Sunday, December 31, 2006

On the joys of hyphenated Americanism

In a sense, the place is wide open, but not in the way the New York and Baltimore and Washington used to be wide open--vulgarly, garishly, hoggishly. The business is achieved with an air, almost a grand manner. It is good-humored, engaging, innocent. There is no heavy attitude of raising the devil. [...] It is a friendly place, a spacious and tolerant place, a place heavy with strangeness and charm. It is no more American, in the sense that American has come to carry, than a wine festival in Spain or the carnival at Nice. It is cut off sharply from all the rest of this dun and dour republic.
-- H. L. Mencken, The Baltimore Evening Sun, July 21, 1920


Earlier this week there was a piece on NPR's All Things Considered about an American woman of Thai birth who is seeking to get more connected to her foreign roots. It is multi-culti with a vengeance--even includes folk-dancing! In brief, this San Francisco resident bemoans her parents' decision to try to secure her a better life in America.

PUENG VONGS: I realize that this was the missing piece for me growing up in the Midwest. My family does not have the support of a community, classes, a temple. In our isolation, my parents made the decision that it was better to adapt to our new culture. They knew the difficulties of not speaking well in America. So eventually, they began speaking to us strictly in English and a language barrier divided us.
So, to redress this perceived wrong, she joins Thai-American children at the local temple for language lessons, dancing lessons, and even this:


VONGS: At the temple before each lesson day, students sign up for the Thai National Anthem. I tower over most of them. I sing the complicated Thai phrases routinely, but my mouth stays shut. I'm so not quite that advanced. I must admit that I'm a little jealous of their knowledge at such an early age. But as we watch the unfurling of both the Thai and American flags, I am also inspired. When I was growing up, family believed that you had to sacrifice one culture for the other. One of the things that students are learning is that you can keep both.

That's a bit much, even for a deracinated San Francisco culturatus (culturata?). I wonder how many other Thai-Americans are unabashedly grateful to have grown up here? Who might feel, even, relieved not to have grown up in Thailand, because of certain risks that aren't quite so prevalent here? I wonder if All Things Considered could even do a story on them without duct-taping their own heads first?

I understand the yearning for the places and things of one's childhood. Even though I'm the first man in my family not to grow up on a farm, and I still feel a tug of nostalgia whenever I pass through rural settings. Same with being around small Southern towns. But I also remember something my father told me, a little prayer he used to mutter when he was out toiling in the hot sun as a youth: "Lord, if you get me out of these fields, I'll do my best to stay out!" He did, and I now have what every parent of his generation wanted to give the children of my generation: a better life. I hope Ms. Vongs life is better than her parents' too, and that she give due consideration as to why it is.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Happy Groundhog Day

On Sunday the Israeli cabinet approved the release of $100m of about $600m in tax revenue being withheld from the Palestinian Authority.

The move was agreed a day earlier at the first formal meeting between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Mr Abbas.

On Monday Mr Peretz announced the easing of travel restriction in the West Bank during a appearance before the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee of the Israeli parliament.

He said 24 roadblocks would first be dismantled, followed by another 35 at a later stage.

Mr Peretz told reporters that the plan was aimed at "increasing the number of Palestinians working in Israel".

The closures imposed around the West Bank frequently make it difficult or impossible for Palestinians to go to Israel for work.

He added that some Palestinian prisoners held in Israel would be released to mark the Eid festival, due to begin at the end of December.

"Improving the Palestinians' standard of living is part of Israel's security concept," the defense minister said.


Like re-living the 90s all over again, and again, and again... Wonder how many civilians this round of kissy face is going to cost Israel?

Staying on offense against the jihadists

War is icky and everything, but this is certainly a bright spot in the global war of defense against The Jihad. The ragtag, loosely-knit, weak, and otherwise failing to measure up to Western standards of democracy Somalian national government is rolling back the jihadist, fundamentalist Islamist Courts entity. This with the aid of Ethiopia, which incidentally is the only country in Africa which was never colonized. I can just see our Western rock music aristocracy's heads exploding. Why, only last year they were raising money for "the poor", that anonymous mass of little brown foreigners, into whom they projected their fantasies of revolution and one-worldism. Now here is one set of them fighting against another, for the exact same reasons that the U. S. is fighting Islamic terrorism. Ethiopia knows that if they don't beat them down over there, they'll have to fight them at home later. Maybe we'll be faced with the same prospect, on some evil day in the future, if our efforts fail, and Canada continues its multi-culti course of leasing itself out as one big terrorist residential motel.

Plus, Israel is going to resume pinpoint attacks on Qassam rocket-firing Palestinian killbots, like they did against Hamas'leadership, including the late and much perforated Sheikh Yassin. European, Arab, and progressive media will howl, as always, but also as always the alternative of innocent massacred Jews is a prospect at which they can barely stifle a smirk, a cheer, and a yawn, respectively. Target engage, guys!

I'm probably sounding uncharacteristically belligerent, at least for this blog. This is because I'm reading Bruce Bawer's While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within It's just as rousing and alarming and full of zingers as Mark Steyn's America Alone, with the difference that Bawer lived in several countries in Europe, spoke the languages and read their news media, and thus delivers much more first-hand reportage.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas to all ROFTers and visitors!

The one person, Jesus Christ, both true God and true man, stooped into our littleness to draw us up to the greatness of life eternal, which is not this life infinitely extended but is the very life of God. From the beginning and through the millennia, human beings looked upward in search of the divine. Mary looked downward, at the baby in her arms. She looked into the very face of God. Finitum capax infiniti, the finite is capable of the infinite. This is the central wonder, the inexhaustible mystery, of Christmas.

-- Richard John Neuhaus

Which is a quite good echo of Chestertonian paradox, I'd say:

A mass of legend and literature, which increases and will never end has repeated and rung the changes on that single paradox; that the hands that had made the sun and stars were too small to reach the huge heads of the cattle. Upon this paradox, we might almost say upon this jest, all the literature of our faith is founded.

-- G. K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, 1926

Hope you're having a jolly one. More later, if I can shake free.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Can't see the forest for the tree-wasters

After twenty plus years of this stuff--Marxism, deconstruction, radical feminism, "queer theory," and a host of similarly bankrupt ideologies--some English professors have really made themselves blind. They simply "see through" everything that interested the authors of our classics: whether it's truth, beauty, and goodness; the lineaments of human nature; sin and the possibility of salvation; courage and honesty; or the powers of the human imagination. English professors really believe that all these things that apparently concerned the human race have no real substance--they're just a mask for what's really going on, the whole time, underneath the surface: patriarchal oppression of women if they're feminists, exploitation of the workers if they're Marxists, and so forth.
-- Elizabeth Kantor, interview at FrontPageMag

Random Rock Bloggage...

Some musical discoveries I made thanks to Wal-Mart's music downloads store:

Vanilla Fudge: “Shotgun”
I first heard this song earlier this year, on a couple of clips on YouTube. I was amazed—what a kinetic, powerful track this is! It’s a snapshot of a transitional time, when psychedelia was morphing into early 70s hard rock. Meaning, there’s a fair amount of wah-wah, but Carmine Appice’s drums crack like rifle shots. It is surprisingly light on the “groovy” elements that date so much music from that period, although it does include a surprising “acid jazz” solo from bassist Tim Bogert. Why didn’t I hear this song on the AOR radio station when I was growing up? Why isn’t it on the classic rock station nowadays? I’ve seen interviews with Appice in some online rock e-zines, where he’s complaining about how undeservedly forgotten Vanilla Fudge and its spin-off, Cactus, have become. I don’t know about the rest of their music, but this song is a ripe candidate for widespread resurrection.

Just Plain Bill: “It’s All Too Much”
The original Beatles song, a Harrison composition (and his only entry in the mid-60s Guitar Hero sweepstakes), is a wild, acid-aided shout of joy for being part of The Infinite. This cover version is more of a pastoral, stoner take on the same sentiment. There's no fiery guitar work; instead the song is built on a thick carpet of...well, I guess you'd call them Beatleisms, sonic effects grabbed from a lot of different Beatles songs and re-woven into new material. I don't mean that it's cobbled together out of a bunch of samples; I mean the band recreated a Beatly tone. The organ-sounding flanged guitar, the sitar, the backward loops, they're all here, confected into something quite new, and special. The drumming is punchier than the original, but other than that the verisimilitude is spot-on.

Weather Report: “This Is This”
The title track to Weather Report’s final album. Jaco Pastorius was long gone, (and well on his way to being a derelict) but it’s no loss. Joe Zawinul’s keyboard serves up a burly big-band brass section, along with a funky standard synth part. And there’s a hot-hot-HOT helping of guitar ornamentation by guest ax-man Carlos Santana. This is the way to say goodbye!

The Picketts: “Baba O’Riley”
A slow country-tinged version of The Who’s titanic anthem? Yes. Allmusic.com described this mid-90s band’s work as “grange rock”. It features a simply terrific twangy guitar riff, and some breathy female vocals. When they croon “Out here in the fields…” you can practically see the wind rippling through the wheat. A total, and totally successful, re-imagining of a hard rock classic.

