ancient Rome, the patria took the place of the king as the object of the citizen's devotion. The empire that followed the republic only made political use of the term to direct obedience to the pater. Italy here would be the case to study as it only grew from geographical expression to country in the 1860s, as a monarchy, and became a republic only in 1946. So was patria used between unification and and post-war referendum?
I wish I could now go on to answer those questions, but I can't. I invite contributions.

Evidently, the best blonde joke ever.

Evidently, the best blonde joke ever. Typically, I don't get it, and will forget it before ...

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Muslim fear of the female

This is one of those charges that most non-Muslims believe immediately, so self-evident does it seem. I hesitate before passing it on because of a feeling of hitting beneath the belt (pun intended), and because there's no way anyone could quantify or disprove it. Yet it explains so much, and as a force is so primitive and unmalleable that it is far beyond the reach of any policy or act of government. It will take generations of change.
In any case, Salman Rushdie speaking about his new book. Reported by Yahoo News quoting Stern magazine.

Rushdie told German weekly magazine Stern that his latest novel, "Shalimar the Clown", dealt with the deep anxiety felt among many Islamic men about female sexual freedom and lost honor.
When asked if the book drew a link between "Islamic terror and damaged male honor", Rushdie said he saw it as a crucial, and often overlooked, point... "It has a lot to do with sexual fear of women."
Theodore Dalrymple has not overlooked it.
Young Muslim men in Britain—as in France and elsewhere in the West—have a problem of personal, cultural, and national identity...Their tastes are for the most part those of non-Muslim lower-class young men...However similar young Muslim men might be in their tastes to young white men, they would be horrified, and indeed turn extremely violent, if their sisters comported themselves as young white women do. They satisfy their sexual needs with prostitutes and those whom they quite openly call “white sluts.” (Many a young white female patient of mine has described being taunted in this fashion as she walked through a street inhabited by Muslims.) And, of course, they do not have to suffer much sexual frustration in an environment where people decide on sexual liaisons within seconds of acquaintance.

However secular the tastes of the young Muslim men, they strongly wish to maintain the male dominance they have inherited from their parents. A sister who has the temerity to choose a boyfriend for herself, or who even expresses a desire for an independent social life, is likely to suffer a beating, followed by surveillance of Stasi-like thoroughness. The young men instinctively understand that their inherited system of male domination—which provides them, by means of forced marriage, with sexual gratification at home while simultaneously freeing them from domestic chores and allowing them to live completely Westernized lives outside the home, including further sexual adventures into which their wives cannot inquire—is strong but brittle, rather as communism was: it is an all or nothing phenomenon, and every breach must meet swift punishment.
His point is that these young men, unlike their white counterparts, have at their disposal a millennial creed with which to fill that emptiness. When the contradictions between that strictures of their belief and the West-dependency of their lifestyle become too painful, there is a short, sharp cure.
(via Tim Blair)

Saturday, January 21, 2006

PC and dead funny

A very funny article (mainly for the quotes) about why the Left doesn't inspire the 'laugh with' anymore, but only the 'laugh at'. It includes this one from PJ O'Rourke:

When it comes to taking chances, some people like to play poker or shoot dice; other people prefer to parachute jump, go rhino hunting, or climb ice floes, while still others engage in crime or marriage. But I like to get drunk and drive like a fool. Name me, if you can, a better feeling than the one you get when you're half a bottle of Chivas in the bag with a gram of coke up your nose and a teenage lovely pulling off her tube top in the next seat over, while you're going a hundred miles an hour down a suburban side street. You'd have to watch the entire Mexican air force crash-land in a liquid petroleum gas storage facility to match this kind of thrill.

(via Tim Blair)

Bernard-Henri Lévy on Revolution in France

This is from an interview with Bernard-Henri Lévy in Opinion Journal. Lévy is about to publish a book called American Vertigo for which he retraced the steps of Alexis de Tocqueville. (His account was originally published in 4 parts in the Atlantic Monthly, who commissioned it.)

"The reign of ideologies in France was linked to the concept of revolution. As long as some believed in revolution, you had a distribution of ideologies." The moment when "the dream of revolution collapsed" --a dream of which Mr. Lévy once partook--ideology decamped from the battleground of French politics.

