Monday, November 28, 2005

Bono and Christian Charity

I'm tempermentally inclined to sneer at celebrity activists. So many of them are manifestly sock puppets, or twisted by contempt for the lumpenproles from which they sprang, or are simply trend surfers.

Bono, the frontman for the Irish rock band U2, is different. He's convinced me that he is a sincere Christian, acting from a sincere feeling of Christian charity. He's rich and famous and obviously likes being both, but from all appearances he still seems to have his head threaded on straight. George Harrison is the only other superstar of comparable eminence I can think of offhand who was equally successful in keeping from being too impressed with himself.

A brief aside: One of the most exhilarating concerts I ever saw was U2 at the Omni in Atlanta, 1985, on their breakout tour after releasing _The Unforgettable Fire_. Bono had the crowd in his palms for two solid hours.

As Africa reels from one self-inflicted disaster to another, ordinary well-wishers can't help but start to get numbed. Why keep giving aid, when it only winds up on the black market? Why keep giving money, when it only winds up in the President-For-Life's Swiss bank account? Why keep sending aid workers, when all their efforts will fall to ashes in the next civil war? Why care?

It takes a special type of Christian to be able to forge ahead in the face of such discouraging circumstances. To be honest with you, I'm not one of them. I recently made a donation for a mission school in Kenya. It was the first bit of charity I'd directly donated to an African cause in twenty years. Having seen all the efforts made to uplift Africa in my own lifetime, and having read about all those that were made before then, my default position tends to be, "Charity is simply enervating them. Let them find their own way." I nod with agreement when George Ayittey denounces the West for projecting its psycho-political baggage onto Africa. I sigh over the johnny-come-lately self congratulation of the Make Poverty History campaign. I bridle when demands for a reasonable accounting of where aid goes are answered with accusations of callousness. I'm very hard to rouse, Africa-wise, anymore.

So, fine: Africa shouldn't still be a basket case after all this time. But it is, and Christians are still called to be compassionate to people in the dire fixes Africans too often find themselves in. Bono's proven himself to a smart and responsible organizer of public opinion. It's true that he enjoys the luxury of paying no price if his plans go wrong, just as the activists who got us into Somalia paid no price for the resulting deaths of our servicemen there at the hands of the warlords. But Bono's compassion and more importantly his persistence are a fine example of what Christ's love can accomplish in the world. Or it will be, with the hope that this time something will actually be accomplished.

Here's a nice Q & A with Bono, in the New York Times Magazine.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Radioactive fallout from nuclear bomb blasts is good for you... moderate doses, of course.

That was the very unfelicitous example that American Spectator contributor Tom Bethell used this past Monday on the Laura Ingraham show. He was making the case for expanding our nuclear power capacity, to wean ourselves off foreign oil. And he said that residents of outer districts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, who received low doses of radiation from the two atomic bombs, were living longer than people further away, who received no dose.

Well, that's certainly counter-intuitive, if it's true. But I can't think of a worse way of trying to reassure the public about the risks of nuclear power. Just damn...

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Advice to a child going off to college

A fictitious screed I wrote some years ago. The pithiest zingers here are probably stolen from someone else. I hope this won't be necessary by the time my own are really old enough to go to college.

Congratulations, my child! You are finally going off to college. One day you were in diapers, and now you're headed off into the wide world. In a sense, my work is done. For the first time you will be making your day-to-day decisions without input from me. You are not yet an adult, but neither are you an adolescent any longer. You will face the challenges that all young people face when they are on their own: self-discipline, work, finding your way in life. I trust you will use this time to prepare for adulthood, rather than to prolong your adolescence. These four years will seem like an eternity-before, during, and after them. It is your last and best opportunity to connect with large numbers of your peers, to get your share of sheer magic out of life. I wish you much success and fulfillment during your time there.

College is not like it was when I was there, however. Don't misunderstand; I didn't live in a golden age. I had some courses that were clinkers, some teachers that were stinkers, some friends who turned out to be sheer bastards, some times when I shamed myself. But that happens to everyone, and will also happen to you. What I am concerned about are the PC police. The curriculum-corers. The array of leftists who have seized control of so many universities, and who may prevent you from getting *my* money's worth of education for you. Consider these tips I've written out for you, and though I hope you never need to use them, remember that forewarned is forearmed.