David Belmont: “Moonlight Mile”
Much in the style of the late Michael Hedges. Features an acoustic guitar flanged and reverbed to positively oceanic depths, along with some shuffling, rattling electronica effects. Very nice, and not at all New Agey, even keeps some of the Stones character of the original.

Fanny: “Badge”
Proof that not all the obscurities are gems. A forgotten all-female band from the early Seventies, that didn’t even garner much of a cult following, does an acceptable cover of Cream’s final single. They go “waaahh!” in the choruses, a la Karen Carpenter in “Close to You”, firmly stamping this with one of that decade’s sonic watermarks.

UPDATE: Corrected Just Plain Bill; I guess I got 'em mixed up with Right Said Fred.

A broken neck for Christmas

There's no perfect time to choose, to be suddenly paralyzed for life. But having it happen at Christmas is especially terrible. Particularly when it was very likely the result of mis-diagnosis.

An acquaintance of ours from a local church, not far shy of retirement age, was up a tree cutting branches. This is admittedly a really dumb thing to do, so no need to belabor that point. He fell thirty feet to the ground, and was taken to a medical center in the western greater metro area. He couldn't move, but he was in serious pain. They x-rayed him, didn't see anything, and told him it was just a scratch and to go home. They literally stuffed him into the passenger seat of his car. His agony continued, so the family called back, and were told to keep an eye on him for a few days, work his limbs to keep them from stiffening up, and come back later. And that's exactly what they did. By the time his broken neck vertebra was discovered and he was finally admitted into an ICU elsewhere in the area, it was too late. Profound, irreversible spinal damage. Paralyzed for life. In his early 60s, just in time for Christmas. Please keep this suffering--and under-insured--family in mind this season. And consider making a donation to a rehab center or something. Unlike other minorities, the minority of the disabled is one that any of us could wind up joining at any time. Thanks for reading, and be careful out there....

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Give until it hurts...somebody

This Sunday afternoon I was listening to Bob Edwards' new show on NPR. He was interviewing Arthur C. Brooks, author of Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth about Compassionate Conservatism. This tome purports to prove that religious conservatives give more in charitable donations than most other Americans, even richer Americans, and especially more than liberals.

You can read the particulars of the book's argument at the amazon link. What got me was that the author was almost apologetic about his findings. He did do an admirably meticulous job of qualifying his conclusions, and forstalling any unwarranted generalizations. He insisted that he was just a harmless statistician, no agenda at all, just happened to spot a worrisome trend in charitable giving. It's as if he was afraid of insulting Edwards and his mostly liberal audience.

The book sounds good, even given the insulting sub-title. "Surprising truth"... Surprising to who? Not to someone who's seen a'plenty of how some folks give without fanfare, to help others through this vale of tears--while others suffice with congratulating themselves on their own wonderfulness, for holding such enlightened views.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Israel can't be linked with other Arab conflicts...

...at least not by reasonable people.

OK. Imagine that there is peace between Israel and the Arabs. No, imagine an even better solution from the Arab point of view -- an earthquake that tomorrow swallows Israel whole and sinks it (like Santorini, 1650 B.C.) into the Mediterranean. Does anyone imagine that the Shiites stop killing Sunnis? That al-Qaeda stops killing Americans? That Iran and Syria work any less assiduously to destabilize post-Saddam Iraq? It's these obvious absurdities that made the [ISG] report so dismissible.

-- Charles Krauthammer, "What did the Iraq Study Group tell us?"


But we know reason isn't driving The Jihad, anyway.
Rush - The Spirit of Radio (Toronto Rocks)

Random Rock Bloggage:

Canadians have a reputation, at least among themselves, for dry, understated humor. You can catch it in the novels of Stephen Leacock, for example. I'm pretty sure the laundromat onstage in this clip is in the same tradition--but hanged if I can explain how. But hey, I'm just an un-nuanced, literal-minded Yank. I've loved this song ever since it came out. If it wasn't where the whole 80s shred-metal scene got its inspiration, it sure shoulda been!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Counting the fillings in the crocodile's jaws

"We are mistaken when we compare war with "normal life." Life has never been normal. Even those periods which we think most tranquil, like the nineteenth century, turn out, on closer inspection, to be full of crises, alarms, difficulties, emergencies. Plausible reasons have never been lacking for putting off all merely cultural activities until some imminent danger has been averted or some crying injustice put right. But humanity long ago chose to neglect those plausible reasons. They wanted knowledge and beauty now, and would not wait for the suitable moment that never comes. Periclean Athens leaves us not only the Parthenon but, significantly, the Funeral Oration. The insects have chosen a different line: they have sought first the material welfare and security of the hive, and presumably they have their reward.

"Men are different. They propound mathematical theorems in beleaguered cities, conduct metaphysical arguments in condemned cells, make jokes on scaffolds, discuss the latest new poem while advancing to the walls of Quebec, and comb their hair at Thermopylae. This is not panache: it is our nature."

-- C. S. Lewis, sermon, Oxford, 1939



Not being an Israeli, and not being Jewish, I have a hard time catching the spirit of that plucky little nation. Simple acts of defiance, like keeping a lunch date at a cafe during Hezbollah's rocket attack, those I get. Astounding, hi-contrast acts of decency, like delivering a Palestinian woman's baby in a military ambulance, while under fire from Palestinian terrorists, those I get.

But sometimes the Israelis sang-froid and irreducible civilized-ness are just jaw-dropping. Here's an article in an Israeli big-think magazine, Azure. I've never seen it before, but it looks roughly analogous to The Atlantic or Harper's or some such--in style and (virtual) heft, not necessarily content.

Anyway, here's a piece from the journal, by one Uriya Shavit, called The Road to Democracy in the Arab World. It's a sensitive and informed exploration of the prospects of democracy taking root in the Arab world, along with a mostly sympathetic and revealing account of why Arab thinkers are mistrustful of democracy's Western exemplars. I disagree with most of it. The writer asserts,

In truth, there is nothing unique to Arab societies that results in a preference for despotic regimes. Arab society does not possess an inborn aversion to freely elected governments, and particularly ones that uphold the basic freedoms of the individual; on the contrary, there is abundant evidence that liberal democracy can exist in the Arab world.


But the traditionally clannish and tribal nature of arab societies is a high hurdle to overcome, surely. And if democracy is so on-the-brink-of-happening in the Arab world, it seems that it would have come about naturally, before now. The examples of outwardly democratic institutions in 19th century Egypt he presents would seem to count against, not for, the viability of democracy. Same with the post-WWI democrat-ish regimes set up by Britain and France--they collapsed and were replaced with dictatorships after the Great Powers left. Democracy survived as an appealing idea to the Arab upper-middle class. Clearly, that's not enough to sustain a government based on demos, the people.

But the point of this post isn't to fence with this Israeli pundit, but to marvel at him, and by extension at the rest of the Israeli educated classes. Just consider what's happened in the past year alone:

*Iran has threatened to wipe tiny Israel off the map, and is rapidly acquiring the means to do so.

*Israel fought a dangerously inconclusive war with Hezbollah, in which Israel could not protect her citizens, could not close off Hezbollah's supply of rockets, did not rescue those kidnapped soldiers, and lost even more support from the international community.

*Palestinian killbots continue to seek the lives of Israelis, any Israelis, all Israelis, whether by rockets, guns, or bomb belts.

And so much more that doesn't even make it into our newspapers. Aggression against Israel is gathering for an awful onslaught, and Israel's former friends are increasingly allowing themselves to entertain the idea that Israel's very existence is a mistake. A rectifiable mistake.

But here is this writer, parsing the ifs and buts of Arab democracy as if he were writing somewhere safe, like here in America:

In the end, political reform cannot be viewed as an insurance policy taken out by the West against the possibility of democracy sustaining some blows. Liberal reform may bring to power irresponsible regimes. It may even bring to power tyrants worse than the previous ones. But if we take the long view, we must conclude that regional processes of democratization, despite the inevitable setbacks, can only contribute to the struggle against fanaticism and violence.


"If we take the long view"... God. You've just gotta raise your beverage of choice and toast the courage, optimism and generosity of spirit behind a sentiment like that, at this stage of the game. Scroll back up and read that C. S. Lewis quote again. What a country; may God preserve them...
Tom Thumb's Blues: Neil Young

Random Rock Bloggage:

I like Bob Dylan, and I like Neil Young, though I'm not huge, huge fans of either. But I think that this is one of the best songs from the 1990 30th anniversary tribute to Dylan. The avalanche of not-quite-surreal verbiage, set to Young's chunky guitar licks, with his trademarked palsied, trebly fills, is quite...something.
The Who - Won't Get Fooled Again - (live)

Random Rock Bloggage:

This is the pinnacle of what was possible in rock, so far as major-key power chording goes. The sheer visceral rush of this song simply erases the intervening decades from when it was created. I'm one of those Who fans of which Pete Townshend said that, when they get hooked young, they're hooked for life.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

"20 million fish swarming in a school the size of Manhattan Island..."