When did the dream of revolution die? "With Cambodia," Mr. Lévy answers. This was an event "much more important than the fall of the Berlin Wall. When the Hegel of modern times will write this history, he will say that the real crucial event was Cambodia." Why? "Because till Cambodia all the revolutionaries in the world believed that revolution had failed because it didn't go far enough, because it wasn't radical enough." And then Cambodia happened--"the first revolution in history to be really radical. . . . And what did we discover, all of us? Instead of paradise, revolution gives absolute hell."

It is worth reading the whole article.
His alternative options for the Iraq War are inadequate ('wait for Saddam to die ... or for an opposition movement to grow up'), but the distinction between France ('a nation based on roots, on the idea of soil, on a common memory') with the US (which 'proves that people can gather at a given moment and decide to form a nation, even if they come from different places') is a very interesting one, and worth mulling over.
(via ninme)

Friday, January 20, 2006

Maps for Lost Lovers (3)

Part 1 is here.
Part 2 is here.
Nadeem Aslam's main achievement is closely linked to the fact that he is a Pakistani writing in English about Pakistanis in England. You would expect a novel of gritty realism in a stark urban setting charting faint alienated lives that only burst into colour with violence. But, no.
One of the most unexpected qualities of this novel is its lyricism, a lyricism that is all the more surprising in that it depicts the attachment of its main characters to nature. You see sub-continental immigrants in a garden of English delights intensely observed and lovingly described.

The water and the afternoon sky and the stones visible in the shallower parts of the lake are all grey, blue-black, white and in those shallow areas the mosses too look dark, those long emerald-green and slimy strands which trailed between the toes of his children like thongs of delicate sandals when they paddled in the water with the hems rolled up.
This is Shamas looking out the window of his part-time Urdu bookshop, waiting for the woman who is his escape from the narrow world of his wife, but who herself is using him to re-enter that world. What he looks at - the water, the afternoon sky, the mosses - is impregnated with his memories (he sees dark-coloured mosses - his memory evokes the green of daylight), and they are memories of his children immersed in English nature like Christopher Robin in the wood.
Pakistani immigrants and idyllic English nature. But there's another element to put beside this. I said that the English town that is the setting of this novel was unnamed. Not quite. It does have a name: Dasht-e-Tanhaii. It means The Wilderness of Solitude; The Desert of Loneliness. Even the streets are anonymous in English, but they have Pakistani names. (I do wonder about this - do Pakistanis really rename the streets to be more user-friendly?) Naturally, there is a link; socially, they are an island. The female characters can count the number of contacts with English people they've had in a year, and the number is always under 10. No - this is not a polemic about British racism, or anything as limited or crippled as that. But it is about the inevitable cruelty of what happens when a culture stilled in time tries to erect barriers to another vastly more powerful culture, to put up mud walls against cruise missiles. (Perhaps not the most appropriate analogy, but I can't think of anything better at the moment.) The point is that no-one here can do otherwise, given the means they have. Just as in the greatest tragedies.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Consequences and intentions

This is an article about Wal-Mart and health care in the US, about both of which I know next to nothing. I signal it because of the quote below. (I admit it's just the comfort derived from someone else saying something I have often shouted in the vast emptiness of my cranium.) The writer is speaking to his 'liberal friends'.

I wish you would see that motives matter less than consequences. I wish you could see that greed is at work when laws are passed that regulate markets, because regulations always produce winners and losers. I wish you could see that those winners and losers are often not who you think they are. I wish you could see that competitive behavior and free choice are forces that operate in the market as a check against greed. Finally, I wish you could see that greed is most difficult to restrain when it is exercised through the medium of government.
(via Instapundit)

Exploration of Pluto. And disappointment.

An article on Pajamamedia about the launch of a rocket that will visit Pluto.
I must admit, I like the idea of a rocket using nuclear power. It's not that I'm such a big fan of nuclear power; it's just that it sounds so much more serious. Like they're getting down to some real space travel.
As someone that has been on this planet long enough to remember the Moon landing, I do so wish there were more of us out there. I fully expected to be holidaying on the Moon by this time. I wanted to be around for the next age of exploration, at least hear about the New America being settled. But no. Too much to ask, it would seem.
I especially like this bit (though, truth be known, if we were doing things proper, it shouldn't be necessary).