· I am sending you to college to become civilized. That is, I am sending you there to get steeped in the great record of The West, mankind's most successful attempt to shake free of the degradation and chaos of bare savagery. People who want to destroy civilization are call "barbarians". They are dangerous, none more so than barbarians with PhD's. Don't turn up your nose at a chance to learn something, but don't confuse an open mind with a hole in your head, either.

· Political Correctness, like its foreign uncle Communism, is the negation of liberty masquerading as the attainment of liberation. Anything that must be done in lockstep may be good or bad, depending on circumstances-but it is never freedom.

· In any given state of affairs, five per cent of the people pull one way, five per cent pull another way, and the remaining 90 per cent are largely content to go along with whoever seems to be pulling the hardest. So don't let the bastards shove you around! For everyone who takes your side, figure about three other people who sympathize, but aren't quite brave enough to say so.

· Some professors will use standard English to deride standard English, Western ideas of human rights to denounce human rights in the West, scientific reasoning to deplore science, religious language to sneer at your religion. Such people may imagine themselves to be incisive critics, even voices of conscience. In truth, they are hothouse blossoms, as ignorant of their American blessings as fish are ignorant of water. The sincere ones, I mean. There are plenty others who have found it necessary to parrot this jargon simply in order to obtain employment. The lot of them should have no moral authority with you. Try not to snicker, though.

· There used to be a thing called American Philosophy. Your philosophy courses, if you take any beyond the introductory surveys, will consist mostly of the thought of French deconstructionists and their literal-minded American disciples. But you may have a chance to get introduced to people like William James and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Take the chance.

· You will most likely be required to swallow and regurgitate a considerable amount of feminist scholarship. The academic feminism you will likely encounter may be roughly broken down into four categories.

1) Mythological feminism. There never was a primordial female Eden. And women have never been all slaves. Man and woman both have the capacity for good and evil. The relations between the sexes, like the relations among any set of people, have been a mix of sordidness and saintliness throughout history. We have always been either at each others' throats or in each others' arms.

2) Hard-left feminism. Since at least the 1960s, when Marxism made its way back into American intellectual life, the destruction ("transformation", in their parlance) of the family has been a goal of the feminists. Don't ask me how or why, but it is evident that the religious inquisitor of the Middle Ages has been reborn as the militant political agitator in our own day. This is why, as a child, you saw episodes of Sesame Street and other "educational" programming minimizing the stature and benefits of a family headed by a husband and wife. Now you're in for the grown-up version of the same destructive propaganda. To these people, every nest is a cage. Question all statistics. Chances are that they are incomplete, misconstrued or, like the famous Super Bowl wife-battering hoax, just plain lies.

3) Selective feminism. You will have to sit through a lot of blather about how frightened "the patriarchy" is of "strong women." Most of the "strong women" trotted out will be leftists or proto-leftists. Margaret Thatcher, Eleanor of Aquitane, the Confederate home front, none of these strong women will be held up as examples of strength or endurance. Most had families and loved them, and did not produce agitprop for leftist causes, therefore in feminist eyes they never existed.

4) Self-pitying feminism. After hearing about all the "strong women", you will be told what helpless victims women are today. Democracy and tradition are evil, they'll say. Nothing good happens to women, unless a radicalized government bureaucracy and judiciary make it happen by edict, they'll say. I have raised you to be a proud American. In the Third Rate World, where women really are treated as awfully as feminists pretend Americans are, feminism may be a force for good. "May", I stress. But in America, feminism is a cultural luxury, made possible by the boundless freedom this country enjoys. Other people may wish to accept the manacles, to stop their hands from shaking. But you must remember the times I told you to wipe your nose and quit feeling sorry for yourself. You are nobody's victim, nor has anyone ever been your victim.

· He who says he is without sin is a fool. So too he who says he is by definition incapable of racism is a godamighty fool. But he's probably being well paid for saying so, if he is on the faculty.