Credit where credit is due: The international media is reporting that the oceans are brimming over with more life--variety and amount--than previously expected. In brief, the oceans are getting icky and empty around the fringes, but the vast pelagic depths are full of fauna--and surprises.

Another team came across a shrimp that was thought to have become extinct. Dr. O'Dor compared the discovery to one off Madagascar in the 1940s when scientists found a fish with legs that was known only through fossils and was believed to have disappeared. In the most recent case, a team surveying an underwater peak in the Coral Sea found the Jurassic shrimp, a beady-eyed crustacean which they thought had been extinguished 50 million years ago.


The fish with legs was a coelacanth, in case you don't know.

I'm especially glad to learn that there's a lot more remote and robotic exploration going on down there nowadays. There was a pioneering age of discovery in the 60s and 70s, with mini-subs and such, and then not so much. So it's great that we're getting back down there in a big way. The depths of the ocean are in large part lesser known than what Hubble and such can see of our own solar system.

Wonder how those Jurassic shrimp would taste in a Red Lobster scampi sauce...

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Islam, A Friendly Faith

Or so it says here, in an article by one Iftekhar Hai, Muslim member of some interfaith group or other.

There should be more preaching of Islam’s message as an interfaith “friendly faith” to the American Muslim communities. Emphasize interreligious peace and harmony, get involved in interreligious activities, and not only be tolerant of others’ faith, but also join in its celebration, as long as it does not grossly violate your personal beliefs.


Of course, one source of our troubles is that "our" very existence, at least outside of utter dhimmitude, grossly violates the personal beliefs of a significant percentage of "them". And getta loada:

In the Islamic Society of San Francisco, the imam admonished the Friday Sabbath crowd of more than 500 Muslim worshipers.

He said, “Jihad does not mean fighting the infidels, but to struggle in the path of self-correction, a non-violent and self-cleansing act that will make you the best citizen.” The whole sermon was devoted to building wholesome communities in the Bay Area.

That message came more strongly from the Muslim Community Center of Santa Clara during a seminar on the Life of the Prophet Mohammed on Nov. 24 and 25.


That soap ain't never gonna be soft enough, to feel right on my skin.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Back from Thanksgiving...

...and I hope yours was good. One of the highlights for us was this: There's nothing quite like a beddy-bye lullaby on grandfather's lap.



I wish they'd warm up to their grandmother like that...

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Memo to TIME magazine's Jeff Israely: The Pope doesn't have an "act".

The Pope Tones Down His Act in Turkey: Long known for his rigid thinking, Benedict XVI shows new flexibility in trying to mend fences in the wake of his controversial speech about Islam


This is what comes from living and working in a bubble of superficial "diversity". White liberals, black liberals, asian liberals, latino liberals, gay liberals, straight liberals, liberals who drink regular hazelnut lattes, liberals who prefer the decaf... Outside the bubble are all those cartoonish conservatives. Rather than chortling over a presumed "gotcha", maybe Mr. Israely should consider that he doesn't know Pope Benedict XVI as well as he thinks. The media caricature of Joseph Ratzinger as a "german shepherd" ought to have been dispelled by now. If the media's been paying attention, at least. And didn't have a condescending disdain of Catholics, to boot.

Credit where credit is due: Mr. Israely allowed as how the Pope is not altogether wrong-headed, here.

Wonder if Richard John Neuhaus or J. Bottum will pick up on this.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Rabindranath Tagore on Christianity as evidenced by Mahatma Gandhi

This really deserves to be on the internet in its entirety. It's some sort of speech, I think, from the Twenties or Thirties. The speaker is the great Bengali literary sage Rabindranath Tagore.



(Tagore was far from being the modern stereotypical "Bentley-driving guru", preying
on affluent young Western skulls full of mush, as you can see.)

Anyway, I found this in an omnibus of his writings, A Tagore Reader.


"While India lay cramped and divided, betrayed by its own idealism, it was called upon to meet the greatest trial in her history, the challenge of Western imperialism. For the Aryans and the Muslims may have deprived a few Dravidian and Hindu dynasties of their rule in India, but they settled down among the people and their achievements became India’s heritage. But here was a new impersonal empire, where the rulers were over us but not among us, who owned our land but could never belong to it. So disintegrated and demoralized were our people that many wondered if India could ever rise again by the genius of her own people, until there came on the scene a truly great soul, a great leader of men, in line with the tradition of the greatest sages of old, whom we are today assembled to honor—Mahatma Gandhi. Today no one need despair of the future of the country, for the unconquerable spirit that creates has already been released. Mahatma Gandhi has shown us a way which, if we follow, shall not only save ourselves but may also help other peoples to save themselves.

"He who has come to us today is above all distinguished by his freedom from any bias of personal or national selfishness. For the selfishness of the Nation can be a grandly magnified form of that same vice; the viciousness is there all the same. The standard of conduct followed by the class called politicians is not one of high ideals. They think nothing of uttering falsehoods, they have no compunction in vitally hurting others for their own aggrandizement. . - . Such people plume themselves on being practical and do not hesitate to ally themselves with the forces of evil if they think that evil will accomplish their end. But tactics of this kind will not pass the audit of the Dispenser of our fortunes; so while we may admire their cleverness, we cannot revere them. Our reverence goes out to the Mahatma whose striving has ever been for truth; who, to the great good fortune of our country at this time of its entry into the new age, has never, for the sake of immediate results, advised or condoned any departure from the standard of universal morality.

"He has shown the way how, without wholesale massacre, freedom may be won. There are doubtless but few amongst us who can rid our minds of a reliance on violence, who can really believe that victory may be ours without recourse to it. For even in the Mahabharata, not to speak of the “civilized” warfare of the modem age, we find Dharmayuddha to be full of violence and cruelty. Now it has been declared that it is for us to yield up life, not to kill, and yet we shall win! A glorious message, indeed, not a counsel of strategy, not a means to a merely political end. In the course of unrighteous battle death means extinction; in the non-violent battle of righteousness something remains; after defeat victory, after death immortality. The Mahatma has realized this in his own life, and compels our belief in this truth.

"As before, the genius of India has taken from her aggressors the most spiritually significant principle of their culture and fashioned of it a new message of hope for mankind. There is in Christianity the great doctrine that God became man in order to save humanity by taking the burden of its sin and suffering on Himself, here in this very world, not waiting for the next. That the starving must be fed, the ragged clad, has been emphasized by Christianity as no other religion has done. Charity, benevolence, and the like, no doubt have an important place in the religions of our country as well, but there they are in practice circumscribed within much narrower limits, and are only partially inspired by love of man. And to our great good fortune, Gandhiji was able to receive this teaching of Christ in a living way. It was fortunate that he had not to learn of Christianity through professional experts, but should have found in Tolstoi a teacher who realized the value of non-violence through the multifarious experience of his own life struggles. For it was this great gift from Europe that our country had all along been awaiting.

"In the Middle Ages we also had received gifts from Muslim sources. Dadu, Kabir and other saints had proclaimed that purity and liberation are not for being hoarded up in any temple, but are wealth to which all humanity is entitled. We should have no hesitation in admitting freely that this message was inspired by contact with Islam. The best of men always accept the best of teaching, whenever and wherever it may be found, in religion, moral culture, or in the lives of individuals. But the Middle Ages are past, and we have stepped into a New Age. And now the best of men, Mahatma Gandhi, has come to us with this best of gifts from the West."

Tagore spoke too soon on the bit about "without wholesale massacre", of course. But it's still a lovely sentiment.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving to all readers and ROFTers!

The schtick of this blog notwithstanding, I'm not Catholic. But, I'm thankful for much the same things that GKC was, 80 years ago, for the same reasons:

********

The Convert

After one moment when I bowed my head
And the whole world turned over and came upright,
And I came out where the old road shone white,
I walked the ways and heard what all men said,
Forests of tongues, like autumn leaves unshed,
Being not unlovable but strange and light;
Old riddles and new creeds, not in despite
But softly, as men smile about the dead.

The sages have a hundred maps to give
That trace their crawling cosmos like a tree,
They rattle reason out through many a sieve
That stores the sand and lets the gold go free:
And all these things are less than dust to me
Because my name is Lazarus and I live.

--GK Chesterton

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Another political assassination in Lebanon

A Christian political leader, Pierre Gemayel, was killed, no doubt by Syrian- and/or Hezbollah-backed gunmen. Maybe now, with the events of the past few months, Baby Assad feels it's okay to start plinking wayward Lebanese politicians again.

This harkens back to another glimmer of hope in Lebanon, which was also violently betrayed, a long time ago:

…In the name of all the Christians of the Middle East, and as Lebanese Christians, let us proclaim that if Lebanon is not to be a Christian national homeland, it will nonetheless remain a homeland for Christians. Above all a homeland for Christians, though one for others as well if they so choose a homeland to be protected and preserved, in which our churches may be rebuilt at the time and in the manner we desire.
-- Bashir Gemayel, 14 September 1982

Gemayel was assassinated shortly thereafter, and over the next decade the churches of Lebanon were used by the Syrians, the PLO, and various Islamic militias as stables, garages, and firing ranges. His brother Amin Gemayel helplessly presided over the chaos.