It will reach Earth's moon in about nine hours and arrive in 13 months at Jupiter, where it will use the giant planet's gravity as a slingshot, shaving five years off the 3-billion-mile trip.
(via Instapundit)

Chirac's biggest success: his anti-Americanism

The results of an AOL France poll with responses by 11,514 people. When asked what was Chirac's greatest success, 69% replied that it was his rebellion against the US over Iraq.
One small point. The results add up to 101%.
(via Instapundit)

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Maps for Lost Lovers (2)

Part 1 of this post is here.
The first sentence of Maps for Lost Lovers is

Shamas stands in the open door and watches the earth, the magnet that it is, pulling snowflakes out of the sky towards itself.
It announces Aslam's ambition telling you that, yes, this is the story of individuals with a precise culture and past, but it is also the story of all individuals. It is the way he involves the character in the metaphor. It doesn't say 'shamas watches the snowflakes being pulled towards that great magnet, the earth'. No. Shamas watches the magnet at work. He observes an elemental force.
We will discover later that Shamas himself is quite capable of thinking this thought. He is an educated man, a poet, well-read not only in Urdu and Persian literature, but also in the writings of the West - the Urdu translation of Ulysses, for instance, is mentioned several times. And not casually, for Shamas is linked to Leopold Bloom explicitly and, in a very Joycean manner, by means of an object both banal and exotic: Koh-I-Noor pencils. Shamas is very much a man of the 20th Century, someone with a foot in both the East and the West and so belonging in neither, an exile, broadminded and sympathetic, a romantic with a fatal weakness for justice and even-handedness.
I repeat, Shamas himself could have thought of that first sentence. This is important because the metaphor there, and those in many, many other pages at first sight can seem just a bit stretched, too sought-after, like something an under-graduate might write on first coming across Dylan Thomas. Yet so often, what follows, immediately or eventually, justifies the extravagance. This book took 11 years to write; he spent 3 of those years writing 100-page back stories for all the main characters. There is very little that is just thrown down beacuse it sounded good at the time.
A couple of samples.
Locking into each other like the facets of a jewel, the tilting surfaces of the neighbourhood have chanelled away the water that the snows released upon melting.
Mah-Jabin's train ... passes through tunnel after tunnel like a needle picking up beads to thread a rosary.

He's alone as Kaukab drives away, alone under the stars that are nuclear explosions billions of miles away. He watches as a shooting star traverses the night sky, reflected like the sweep of a razor in the paintwork of several metal roofs.


Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Iran's Nukes, Europe's Follies

As things stand, all those concerned in this carnival of absurdities have reason to be happy: the Europeans get rid of the hot potato, the Bush administration finds a diplomatic fig-leaf to cover its lack of an Iran policy, the Russians sell their arms, the Chinese get their oil and gas and the Islamists in Tehran accelerate whatever mischief they might be up to in the nuclear domain.

Amir Tahiri .

No. There's no reason to be happy, so stop it right now. Everyone is not happy (except, maybe, certain Iranians). It is not a cheery article. The Europeans he refers to include our very own Ministers of State. The Iran thing bothers me much more than other such kerfuffles, and I'm not completely sure why. My congenital 'she'll be awright, mate' seems to have been undermined somehow, somewhere, and I don't even know which bugger to blame.

The Stranger

A series of 3 articles about Ahmad Fadeel al-Nazal al-Khalayleh, aka al-Gharib (The Stranger) aka Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (The Zarqan, from Zarka, a Palestinian refugee town in Jordan), very well researched and written.
He loved his mother.

Monday, January 16, 2006

World War, again.

Niall Furguson plots a world war that starts in August 2007. It sounds like 1930s Europe, and, yes, it does sound possible. But Ahmadinejad is just a nutter, isn't he?

Maps for Lost Lovers (1)