· I have raised you to give people of other races and backgrounds the basic respect that any person is entitled to, in addition to the respect that they have to earn from you by their character. However, as in grade school, you will meet some of these people who have been raised to hate and resent you because of your race and background. Remember that you cannot change poisoned hearts. What will be new to you is that the university administration will think it right, good, and necessary to give these people special treatment, deference in all matters of controversy, and in general treat them like sacred cats in the temple. It's a shameful sight, watching grownups in authority being turned into dancing bears whenever resentful brats snap their fingers. But that's part of your education.

· You will encounter various forms of primitivism. Multiculturalists and diversity hounds, like children, are attracted to bright colors. So you will see utterly ordinary middle-class young people decked out in Mexican wedding shirts, llama hair ponchos, kente headcloths, Pert-conditioned dreadlocks, Birkenstocks, beads, bangles, badges, buttons, etc. The idea is that they wish to sweep away all the hypocrisies and encrustations of the modern world and get back to the simple essence of life in tune with nature. None of them really mean it, else they wouldn't be at a university. For the students, it's a phase; for the faculty, it's a pose. None of them would care to forego First World standards of societal organization: liberty, tolerance--or dentistry, for that matter.

· There is more *genuine* diversity between Toscanini and Furtwangler, between Ingres and Delacroix, between Einstein and Bohr, between Shaw and Wilde, between Mencken and Chesterton, than among any given busload of multiculturalists. If any teacher in any class dismisses a person, movement, idea, or era as Dead White European Males, go immediately to the registrar and demand a refund, because you'll know you are being cheated something scandalous.

· Beware of reality inversions. If you are asked to ponder a question like "What causes poverty?", you may be sure that the questioner has a severely distorted view of history-or is shepherding you into an ideological corral. Poverty has been the norm for most people most of the time up until the last score of decades. "What causes wealth?" is a much more fruitful question, and it does not constrain you to wear any leftist hairshirts.

· Society's enemies are radicals' mascots. One college even has an endowed sociology chair named after a famous American traitor. Vagrants, criminals, semi-criminal entertainers, career government charity recipients, all will be held up for your sympathy, or to excite your anger against productive society. (When your teachers start blithering about "root causes" of social ills, listen carefully for any causes "rooted" in personal responsibility. There will most likely be none.) Other countries have suffered from real tyrannies, and have produced real prophets, martyrs, and freedom fighters. Your teacher, being irritated at thinking of his own insignificance compared to those brave souls, searches for an analogous role for himself. Since he lives in the freest nation in history, he alights upon his nation's enemies, into whom he projects his fantasies of revolution.

· Learn to see through cant. "If you're not part of the solution; you're part of the problem" will be hurled at you from time to time. Invite the activist to consider that his solution may be part of the problem. Or someone may feel very brave and noble by saying, "Given the choice between betraying my country and betraying my friends, I would betray my country." You can point out that by betraying one's country one is also betraying one's friends. Remember that talk may be expensive in college, but it carries even less culpability than in real life. Radicals prefer to be unaccountable for their words and deeds, which is why they cluster in universities and government bureaucracies.

· Finally, dig deep in the university library! Your classrooms may be a PC wasteland, but even the most deracinated radical has not yet dared to burn the libraries. The Western heritage is in there, if you take time to search it out. Good luck, my child!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Integration through negation?

Of all the explanations for the French riots, I thought polygamy was the most novel. Not enough of a fatherly influence in the lives of these young men, you see, due to too many wives in the maternal harem.

Well, now there's this interview with French philosopher Andre Glucksmann, saying that the riots are actually the "youths" way of integrating into French society:
These are French youth. Good, they have parents that come from sub-Saharan or North Africa, but they are French youth. They integrate themselves by setting fire to cars, to people even. They integrate themselves through protest. That's very contemporary in France. [...] The Corsicans launch attacks, sometimes it's the Bretons or the Basques. There is a typical French integration through negation. Everyone in France, all parties, businesses, workers, believe it's possible to accomplish things through violence. There were the strikes at Moulinex, for example, where the workers threatened to blow up the factory. There were strikes in chemical factories where employees threatened to dump acid into the rivers of the region. In France, many people believe that the ability to inflict damage on someone else is a sign of strength. I think, quite on the contrary, the youth of North African descent are in fact integrating in this way.

