Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year fun

A little bit of joy to end 2007.

A few days ago, 40 Jews got out of Iran and made it to Israel. This was not in the script for the Leader that wants to bomb the Zionists into oblivion, but is on the best of terms with his fellow nationals who happen to share the same unfortunate birthright as the above-mentioned, to-be-annihilated Zionists.

So a state organ, PressTV, published an article denouncing the heinous lie that Jews had fled Iran, and to demonstrate the love that the state of Iran feels for its resident Jews, accompanied it with this photograph.


It may be that they were just trying to highlight the lawlessness of the Web, but they did not acknowledge the authorship of the photo. Its source was The People's Cube ("We do the thinking for you"); specifically, an article published in 2005 entitled "Israel Dismantles; World's Problems End". Amazingly, the article was of a satirical bent, and (this is important) the image was photoshopped. Unbelievably, the original placard did not express undying love of the Jews, but the determination to have a nuclear program (with, possibly, the consequences for the Jews that the Beloved Leader has had occasion to mention).

The photo was replaced after 2 days. To read the whole story, including links to screenshots of the original article, go here.

Imprecise benevolence

I'm just going to quote this without comment. It is an excellent commentary on, among other things, the speech codes and worse in American universities. It's Roger Kimball at PJM.

Political correctness tends to breed the sort of unaccountability that Stephen warns against. At its center is a union of abstract benevolence, which takes mankind as a whole for its object, with rigid moralism. It is a toxic, misery-producing brew.

The Australian philosopher David Stove got to the heart of the problem when he pointed out that it is precisely this combination of universal benevolence fired by uncompromising moralism that underwrites the cult of political correctness. “Either element on its own,” Stove observed,
is almost always comparatively harmless. A person who is convinced that he has a moral obligation to be benevolent, but who in fact ranks morality below fame (say), or ease; or again, a person who puts morality first, but is also convinced that the supreme moral obligation is, not to be benevolent, but to be holy (say), or wise, or creative: either of these people might turn out to be a scourge of his fellow humans, though in most cases he will not. But even at the worst, the misery which such a person causes will fall incomparably short of the misery caused by Lenin, or Stalin, or Mao, or Ho-Chi-Minh, or Kim-Il-Sung, or Pol Pot, or Castro: persons convinced both of the supremacy of benevolence among moral obligations, and of the supremacy of morality among all things. It is this combination which is infallibly and enormously destructive of human happiness.
...the result is not paradise but a campaign to legislate virtue, to curtail eccentricity, to smother individuality, to barter truth for the current moral or political enthusiasm. For centuries, political philosophers have understood that the lust for equality is the enemy of freedom. That species of benevolence underwrote the tragedy of Communist tyranny. The rise of political correctness has redistributed that lust over a new roster of issues: not the proletariat, but the environment, not the struggling masses, but “reproductive freedom,” gay rights, the welfare state, the Third World, diversity training, and an end to racism and xenophobia.

Paradigm shift

I feel the Earth move.

Playing with toy weapons helps the development of young boys.
It's not the NRA, or even some grouse-hunting wacko back home from the range; it's your Labour Government. Just to prove it: the source of this wisdom is a document called Confident, Capable and Creative: Supporting Boys' Achievements, which is issued by the Department for Children, Schools and Families. Now who else would make up names like that?

Of course, paradigm shifts can have unpredictable effects even on the heads of those who initiate them. Witness the following from the above-mentioned report:
"Creating situations so that boys' interests in these forms of play can be fostered through healthy and safe risk-taking will enhance every aspect of their learning and development."
Yes, safe risk-taking.

And then when it comes to your prospective audience, well, entrenched interests just dig those trenches deeper.
But Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "The real problem with weapons is that they symbolise aggression."
No, Steve. They don't symbolise aggression; they are aggression. That's the point. (Heh!)

(via Instapundit)

Sunday, December 30, 2007

An overlapping consensus

This article by Andrew F. March in the Carnegie Council's Ethics & International Affairs magazine deals with one of the great issues of our time: religions within a liberal political system; more specifically, Islam within Western societies. The main focus of the article is Tariq Ramadan's To Be a European Muslim. However, in a long prelude, he sets out the terms of the debate, and it is this I would like to concentrate on.

The first term is political liberalism. While it is necessarily true that most westerners have little understanding of Islam, it is regrettably just as true that many seem to have as little understanding of their own political system. Political liberalism is not an ideology; ie it is not a systematic account of Truth, Meaning, God or Nature. It is agnostic on these questions; or rather, they are none of its business. March puts it like this: Political liberalism

is purely a doctrine of social and political cooperation. It seeks to elaborate the most reasonable public conception of justice and citizenship for free and equal persons, given the existence of disagreement on the ultimate meaning of life and the epistemological foundation for discovering it.
Furthermore, in a liberal society
public institutions do not give a philosophical or religious account of how liberal tolerance and neutrality fit into a grand theory of truth, the good, or the meaning of life. The claims of political liberalism are meant to be "free-standing"— that is, not derived from any single doctrine or religion, which might alienate those who do not endorse it. This strategy is, of course, designed to increase social unity: religious and cultural conflicts can be avoided or mitigated by limiting governmental power to what can be justified to all reasonable citizens.
This view of the state is, obviously, completely at variance with that of those Muslims for whom it commits the blasphemy of denying the unity of everything in the Oneness of God. In the same way, it is rejected by extreme versions of the Left (for whom the state should be the unitary expression of the revolutionary will of the people) and the Right (for whom it should embody the ethnic and/or cultural spirit of the same people).

The claims of the Left and the Right are no longer of any relevance. The question facing us now in Western countries is the relationship between the liberal state (if, that is, we still have one) and the Muslims who are our fellow citizens.

March is putting forward as a desirable end-state what he calls an "overlapping consensus".
Perhaps a Christian (following John Locke) believes that only sincere and uncoerced belief can help a believer achieve salvation. She reasons from this that state power used to punish citizens for thought or behavior incompatible with salvation is futile and, hence, religiously unsanctioned. She therefore endorses liberal political institutions, while at the same time affirming the truth of Christianity. When she relates liberal institutions to her deepest commitments and beliefs in this way, she has what Rawls has referred to as a "full justification" for those institutions, which the institutions themselves studiously avoid providing. When there exist many doctrines in a society (for example, various religions and secular philosophies) that all happen to provide their own unique full justifications for endorsing, on principled grounds, liberal terms of social cooperation, such a society enjoys what is knows as an "overlapping consensus."
With this in mind, he then sets out what he sees as the minimum and the maximum that the liberal state can demand of Muslims:
  • that Islamic conceptions of morality can only be cultivated and encouraged within Muslim families and communities through noncoercive means;

  • that the public sphere in non-Muslim liberal democracies cannot be expected to accommodate all Islamic religious sensibilities by limiting freedom of expression;

  • that grievances with public authorities be redressed politically and with a long-term commitment to democratic political institutions;

  • that non-Muslim fellow citizens are recognized as eligible for bonds of political and social solidarity and that relations with them are regarded as relationships of justice (rather than contingent accommodation);

  • that Muslims can recognize the diversity and ethical pluralism of liberal societies as a permanent feature and not something to be ultimately overcome by a future Muslim majority;

  • that, whatever legitimate solidarity Muslims feel for the global community of Muslims, non-Muslim states of citizenship enjoy immunity from violence.
I like very much his account of the theory of the liberal political system, though I wonder if we are straying further and further from it; that is, if because of our fear, we are trying to invest too much meaning in the system, turning it into an ideology therefore making more defined, but less flexible.