When I went to university, I shared an assumption with those that taught and studied there that the study of books, of novels and poetry in particular, would give me something beyond an exit from the mundanity my world; it would give me entry to that of others', the most alien reality of all, and thus would I grow in what was one of the most important ways a human being could grow. This tenet of Victorian education may look a little ridiculous now; however, it was the bearer of an optimism that I cannot reject when an equally delusional writer puts it on offer. Amin Maalouf's Leo the African makes me feel like this. So does Maps for Lost Lovers, the second book by Nadeem Aslam, though a brief plot summary would make you wonder if, to draw any positive feeling from such a story, I nurtured an implacable sadism towards all humanity.
Set in the Pakistani ghetto of an unnamed English town, its central characters are Shamas and Kaukab: he, an unreformed communist and non-believer who now works in 'community relations' and occasionally opens an Urdu bookshop; she, a mother who has lost her children to an alien and godless culture and whose faith is the only firm rock in a world that has not been kind to her. The three children are long gone, assimilated, westernised. Worse still is the disappearance of Shamas' brother Jugnu and his twice-divorced lover Chanda, presumably murdered by Chanda's brothers to avenge their outraged honour. Now the police have arrested the brothers. Most of the plot of the book takes place between this arrest and the trial.
The picture Aslam paints of Islamic culture as lived by these people is not a pretty one. Its colours are those of fear, superstition and violence to maintain the dominance of a religion that encourages or condones forced marriages, the subjection of women and punitive murder for any threatening infractions of its code. The violence done to Jugnu and Chandra is only one instance of many. Moreover, the one character who survives more or less as she started is the character who most fully belongs to this suffocating world, Kaukab.
Now if I had read the two paragraphs above, I wouldn't have even looked at this book. Fortunately, I hadn't. (cont)

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Israel's Ajax

Victor Davis Hanson wrote this about Ariel Sharon in 2002. The classical analogy is apt and illuminating and his analysis has been borne out by subsequent events. Always worth reading this man. I have only been doing so for a couple of years; I have obviously missed a lot.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Design by Robert Frost

I came across this today. Intelligent design. See also Cordyceps.

I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth —
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches' broth —
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.

What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall? —
If design govern in a thing so small.

Heal-all: a plant once used to treat cuts, bruises and even internal ailments like ulcers. It is usually blue.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Priest, Revolutionary

Giuseppe Cesare Abba was one of Garibaldi's Thousand, who in 1860 routed the Bourbon armies of Sicily and Naples more of less because they had the nerve. Abba published a memoir six years later in the form of a diary. It was called Da Quarto al Volturno (from Quarto, the place near Genoa from which Garibaldi set sail for Sicily, to the Volturno River, the last battle against the Neapolitans).
Just a few days after the Battle of Calatafimi, in which Garibaldi confirmed to the Neapolitans that he was invincible, Abba found himself sitting on a hillside trying to convince a priest to join them, this band of brothers whose greatest enemy was the Pope.

- Come along. Everyone'll love you.
- I can't.
- Because you're a priest? We've already got one.
- I'd come, if I thought you were going to do something truly great. But I've been talking to your lot. All they say is that they're going to unify Italy.
- Exactly! To make it one people.
- One people? If it suffers, it suffers, whether one or many. But tell me. Will you make it happy?
- Happy? We'll give the people freedom and schools.
- And that's it!?, said the priest. Because Freedom isn't bread, and nor is school. These things may be enough for you Piedmontese, but not for us.
- What'd be enough for you?
- Not a war against the Bourbons, but a war of the oppressed against all the oppressors big and small, and not just those at court, but in every city and in every villa.
- So against you priests as well, with your monasteries and lands everywhere a body can eat?
- First of all against us. Before all the others. But with the Gospel in one hand and the cross in the other. Then I would come. But this, this is too little.
Now, the poor man lived in Sicily, so you really can't blame him for calling down the Apocolypse. But there you have the revolutionary: a priest calling for spiritual renewal by means of an army.

Chinese discover America. Yes. And ...?

Did the Chinese discover America almost a century before Columbus? Those who maintain that they did, such as Gavin Menzies, will be heartened by the presentation next week of a map that shows not only the two Americas but Australia, as well. This map was created in 1763, but is a copy of one made in 1418, based on the voyages of a Chinese admiral named Zheng He, whose sumptious fleets wandered the world from 1405 and 1435. What he found was written up in a book called The Marvellous Visions of the Star Raft, published in the same year as the map.
It may well be true. Just as it is true, more than likely, that the Vikings landed on the eastern shores of the continent in the 11th Century. Zheng He or Leif Ericsson?
What does it matter? What counts, as always, is the consequence. The consequence of the Chinese discovery, as of Leif Ericsson's, was ... nil. Columbus's changed the world.
Soon after Zheng He's voyages, by order of the Emperor, such frivolities as boldly going where no man has gone before were forbidden and China withdrew into her rather large shell. That had consequences, and that is interesting. We might be better engaged working out why.
The story is here. (via Norm)