Mmm-kay... I guess if the state controls every facet of your life, then striking against the state is the only way to get attention, let alone redress.

But that doesn't make the M word go away, not quite.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Is It Illegal To Try To Correct Liberal Media Bias?

I don't believe in liberal conspiracies and cabals and whatnot. But anyone can see the utterly natural phenomenon of herd instinct in the news media. The national news media is liberal because the national news media, like the universities and government unions, is one of the institutions in which liberals tend to cluster. There's nothing underhanded about it, whatever one may think about the resulting societal effects.

And at this late date, let's have no more denial about the reality of liberal bias in the national news media. We're all aware of the studies, the Bernard Goldberg books, the political affiliation statistics, etc. Liberal bias in the MSM exists, and has existed for a long time. The media watchdog blogger The Ombudsgod put it like this:
A favorite pastime with me is listening to liberal journalists tell me they aren't liberal. I find it very similar to listening to a drunk explain how they are just social drinkers. In the end, the conversation can be closed simply by asking "who did you vote for in the last ten elections".
To pick only one example of this drift, the late Michael Harrington used to deploy his anti-capitalist tropes on All Things Considered. I remember thinking once, "Well, what could they air that can be further left than this? Noam Chomsky?" And sure enough, after Harrington left, for a while ATC gave the slot to Prof. Chomsky, the furthest left public intellectual in America. The only thing that's different now is that the rise of new grass-roots media has forced many MSM newsies to not only acknowledge their bias, but to make some show of dealing with it.

Now comes this report in the New York Times, about how Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, the former head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting tried and failed to do just that. He was canned recently, and now he's being accused of breaking the law. Seems he wanted to steer the CPB (and by extension PBS and NPR) from its customary leftward tack, but his efforts failed:
The corporation's former chairman, Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, who was ousted from the board two weeks ago when it was presented in a closed session with the details of the report, has said he sought to enforce a provision of the Public Broadcasting Act meant to ensure objectivity and balance in programming.

But the report said that in the process, Mr. Tomlinson repeatedly crossed statutory boundaries that set up the corporation as a "heat shield" to protect public radio and television from political interference.

The report said he violated federal law by being heavily involved in getting more than $4 million for a program featuring the conservative editorial writers of the Wall Street Journal. It said he imposed a "political test" to recruit a new president. And it said his decision to hire Republican consultants to defeat legislation violated contracting rules.

Okay, fine; if he broke the rules he should be dealt with, and it seems he indeed has been. But reading the article further, it sounds to me that he was mostly guilty of trying to get a program hosted by some Wall Street Journal editorialists aired, and of some unspecified procedural novelties in hiring some Republican ombudsmen hired. (A seemingly more serious charge of payroll padding in an overseas division is relegated to the end of the article, which prevents me from dismissing this episode as just libs getting hysterical over conservative cooties in one of their bastions.)

And that's where the issue gets thorny. I'm afraid I can't provide anyone with the inside scoop on how public broadcasting works, but I presume that, when it was found in the 1960s, all these firewalls were set up to protect the new entity from becoming a government house organ. And on that score all's been well. The Jim Lehrer Report and All Things Considered are no more beholden to the government than any of the rest of the news media (from my non-paranoid conservative perspective).

But government influence and political influence are not the same thing. None of these institutional safeguards that Tomlinson is accused of breaching were designed to prevent a natural leftward drift in the staffing and programming, only governmental intrusion. So, if the people producing the CPB programming are overwhelmingly left-leaning, and if the governing officials are legally forbidden from muscling in on the editorial side of things, then presto: Reform of liberal bias in public broadcasting is impossible. The next chief will probably be less aggressive in trying to diversify the programming content, and viewership may well fall. It'll be interesting to see how the next pledge drive plays out a few months down the road, if this story has legs.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Winston Churchill on pacifism

Winston Churchill said this, in his inimitable way:
The Sermon on the Mount is the last word in Christian ethics. Everyone respects the Quakers. Still, it is not on these terms that Ministers assume their responsibilities of guiding States.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Methodist Mush

Although I am not Catholic, I admire any number of Catholic intellectuals past and present, the late Pope John Paul the Great, and of course First Things. However, I am a member of the denomination I was raised in, the Methodist Church. My attitude towards my home denomination is uneasily ambiguous. I attend my church, participate in a few activities, shell out for a set offering a year and for various emergencies, such as the hurricanes. And that's basically it. I try to avoid thinking about the leadership of the Methodist Church, knowing it to be shot through with all the liberal vices that have helped cause the shrinking of the mainline denominations over the past several decades.