[I have not described March's view of Ramadan. Read the whole article. Apologies, but this post is already too long.]

Saturday, December 29, 2007

[Groan]

FIRE's Spotlight on Speech Codes 2007 (a pdf) is out. It does not make for pleasant reading. It is not so much that it lists herds of stories like the infamous University of Delaware one from earlier this year, but the fact that the use of coercive speech codes has become universal and that even relatively benign codes against threats and intimidation are abused by the colleges.

For example, a student at Valdosta State University (VSU) was protesting, on environmental grounds, the construction of two new carparks on campus. He posted on Facebook a page about the issue and included photos of

Zaccari [the college president], a parking deck, a bulldozer excavating trees, a flattened globe marked by a tire tread, automobile exhaust, a gas mask, an asthma inhaler, a public bus underneath the “not allowed” symbol, United States currency, and a photocopy of the Climate Change Statement of the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment.

Shortly thereafter, Barnes found a notice of administrative withdrawal under his door, informing him that his actions constituted “a specific threat to [Zaccari’s] safety and a general threat to the safety of the campus.”
Similarly, colleges abuse the laws on incitement and harassment. The first, instead of indicating the effect of words on those who agree with them, becomes that on those who do not agree.
A perfect illustration of the abuse of the “incitement to violence” doctrine comes from San Francisco State University (SFSU). In 2006, the SFSU College Republicans faced an allegation of “attempts to incite violence and create a hostile environment” after holding an anti-terrorism rally at which participants stepped on pieces of paper they had painted to resemble Hamas and Hezbollah flags. The University’s logic behind the charge was not that the students were advocating violence or lawless behavior on the part of those who agreed with them. Rather, their basis for the charge was that offended students might be moved to violence.
[Emphasis mine]
An example (one of several) of the abuse of the harrassment laws:
At the University of Iowa, sexual harassment “occurs when somebody says or does something sexually related that you don’t want them to say or do, regardless of who it is.” Examples include people “talking about their sexual experiences” or “[t]elling sexual jokes, innuendoes, and stories, or comments (about your clothes or body, or someone else’s.)”
[Emphasis mine]
The report finds that 75% of the colleges covered in the report are in violation of the First Amendment. Aside from the mind-numbing, Soviet-style conformity these practices are seeking to enforce, there is (and this is worse) the sheer joylessness of it all.
At The Ohio State University, students in the residence halls are instructed: “Do not joke about differences related to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, ability, socioeconomic background, etc.”

La Défense or Notre Dame

I've just ordered from my pusher, Amazon, The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America and Politics without God. It was written a couple of years ago by George Weigel, an American Catholic, biographer of John-Paul II, and Founding President of the James Madison Foundation.

My defense of liberal democracy is basically a utilitarian one: it works better. Weigel thinks this is uninspiring and inadequate. Struck by the debate over whether the preamble to the European constitution should mention Christiantity, by the blank modernism of the Great Arch of La Défense, by the demographic suicide that Europe seems committed to, he has written this book to argue that liberal democracy needs God in order to survive.

There's a talk by Weigel and a short Q&A about the book here. It includes the following.

Can a political community established in an act of historical amnesia defend itself by giving an account of its commitments and its aspirations? Can a political community deliberately founded on principled skepticism about the human capacity to know the truth of anything give an account of its commitments to human rights, democracy, the rule of law, civility, and tolerance, beyond the very thin account that it works better, it's a less sloppy way to conduct public affairs, and things move more easily if we are all good to each other?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas Day Heron

Dead oak, gull fleeing

This oak, dead for as long as I can remember, is a favourite perch for seagulls. On a dull day, they stand out and always draw my eye. As they did today. But if you look carefully at the centre of the photograph, there is a bigger body, unmoved as the gulls flee at my approach.

Heron unmoved A heron. The first I've seen here. It stretched its neck once (I was too slow with the camera), but for the rest did not move from its single-legged stance, hunched down against the cold.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Time can stop

God, or whatever means the Good
Be praised that time can stop like this
That what the heart has understood
Can verify in the body's peace
God, or whatever means the Good.
Louis MacNeice - Meeting Point
Merry Christmas to you all. I hope you have someone to share it with.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Escape

21 years after the first occasion, my wife and I managed to get away for 24 hours yesterday. Our bolt-hole was a tiny village on the western edge of the Yorkshire Dales called Austwick; more precisely, just over the single-lane, hump-back bridge that are the 'town gates', a hotel called the Austwick Traddock.

Austwick Traddock
A view through the fog of the 18th Century house that is now the hotel. The yew tree is probably the same age. Note the little staircase to the right of the house - 4 or 5 steps up to a landing, and then nothing. On Saturday evening, into this courtyard, about 50 people came a-wassailing, then repaired inside to recover from the winter chills. On the way back, we emerged from the fog momentarily to see this.


Pendle HillPendle Hill, famous for its witches and for George Fox, who had a vision of a Christian Commonwealth on its top.

As we travelled, we came near a very great hill, called Pendle Hill, and I was moved of the Lord to go up to the top of it; which I did with difficulty, it was so very steep and high. When I was come to the top, I saw the sea bordering upon Lancashire. From the top of this hill the Lord let me see in what places he had a great people to be gathered.
According to Wikipedia, the name Pendle Hill, is actually 3 words in 3 languages, Cumbric pen and Old English hyll, both of which mean the same as the Modern English word, hill.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Relay

I will not attempt to make any excuses for my current lack of commitment to blogging. However, I can still read so I'll just provide links to a few things that I've enjoyed this evening.

A review of Thinking Politically by Michael Walzer. It's interesting because it (the review, but also Walzer) addresses one of the central problems for those of the (non-silly) Left today: how to reconcile support for a liberal society and a belief in socialism and cultural relativism. Some might say it can't be done (I would), but Walzer is not one of them.

Iraq is Not a Model, by one of Michael Totten's readers. This is an anti-war piece with a refreshingly concrete focus. I think, within its own terms, it is very good, but it ignores too many factors in the bigger picture. Nevertheless, it makes some good points.

Michael Yon in Blighty for the homecoming of the 4 Rifles. Very sentimental. I loved it.

Norman Geras reviews The Meaning of Life by Terry Eagleton. Norman Geras is one of the cleverest men about, with that real cleverness that combines high-minded learning with two feet on the solid ground. He's generous and clear-eyed, and almost anything he writes is worth reading. This is no exception.

From the same magazine, Dissent, an essay by Mitchell Cohen on Anti-Semitism and the Left that Doesn’t Learn. It's about the difference, in certain minds, between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, and the width of a razor.

Finally, Riri has come closest to making me produce recently. I'm not in good form, but she is.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Stay smelling

The words of David Hicks, an Australian who converted to Islam, went to Afghanistan, got caught by the Americans and thrown into Guantánamo, had people in Australia marching for his release, was tried and admitted guilt, and is now in prison in Australia.

Dear family I spent around three months in a muslim military training camp in the mountains.I learnt about weapons such as ballistic missiles, surface to surface and shoulder fired missiles, anti aircraft and anti-tank rockets, rapid fire heavy and light machine guns, pistols, AK47s, mines and explosives. After three months everybody leaves capable and war-ready being able to use all of these weapons capably and responsibly.