Thursday, January 12, 2006

On 'Syriana' - Self-loathers and perpetual victims

Amir Taheri writes about Syriana, a film starring George Cloony in which the CIA assassinate and plot to keep the Arabs in their present darkness despite their earnest attempts to modernise. This film, in its portrait of the US as plot-master and oppressor of the world, seems determined to do the same, reinforcing as it does the conviction in Arab minds that

...whatever misfortune has befallen them is due to some conspiracy by a perfidious Western power.
In North Africa where France ruled for more than a century every shortcoming, and every major crime, is blamed on the French. From Egypt to the Indian Ocean all was the fault of the British, until the Americans emerged as a more convincing protagonist in the fantasyland of conspiracy theories. (In Libya where Italy ruled for a while in the last century, even the fact that the telephones don't work in 2006 is blamed on the Italians.)
He asks rhetorically which of all the high-profile murders in the Arab world since 1900 can be blamed on the Americans or their allies.
The list of Arab leaders murdered since 1900 is a long one. It includes six prime ministers, three kings, a ruling Imam, seven presidents of the republic, and dozens of ministers, parliamentarians and senior military officials. Every single one of them was killed either by Islamist militants (often from the Muslim Brotherhood) or by pan-Arab nationalists or by radical Arab security services.
What is the effect of this work by the 'self-loathing party' in the US?
First, it says that America, being the evil power it is, is a legitimate target for revenge attacks by Arab radicals and others.
Secondly, it tells the American people that all this talk about democracy is nonsense if only because major decisions are ultimately taken by a cabal of businessmen, and politicians and lawyers in their pay.
Lastly, and perhaps without realizing it, the self-loathing Americans reduce the Arabs to the level of mere objects in their history. It is the almighty America that decides every single detail of Arab life with the Arabs as, at best, onlookers and, at worst, victims of American violence. The Arabs are even denied credit for their own terrorist acts as "Syriana" shows that it is not they but the CIA that decides who kills whom and where.
Pretending to be sympathetic to the "Arab victims of American Imperialism", the film is, in fact, an example of ethno-centrism gone wild. Its message is: The Arabs are nothing, not even self-motivated terrorists, but mere puppets manipulated by us in the omnipotent US!

Monday, January 09, 2006


Listening to the interviews on meaningoflifetv reminded me of something I read many years ago. The speaker was an American physicist whose name I cannot remember. In any case, in the spirit of Douglas Adams ("if life is going to exist in a universe of this size, then the one thing [a sentient being] cannot afford to have is a sense of proportion"), attain humility meditating upon

The universe may not only be stranger than we understand, it may well be stranger than we can understand.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Churchill and ruthlessness

Churchill knew how to wield power. He knew what he was defending and he could put it into such words that the listener felt that his own thoughts had never been so well enunciated. That was probably his greatest contribution to the war effort.
Neil Brown here quotes Churchill saying what should happen to Hitler and other Nazi leaders if captured.

"If Hitler falls into our hands we shall certainly put him to death like a gangster. This man is the mainspring of evil. Instrument -- electric chair."

Brown continues

...he [also] proposed that leading Nazis found on the battlefield should be identified and shot without trial. Crystal clear, once again.
Churchill's Cabinet colleagues were a little more cautious and their approach won through. If it hadn't, it may be that the Nuremburg Trials would not have taken place thus setting the template for all subsequent attempts to drag dictators to court. However, there is another point, and it is one that Churchill would know more about than most of us. Strategic aims.
For instance, Saddam Hussein. I don't think many people (other than the usual suspects) would have made much of a fuss over Saddam being shot through the temple the moment the Americans found him. However, one of the aims of the exercise (the invasion of Iraq) was to establish democracy in that benighted country, and that means the rule of law. Shooting Saddam Hussein would not have contributed to that aim whereas putting him on trail may (let's not be too optimistic). So it was not expedient to shoot him.
A further point, and one closer to home. This country, like many others, has often acted abroad in a way that would never be acceptable at home. This provokes outrage, which is not always to be disdained as it must often arise from the fear that such acts may claim asylum here and then be naturalised. My selfish fear virtually from the moment the planes hit the towers was that our freedoms, such as they are, would be eroded not by them, but by us. And it is happening. I wonder if one day we will hear, as justification for yet more surveillance and control, the fact that the Iraqis live with it, so why shouldn't we?