But sometimes the leadership intrudes on my repose. Like when a sizeable chunk of the bishops issue something like this: A Call to Repentance and Peace with Justice

Every stale liberal cliche is on display here. Every set of liberal blinkers is firmly jammed in place. The twelve year run-up to Operation Iraqi Freedom described as a "rush to war"? Check. Blaming terrorism perpetrated by middle class jihadis on poverty? Check. En passant line about "but we support the troops"? Check. The breastbeating, that they didn't sound off sooner and louder? Check. Demanding that the results our troops are fighting to achieve should instead just float down from the sky? Check. Denying that anything good is coming or could come out of our efforts in Iraq? A given, needn't even be mentioned.

There's the occasional double-edged sword, that any string of generalities is liable to bump up against:

Let us with compassion share the pain of God's children who suffer from the devastation of war and those who live in poverty resulting from misplaced priorities and misguided public policies.

You can guess what they think those misguided public policies are. You can be sure that in this section the bishops aren't clamoring for more sweeping welfare-to-work programs and for more grassroots free market entrepreneurship, but for more entitlements, more government dependence, more enervation of personal responsibility. More underclass despair caused by self-stroking liberal do-gooderism.

But anyway, the war. You can't expect bishops to come out in favor of war, of course. But why not wish for a speedy end to the war, ending in victory over the evildoers and the blossoming of democracy and human rights in the area?

Because over the last couple of generations, as the Left has taken over the leadership of mainline denominations, the ideal of being a progressive "world citizen" has created many pitfalls of moral equivalence. Foreign "insurgents"--how can you be an insurgent in someone else's country?--massacre children scrambling for candy, patients massed in hospital emergency rooms, jobseekers lined up outside police recruiting stations, people voting in a free election for the first time in living memory.

These vipers don't need to be stopped? They aren't evil?

Who knows. The bishops don't mention the jihadis, even once.

But they do mention evil, once; along with the necessity of confronting it. And since the whole foregoing part of their statement was an attack on the current adminstration's foreign policy, it's safe to assume they aren't calling for stouter resistance against the bloody Islamist jihad. Nope, just like in the first Iraq war, and just like in the Vietnam War, and just like in the Cold War, the only evil in the world emanates from home sweet home, the U S of A. I sometimes wonder if the peace and justice crowd have statements like these loaded up in a fill-in-the-blank .pdf file somewhere, to be printed off as needed.

Most of the rank and file Methodists I know go about their daily walks of faith in serene disregard of the doings of the church's top leadership. I do the same, though it takes a little determination at times.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Pope addresses ID issue...

...or maybe he was just making some off-the-cuff remarks, as this news article says.

The same article says that the archbishop of Vienna has climbed down from his attack on evolution the other day, and links to a lecture by the same divine praising evolution.

Me, I think that what we have is just some reporters garbling statements they don't understand. Have you ever read a newspaper report on a subject that you were expert in? How good a job did they do of it? There's really no reason to expect them to get any other subject any more right.

Traffic. We Get Traffic.

My post about the Parisienne posting from rioting France was kindly linked by Steven Green at Vodkapundit. So, here is what a vodka-lanche looks like, in an otherwise pokey little blog like mine:

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Design On Evolution

The Panda's Thumb has a good roundup on the Kitzmiller v DASD election fallout, especially this development. All of the pro-ID school board members got voted out. TPT also came up with a funny bit from the trial:
At close, Pat Gillen remarked to Judge Jones, “Your honor, by my reckoning we have been here 40 days. That seems an auspicious number.” Jones replied, “So it seems, but it was not designed!” At which point the courtroom burst out in applause.