Real jihad is possible just like before in the Prophets day where martyrs die with a smile on their faces and their bodies stay smelling of beautiful perfume for weeks after death.

One reward I get in being martyred I get to take ten members of my family to heaven who were destined for hell

But first I also must be martyred. We are all going to die one day so why not be martyred?

As a post script: If I do get martyred that is what I want. If Dad rings and says that, you know that your son is dead, say congratulations. Allah will help just let him know that you are happy about it.

The only true Muslims are those fighting.

The Jews have complete financial and media control
The Jesuits used to say, "Give me a child at 7, and he is mine forever." They could have had David Hicks at 14, 21 or 31 and achieved the same dominion. It's almost touching to read what idiocies he has managed to believe. Evidently, he gave up on Islam in Guantánamo (for which most Muslims must be truly grateful). Can't wait to see what he picks up next.

Update
I should have known.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Welcome home

This has cheered me up immensely. The 4 Rifles paraded in Salisbury and lots of people to cheer them home. Michael Yon has the photos. That man does get around.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Activist poker

Maclean’s magazine in Canada is being sued by the Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC) over an excerpt from Mark Steyn' America Alone. According to the CIC,

the article is "flagrantly Islamophobic" and implies Muslims are involved in a global conspiracy to take over Western societies.
I have read the book. The point of most of it is that there's no need for conspiracies; demographics will do the job. I do recall Steyn claiming that both the childless Europeans and the childful Muslims were bringing about a crisis, but not that they were 'conspiring' to do so. It takes true conspiracy theorists to see one there.

Anyway, there's this interesting paragraph in Stanley Kurtz' post at The Corner.
Maclean’s published a total of 27 letters over two issues in response to Steyn’s piece–more responses than any Maclean’s cover story received over the past year. Yet when the law students demanded a longer response, Maclean’s was willing to consider it. The students then insisted that Maclean’s run a five-page article, written by an author of their choice, with no editing by the magazine. They also demanded that the reply to Steyn be a cover story, with art controlled by them, rather than the magazine. At this point, Editor-in-Chief Kenneth Whyte showed them the door, saying he would rather let Maclean’s go bankrupt than permit someone outside of operations dictate the magazine’s content.
What is striking there is the excalation. At every positive response, demand more. When they say 'no', accuse them of racism or some such. And even if the case fails, how many more will be frightened into silence?

[Thanks, Ninme]

Is killing God serious?

Frank Furedi thinks that the controversy over The Golden Compass is yet another example of the infantalism that has infected public discourse in matters that were 'private' until not so long ago. With regard to the state of public debate, I can only agree. However, I don't think that he is right about The Golden Compass.

He quotes Pullman as saying that the Dark Materials trilogy is ‘about killing God’, but doesn't find this credible.

An atheist takes the view that there is simply no divine being or beings. In Pullman’s books, there is more than a hint of a divine presence. God exists, but He has an undistinguished and undignified role to play in the text. This is a God that is not worthy of praise. It is almost as if the author is pulled towards a mirror-image depiction of divine authority. Pullman’s critique of theological authority offers a hollowed-out version of the Word. His is a vision of a religion without any redeemable features.
Furedi is correct in pointing out that God is explicitly present in these books. According to Pullman's 'theology', the being addressed as God is not the creator, but merely one among many angels - an alpha-angel, so to speak, who took on sceptre and crown, gave himself out to be the Creator, and generally played up in the absence of an incredibly negligent Supreme Being.

I think this is merely an indication of Pullman's failure in his real, and very serious purpose - to undermine monotheistic religion through the genre of fantasy. Remember that the great practitioners of this form, the authors Pullman rails against, created and moulded this genre for quite the opposite reasons. From George MacDonald, arguably the first, though to Tolkein and Lewis, the intention was to depict a world soaked in God. The characters live and grow, fight and win in battles that are spiritual and whose outcomes are more or less those of Christian in Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come.

This is implicit in the form of most fantasy novels in that the actions of one character will affect the whole created world. In Pullman's trilogy, for example, it is through Lyra that the Fall brought about by Eve will be reversed. Lyra will redeem the Flesh so long oppressed by the evil (male) forces of Adamic religions. But to suppose that this can happen is to presuppose a meaningful universe, ie a universe unified and made meaningful by the existence of a Creator, one moreover more than a little interested in his creation.

Pullman doesn't want this. He has Lyra's mentor (ex-nun, physicist) assert the non-existence of the being that makes Lyra's whole story meaningful. This is the thrust of so much of the authorial interference that makes the third book a litle tedious. And when Lyra announces the republic of Heaven in the last line of the book, there is no hint at all that God might even be given an honorary post of life senator.

Nonetheless, the whole structure of Pullman's universe is built on the existence of a being that gives that universe meaning. I haven't read a huge number of fantasy books, but I've never read one that wasn't structured in the same way. If you want to kill God, fantasy is not the genre or place to do it - He goes down, so does your fantasy.

So I think that Pullman is serious in wanting to 'kill God' and that it is something about which believers are justified in saying their bit. I also think that Pullman's artistic vision is far superior to his politico-religious vision and that the second is fatally undermined by his own work.

[Saw the film yesterday with No. 2 Son. Will write soon.]

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

A servant of all Iraqis

Dinocrat quotes this news from the Kuwaiti news agency.

Leading Shiite cleric in Iraq Ali Sistani Tuesday banned the killing of Iraqis, particularly the Sunnis, and urged the Shiites to protect their brother Sunnis. Sistani bans the Iraqi blood in general the blood of Sunnis in particular.

His announcement came during a meeting with a delegation from Sunni clerics from southern and northern Iraq. The clerics are visiting Najaf to participate in the first national conference for Ulemaa of Shiites and Sunnis.

Sistani called on the Shiites to protect their Sunni brothers, according to Sheikh Khaled Al-Mulla, head of the authority of Ulemaa of Southern Iraq, noting that the Fatwa of Sistani would have positive impacts nationwide.

“I am a servant of all Iraqis, there is no difference between a Sunni, a Shiite or a Kurd or a Christian,” Al-Mulla quoted Sistani as saying during the meeting. Sistani warned the Sunni clerics from the plans of the enemies to plant seeds of discord among the Iraqis. The visiting delegation voiced relief for the meeting and said they backed Sistani’s stance.
He wonders why it hasn't received much attention. So do I.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Men of Valor, Parts II & III

I haven't been keeping up. Part II of Michael Yon's Men of Valor makes a very positive analysis of the British effort in Basra (more positive than most we are going to hear in the near future) and then describes a battle and some true heroics, especially from the mechanics.
A couple of well-turned phrases.

The place is like a toilet used as an oven.

There is a clear battlefield conversion from ink to blood to ink to blood.
The centre piece of Part III is an account of the largest attack on the British since 2003, and yet was only the first of a month of attacks on a small Coordination Center. It includes this:
As for recognition at home, the British soldiers say that it rarely happens, but they did tell me about one lady who gives them great moral support. They say she writes a handwritten letter to every wounded soldier in 4 Rifles. She writes a handwritten letter to every family of a soldier who is lost. She writes letters to the battalion often.
The lady is the Duchess of Cornwall.