*sigh*...Now this. Here's a fair-enough history of the Gemayel family, in al-Jazeera of all places.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Happy Man - A Romp Through the Mind of GK Chesterton

Here's a promo clip for a theatrical celebration of G. K. Chesterton. Sounds like it'd be fun to see!

Norteamericanos

The area I live in is a magnet for illegal aliens, mostly from Mexico and Central America. I have serious misgivings about having a flood of by-definition illegal newcomers taking root here. If we are a nation of government by law, and the newcomers are the products and progenitors of a government by la mordida, that's bad. Tens of millions of people who have an entrenched cultural disregard for the rule of law cannot help but spell trouble, however they conduct themselves individually.

Expatriate curmudgeon Fred Reed lives in Mexico, and frequently shoots barbs at American retirees who live in gated communities in Mexico. Here's a rare example of him turning his wit to a more even-handed appraisal of the two populations:

Americans, here and elsewhere, usually regard Mexicans with unconscious condescension as a race of maids and gardeners. In the local English-language fish-wrapper, the Ojo del Lago, one finds endless articles, apparently written by middle-schoolers, about how the writers just love the culture and why, they just had some wonderful Mexican experience only the other day and just respect Mexico sooo much; the tone reminds me of admiration of a collie’s adroitness with a Frisbee. They do not know that they are doing this. The Mexicans regard the Americans as helpless greyhairs who always seem lost, and walk with the body language of a mouse in a herpetarium; Mexicans do not know that many of the gringos have had lives and know things and were not always old and out of their element. It is an orgy of mutual underestimation.
-- Fred Reed, "Night in Joco"

The Rolling English Road Recital

I was invited, along with the rest of the local G. K. Chesterton Society, to a poetry-reading soiree in the home of some people whom I did not know. So, as a small gift I took along a booklet of GKC's poems, which I have quite serendipitously found earlier in the week.

One of the people scheduled to be there was someone who had committed a lot of Chesterton's poetry to memory, and was going to recite some of it. But he very rudely begged off via phone, after the evening was underway. So, gallant fellow that I can be at times, I offered to read some poems out of the booklet I had brought. I'm not familiar with his poetry that much, me being more of an aphorism lover. But I do enjoy reading aloud, so I gave it a go. Here's one of them:


The Rolling English Road

Before the Roman came to Rye or out to Severn strode,
The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road.
A reeling road, a rolling road, that rambles round the shire,
And after him the parson ran, the sexton and the squire;
A merry road, a mazy road, and such as we did tread
The night we went to Birmingham by way of Beachy Head.

I knew no harm of Bonaparte and plenty of the Squire,
And for to fight the Frenchman I did not much desire;
But I did bash their baggonets because they came arrayed
To straighten out the crooked road an English drunkard made,
Where you and I went down the lane with ale-mugs in our hands,
The night we went to Glastonbury by way of Goodwin Sands.

His sins they were forgiven him; or why do flowers run
Behind him; and the hedges all strengthening in the sun?
The wild thing went from left to right and knew not which was which,
But the wild rose was above him when they found him in the ditch.
God pardon us, nor harden us; we did not see so clear
The night we went to Bannockburn by way of Brighton Pier.

My friends, we will not go again or ape an ancient rage,
Or stretch the folly of our youth to be the shame of age,
But walk with clearer eyes and ears this path that wandereth,
And see undrugged in evening light the decent inn of death;
For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen,
Before we go to Paradise by way of Kensal Green.

-- G.K. Chesterton

Friday, November 17, 2006

Courage and Evil

Former Soviet refusenik Natan Sharansky summed it up neatly, in a blurb for Melanie Phillips' Londonistan: In a dictatorship, you need courage to denounce the evil. In a free society, you need courage to see the evil.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Theocracy at 30,000 feet?

If you're an Indian flying in India, you may be required to obey Hindu dietary laws, like it or not.

Of course, there are a lot worse things religious fanatics can get up to in an airliner...

(Cross-posted at Protein Wisdom)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Old dinosaurs can learn new tricks!

Today I learn that CNN hired conservative radio talkshow host Glenn Beck, and that his show tomorrow will be a MEMRI-style expose of Islamic radicalism in Middle Eastern media. Hardly very scoopy at this late date, especially for an old lizardoid like me. But it is a heartening sign that CNN may finally be moving away from Ted Turner's diktat of enforced multicultism. You can't hang on to Family Of Man delusions forever, when some members loudly and actively want you dead-dead-dead.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

...And this is fairly astute, too...

I've edited the abortion stuff out of this most interesting point by Joseph Bottum, at the First Things blog. Looks like I spoke too soon, earlier!

Curious things have resulted from this imbalance between the ways the right and the left see the war. One is that conservatives could oppose invading Iraq without ceasing to be conservatives. [...]

On the left, however, to support the war meant, and continues to mean, that one must cease to count oneself on the left. After September 11, the blogosphere was full of people—Roger Simon is a good example—who insisted they were old-fashioned liberals who merely wanted a strong foreign policy. And no one on the left believed them, precisely because no one on the left could believe them. A use of the American military is necessarily a vicious thing, and opposition to the war is a marker of liberal credentials. Just ask Joe Lieberman, elected last night as Connecticut’s senator without a party.

The middle in American politics, the non-ideological voters, were always changeable. If the war went well, they would support it; if the war went poorly, they would lose patience. But [...t]he fact is that conservatives, too, were changeable on the war, and they varied as the result seemed to prove or disprove the foreign-policy theory under which we went to war.

Only the left wouldn’t change. [...E]ven if the war were working out easily, the people on the far left would oppose it in exactly the same numbers they now do. It isn’t that they reject American foreign policy, although that’s the effect. They reject the notion that this is a foreign-policy question. It’s a culture war, and they are looking to win here the battles in the culture wars they believe they have lost elsewhere.


I think he's got something, there.

A bright spot....

From the same First Things blog, which I just slagged in the previous post.

I think the marriage victories should be a lesson to everyone. Seven new states passed constitutional amendments supporting real marriage. With one exception (Arizona this year), every time a marriage amendment has been put to the electorate in the form of a popular vote it has passed with a large majority. Same-sex marriage or its equivalent (under a different name) has succeeded only through judicial fiat. To prevent judicial imposition, twenty-seven states now have constitutional amendments explicitly rejecting same-sex marriage. And all but a few have statutory provisions doing the same. Tuesday’s marriage amendments passed even in Colorado and Wisconsin. Wisconsin was the state the LGBT activists focused on and were most certain was going to go their way. What happened? Why did these states uphold marriage?

Maggie Gallagher explains: “Why? Look at the Catholic vote. Sixty percent of Catholics in Wisconsin support the state marriage amendment, much higher than in a state like Virginia (where Catholics voted “no” 48 percent to 52 percent). Can the Catholic vote on marriage in Wisconsin be repeated in other states? Increasingly that’s where the political battle is going to lie.”


Looks like the gender benders have a little more "consciousness raising" to do, before they can get the public to swallow the redefinition of our society's fundamental building block. That, or go back to imposing it by judicial diktat.

Election coverage on First Things

I have reluctantly found that election coverage at First Things's blog can usually be skipped without major loss. The only thing they talk about at length is abortion, and if that isn't your hot button issue, then there's not much else there. I would actually be surprised if Richard John Neuhaus and J. Bottum went out for full-fledged punditry anyway, given the pre-political nature of the journal. But it does seem that abortion, and only abortion, calls them into the public square at election time.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Still guest-blogging at Protein Wisdom

Jeff Goldstein apparently isn't ready to come back full time yet, so I'm still spreading my meager creative faculties around over there. My inner smart-alecky adolescent is buried too deep, alas, for me to make a first-rate showing, most days. I am a little proud of this one, though: If, in addition to being the dextrosphere’s post-election analysis, the dextrosphere’s post-election analysis were also an old Crosby Stills and Nash song…

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Republicans sweep to victory, score historic wins....

...here in Georgia, that is! Sonny Perdue is the first Republican governor to be re-elected here since Reconstruction, and Casey Cagle is the first Republican lieutenant governor ever. Republicans won most of the down-ballot races too, save for a couple that were still too close to call this morning. So, in opposition to the Democrat victories elsewhere, Georgia only got redder.

So, hats off to the Dems, and to the American Left. The Dems have come back to power, and the Left, the 1960s-Nut-Coast-stop-the-war-off-the-pigs-the-Man-can't-bust-our-music Left, in the person of Madame Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi, is two heartbeats away from the Presidency. They won fair & square, and you'll hear no whining like this from my little soapbox. (You won't hear it from the same media who were doing the whining in '94, either, but that's another post.)

Fallout? Well, Donald Rumsfeld didn't last 24 hours of the polls closing. Let's see if Condi Rice is next. It's a pity about Rumsfeld. My military online acquaintances praise him for sharpening up the military and raising morale, after the big Clinton Drawdown of the 90s. And it has been disgusting, really, to listen to progressives attack the Bush administration through him by feigning concern for the troops. Yet, success is the best retort, and Iraq is not a success story at present. A leader should be judged, and expect to be judged, by his results and not his efforts. And so it has happened in Rumsfeld's case.