First Things in the past has given its prestigious pages over to Intelligent Design boosters, such as Michael Behe. In the October issue, theorectical physicists Stephen Barr is given space to present a not-quite-opposing view, The Design of Evolution.

The paleontologist Charles Officer, who was a lone holdout against the asteroid impact theory of dinosaur extinction popularized by physicist Luis Alvarez, groused about the pecking order among the sciences. Physicists like Alvarez dealt with the very stuff of existence, while rock-hound paleontologists were just glorified stamp-collectors, in this view. Reading Dr. Barr's article, I didn't detect any overt condescension like that towards biologists fighting off the ID threat, but I did note a determined avoidance of a certain elephant in the room: Intelligent Design is not science. If it were science, scientists would already be pursuing it, and school boards wouldn't have to be sued into including it in the curriculum.

The first part of the article deals with a startling attack on evolution earlier this year from the archbishop of Vienna. This was a turnabout from recent Catholic attitudes towards science, and it came as a shock, and incited the latent anti-Catholic bigotry of the mainstream press. Dr. Barr points out the church's quite commonsensical attitude to evolution in recent decades:

The crucial doctrinal point was that the human soul, being spiritual, could not be the result of any merely material process: biological evolution any more than sexual reproduction. The soul must be conferred on each person by a special creative act of God. And so the Church is required to reject atheistic and materialistic philosophies of evolution, which deny the existence of a Creator or His providential governance of the world. As long as evolutionary theory confined itself to properly biological questions, however, it was considered benign.

Dr. Barr goes on to fault the archibishop for using words like "unguided" and "random" in a theological sense, in attacking evolution, (or "neo-Darwinism", as he calls it). He makes a persuasive case that the archbishop's outburst is erroneous, and is against the prevailing Catholic teaching on the subject. But he finally gives entirely too much respect to the major ID proponents, granting them the scientific nature of their claims. This is unfortunate, and tends to undermine the theological analogies he floated earlier.

The Catholic Encyclopedia article on evolution mentioned by Dr. Barr can be seen here at New Advent.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

A Parisienne posts from rioting France

Even in the age of the blogs, it still pays to read usenet. I don't agree with this person's dumping on America, obviously, but this is a valuable window into the current situation. Collected from here:

As my fellow list-members know, I live in a suburb of Paris. Although the rioters have not yet reached full stride on this side of town, it is only a matter of time.

We certainly have our share of riff-raff in this neighborhood. I live in what used to be a pleasant and gracious apartment complex around a leafy, well-kept garden courtyard, with a bench and flower-beds in the middle. A band of about 10 thugs, aged between 15 and 20, has taken up residence in that yard, because it is a convenient place to do their drug deals out of sight of the police (although the nearest prefecture is only about 300 yards away). They like to hang out there in the early hours of the morning, laughing, fighting, blaring their thugly music. They are so dim-witted, they haven’t even figured out that carrying on like this, in a reverberant amphitheater of 50 apartments full of hard-working people whose sleep they are interrupting, is a good way to
get themselves noticed. So I call the police on them, every time they wake me up. I consider it a civic duty. Sleep is very important to me: I rise at 5:30 and have an hour’s trip to work by bike, requiring full use of my faculties.

But those of us who have protested this incivility are targets, so in essence, the thugs are winning, and the neighborhood is going to seed. They know my name and have repeatedly threatened to pay a “visit” to my apartment. I get harassed by phone. Whenever I cross them in the street, at least weekly, I get insults and threats. Once as I was coming into my garage with my bike they tried to follow me in, with shouts of “Sale pute”, filthy whore. They like to line up in front of the entry to my apartment block and others, so that anyone who goes in or comes out has to deal with them. They are constantly trying to get in, ringing the
doorbells, and sooner or later some inattentive neighbor will let them into the stair-well. They fraternize with the resident kids, who think they are “cool” as well as a convenient source of pot. They have so terrified an 80-year-old woman, suffering from cancer, that she will not even testify against them to the police. She told me she has too few years to live to be willing to shorten them further. In fact, only a few other neighbors and myself have had the balls to take this issue up with the local authorities. The majority are too scared. They also claim, absurdly, that they do not wish to “Collaborate” with the forces of order, paid for by our own taxes. The mayor of our town, a Socialist, is of the opinion that these youths (one of whom is the lilly-white son of
the owner of a restaurant gastronomique, just around the corner), are poor and misunderstood and in need of love and dialogue, and that uptight bourgeois bitches like me, who benefit unjustly from a habit of hard work and suffer from “cultural prejudice” against rap music at 4:00 am, should stop making their lives so haaard.