If you haven't already read them, it's worth the time.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Terrorists get off

From an interview with Frank Furedi, talking about the ideas in his new book, Invitation to Terror: The Expanding Empire of the Unknown.

I think that what we have today is a very formless, diffuse anger, which lashes out at certain symbols of modernity and the West, or against what these individuals think of as the Empire. And I certainly think it is a problem when this phenomenon is redefined as something with a coherent ideology, or when it is called ‘totalitarian’ and various other names. This endows the networks with a coherence that they otherwise lack. But what is interesting is that their incoherent rage is matched by an equally incoherent response from Western governments. You’ve got this kind of symmetry of confusion in the war on terror.

Today’s terrorist networks simply lack the intellectual resources to offer any coherent alternative. And therefore they opportunistically draw on all sorts of resources. They’re just as likely to draw on some anti-consumerist manifesto or anything else that represents some kind of alternative to the onward march of a modern, technologically advanced society, as they are to draw from the Koran. So in a perverse kind of way, although they often have Islamic convictions, their worldview is fuelled by ideals that are much more to do with a backward-looking anti-capitalist, anti-consumerist, anti-modernist imagination; an outlook that says: ‘Stop the world I want to get off.’
There's a lot of good stuff here and I could have chosen several other passages, among which, the feebleness of our elites and the lack of 'greater meaning' in our society. It's worth a read.

Resident Evil Revisited

John Derbyshire demonstrates the precipitous decline in our august educational establishments with two quotes.

[University training] is the education which gives a man a clear conscious view of his own opinions and judgments, a truth in developing them, an eloquence in expressing them, and a force in urging them. It teaches him to see things as they are, to go right to the point, to disentangle a skein of thought, to detect what is sophistical, and to discard what is irrelevant. —John Henry Newman, The Idea of a University, 1852

Citizens capable of contributing to the development of a sustainable society must first develop empathy. This empathy will be developed through an advanced awareness of oppression and inequity that exists at a local and national level. Students will become aware of inequities, examine why these inequities exist, understand the concept of institutionalized privilege, and recognize systematized oppression (e.g. individual, institutional, and societal). Students will also examine forms of oppression related to specific social identities (e.g. race, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, SES, religion, and age) and will recognize the benefits of dismantling systems that support this oppression. By having this knowledge, students can then learn how to change these systems and other systems which impact equity of resources. —University of Delaware, Residence Life: Competencies: Narritive [sic] 2, 2007
You may remember the affair of the evil Resident Assistants of Delaware University. Derbyshire has more, including extracts from the RA training manual. Read it all.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Borders or existence?

Bernard Lewis is not optimistic about the prospects for some sort of settlement at Annopolis. Is it a question of borders, or a question of existence?

A good example of how this problem affects negotiation is the much-discussed refugee question. During the fighting in 1947-1948, about three-fourths of a million Arabs fled or were driven (both are true in different places) from Israel and found refuge in the neighboring Arab countries. In the same period and after, a slightly greater number of Jews fled or were driven from Arab countries, first from the Arab-controlled part of mandatory Palestine (where not a single Jew was permitted to remain), then from the Arab countries where they and their ancestors had lived for centuries, or in some places for millennia. Most Jewish refugees found their way to Israel.

What happened was thus, in effect, an exchange of populations not unlike that which took place in the Indian subcontinent in the previous year, when British India was split into India and Pakistan. Millions of refugees fled or were driven both ways -- Hindus and others from Pakistan to India, Muslims from India to Pakistan. Another example was Eastern Europe at the end of World War II, when the Soviets annexed a large piece of eastern Poland and compensated the Poles with a slice of eastern Germany. This too led to a massive refugee movement -- Poles fled or were driven from the Soviet Union into Poland, Germans fled or were driven from Poland into Germany.

The Poles and the Germans, the Hindus and the Muslims, the Jewish refugees from Arab lands, all were resettled in their new homes and accorded the normal rights of citizenship. More remarkably, this was done without international aid. The one exception was the Palestinian Arabs in neighboring Arab countries.

The government of Jordan granted Palestinian Arabs a form of citizenship, but kept them in refugee camps. In the other Arab countries, they were and remained stateless aliens without rights or opportunities, maintained by U.N. funding. Paradoxically, if a Palestinian fled to Britain or America, he was eligible for naturalization after five years, and his locally-born children were citizens by birth. If he went to Syria, Lebanon or Iraq, he and his descendants remained stateless, now entering the fourth or fifth generation.

The reason for this has been stated by various Arab spokesmen. It is the need to preserve the Palestinians as a separate entity until the time when they will return and reclaim the whole of Palestine; that is to say, all of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Israel. The demand for the "return" of the refugees, in other words, means the destruction of Israel. This is highly unlikely to be approved by any Israeli government.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Inequality - Adjusted for time and place

Branko Milanovic, Peter Lindert and Jeffrey Williamson, economists from the World Bank have been doing some comparative studies of inequalities of wealth. They have found

... that income distribution within a modern society is much the same as income distribution in imperial Rome, or England and Wales at the time of the glorious revolution. It’s not that there is no variation at all, but that modern societies are as different from each other as from ancient societies.

For example, imperial Rome’s income distribution looks like that of the modern US; China in 1880, like Sweden today, was rather equal; England in 1688 was more unequal than imperial Rome, but modern Brazil is worse still.

This is unexpected, not least because modern societies have the potential to be far more unequal than anything the Romans could have dreamed of. That’s because the richer a society is, the more unequal it could be without its working class starving to death. Prehistoric societies were, by necessity, fairly equal: there wasn’t enough societal wealth to make anybody very rich.

Modern Tanzania seems more equal than modern America, but Milanovic and his colleagues point out that it is as unequal as it could possibly be without mass starvation. The Democratic Republic of Congo is about as unequal as the US, but that is far more than the country can stand – hence the enormous loss of life through war, malnutrition and disease.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Bad to less bad

General Petreaus on the slow haul.

Over time, it all just accumulates. This is not a light switch. You don't go from bad to good. You go from bad to less bad. And then you revert again. Progress accumulates over time. You can build on momentum as it is established. As shops get back into business … and some services … .
It all just accumulates slowly, but surely if you can keep building on the momentum that you've achieved, and that's what we've tried to do, obviously.
I used to try to convince people that learning a language was like that (except for the bit about the shops and services). The hardest thing to accept that, at a certain point you can't avoid, you are 'Bad' and that the next step is not 'Good', but 'less bad', as the General says.

Sad day

John Howard is out. A return to gesture politics.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Clever man

Newsweek reluctantly sees progress in Baghdad. The journalist sound positively chipper. The American military will not be drawn.

Victory, he [Maj. Gen. Joseph F. Fil Jr] suggested, "is within sight, but not yet within reach."

Men of Valour

Michael Yon embedded with British forces in May this year and saw quite a bit of action. He came away with an admiration for the British forces that may seem a little eccentric now that they are themselves embedded in an enclave at the airport. But it shouldn't. It is becoming increasingly clear that they were grossly undermanned by as much as two or three times in addition to being subject to Brown's political games and the gesture politics of a new Prime Minister.

Anyway, as always, Yon's piece is well worth the read. It is the first in a series of, he says, "about VIII".

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Where are the WMD (this time)?

Do you remember the warehouses of Iraqi documents that the Pentagon released on to the Web because they couldn't be bothered examining them? They disappeared after a bit, and little has been heard since. Well, a man called John Loftus, who is the head of the non-governmental International Intelligence Summit has done the donkey work and released a report at the weekend.