The Bush tax cuts: will the Dems revoke them, or let them expire, or what? They don't directly affect me, much, but I supported them. They at least kept the notion of fiscal responsibility in the air, if not on the table. And those of us who came along before the Republican revolution can't read the words "fiscally responsible Democrats" without suppressing a snort. It sounds almost ungrammatical.

Maybe we'll now have a respite from news of corruption for awhile. Corruption seeks those in power, no matter who they are. It's impossible to entirely shut out the Jack Abramoff's of the world--but it's good at least to force them to update their speed dials from time to time.

And God help the poor people of Iraq, if they get thrown under the train by this incoming Congress. *Shudder*...

Monday, November 06, 2006

Be sure to vote Tuesday



This old Bill Mauldin cartoon from the late Forties has something to say to us, I think.

Ted Haggard is a liar and a deceiver

Further proof that anglo-Protestant morality doesn't keep you from committing sin, so much as it prevents you from enjoying it. I wish him and his surprisingly un-demoralized flock well. It sounds like a strong congregation, not an amen corner for a charismatic narcissist, like some other evangelists we could name.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

"Hans Kung in a Trojan horse," ha!

"Islam in its final form is [...] innately hostile to the infidel (as history has borne out), and so peace with Muslims can only be had if they betray or truncate their own revelation. This means that we "infidels" could never hope for peace with orthodox Muslims but only with their heretics and apostates. The attempt to make Islam "moderate" will really be the attempt to pit Muslims against their own tradition in order to keep them sedate. This time, we won't send them Richard the Lionheart on a warhorse but the Islamic equivalents of Hans Kung in a Trojan horse."
-- David Elliot, Toronto School of Theology, letter to the editors, First Things, Nov. 2006

Guess that'd be better than having to kill them in joblots. Or getting killed the same way.

And Madonna's already bored with her new lifestyle accessory!

I've long resisted indulging my dislike of Madonna, and my dislike of flighty-headed celebrity trends Third World adoption. But I can't resist when I see things like this. What's mere parenthood when you're on a much more important mission?

Miss Vieira pointed out: "Well, you could be home like that, if you wanted to. You've made all the money you ever need to make. You've got a nice life."

Madonna agreed, "Uh-huh," and added: "Well, I obviously I have things I want to say and accomplish... and I don't...

"Just staying home and looking after my children and being a mother and a wife is not what I want. I want more.

"If you want to affect change in the world, you do have to have a platform to stand on. And in order to have a platform to stand on, you have to keep doing your job. So, I guess that's why I'm juggling still."


Somebody misspelled "jiggling".

And, inevitably...

David [ Banda ] was born a Christian, will he be raised a Christian, she was asked? She said: "He's only you know 13 months old. He's too young to have been indoctrinated into any kind of belief system. But if David decides he wants to be a Christian, then so be it.


Maybe she'll also let him decide what language he prefers, before she teaches him how to talk. Since we're disguising our parental dontgiveadamnitis as freedom of choice, you know...

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

"...rodents, reptiles and small mammals..."

MSM science reporting is so ignorant it's funny sometimes. Like this: What's wrong with this picture?

The big bird, which stood about 10 feet tall and probably weighed 400 pounds, was fleet of foot and able to chase down and devour rodents, reptiles and small mammals 15 million years ago on the plains of Patagonia. Not for nothing are its closely related species, a group known as phorusrhacids, more commonly called the “terror birds.”


This, instead of "lizards, rodents, and small reptiles."

Monday, October 30, 2006

Stern Report on global warming

Andrew Leonard in Salon has a brief gloss of the Sir Nicholas Stern "The Economics of Climate Change" report on global warming: The Cold War of global warming

Now, as I've probably said in the past sometime, I'm politically inclined to be dismissive of global warming. The image of failed socialist wackademic revolucionarios re-inventing themselves as environmental activists, seeking to shut down the means of production that they failed to win state ownership of, fits my mental template of the Left pretty snugly.

But, as voracious a devourer of popular science as I've always been, I must also admit that there seems to be more than a little something to global warming. I'm a big believer in the power of aggregate knowledge. If independent findings in many different scientific fields point to the same conclusion, then you've gotta take that seriously, the political coattail riders notwithstanding.

That said, I call pish-tosh on this:

Pollution, as seen through an environmental economics lens, is another example of market failure. If it costs less for a company to dump toxic waste in a river than to comply with government regulations, then the market is not providing the correct behavioral incentives. The Stern Review, by depicting climate change as market failure, is making a strong environmental economics case that governments need to rejigger markets to create different incentives.

But as has been discussed here before, there is another school of thought that holds that environmental degradation, climate change, species extinction, etc., are a consequence of market-based capitalism, rather than just strong hints that the engine powering the global economy needs a tuneup. In this perspective, global warming is the Day of Judgment for humanity's current system of self-organization and the threat of global devastation is rated as the most compelling possible rebuttal to a philosophy of unending economic growth. Seen this way, it is little wonder that conservatives fight so hard against even acknowledging that there is a problem. For them, a stance of skepticism about climate change is a holdover from the Cold War. If Lenin was alive today, he's be pushing a carbon tax. He must be stopped!


Mr. Leonard might have a skim through an old book called The Spoils of Progress: Environmental Pollution in the Soviet Union, among many other documentations of runaway environmental destruction in totalitarian countries. It's glaringly apparent, to anyone who thinks about it for a moment, that pollution has been, is, and will be worse in industrialized totalitarian countries than in industrialized free countries. (And unlike Mr. Leonard, I see no need to put sneer quotes around the word "free". Freedom in the West is as much a fact as a blessing.) In a free society there are multitudinous voices pulling this way and that. Concerned citizens can successfully organize and right wrongs, including pollution.

By definition, in a totalitarian country, the citizenry is bound and gagged, and there is no effective brake on what the government can perpetrate on them. That's why, in the Soviet Union, the Aral Sea shriveled up, why prime farmland was ruined with addle-pated heavy industrial projects, and so on. This is also why, to an extent (since China is not a simple culture), even though smokestack scrubbing technology is decades old, and carbon emission reduction technology is also out of its infancy, the Chinese aren't bothering to use them very much. If you're willing to go along with starving to death an eight-digit number of your countrymen, or massacre your own young people live on international television, then you're not going to get overly anguished over effluvia in some fisheries.

And if you're a civilization-loathing intellectual, who can't quite mentally process the fact that it is the above-named tyrannies plus his sainted Third World who are ruining the environment the most and the fastest, then the factor of freedom is likely to escape your cogitations. When people are free to take polluters to court, and elect environment-friendly politicians, then market-based capitalism can indeed be the blessing its boosters claim.

That's part of why I, at least, persist in being skeptical about global warming. I don't trust the Wise Head approach to solving this problem. I still remember sitting in college symposia, years ago, listening to experts predict an overpopulation-induced "die-back", which was also supposed to occur some years ago. A market failure? Maybe so. But if a dictatorship of intellectuals is the answer, then I'll stick with the market. It's like G. K. Chesterton once said:

The reformer is always right about what is wrong. He is generally wrong about what is right.

Friday, October 27, 2006

New Jersey gay marriage ruling

So, apparently the NJ Supreme Court has ordered the state to create gay marriage in all but name. The First Things blogger deplores the ruling here, mostly on legal grounds.

But what's especially jaw-dropping to me is the hypocrisy of former governor Jim McGreevey:

And just two years ago,
Jersey's Legislature passed, and Gov. Jim McGreevey signed, the Domestic Partnership Act. This equalized some of the economic and social distinctions between marriage and same-sex unions but not all - and, as the court admits, it "explicitly acknowledged that same-sex couples cannot marry."


Yet,

McGreevey To Wed If N.J. Lawmakers Allow Gay Marriage


So this means he was governing in bad faith all along. What chumps the "values" activists who lobbied him must feel like now.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

How amazing are space telescopes?

So amazing, that we can not only see ancient galaxies, inconceivably far away, but also measure how old they are, and what their mass is. This thanks to the Spitzer infrared space telescope, the diameter of which's lens is only half your humble blogger's physical height.

NASA's Sun Glasses

We've been observing the sun with inter-planetary spacecraft since what? The Pioneer missions? Well, now NASA's sent up a twin set of spacecraft to monitor the sun for solar eruptions. They'll function as a set of giant 3-D glasses, orbiting the sun fore and aft of the earth, and enabling astronomers to more accurately gauge the size, shape, and direction of solar flares. You've gotta admire the number-crunching, that went into calculating the launch trajectories of these gadgets, too.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Ted Kennedy - KGB connection?

I'm inclined to doubt it. Actually, I don't believe it. The ultimate source for this seems to be an article by Herbert Romerstein in Human Events from December 8, 2003 (found through a periodicals index; it didn't come up in HE's own archive search)

Romerstein was involved with the VENONA intercept decrypts, which was an invaluable service to historians of the Cold War, and to the truth in general. For instance, VENONA confirmed that Alger Hiss really was a Soviet operative.

