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


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


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


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.

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.