The gist of the new evidence is this: Roughly one-quarter of Saddam's WMD was destroyed under UN pressure during the early to mid 1990s. Saddam sold approximately another quarter of his weapons stockpile to his Arab neighbors during the mid-to-late-1990's. The Russians insisted on removing another quarter in the last few months before the war. The last remaining WMD, the contents of Saddam's nuclear weapons labs, were still inside Iraq on the day when the coalition forces arrived in 2003. His nuclear weapons equipment was hidden in enormous underwater warehouses beneath the Euphrates River. Saddam's entire nuclear inventory was later stolen from these warehouses right out from under the Americans' noses.
I'm not one to hunt down and rejoice in instances of American incompetence, but if this is true, then the consequences could extend over a huge area and a long time. This writer links the dispersal to the Syrians' nuclear program and the Israeli raid in September. Not even that is confirmed, but the location and possible use of other Iraqi material is even less confirmed and does not stimulate happy thoughts. I'd be a touch worried.

Debate - Ali and Hussein

Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Ed Hussein debated yesterday evening in London about the way forward for Muslims, first in Europe and then elsewhere. Their positions are, by now, well known. Ali thinks the problem is not the reading of Islam, but the religion itself, which she sees as intrinsically totalitarian. Hussein maintains that it is only by going deep into the traditions of Muslim toleration that adherents can find a way to live within both their faith and the modern world.

I admire Ali's courage and believe that her choice of total rejection must be available to Muslims without their being threatened with a grisly end. However, even from my position of ignorance about Islam, I can see a huge weakness in her argument. It's totally impractical. Islam, whether her reading of it is correct or not, is hardly going to disappear; it means too much to too many people. In addition, there is a growing number of Muslims (Ed Hussein among them) who are both devout and as comfortable as anyone else in today's world, and who are willing to condemn absolutely the tactics and theology of the Jihadis.

However, the proof that Ed Hussein's stance can become less exceptional is needed both in Europe and in, most particularly, in Muslim countries. But in both places, the more fundamentalist positions not only get more air-time (which may be unfair, but does reflect the degree of concern / fear felt by non-Muslims), but seem to be far more attractive to many young people. They've got the allure of the radical, the righteous and the pure that Communism used to have. They're sexier. That's a potent combination.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Boris Boris Boris

Support Boris Johnson, the most entertaining man in the country. Make him No. 1. The quality is ineluctable.

The MOTTO

Go and vote for the British national motto. Especially if you're not British (foreigners do these things so much better). I was torn between "No motto please, we're British" (despite the dreadful punctuation) and "We apologise for the inconvenience". I went for the latter because it harks back to a time when the working classes weren't allowed out of the country to demonstrate to everyone else how badly we bring up our children and the middle classes knew the social value of embarrassment.

BTW, my choice is coming fourth with 11.4%. The other one is first with 21%.

[I must admit that the motto in one of the comments, "None of the Above", would have tempted me if it had been in the (or any) shortlist.]

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Us and them

Roger Kimball says it for me in his diatribe against multiculturalism. The quote below is a nice little multicultural freak show.

The philosopher Martha Nussbaum warns that “patriotic pride” is “morally dangerous” while University of Penn PresidentAmy Gutmann [n.b., thanks to the reader who corrected me on this: see below] reveals that she finds it “repugnant” for American students to learn that they are “above all, citizens of the United States” instead of partisans of her preferred abstraction, “democratic humanism.” New York University’s Richard Sennett denounces “the evil of a shared national identity” and concludes that the erosion of national sovereignty is “basically a positive thing.” Cecilia O’Leary of American University identifies American patriotism as a right-wing, militaristic, male, white, Anglo, and repressive force, while Peter Spiro of Temple University says it “is increasingly difficult to use the word ‘we’ in the context of international affairs.”

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Waste 6 minutes

I would like to share with you two videos I came across today that prove that Microsoft is evil. Or not.

The first is Steve Steve Ballmer selling Windows 1.



The second is a rap. About the upgrade to MS DOS 5. It's 5 minutes long, but you won't regret it. Well, maybe you will.


Good news


This photo is one of many in Michael Yon's latest dispatch from Baghdad. It must be one of the happiest he's ever done. The priest is Most Reverend Shlemon Warduni and he is celebrating mass in St John’s Church, until recently abandoned.

A couple of the captions.

LTC Michael told me today that when al Qaeda came to Dora, they began harassing Christians first, charging them “rent.” It was the local Muslims, according to LTC Michael, who first came to him for help to protect the Christians in his area. That’s right. LTC Michael told me more than once that the Muslims reached out to him to protect the Christians from al Qaeda...Most of the Christians are gone now; having fled to Syria, Jordan or Northern Iraq.
This next is the most moving one. We can start talking about success in Iraq when the 1 (2?) million refugees start coming back.
The Muslims in this neighborhood worry that other people will take the homes of their Christian neighbors, and that the Christians will never come back. And so they came to St John’s today in force, and they showed their faces, and they said, “Come back to Iraq. Come home.” They wanted the cameras to catch it. They wanted to spread the word: Come home. Muslims keep telling me to get it on the news. “Tell the Christians to come home to their country Iraq.”

Al-Dura - raw, but edited

The raw footage just got shorter. 27 minutes down to 18 and it still doesn't add up. But Charles Enderlin turned up, and that's a first.

If all that is meaningless to you, go to Nidra Poller's article at PJM or Richard Landes' piece at Augean Stables

[“Charles is above all proud. If you want him to admit error, you’re asking him to put a bullet to his head and pull the trigger. Forget it. He would sooner die that admit error, and Arlette Chabot will defend him, not because he’s right, but because he’s her employee and her organization’s reputation is at stake. If France2 loses this case every journalist will have to fear having his work questioned.”]

or Melanie Phillips at The Spectator.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Appropriate humility

I don't know a whole lot about Pakistan or its politics. However, even though I think we should generally support people who demonstrate for representation and an independent judiciary and against military rule, I can't quite see Pakistan solely in those terms. I think we should be careful what we wish for.

So does Mark Steyn, who rightly reminds us that "Pakistan is both a nuclear power and a nation that cannot enforce sovereignty over significant chunks of its territory. Large tracts are run by the Taliban." Nuclear + Taliban. The use of the word "humility" in the first sentence below is entirely "appropriate".

It seems to me a certain humility is appropriate when offering advice to Islamabad. Gen. Musharraf is — as George S. Kaufman remarked when the Germans invaded Russia — shooting without a script. But that's because he presides over a country that defies the neatness of scripted narratives. In the days after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America, President Bush told the world you're either with us or against us. Gen. Musharraf said he was with us, which was jolly decent of him considering that 99.9999 percent of his people are against us. In the teeth of that glum reality, he has ridden a difficult tightrope with some skill.

As John Negroponte, U.S. deputy secretary of state, put it, aside from America, "No country has done more in terms of inflicting damage and punishment on the Taliban and al-Qaeda since September 11" — which, given the proportion of Pakistanis that loathe America and actively supports the Taliban and al Qaeda, is not unimpressive.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Game over

The French unions have lost this one. How do I know? Because I've heard no-one mention "pension rights"; instead, everyone says, "pension privileges". Even on the BBC 6 o'clock News, the three Parisians they interviewed all used the same word. What happens to privileges? Come the revolution, ...