I just found this. Many, many clips of interviews between someone called Robert Wright (who tends to ask questions that ought to be distributed as a pdf) and such luminaries as Steven Pinker, Francis Fukuyama, Daniel Dennett. They discuss such questions as Being good without God, Progress in history, Free will, The limits of science and Steven Pinker's hair. For instance, in an interview with Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete, it emerges that it is now official Catholic doctrine that even athiests might go to Heaven.
Take this as a challenge, oh less-good-than-you-might-be reader.

Childlessness, pacifism, socialism, and hedonism

First Mark Steyn, now Victor Davis Hanson aching to kick Europe in the butt, at the same time almost pleading with her to wake up. I wish I could disagree with them.

Friday, January 06, 2006

What is God up to?

Now this is really puzzling. What is God up to? When he inspires Pat Robertson to say such things, is it because he's angry at Pat Robertson, at us, or at the target of the intemperate remarks in question? Would God please make it clear? Perhaps by speaking through someone he's not angry at? Some sort of sign would really help.
(via Instapundit)

Klaus Beyer - Der fünfte Beatle

Klaus Beyer has been translating into German the songs of the Beatles for over 30 years.

While the revolutionary contemporaries of the now 53 year-old artist liked listening to English pop music because their parents couldn't understand it, one of Beyer's key motivations for translating the songs of John, Paul, George and Ringo was so his mother could understand them. Beyer's translations are therefore also a gesture of conciliation.
He has just released Helft! and released a DVD of short films mostly made at home. It includes a piece about little dogs and tall Kreuzberg women, "2 meters 10".
A review in English.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Elegy transfigured

I went to a funeral today. The person whose death it marked, and who had died rather unexpectedly, was the father of a close friend of mine. It was held in a Catholic church in a small northern town and was celebrated by a bishop with 50 other priests and deacons present. The church was full.
It is many years since I last went to mass, a ceremony that I remember mainly for long sermons and prayers muttered with that part of the mind that deals with the automatic functions. It didn't mean very much to me.
This mass today was different. Obviously, I was emotionally involved because of my attachment to my friend. This was heightened by the presence of many people who knew and liked the deceased (I had only met him once, and that briefly) and for whom the ceremony had some (or even great) significance. The most intense moment came, as it should, at the consacration (if you haven't 'been there', it's when the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ). It was introduced by a brief plainsong, which climaxed and concentrated the mind as the priest began his blessing. Take this bread ...which earth has given and human hands have made ... Take this wine ...fruit of the vine and work of human hands. The work of nature. The product of civilisation. Transformed.
It struck me then that, even from the point of view of the non-believer, this is a beautiful way to 'live the moment'. This phrase generally denotes a rather facile idea because it lacks the gravity and force bestowed by an ancient religion and all its accumulated custom. Here, today it rebounded and lit up many things - what we were doing that morning; what this man had done during his life - his work, his family; the everyday decent and banal acts of all our lives.
This alternation of the mind is, of course, what most of us seek through paintings, music or books; the 'performance art' that I witnessed this morning seemed a primal formulation and embodiment of our desire not just to live, but to live intensely. All the more so for its commemoration of one man's death and the loss suffered by those around him. The ones who still live and want to live well. This was a way of doing that.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Cordyceps - Intelligent design

Just so that you know what's really going on out there.

Though merely a cousin of the lowly toadstool, the Cordyceps fungus lives a life that could hardly be imagined by even the most creative science-fiction writer. Cordyceps lies quiescent on the forest floor, waiting for its unsuspecting insect prey to pass. When a bug wanders by, the fungus attaches itself to the insect exoskeleton. It then secretes a chemical that burns a hole in the insect's body armor. Next, Cordyceps inserts itself into the insect body and proceeds to devour all of the host's nonvital organs, all the while preventing the insect from dying of infection by secreting an antibiotic and a fungicide (as well as an insecticide to deter other insect predators). Once the nonvital organs are consumed, the fungus eats part of the insect brain, causing the insect to ascend to the top of a tall tree in the forest. At this point, Cordyceps devours the rest of the bug's brain, thereby killing the insect and causing the body to split open. At that point, the fungus can release its spores a hundred feet above the forest floor.
from Mark J Plotkin, Medicine Quest, quoted here.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

More control, and the nerds respond

Gonggrijp says the Dutch chief of police has announced the intention to store large amounts of surveillance data and mine it to determine who to pressure and question. "People are screaming for more control," said Gonggrijp.
More control, and the nerds respond with ... control. From Wired.