But Romerstein was guilty of jumping to conclusions in another matter during the early 90s, when excitement about the newly opened Soviet archives was at a peak. He accused left-wing journalist I. F. Stone of working for the Sovs. This charge was swiftly proven to be untenable, if not outright debunked. A fair-use excerpt from The New York Times, Sep 26, 1992. pg. 1.20:

Always let the K.G.B. pick up the lunch tab or risk posthumous vilification. That is seemingly the moral in the sad controversy over I. F. Stone, the left-wing Washington journalist who died in 1989.

Writing in the journal Human Events on June 5, Herbert Romerstein quoted a former K.G.B. agent, Oleg Kalugin, as saying that a well-known American journalist had been a Soviet agent. The journalist, according to Mr. Kalugin, had stopped taking K.G.B. money only after the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.

Mr. Romerstein added that another former K.G.B. "source," unnamed, had told him the journalist Mr. Kalugin had been referring to was Mr. Stone. The Romerstein account was taken up with unseemly glee by other conservative publications, including The New York Post. But Mr. Kalugin now says: "Never did I mention Stone as a man who was paid as a Soviet agent." So reports Andrew Brown, author of the original article in the London newspaper The Independent that inspired the controversy.

In the current issue of The New York Review of Books, Mr. Brown quotes Mr. Kalugin as saying that his comment about the journalist's refusal to take "any money from us" after 1968 referred solely to the journalist's refusal to allow him to pay for lunch.


1992 was a long time ago, but I'll believe this when someone else provides a lot more corroboration.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Nice things said about Jews, pt 10

Let me tell you a story. In the early Fifties, polio was a nightmare for parents. Lots of children clunked around in braces or sat forever in wheel chairs. In summer, the epidemic season, our mothers wouldn't let us go to public swimming pools because they were thought to be focuses of infection.

One day a fellow named Salk came out of a laboratory somewhere and said, "Hey, I've got this vaccine…." A bit later, a guy named Sabin came out of another laboratory, and said, "Hey, if we do thus and so and put it on sugar cubes, see, it will be oral…." You can't imagine how welcome that vaccine was. Parents grabbed their children by the hair and sprinted through doors, sometimes not bothering to open them, to get to the clinic. Polio just flat disappeared.

Hint: Salk and Sabin were not Rastafarians. ("Jews Destroy American Iron Lung Industry.")

Does none of this count for anything?

-- Fred Reed, "Letters About Jews"

Nice things said about Jews, pt 9

There, in the Mediterranean lands, life, liberty, morality, science and art begin their higher development. There we find first and foremost the children of Israel, a people still mocked by the nations and, in some countries, treated as outcasts. Yet they were the benefactors of us all. ...

In Asia, in the legends and traditions of the Chinese, Hindus, and Persians, individual heroes emerge as abstractions, as mythical beings endowed with superhuman powers and properties. They appear and disappear like glittering but empty phantasies. How different is the story of the Hebrew! ...

Here we come to the scene of original beauty, where mortal man communicated directly with God and his angels and where yet those with the highest gifts, an Abraham, a Moses, a David, an Isaiah, remain firmly rooted in the ground of reality. Here we find, for the first time in history, personality endowed with divine rights, the full majesty of the human figure and of a moral world. ...
-- Ernst Moritz Arndt, Versuch in vergleicher Völkergeschichte, 1843, in Joseph L. Baron, Stars and Sand: Jewish Notes by non-Jewish Notables, 1943

Nice things said about Jews, pt 8

For the exercises of strength and skill, for the achievements and for the enchantments of wit, of eloquence, or art, of genius, for the imperial games of politics and war--let us seek them on the shores of Greece. But if the first among the problems of life be how to establish the peace, and restore the balance, of our inward being; if the highest of all conditions in the existence of the creature be his aspect towards the God to whom he owes his being and in whose great hand he stands; then let us make our search elsewhere. All the wonders of the Greek civilization heaped together are less wonderful, than is the single Book of Psalms.
-- William Gladstone, "Place of Ancient Greece in the Providential Order", Gleanings of Past Years, 1879

Nice things said about Jews, pt 7

In the pantheistic religions there is only an eternal present. The generations confuse with rather than succeed each other. What can be expected of the future in such societies? Why call upon it, why fear it? Is not God shackled by fate, man by caste? Where is hope amidst these chains which no Messiah is to come and break? It is only among the Hebrews that the genius of futurity truly shines forth, for their God is free. With them, that which has been ceases to be the inflexible rule for that which shall be. [...]

The spirit of equality was rooted in the Law, even when the example of the rest of the Orient opposed its scrupulous translation into practice. Where will you find a more striking contradiction to the whole spirit of antiquity than in the words of the lawgiver, addressed to his people: "And thou shalt remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and the Lord thy God brought thee out thence"? From that day on, the Hebrew people considered itself the possession of Jehovah; it could not deliver itself into the hands of any other master.
-- Edgar Quinet, Le Génie des Religions, 1851

Nice things said about Jews, pt 6

One of the greatest advantages of the Hebrew religion over every system of paganism was the peculiar excellency of its precepts and the means of acquiring moral and religious instruction which it afforded to every class of the people. The pagans never appointed instructors to deliver moral precepts in the name of the gods. The people frequented the temples and attended the solemn rites of religion as well as other public shows; but they did not receive any moral or religious instructions from their priests, who never considered it as any part of their duty to enlighten the minds of the multitude. Among the Israelites the case was totally different. The Scriptures were read and explained in the synagogue every Sabbath day and thus became intelligible to the meanest capacity. The same laudable plan, being adopted by the Christians, has diffused a moral and religious illumination over a great part of the world.
-- John Bigland, An Historical Display of the Effects of Physical and Moral Causes on the Character and Circumstances of Nations, 1816

Nice things said about Jews, pt 5

No people ever felt so strongly as the people of the Old Testament, the Hebrew people, that conduct is three-fourths of our life and its largest concern. No people ever felt so strongly that succeeding, going right, hitting the mark in this great concern, was the way of peace, the highest possible satisfaction...

Then there is the practical force of their example; and this is even more important. Everyone is aware how those who want to cultivate any sense of endowment in themselves must be habitually conversant with the works of people who have been eminent for that sense, must study them, catch inspiration from them. Only in this way, indeed, can progress be made. And as long as the world lasts, all who want to make progress in righteousness will come to Israel for inspiration, as to the people who have had the sense for righteousness most glowing and strongest; and in hearing and reading the words Israel has uttered for us, careers for conduct will find a glow and a force they could find nowhere else.
-- Matthew Arnold, Literature and Dogma, 1873

Nice things said about Jews, pt 4

The degree of a nation's humanity may be definitely gauged by the nature of its gods. A people whose deities are the authors, directors, and protectors of civil law and order, of justice and wisdom, of grace and propriety, testifies thereby that it belongs to the noblest race, and it cannot avoid being ever more ennobled by such a religion as long as it remains effective.
-- Christoph Martin Wieland, Agathodamon, 1799

Nice things said about Jews, pt 3

When the Semitic question raised such a commotion in Europe, there appeared a pamphlet on that subject which concluded with the suggestion that, in order to remove the difficulties involved, the Jews ought to be civilized.

My personal observations have led me to a different conclusion: the Jew, as a people, has reached the highest point of human development as comprehended by Mosaic law.

It seems to me that the problem now is how to civilize and Christianize thoroughly the peoples among whom the Jews live, so that the latter may, if not love them, at least respect them. Let the Jew be witness to the fruit which this civilization may bear, let hatred and contempt give way to mutual good will, and the Jew will be happy to recognize a brother in the Christian...

I wish that, instead of devoting themselves to trace the faults of Jews, Christian nations would seek to imitate them in their social qualities and religious loyalty. Now, that the Jews' first task, to spread monotheism on earth, has been accomplished, should not their presence in our midst serve the purpose of revivifying moral sentiment and familial affection, attributes that are fast disappearing among
us?...

Oh, if the Jews had only a fraction of our vices, even their name would long since have been effaced from the earth!

-- Russian princess and intellectual Nathalie Gortshakov-Uvarov, Juifs et Chrétiens, 1887, collected in Stars and Sand: Jewish Notes by non-Jewish Notables, 1943

Nice things said about Jews, pt 2

The Hebrews have done more to civilize men than any other nation. If I were an atheist, and believed blind eternal fate, I should still believe that fate had ordained the Jews to be the most essential instrument for civilizing the nations.
-- John Adams

Nice things said about Jews, pt 1

[Jewish poetry] stands completely above all the rest; it is as far beyond the next best as German music is beyond French music, or French painting beyond English painting, or the English drama beyond Italian drama. There are single chapters in the Old Testament that are worth all the poetry ever written in the New World and nine-tenths of that written in the Old. [...]