As you have probably been reading in your papers, two such charmers Darwinized themselves two weeks ago, by trying to hide in a restricted area, labelled all over with large signs saying “NO ENTRY: DANGER OF ELECTROCUTION”. Perhaps they couldn’t read, or mistook the skull and crossbones for the insignia of an allied gang.

Their friends then took to the streets, burning schools and creches, torching public libraries, sacking and destroying the frail local businesses that are their neighbors’ life work, and their own best hope of a future. They boarded public transport systems with cans of gasoline, dousing the passengers, in one case a handicapped woman who couldn’t walk, and then setting them alight. Three of them ganged up on a man who was photographing lamp-posts for an urban development project. They smashed his skull open with clubs while his wife and daughter looked on from a parked car. It seems they liked the guy’s camera and thought they should have it rather than him.

Currently at the top of our government, we have one very short and two very tall men who are all allegedly of the same party, but whose primary goal is to make political mileage at the expense of each other. The President is a lame duck. After 75 years of insolent chain-smoking good health and decades of unending corruption scandals in the halls of power, he was finally maimed by his only two acts of true and dignified statesmanship, standing up to a religious fundamentalist cretin who was leading the world to war on a trumped up pretext, and striving for a European Union that could offer an alternative to a world whose only remaining superpower was running amok. The Prime Minister is a very handsome creature, given to lounging about in exquisitely cut suits,
polishing his silver hair for the photographers. Only the Minister of the Interior, a feisty midget with an ethnic name, shows any sign of commitment, passion, and ideological coherence.

So Nicolas Sarkozy went right in there, fierce as the Queen’s corgis. He called things by their proper names: and if these Neanderthals are not riff-raff, racaille, what meaning could this word possibly have? And he tried to reassure the peaceful, the creative, the constructive, that he would stand up for them. He has always made the point, and is far too rarely credited for it, that the ethnic and religious minorities who inhabit the banlieue are the FIRST victims of this senseless violence, and it is precisely because they ARE French that they must benefit from the most fundamental function of the State, to protect their lives and

Now the whole of the government, not only the two tall ones but all of the Opposition, are at war - not with the thugs - but with Sarkozy. It is a great opportunity to look good by pandering and inaction, while he’s the only one to stick out his neck and make a clear statement, sending in the despised, enfeebled police where, in reality, the army is needed. Oh, this is racism, this is repression, this is the Police State.

I lived in the USA, the UK, Italy and Switzerland before coming to
France, and I can honestly say that of all the societies I have
inhabited, this is the one that goes farthest to equalize opportunities and offers the greatest possibility of integration to its minorities. It starts with such obvious things as free health care for all and free, quality education for anyone who can benefit from it, to whatever level they can achieve. Indeed, if there is a totalitarian tendency, it is in the direction of equalization. It undermines individual responsibility, saps entrepreneurial drive, despises the work ethic and trains people to wait passively for everything to come from the government.

The statistic of unemployment as high as 30% in the rioting communities has been advanced. It seems that people who refuse education, speak French badly, hang around in gangs all night, force women to wear veils, keep their eyes lowered and stay at home on threat of turnstile rape, should be attractive to employers. It seems that people who take responsibility for their actions, excel at their studies, have initiative and ideas, bust their guts to get their businesses off the ground, attempt to improve the grace and liveability of their communities, are traitors and sell-outs whose life work deserves to be torched.

(I am far more shocked by another statistic: across the whole of French society, among people aged 55 to 64, less than 37% ARE EMPLOYED. Why? Because we are routinely fired as we reach our fifties to “make room” for the younger, cheaper and more malleable. Maturity, experience, a clean employment track record are no compensation for the terror employers feel at the prospect of being left with the bill for our retirement.)