Wonderful

Monday, November 12, 2007

Music of the loaves

Music of the spheres. The light music of Irish whiskey. Music of the loaves? Doesn't ring out, does it? What about if I said it was a code in a painting by Leonardo da Vinci? You'd believe me even less, wouldn't you?

But this one actually sounds possible. The symbolism works.

Pala first saw that by drawing the five lines of a musical staff across the painting, the loaves of bread on the table as well as the hands of Jesus and the Apostles could each represent a musical note.

This fit the relation in Christian symbolism between the bread, representing the body of Christ, and the hands, which are used to bless the food, he said. But the notes made no sense musically until Pala realized that the score had to be read from right to left, following Leonardo's particular writing style.

He even found a time signature, though I wonder about this historically.

His first attempt at deciphering the musical clues failed. But then he noticed the apostles grouped in threes -- giving him the idea the piece should be played in 3/4-time...

I don't quite see how he can get the relative values of the notes. Nevertheless, this is good one. And it doesn't stop there.

The musician also claims to have discovered a chalice and Hebrew writings hidden in the 15th century masterpiece.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Others' vices

From a review of Ibn Warraq's Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said’s Orientalism. Said's thinking, which has destroyed departments of Middle Eastern Studies throughout the world by turning scholars into activists (which means they do both things badly - as do journalists who propogate Pallywood fictions), is finally coming under consistent attack. The latest is this book by Ibn Warraq, the review of which includes the quote below.

Warraq then turns to Said’s misrepresentation of the West as a xenophobic culture, fearful of the “Other” and cultural difference. Warraq explodes this canard by identifying what he calls the “three golden threads” woven through Western culture since the time of the Greeks: rationalism, universalism, and self-criticism. As Warraq argues, Western intellectual curiosity has driven an interest in other cultures and peoples and created a magnificent edifice of scholarship formalizing that interest. The Western notion of a universal human nature reinforced this intellectual openness to other cultures. And self-criticism has been the engine of the West’s improvement, leading to the rejection of traditional practices that were unjust or inefficient, as Warraq shows with his discussion of the British Empire’s war on slavery. In fact, the West’s most trenchant critics, Said included, have always been Westerners.

It is the absence of these golden threads, Warraq believes, not Western crimes abetted by “Orientalism,” that accounts for the backwardness and stagnation of the Muslim Middle East—a region that with few exceptions lacks interest in other peoples, adheres unthinkingly to fossilized traditions, and is unable to look critically at its failures. These characteristics have fostered a paranoid cult of victimhood that blames the West for the failures of Middle Eastern regimes. Said’s work encourages such thinking: “In cultures already immune to self-criticism,” Warraq writes, “Said helped Muslims and particularly Arabs, perfect their already well-developed sense of self-pity.”

To which should be added:

Warraq, however, is honest enough to accept that his three golden threads have a tendency to degenerate into dangerous weaknesses. Rationalism becomes scientism, universalism becomes a flabby tolerance that disguises a lack of conviction, and self-criticism becomes an irrational self-hatred. Add multiculturalism’s sentimental adulation of a non-Western “Other,” superior to the money-grubbing Westerner, and the self-loathing West has essentially validated the jihadists’ reasons for wanting to destroy it.

And now we lie in Flanders fields


Saturday, November 10, 2007

Al-Dura exposed?

This Thursday, November 14, the France2 al-Dura rushes will be shown in open court. Richard Landes, who has done so much to bring this case to public attention, writes here about the journalistic issues highlighted by the case. It is understandable that the Palestinians view news as just another front in their war. What is more disturbing is that Western journalists should co-operate in telling the 'higher truth' at the expense of every other. There's a thesis there on the ramifications of moral relativism and the oppressor-oppressed paradigm that is still taught in our universities. Together they amount to moral squalor.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Shia awakening

This is good. This is very good.

The reporter on the 6 o'clock news was almost incredulous. This ain't like it was s'possed to be.

Back to source

SBSP. Now that's is the sort of thing that's needed.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Snuffed it

I really had wondered how Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials could be put on the screen by an American studio. Just to tell the story with any sort of faithfulness is to mount an attack on organised religion. In addition, the moment, the climax prepared for over 1,000 pages is a sexual awakening. Anti-God plus adolescent sexuality in a children's story. No. I couldn't imagine they would take the risk.

So, guess what the big offering is this Christmas. Chistmas. Pullman must be chewing his pencils to pulp. According to this article at the Atlantic, he is right to. They've done exactly what you'd expect them to. Just one example. Instead of the Magisterium, a sort of Calvinistic Catholic Church, we're to have "a fascistic, totalitarian dictatorship, Russian/KGB/SS" ... thing. Pullman must be chewing doorhandles.

It's not as if I even like Pullman's 'theology'. It's like something from a 1930s Fabian - you know, if everyone could just behave like English middle class gentlemen, with a bit of socialism thrown in, then everyone would be a damn sight better off. The great final battle in which the oppressive forces of Old Heaven are defeated and feeble old God snuffs it stikes me just as Milton's battle does - ridiculous. And the last two lines are just embarrassing.

"And then what?" said her daimon sleepily. "Build what?"
"The republic of heaven," said Lyra.

I mean, hasn't he heard? Done that. Been there. Neither a republic nor heaven.

All that apart, these three books make up one of the greatest imaginative creations in English literature. His fantasy worlds, his characters, his plotting, his landscapes, his melding of the old and the new, the fantastic and realism, metaphysics and physics, all of this I find easily superior to Tolkein. Not, I repeat, his philosphy, but his craft. Unfortunately, the one is necessary to the other. That story, without the rebellion against God, will be engaging if well done; it will not be thrilling. It will be a fun Christmas extravaganza, not an enthralling, elemental experience of a reality authentically different. Such a shame.

Thanks and praise.



Now that's not something you see every day. Baghdadis putting a cross back on a church - St John's, to be precise. Michael Yon sent the photo to Glenn Reynolds with a few quotes from the men involved. Choked me up, it did. Go and read it.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

MORE FEAR, BARREL-LOADS OF IT

I’d compile a list, but I’m too worn out by the tremors in my limbs and my wildly beating heart.

However, if terrorism, Eurabia, global warming, demographic decline, life-style induced cancer, diet-induced cancer, [add at will], have not burrowed deep down into your congenitally perverse optimism, then here’s another one: THE OIL IS RUNNING OUT!!!!

It’s no good telling yourself you’ve heard it all before (how many times?). That doesn’t count. This time it’s REALLY RUNNING OUT. It’s all in a movie called A Crude Awakening (is that syntactically reminiscence of another call to alarm?), which is here to tell you that THE OIL IS RUNNING OUT!!!

[Except it isn’t. Derek Brower explains.]

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Secret Speech

Victor Grayevsky has died.

No, I'd never heard of him either. Michael Ledeen wants him to be "the man of the century", which is maybe a bit of an over-reaction to the death of a 'middleman'. Mind you, the process he 'middled' was that of obtaining and relaying to the world the text of Khrushchev’s Secret Speech, the one that revealed to the incredulous ears of the oppressive bourgeois world the joy of the new life under Stalin. He was also a double agent and won the Lenin Medal.

So hardly an uneventful life. But man of the century? Wasn't that Stalin?