A race of lawgivers? Bosh! Leviticus is as archaic as the Code of Manu, and the Decalogue is a fossil. A race of seers? Bosh again! The God they saw survives only as a bogey-man, a theory, an uneasy and vexatious ghost. A race of traders and sharpers? Bosh a third time! The Jews are as poor as the Spaniards. But a race of poets, my lords, a race of poets! It is a vision of beauty that has ever haunted them. And it has been their destiny to transmit that vision, enfeebled, perhaps, but still distinct, to other and lesser peoples, that life might be made softer for the sons of men, and the goodness of the Lord God--whoever He may be--might not be forgotten.
-- H. L. Mencken, Damn! A Book of Calumny, 1918

Thursday, October 19, 2006

More political taxonomy humor

It's been a while since I've seen anything worthwhile on a geocities website (not that I've been searching or anything) but this is cute: THE SATIRICAL POLITICAL BELIEFS ASSESSMENT TEST

Example:

7: The Center for Public-Health Dietary Self Control releases a study that says eating just one jelly donut is as harmful to human health as smoking 10,000,000 cartons of cigarettes. Do you...

CONS: keep eating jelly donuts.

LIBL: demand that jelly donuts be removed from vending machines, and public school cafeterias.

LBRT: hoard jelly donuts before they are regulated off grocer's shelves.

COMM: hoard jelly donuts so you can sell them on the black market.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The further wussification of American children

Breaking: Blue state schools put fear of lawsuits above healthy development of children in their charge:

ATTLEBORO, Mass. -- Tag, you're out! Officials at an elementary school south of Boston have banned kids from playing tag, touch football and any other unsupervised chase game during recess for fear they'll get hurt and hold the school liable.
-- "Not It! Mass. Elementary School Bans Tag", The Washington Post, October 18, 2006


Expatriate curmudgeon Fred Reed had this take on a similar egregiousness a few years back:

There is a totalitarian strain in the female psyche. It isn't evil, at least not in intention. Quite the oppposite -- in intention. Women as a sex want to impose security, stability, and conventionality, at all costs, on everything. They want a tyranny of the safe and comfortable. [...]

When the female drive for security ceases to be a useful brake on male energy, and becomes instead the dominant principle of existence, the effect is stifling. That is what we have. A guy principal, unless gelded, will let girls be girls and boys be boys. A gal principal wants them both to be girls. A man will not try to force girls to play football. A woman will try to force boys to stop playing it.

Because what is instinctive seems reasonable, few women have the foggiest idea what makes men tick. (Or, God knows, vice versa.) Some do. Some women scuba dive, jump out of airplanes, shoot competitively. The average teacheress doesn't. She can't imagine why boys like roughhousing, or hard-played basketball, or guns. When she says tag is too rough, she means that it is too rough for her.

And with an intolerance peculiar to the sex, she believes that anything she can't understand must be reformed.
-- Fred Reed, "Children in shards on the ground"


UPDATE: A passing commenter points out that, although this incident is in Massachusetts, it is a general phenom; not particularly blue-statish or even political in nature. He's right, on further thought. I've seen the same thing happening around here.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

So what's not to love about Grameen bank? You tell me!

[Crossposted from Protein Wisdom]

The poor we have always with us, and the purpose of the Lord in providing the poor is to enable us of the better classes to amuse ourselves by investigating them and uplifting them and at dinners telling how charitable we are. The poor don't like it much. They have no gratitude. ... But if they are taken firmly in hand they can be kept reasonably dependent and interesting for years."
-- Sinclair Lewis in the short story "Things", first published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1919


So this time a really deserving person won the Nobel Peace Prize. Muhammad Yunus and his micro-capitalism (though the newsies & punditry much prefer the term "micro-credit") promoting bank Grameen Bank have helped untold thousands get out of destitution and into the small business and trades class. I have a soft spot for this program, because it has the same philosophy if not quite the same financial arrangements as Habitat for Humanity: a hand up, not a handout. What could be better than, quietly and without a big publicity airhorn, helping people become productive stakeholders in their own societies? Well, if that detracts from the ego massage of bleeding hearts who would rather keep the Third World poor as mascots, who view them as an anonymous mass of little brown people, as simple symbols of Western sin, plenty. "Microcredit is a good thing, but it is nowhere near a panacea for global poverty" harrumphs Daniel Davies in--where else?--The Guardian.

"The main effect of the microfinance revolution has been the rebranding of agricultural development banks as "Microlenders". This has happened because although a loan to buy a tractor or provide working capital for a harvest season isn't microcredit, calling it microcredit will bring in a lot more grant money. That's probably good news, because agricultural development banks usually do good work."


There's also some economic counter-theorizing presented, appealing to that profound reader of human nature, John Kenneth Galbraith. Something about giving development aid only to people who don't plan on remaining stuck in poverty. Mr. Davies "suspects" that Grameen's impact has been largely on those people who were just barely on the good side of hopelessness.

Well, I don't know if Mr. Yunus's vision has any overtly spiritual aspect. But I have seen up close how hopelessness can be turned into hope. The human spirit can be broken, and few things do a more merciless job of that than grinding poverty. People forget, if indeed they ever even knew, that a better life is possible. But, somebody has to revive their spirits, give them inspiration along with information. They turn themselves from dead-enders into people with hope. And no sociological study is ever going to be able to accomodate its pigeonholes, to track the transformation.

Thomas Sowell once said that anything can be termed a success if judged by low enough standards, just as anything can be termed a failure if judged by high enough standards. Our Guardian pundit is in danger of being guilty of the latter fault. Mr. Yunus can answer his critics with the words of Thomas Carlyle:

Between vague wavering Capability and fixed indubitable Performance, what a difference!
--Sartor Resartus, 1833

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Foleygate

The other day Tony Blankley, the editor of the Washington Times, was on a local Atlanta radio show, explaining his surprising editorial calling for Dennis Hastert to resign (no transcript, sorry). Blankley believes that Fordham is telling the truth, that he was made the designated fall guy after he had already agreed to be a good team member and resign his post over something else (IINM. No transcript, remember). Blankley said that Hastert's office had not intervened as strongly as his predecessors had in previous cases. Blankley surely wants this scandal to go away before election day, but the case he presented did seem like the high road.

If it were a Dem that was the malfeasant party here, we'd likely never hear about it at all, from normal media avenues. And if we did, it would be nothing but how those eeeeeevil judgmental Republicans were once again invading the private life of a Democrat public servant.

That said, I say get rid of everyone who let this Foley stuff go on, no matter who it is. "Everybody does it" is a teenager's argument.

Friday, October 13, 2006

New UN Sec-Gen Ban Ki-moon -- the U. S. connection!

He got his picture taken with President Kennedy, when Ban was in high school, in the VISTA program.



Photo is from the Chosun-Ilbo newspaper; too lazy to hunt up the link, sorry.

Clayton Cramer disputes the Lancet Iraqi casualty numbers

Via Instapundit:

Either the news media have been ignoring hundreds of days with 1000 or more deaths--or tens of days with 10,000 or more deaths--or the Lancet article is utterly wrong.


He's worth listening twice to. Cramer is the one who, several years ago, busted Emory professor Michael Bellesiles' bogus gun research.

I am often asked, "Did [Michael] Bellesiles really think he was going to get away with [fabricating research about colonial firearm ownership]?" I don't know. My suspicion is that Bellesiles assumed
that people that disagreed with him about gun control wouldn't know where to find The Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut or where American State Papers: Military Affairs would be in the library.

One of the hazards with the political homogenity of the professoriate at the first rank schools is that they don't get a chance to find out what people outside their narrow circle think, and they tend to underestimate their political opponents.

I suspect that Bellesiles and his fellow professors think of the NRA as a small number of educated conmen in Fairfax, Virginia, leading an organization of four million guys in flannel named Billy Bob. A recurring theme of gun control advocates is that we are a bunch of toothless rednecks who marry our sisters. The reality is that the average NRA member is a registered Democrat, is better educated than the general population, and tends to work in a technical or engineering position.

It must have been a real shocker to Bellesiles to discover:

1. LOTS of NRA members have graduate degrees in history.

2. A surprising number read 18th and 19th century primary sources. (You wouldn't believe how many tips I received from "gun nuts" who pointed me to very useful documents.)

3. Some of us know the early Republic primary sources well enough to recognize when Bellesiles was altering quotes.

4. Some of us can even write.

Nobel Peace Prize goes to Bangladeshi microcredit pioneer Muhammad Yunus

Good. It's about time the prize went to someone who deserved it, and not to a Leftie mascot.

"Every single individual
on earth has both the potential and the right to live a decent life. Across cultures and civilizations, Yunus and Grameen Bank have shown that even the poorest of the poor can work to bring about their own development," the Nobel Committee said in its citation.


May his tribe increase.

Humor's not my schtick, at all, but...

...I have to say I'm a bit proud of having thought this one up. It's a spoof of the Army's new slogan search.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The journalist and the jihadi

Cross-posted, with some revisions, from Protein Wisdom.

Suzanne Fields has an op-ed in the Washington Times today, on the new HBO biopic of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. He would have been 43 this week.