What we are seeing here is the breakdown of a certain “Angelist”,
politically correct, generally Socialist idea of what a state should be. Unfortunately, we are learning that there are limits to integration, that religious fundamentalism is incompatible with the secular Democratic ideal inherited from the Enlightenment (at least in France, the fundies are the mob behind the barricades; in the US, they are your government), that you can bend too far over backwards to help those who will not help themselves, and that you cannot get away from labor as the source of value.

So I’m going to say it once and for all: Hurrah Sarko! I admire and uphold the Minister of the Interior, and to hell with the rest of them. If I had a French vote, I would vote for him . Which means that I am now officially on the Right, at least in France. All my current acquaintanceship here will disown me for this. I dare not speak to anyone because the topic of the riots will inevitably come out.

(NB: Sarkozy’s great role model in world politics is Tony Blair, minus the Iraq idiocy, and in the US spectrum he would be a tad to the Left of Hilary Clinton. He upholds reproductive rights and advanced “sexual equality” as one of the defining principles of the European civilization he had hoped to see enshrined in the Constitution. His quip on the admission of Turkey to the Union, on the other hand, was “If Turkey were part of Europe, people would know”. I’m afraid, once again, I concur.)

So there you have it.


Embattled in Ile de France

Friday, November 04, 2005

The Left In The First Days After 9/11

On my other blog I've posted old pictures of a left-wing demonstration in Atlanta. Note that this was before the first shot was fired in retaliation for 9/11.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Old Books

Canadian tory pundit David Warren:

A civilization requires the lively circulation of old books. It is all very well to put their contents on the Internet -- you need the physical object to curl up with, and as a proof that the past really happened. You need the element of chance and discovery, in rooting through the remains of previous generations. Only a library or a used book store or sale can provide this, in the round -- for each contains, in addition to what is currently thought worth reading, a selection of what was once thought so. A computer screen is too small a window, and must be searched along a linear path, which no matter how it zigs and zags, remains a single line of inquiry.

Moreover, to my mind, a book is to a PDF file as sex to pornography. The book is something to hold, not just something to look at. I cannot see an excerpt from an attractive book on some backlit computer projection, without longing for the real thing.

Quite. In real life I get to rummage through a lot of old books, oftentimes entire estate consignments. They are the proverbial source of endless fascination for me, on many levels. One is of course the books themselves, and the interest they hold. The other is what a book collection tells about its former owner.

A retired minister's collection can be quite sizeable. It can contain books written by once-prominent pop-theologians, Biblical handbooks and reference materials, issues of a parish quarterly or some such, old Guidepost magazines, some lovingly-inscribed gift books from Christmases past. It's interesting getting a feel for his education and personality from the titles in the lot.

Or someone else might have belonged to a science fiction book of the month club years ago. Hardback editions of SF authors that only appear in paperback nowadays, if at all. (You know, if you say "new wave" to some people, they think not of music in the 80s, but science fiction in the 60s.) Old Universe compilations by Terry Carr. Any number of authors that I read when I was an spacey adolescent, but haven't thought about since then. And the literary memories flood back.

Of course a lot of book collections are quite prosaic. Computer professionals get rid of manuals that are scarcely five years old, depending on the software (or if they've moved on.) Nobody needs a 1970 set of World Book encyclopedias, or a 1960 hydraulics textbook. But a lot of vintage home economics handbooks can be quite entertaining reading.

And then there are the heirlooms, books given away by people unaware of their value. There are online tools for determining a book's monetary value, although I never take these books for myself. Borrow 'em for a day or two, maybe. When I find a century or more old book, with a personal name handsomely inscribed, sometimes I use other tools, out of idle curiosity, to find out more about that person. Only a bibliophile could understand the feeling I mean to describe, holding a book that was a Christmas or birthday present in the nineteen-oughts, and seeing the former owner's birth and death dates in a genealogy file.

I once had the opportunity to surprise a man with a box of books, whose existence he knew nothing of, that had once belonged to his late father, and some earlier ancestors. I bent some rules to do so, and drew a verbal reprimand, but darn it, I'm proud of myself for doing that. He had recently lost his other parent, so this reconnection with his past, and the chance to pass it on to his own children, was doubly poignant. Not bad for a load of old books.