M'aidez!

The chart traces the path of GDP and Foreign Aid in the Palestinian Authority since the Oslo Accords. Would it be too daring to assume that the pink and blue lines will continue to diverge? A GDP does not a country make. But it sure is difficult to have one without.

This article claims that the Peace Dividend (if it is ever paid) will be of far more benefit to the Palestinians than to Israel. This one looks more closely at the GDP/Aid question, and includes this quote:

The assessments of none other than George Abed, a Palestinian and senior IMF economist, and of James Prince, a consultant to the Palestinian Investment Fund, offer an important summary of the phenomenon of increased aid correlating with economic deterioration. Abed recognized the futility of providing donor aid, asserting that it was counterproductive. What was needed, he said, was investment. This view was echoed in Prince's conclusion that, "many of the donor programs have not only been ineffective, they have harmed the economy." ( "Expert says Palestinians don't need financial aid," San Francisco Chronicle, Sept. 5, 2005).

Altruism - The ant and the officer

Roger Scruton thinks that the modern concept of altruism is possible only by warping the meaning of the word so that it denotes the opposite of what it used to. The causes of this are what he calls "the gospel of selfishness" (as expressed by Ayn Rand) and "the biological theory of 'altruism', defined as an act whereby one organism benefits another at a cost to itself", but only as another, more 'elevated' act of selfishness, or enlightened self-interest.

To illustrate the latter:

On this definition the lioness who dies in defense of her cubs is altruistic. So too is the soldier ant marching by instinct against the fire encroaching on the ant-heap, or the bat distributing its booty around the nest. Geneticists have worried about how to reconcile "altruism" with the theory of the selfish gene; but the rest of us ought to worry rather more about the use of this term to run so many disparate phenomena together. Is it really the case that the officer who throws himself onto a live grenade in defense of his men is obeying the same biological imperative as the soldier ant who marches to his death in the fire? And if so, is there anything really praiseworthy about the officer's action?

I would agree that there needs to be a way of distinguishing the officer's action from that of the ant. It is interesting that in Marxism, and related creeds, the human qualities of greed and selfishness would become non-existent in the post-revolutionary order. 'Altruism' would become systemic. According to such thinking, the act of the officer would be a case of false consciousness - a mode of thinking imposed in order to shore up the existing unjust system. Selfishness in the pre-revolutionary world was seen as a measure or a proof of the injustice of the system or else as a reaction (more or less justified depending on who was in power) to it. Thus the actors had greater agency than the ant, but not much. They could choose to be victims of the system or to overthrow it. But for the most part, they were, in the end, merely products of it.

Scruton is going back to a vision of the individual that is still fighting its corner, but has been under threat for 2 centuries. It is one that acknowledges the greater good, but whose measure is either God or an elevated idea of duty. In this vision, true altruism (selflessness) is an ideal to be sought after, and it is not natural, but acquired; it is cultural. Looking for it in nature, in order to justify it, is a waste of time. It is about a society inculcating/imposing ideals. But to inculcate them, it first has to have them. And to have these ideals, it needs a framework of individual responsibility and something approaching honour as well as the assumption of a reality higher than the Self.

One of the great challenges of the secular world is to be able to assert such a reality without denying its residents responsibility for their actions, to uuphold ideals without them being contradictory and/or murderous, and to encourage altruism without emptying it of all meaning.

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Monday, November 05, 2007

Relatively new

Mark Steyn quotes the famous first line of Allan Bloom's The Closing Of The American Mind,

There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.

and ends his lament with

What Allan Bloom observed in his students can now be found in the teachers.

Yet I have noticed a difference recently in at least one place. No. 3 son started this September at the local high school, where we've had children for 10 years. This time at the Year 7 Parents' Evening, the Head spoke in tones that I hadn't heard since my childhood. It was about developing responsibility in the kids, yes, but it was mostly about the responsibility of the adults. Who are expected to be adults; ie aware of the right way to do things and determined to show their kids. There was little of the wishy-washy multi-culti stuff. Is this a sign that the Adult is on the way back? That there are school ma'ams again?

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Sunday, November 04, 2007

Factor in boredom

Simon Heffer in Australia, which, in case you haven't heard, is about to have an election whose universally forecast result is that the incumbent PM, John Howard, will be thrown out so that Labour's Kevin Rudd can take his place.

Yet for an Englishman – or anyone else – coming here now, the place is humbling.

We really do see a people who have never had it so good.

Indeed, it is hard to name a nation in history that has ever had it so good as the Australians are having it now.

This is a happy country: happy not just because of its opulence, its climate and its beauty, but because it is, to use a ghastly politician's phrase, largely at ease with itself.

It's good. It's never been better. Therefore, they are going to change government. Right!?

I think people underestimate greatly the importance in politics, and in much else, of boredom. People, especially media people, just get sick and tired of the same faces and, because things are basically OK, whimsically decide to change those faces for other faces, no matter what those other faces say or may do. Then, if things go badly, people, even media people, get serious again, and look at reality and experience and even listen to what the faces are saying.

Unreconstructed humanity. Richly deserving to be wiped out by Global Warming (or by the people who preach it).

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BBC catching up

David Kilcullen is interviewed by Frank Gardner about Iraq and Afghanistan. It's on the Analysis programme. It's basically what you will have heard and read in other places, but it's good to see the BBC slowly coming up to date.

He tries to inject some realism into the timescale expectations, explains what "winning hearts and minds" actually means, why "information ops" have to come first, why the use of the word "war" is misguided and puts warning marks on (surprise!) Pakistan, Bangladesh, and ...Europe.

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Saturday, November 03, 2007

How dare he!

God doesn’t exist — the bastard!

I just came across this line of Samuel Beckett's, which, in its assertion of non-existence and existence in the same breath, reminds me of the Jewish joke I posted a while back.

Resident evil

There are times I think that there is a organisation entirely devoted to making up stories to appeal to my deepest prejudices. I generally work on the assumption that whatever I believe to be true is necessarily limited and subject to my own inadequacies. Then I hear stories like this.

The University of Delaware runs a special programme for its 7,000 resident students. It hires Resident Assistants (RAs) to conduct seminars and one-to-one sessions with new arrivals. This in itself, I think, is not unusual. What is unusual (I hope) are the intended outcomes of these sessions (called "treatments"): correct views on politics, race, sexuality, sociology, moral philosophy, and environmentalism.

For example, define 'racist'

A racist is one who is both privileged and socialized on the basis of race by a white supremacist (racist) system. The term applies to all white people (i.e., people of European descent) living in the United States, regardless of class, gender, religion, culture or sexuality.

Or, 'non-racist'?

A non-term. The term was created by whites to deny responsibility for systemic racism.

Questions that the RAs put in the one-to-one treatment.

1. When were you first made aware of your race?
2. When did you discover your sexual identity?
4. When was a time when you confronted someone regarding
an issue of diversity? What was the confrontation about?
If haven’t [sic], why not?
5. When was a time you felt oppressed? Who was oppressing
you? How did you feel?

What should the students get from their treatment?

B. Students will recognize that systemic oppression exists in our society.
C. Students will recognize the benefits of dismantling systems of oppression.

Link this with the definition of racism, and the conclusion is clear: dismantle the whole system (except tenure).

What happens in a treatment session?