I remember how shocked and outraged I was when I learned of the manner of his murder. It turned into sheer hatred when I found out that the monsters had actually videotaped it, and were selling it in bazaars and filesharing it around the ‘net. Not least of what I hate the jihadists for, is the fact that I’m now more or less numb to civilized people getting their heads chopped off by medieval holy warriors, to the applause of vast swathes of our nominal allies. Because of the numbingly numbing numbingness of being numbed by the numbing numbers of beheadings these vipers have perpetrated ever since.

An important point for libs to remember from the Fields article:

The film documents how the Islamists, miserable in their distorted faith, live off a culture of despair born of manufactured misery. Omar Sheikh was privileged. He was born and grew up with middle-class parents in London, attended the London School of Economics where he studied applied mathematics and economics, and played a good game of chess.
“He was not an illiterate jihadi whose mind had been captured by the mullahs; he was a very bright, Oxford-material boy, overturning the notion that education is the solution to terrorism,” says Ahmed A. Jamal, one of the two directors of the documentary. “In his case, he was a formidable terrorist precisely because he was so well-educated.” Indeed, he had the wealth to support his alienation, the reasoning power to rationalize his resentments and the mind to accentuate the negative with cunning, converting his abilities into a perverse nihilism.


Get it, you Voices Of Compassion®? Not everything can be blamed on globalization, or on American hegemony, or on the existence of the Jews--I mean, Israel. The Wahabists don’t have any IMF debt to be forgiven. You can’t erase the threat they pose by treating their threats as grievances. You can’t abase yourself--or us--into their good graces. Your materialist worldview is inapplicable here, in this conflict. It ain't that kind of disagreement.

In honor of Danny, go click around the Daniel Pearl Foundation, and be amazed at the charitable attitude of his widow. And the wonderful sort of fellow Pearl himself was. I’d trade any given busload of multicultists--and any stadium full of jihadists--for one of him back again.
Glen Campbell - Wichita Lineman (live)

Random Rock Bloggage

Only this time its country! I've always loved this song, with its haunting bottom-string guitar solo.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Bombings on Mindanao in the Philippines

Muslim insurgents are on a bombing spree, it looks like. Keep an eye on The Belmont Club for informed bloggage on The Jihad in that country, is my recommendation.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

What are liberals like?

A long, laudatory list of what liberals are like is here in the Chicago Tribune today, courtesy of law Professor Geoffrey R. Stone. I and other Protein Wisdom regulars chew it over here.

One thing I would add is that this list seems to be more like a list of ideals, than of attributes, as the author himself states:

Undoubtedly, not all liberals embrace all of these propositions, and many conservatives embrace at least some of them.


This seems like it would sort well with those conservatives who insist that they are the "real" "classical" liberals, while the modern liberals are all a bunch of flag-burning, pot-smoking, mother-cursing, trust fund-supported, etc., etc. It would also give an out to magnaminous liberals, willing to grant that not all conservatives have to pick gravel out of their knuckles.

Apart from that, his weaselly disclaimers do not mask several holes in his list. For instance:

Liberals believe courts have a special responsibility to protect individual liberties. It is principally liberal judges and justices who have preserved and continue to preserve freedom of expression, individual privacy, freedom of religion and due process of law. (Conservative judges and justices more often wield judicial authority to protect property rights and the interests of corporations, commercial advertisers and the wealthy.)


Since when are property rights not a liberty? This is the voice of someone who views a citizen's wealth and property as merely a funding source for liberals' vote-buying government handout programs. (Remember the Supreme Court's Kelo decision? How all the liberals on the bench voted for it?) If people are secure in their homes and possessions against the depredations of government, they are free to take care of themselves and go about their lives as they see fit. If they can be and are expropriated at any time, then they need high-level patronage--which vote-hungry politicians are always ready to provide, in exchange for dependence on government. So once again we can see the truth in the adage, that liberalism is a disease masquerading as its own cure.

And since when are judges suppose to stick up for the little guy against the big guy? They are supposed to uphold the law. The little guy is as likely to be in the wrong as anyone else.

Have a quote:

It seems doubtful that an effective modern economy can be created without adopting capitalism, as was demonstrated by the failure of the command economies of the Soviet Union and China. The Soviets could get rockets into orbit, but they couldn't reliably get onions to Moscow. As for China, millions had to die to prove that collectivized agriculture is unproductive. Today, with capitalism thriving in many nations recently freed from Soviet oppression, and with the Chinese having taken to heart that they have long been outproduced by Taiwan, both China and Russia now seek to build capitalist societies. It remains to be seen whether either nation can provide freedom, without which effective capitalism is impossible. Indeed, for want of both
freedom and capitalism, Islamic nations remain in semifeudalism, incapable of producing most of the items they use in daily life. Their standard of living require massive imports paid for with oil money, just as Spain enjoyed the fruits of other nations' industry so long as it was kept afloat by gold and silver from the New World. Without secure property rights and substantial individual freedom, modern
societies cannot emerge.
-- Rodney Stark, _The Victory of Reason_, 2005

Closing in on another astronomy milestone

We soon may have photographs of an extra-solar planet, thanks to the Hubble Space Telescope. What a durable, useful old crate it's proving to be.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

"Maple Syrup Urine Syndrome"

Clicking around out of curiosity about the Amish, in light of the events of last week, I found quite a lot of medical literature about them. Apparently they're so inbred, pinched in such a genetic bottleneck, that they are prone to a lot of rare diseases and deformities. Sad.

But the price of a simple life can be high. The Amish in Lancaster County are descendants of about 200 Swiss Anabaptists who emigrated in the mid- 1700s (other groups of Amish settled elsewhere in Pennsylvania and other states). The Amish church forbids marriage outside the order and few outsiders have joined, so the community has been essentially a closed genetic population for more than 12 generations. Thus, intermarriage has brought to the fore certain genetic mutations that were present in the initial genetic pool (as they are in any population), making the Amish host to several inherited disorders. These mostly stem from recessive traits and include forms of dwarfism and mental retardation, as well as the diseases that interest pediatrician Holmes Morton--a collection of treatable metabolic disorders including Bartter's. The Amish have twice the risk for certain diseases than people in the general population. The Mennonites have also passed down particular genetic diseases, including maple syrup urine disease, so named because patients' urine and earwax contain a metabolite that smells like maple syrup. The disease can cause irreversible brain damage in days; if untreated, it claims the lives of infants within the first week of life.

"I juggle about 50 different disorders like this," explains Morton, an instructor in pediatrics at Hopkins, as he bounces through the Lancaster countryside in his Jeep following his visit to the Stolzfus family. "Most of them are poorly defined. It really is experimental medicine to figure out what to do. It's all a learning experience."

Friday, October 06, 2006

What the forgiveness of the Amish is not

The novelist with Christian concerns will find in modern life distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem will be to make them appear as distortions to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural; and he may be forced to take ever more violent means to get his vision across to this hostile audience. When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal ways of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock—to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the blind you draw large and startling figures.
-- Flannery O'Connor, 1957



For once, we were spared the too cheap exculpations of secular society, in which crime is simultaneously everybody's fault and no one's fault, and in which every criminal is innocent until proven crazy. No spineless non-judgementalism, no creepy grief counselors, outfitting survivors with prosthetic feelings. Instead, we had as shining an example of the Christian ideal of forgiveness as it was possible to produce.

Some people misunderstand the seemingly easy acceptance of the Amish in the face of this horror. The Amish do wrestle with hate and anger, the same as anyone else would. They are human beings, after all; and being robbed of their children's lives savages their hearts as much as anyone else's. However, they are not simply taking the stoic way out, simply switching off their emotions. So schooled are they in Christ's example of returning good for evil, that it doesn't take as much agonizing for them to offer that hand of reconciliation as it might for any of us.

The Amish have not only forgiven the killer, but forgiven the killer's family, and asked that some of the spontaneous outpouring of donations from around the country to the Amish be shared with them. (Contrast that with, say, the Columbine murders, which were almost immediately litigated by all against all.) How can they do this? A quick trawl through some online sermons on forgiveness comes up with this nugget:

When we go through an inexplicable trial, when we feel forsaken by those in whom we had placed our trust, we can be surprised to find a violent reaction welling up in us. Sometimes we feel the need to get some distance, to allow some time to pass. Then we realize that forgiveness is not a natural attitude for human beings. But in such moments of crisis we can also discover that living a life of forgiveness means first and foremost letting the Risen Christ forgive within us.

All who choose to let Christ pray in them "Father, forgive" remain free of violence and bitterness. Free of distances, of an indifference that gives the illusion of protecting them, like armour, against a suffering which has become too unbearable. The heart remains alive: it can begin to hope anew.


Here's hoping for renewal in their hearts, in the years to come.

Footnote: Mister Ghost is wondering where are the Iraqi Amish? The parallel is misdrawn, as I said at his blog. A surprise attack by a lone crazy is not the same as deep-rooted emnity between rival sects. If anything, the Iraqis have a much harder job of reconciliation than do the Amish, in that there is more to forgive, and less of a basis for forgiveness in the Islamic faith.