Willing Slaves Of The Welfare State

Read this for the view of someone who was alive before the Welfare State existed, who doesn't believe in 'solutions', and who is aware that for every perceived gain, there is an often unnoticed loss. It's by CS Lewis.

I do not like the pretensions of Government, the grounds on which it demands my obedience, to be pitched too high. I don't like the medicine-man's magical pretensions nor the Bourbon's Divine Right. This is not solely because I disbelieve in magic and in Bossuet's Politique. I believe in God, but I detest theocracy. For every Government consists of mere men and is, strictly viewed, a makeshift; if it adds to its commands 'Thus saith the Lord," it lies, and lies dangerously...

The modern State exists not to protect our rights but to do us good or make us good -- anyway, to do something to us or to make us something. Hence, the new name "leaders" for those who were once "rulers". We are less their subjects than their wards, pupils or domestic animals. There is nothing left of which we can say to them, "Mind your own business." Our whole lives ARE their business.

(via R. Andrew Newman)

Why are they fighting?

We are not fighting so that you will offer us something. We are fighting to eliminate you.
Hussein Massawi, former Hezbollah leader

Blame yourself, and die

Democratic civilization is the first in history to blame itself because another power is trying to destroy it.
François Revel

What do you leave behind?

This is a true rant; a witty one, as well. But the basic question it is asking is the big one. Who is making the kids? Because they are making the future. One of those questions that are so basic that civilised people forget about them. And then they die.
By Mark Steyn in the New Criterion

Sunday, January 01, 2006

God as a consequence

An excellent article by Paul Bloom, a professor of psychology at Yale, in December's Atlantic Monthly.
His thesis is that the way our brains work to deal with the here and now leads them also to believe in God. Naturally, as it were.
Firstly, our brains from birth divide the world into 2 realms: the physical and the psychological. In the first realm, it expects causality and mathematical consistency; in the second, a much more elastic reality that includes beings with volition and intention (see the 3rd point).
Secondly, identity is separate from body and brain, both of which are regarded as its instruments. We continue in this belief all our lives without any hard evidence that it is well-founded. We act and speak as if it were true.
Thirdly, since the calculation of etiology is such a vital survival skill (What is he up to? What is he after?), we are inately expert at imputing purpose and pattern.
Mr Bloom's point is that, whereas the evolution of these cognitive skills is explicable in evolutionary terms, their application to the 'larger' questions inevitably leads to God. 'What's it for?' becomes 'What am I for?': a question that carries with it the assumption that 'I' am for 'something'. And that something can only be granted by a Supreme Being.
Believing in God is evolutionarily determined.
My apologies to you and to Mr Bloom for this skeletal summary. Best to read the article itself.

America's "Religious Right"

Who is this about?

As you may already know, one of America's two political parties is extremely religious. Sixty-one percent of this party's voters say they pray daily or more often. An astounding 92 percent of them believe in life after death. And there's a hard-core subgroup in this party of super-religious Christian zealots. Very conservative on gay marriage, half of the members of this subgroup believe Bush uses too little religious rhetoric, and 51 percent of them believe God gave Israel to the Jews and that its existence fulfills the prophecy about the second coming of Jesus.
No. The party is the Democratic Party, and that 'hard-core subgroup' are Democrat-voting African-Americans.
The article is here. (via The Atlantic Online)

Here they are!

Ladies and gentlemen. Here they are!
Host Jack Paar introducing Jayne Mansfield on The Tonight Show
(also via a letter in the Atlantic Monthly (paper edition), December 2005, by Tom Noer, Kenosha, Wisc.)

Commemorate the Future

Now this is intitiative.
Riverside, Iowa, has one monument: a scale model of the USS Riverside. It bears an uncanny resemblance to the USS Enterprise, as well it might given the object of its commemoration: James T Kirk, Captain on the USS Enterprise, The Ulysses of Star Trek. You see, on the 22nd of March, 2233, Little Jimmy will be born right here. That's right, in 228 years. The eager people of Riverside wanted to erect a bronze JTK, but those miserable people at Paramount demanded $40,000 licence fee, so the USS Riverside it had to be.
You will certainly want to research this more. Start here or here.
(via a letter in the Atlantic Monthly (paper edition), December 2005, by Richard Feeley of Chester, NY