In one activity we were required to agree or disagree with a statement, when asked if we could abstain or be neutral, our RA promptly said that she would not proceed with the activity until everyone had taken a side...everyone was forced to take a side they might have disagreed with and everyone at some point was forced to justify their choosing of the side they did, and I say forced because refusing to justify oneself was not acceptable.

Obviously a case of unacceptable indifference.

After a campaign by FIRE, the President of the University of Delaware has cancelled the programme. Why are we becoming more and more like the Evil Empire we defeated in 1989?

Friday, November 02, 2007

Police work

Google Earth against the baddies.

LTC Frank told me the other day that his best weapon system is his cell phone. Calls come to him (through his interpreter) every day and into the night, with information from locals about the whereabouts of wanted JAM members. Many local people are clearly fed up with the violence. Some even send e-mails with Google Earth maps showing exactly where suspects are, and they are doing it in real time.

We'll be sitting there in the TOC (tactical operations center or HQ) and an e-mail comes in and it's literally a map (or a photo of one) with detailed descriptions of wanted men and/or caches. And the information is turning out to be true. I have never seen anything like this before,

It's becoming almost bizarre how specific the informants are becoming. Informants have called up saying they are with bad guys right now and giving their location. Our guys show up and arrest everyone. Hours later, the U.S. soldiers let the informants go. JAM and AQI are getting slammed in many areas because local people are sick of the violence and local people trust Americans to help them end it.

Michael Yon in the New York Post.

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A hundred schools of thought

A lovely paragraph from Clive James.

Let a hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred schools of thought contend.
Mao Zedong, April 1956, as quoted by Philip Short in Mao, p 455

The pretty rubric looks so harmless even today, now that we have some idea of what it cost. Halfway between a poem and a slogan, it is a small thought that would fit on a big T-shirt. It doesn't even sound wrong. Mao designed it to sound right. For the trick to work, thousands of people had to believe that the words meant what they said, even though the Party, within long memory, had never rewarded a contentious voice with anything except torture and death. Anyway, the suckers fell for it. The flowers bloomed, the schools of thought contended, and Mao's executioners went to work. The slogan had the same function as the Constitution of the Soviet Union, which Aleksandr Zinoviev tellingly defined as a document published in order to find out who agreed with it, so that they could be dealt with.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Something so fragile

How short life must be, if something so fragile can last a lifetime.
Franz Kafka

I read the quote without context and thought that the word "something" referred to life. Quiet explosion in the head.

It actually refers to a young woman's body. But I'm going to keep my mistaken idea. It's not true to the intention of the author, but it's true all the same.

I read it in Clive James' Cultural Amnesia, a resuscitation of real humanism.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Another sort of cartoon war

Excellent cartoons about terrorism from the Arab press.

Thanks again, Ninme.

The people in the photo

Wonderful, moving story from WW2.

Thanks, Ninme.

PC and Gaia

Reviews of a couple of interesting books, once again from Spiked.

The first is Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case by Stuart Taylor Jr and KC Johnson. The title says it all.

And, of course, we all learn from our mistakes.

The second looks at Earthy Realism: The Meaning of Gaia, a collection of pieces on that other pillar of modern righteousness: environmentalism. It includes this wonderful tip:

Lie on your back on the ground outside in as peaceful a place as you can find, in the forest perhaps, or by the roaring sea…. Feel her [Earth’s] great continents, her mountain ranges, her oceans... Let yourself be “Gaia’ed” by the great round sentience of our living world. Deeply experience what it feels like to meld with the great wild body of our animate Earth...

To think how much time and blood the Church spent on suppressing pantheism, of what benefits we've had from said suppression. Any view that is based on a state of (initial or final) harmony is not only perverse; it's downright dangerous.

[Apologies for my watery contributions to the blogosphere; work and studies dominate.]

Using British libel laws

Five books you can't buy at Waterstones.

Unknown Soldiers: How Terrorism Transformed the Modern World by Matthew Carr - published by Profile Books in August 2006; withdrawn from sale and pulped following legal action in January 2007.

Alms for Jihad: Charities and Terrorism in the Islamic World by J Millard Burr and Robert O Collins - published by Cambridge University Press in April 2006; withdrawn from sale and pulped in August 2007

Reaping the Whirlwind: The Taliban Movement in Afghanistan by Michael Griffin - published by Pluto Press in 2001 and 2003; withdrawn and all unsold copies destroyed in March 2004.

Forbidden Truth by Jean-Charles Brisard, Guillaume Dasquié and Lucy Rounds - never formally published in Britain; withdrawn from all British outlets, including internet bookshops, in 2006.

Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It by Rachel Ehrenfeld, published by Bonus Books in America in 2003 - never formally published in the UK, yet it became the subject of a libel suit here after 23 copies were bought by Britons via internet bookshops, and is now not available at all in the UK.

Spiked asked the authors of five books on terrorism, all of which have been withdrawn because of libel action by one Saudi man, to describe what we cannot now read.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Keeping pace

How to change without changing: keep it quiet.

Between an oil refinery and the sea, the monarch is building from scratch a graduate research institution that will have one of the 10 largest endowments in the world, worth more than $10 billion.

Its planners say men and women will study side by side in an enclave walled off from the rest of Saudi society, the country’s notorious religious police will be barred and all religious and ethnic groups will be welcome in a push for academic freedom and international collaboration sure to test the kingdom’s cultural and religious limits.

This undertaking is directly at odds with the kingdom’s religious establishment, which severely limits women’s rights and rejects coeducation and robust liberal inquiry as unthinkable...

The king has broken taboos, declaring that the Arabs have fallen critically behind much of the modern world in intellectual achievement and that his country depends too much on oil and not enough on creating wealth through innovation.

“There is a deep knowledge gap separating the Arab and Islamic nations from the process and progress of contemporary global civilization,” said Abdallah S. Jumah, the chief executive of Saudi Aramco. “We are no longer keeping pace with the advances of our era.”

That last is a bit of an understatement. I remain convinced that as long as "the Arab and Islamic nations" are not contributing anything the rest of us consider useful, then they will suffer, and they will share their suffering with us.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Don't be clever

This is precious.

The children of Che Guevara, the revolutionary pin-up, had been invited to Tehran University to commemorate the 40th anniversary of their father’s death and celebrate the growing solidarity between “the left and revolutionary Islam” at a conference partly paid for by Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president.

There were fraternal greetings and smiles all round as America’s “earth-devouring ambitions” were denounced. But then one of the speakers, Hajj Saeed Qassemi, the co-ordinator of the Association of Volunteers for Suicide-Martyrdom (who presumably remains selflessly alive for the cause), revealed that Che was a “truly religious man who believed in God and hated communism and the Soviet Union”.

Che’s daughter Aleida wondered if something might have been lost in translation. “My father never mentioned God,” she said, to the consternation of the audience. “He never met God.” During the commotion, Aleida and her brother were led swiftly out of the hall and escorted back to their hotel. “By the end of the day, the two Guevaras had become non-persons. The state-controlled media suddenly forgot their existence,” the Iranian writer Amir Taheri noted.

After their departure, Qassemi went on to claim that Fidel Castro, the “supreme guide” of Guevara, was also a man of God. “The Soviet Union is gone,” he affirmed. “The leadership of the downtrodden has passed to our Islamic republic. Those who wish to destroy America must understand the reality and not be clever with words.”

Remember that. Don't be clever with words. Or anything else.

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