Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Random Rock Bloggage

The new! improved! Blogger doesn't allow YouTube posts anymore, at least not yet. So here's a simple link to this old gem: Free, at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival. (The grimaces of extreme pain were de rigeur for rockers at the time.) "All Right Now" is one of those deceptively simple songs that sounds better and better as time goes by. Whoever it was that called them the best and only practitioners of blues minimalism was right!

I really, really suck at photoshoppage, but...

Here's this, anyway. I'll have to set aside a weekend and learn how to use my ebay copy of Jasc Paint Shop, sometime...


Monday, January 29, 2007

Priest of underground Chinese church dies at 103

Imagine being a clergyman, ministering to a persecuted, underground church, thousands of miles away from the nearest free country.

Imagine living to being more than 100 years old.

Now imagine being both.

"Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints."

An abortion short story anthology?

I've been off-schtick for some time now, because the editors of First Things are on one of their protracted anti-abortion campaigns. I personally can be fairly pigeonholed in the "mushy middle": disapproving of abortion but unwilling to make it illegal. For that and other reasons, I usually don't read First Things when that subject is on the heavy rotation playlist.

However, in this post, Joseph Bottum floats the idea of assembling an anti-abortion short story collection. He lists several stories, none of which I'm familiar with, but some of which sound interesting. So, I'll in turn suggest one. For such a collection, I'd nominate Harlan Ellison's "Croatoan". When it was anthologized, Ellison gleefully related in the introduction how he had gotten sacks of hate mail from feminists, pro-lifers, animal welfare activists--and one from an employee of the NYC sewer system. I was mightily impressed with Ellison back when I was a spacy adolescent, and this is one of the many stories of his that has stuck with me, well into the years where the broad mind and narrow waist trade places. Aside from that, it's a good, disquieting story, and ought to fit in to Bottum's anthology.

Update: Bottum also wonders about anti-abortion poetry. Here's one that appeared in First Things years ago:

Extra place set at your mind's table
like Ezekiel's empty glass, clean spoon.

Hands that never pointed out the moon,
laid the baby in the Christmas stable,

dried dishes. Voice that doesn't call
downstairs that he or she will be there

soon. In steam behind a bathroom door,
no one puts on makeup, leaves a towel

for you to find. No hairdryer.
No C in French. No midnight curfew,

no slamming door, no not-speaking-to.
When was it you began to hear

silence? They don't tell you
about that voice, clear, insistent, steady

as a heartbeat, asking, *How weren't you ready?*
-- Sally Thomas, "Choice"

The Chairman's enforcers

I recently posted a review of Jung Chang's Mao: The Unknown Story over at my Amazon review page. Immediately, meaning overnight, about two dozen negative votes appeared on my review, against three positive. That's up to about eighty this morning, against 14 positive. Wow! My review was no great shakes, admittedly--I have written much better in the past, if you'd care to surf the back pages. But this is obviously a hit job. It'd be interesting to know where all these defenders of the late Chairman Mao Ze-dong are posting from. I mean, there was that tidbit in the news the other day, about how China will soon have more online users than the U. S.

Or it could just be some diehard U.S. academic Marxist hitting "Reload", I guess...

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Who's the patriot?

One of the lessons of 9/11 was what we learned about the Left. 9/11 proved, perhaps once and for all, that there is no attack that America can suffer that will induce the Left to take up her cause, against whatever enemy might be out there. As Robert Spencer said, the Left persists in seeing Islamic terrorism through the lens of political correctness. The terrorists, by benefit of being brown, have their murderous deeds of-coursed aside as a consequence of Western sin. But the larger reason why the Left balks at defending America is that America simply isn't good enough--yet, maybe--to be worthy of their support and sacrifice.

As our old pal Wretchard once said, The greatest apostasy in Marxist literature has always been to find value in the present. This is why Hillary Clinton's reported revision of the Pledge of Allegiance was so chilling. "I pledge allegiance to the America that can be." At what point do fair weather foes of their American here-and-now home turn into foul weather friends? If the answer is "never", then they have no right to blather on about their "dissent" being the highest form of patriotism. In that case, they aren't patriots, and maybe not even citizens. They're termites.

I don't include garden variety cynics in this, who served honorably but nevertheless feel that they and the nation were done dirty by those in charge. I mean the Speakers of Truth to Power, floating on their higher moral plane above those bourgeois Gaia-rapers, their fellow Americans, forever and ever and ever--come what may.

C. S. Lewis had a pretty good explanation of why patriotism is necessary. It isn't as stirring as this Robert Heinlein quote Darleen Click posted, but here 'tis:

Patriotism has, then, many faces. Those who would reject it entirely do not seem to have considered what will certainly step--has already begun to step--into its place. For a long time yet, or perhaps forever, nations will live in danger. Rulers must somehow nerve their subjects to defend them or at least to prepare for their defence. Where the sentiment of patriotism has been destroyed this can be done only by presenting every international conflict in a purely ethical light. If people will spend neither sweat nor blood for "their country" they must be made to feel that they are spending them for justice, or civilisation, or humanity. This is a step down, not up. Patriotic sentiment did not of course need to disregard ethics. Good men needed to be convinced that their country's cause was just; but it was still their country's cause, not the cause of justice as such. The difference seems to me important. I may without self-righteousness or hypocrisy think it just to defend my house by force against a burglar; but if I start pretending that I blacked his eye purely on moral grounds--wholly indifferent to the fact that the house in question was mine--I become insufferable. The pretence that when England's cause is just we are on England's side--as some neutral Don Quixote might be--for that reason alone, is equally spurious. And nonsense draws evil after it... A false transcendence is given to things which are very much of this world.

--C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, 1960

So remember, when Islamic terrorists massacre citizens of free Western democracies, the Higher Patriot is not the unctuous peace creep who sneers: You deserved it. He's a barnacle on the ship of state. A tapeworm in the body politic. A rat in the wall. Not a patriot, and no friend of America in a time of danger.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

A Grim Centennial

South Korean churches voice concern for North Korean Christians as they observed the centennial anniversary for Korea’s first mass spiritual revival, amidst circulating reports of torture, imprisonment and execution of Christians.

15,000 people gathered for the prayer-fasting rally staged at the Seoul Olympic Gymnastic Stadium to commemorate the 1907 revival that had started in the now-North Korean capitol, Pyongyang.

“The contrast between the spiritual climate in North Korea today and one hundred years ago could not be starker,” said Elizabeth Batha, international advocate for UK-based charity Christian Solidarity Worldwide, at the stadium on Monday.

“That Pyongyang has moved from being a city known throughout the Christian world as ‘the Jerusalem of the East’ to now being the capital of probably the most brutal suppressor of Christianity is chilling.” [...]

North Korean officials continue to maintain that citizens enjoy religious freedom, citing the presence of a Roman Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox church in Pyongyang.

Religious liberties advocates, however, claim the three churches are manned by actors and open to foreign observers only.

One of the cultural puzzles of Asia is why Christianity blossomed in Korea, but withered in Japan. You've just gotta hope that the underground Christians in North Korea can endure until their evil masters' rule comes to an end.

That last bit about about the Nork's churches being Potemkin jobs, manned by actors, is reminiscent of a scene in the book Utopias Elsewhere (too lazy to look up the author, sorry). A big shiny department store in Pyongyang is on the tourism itinerary. But when the author looks closely, he sees that the people going in and out are only going in and out. The people riding the escalators are only riding the escalators. And the people standing at the counters are just standing there. It's all for show, for visiting Western progressives, a choreographed sham by those who wish to deceive, for those who wish to be deceived.

Remember that the next time you hear some International A.N.S.W.E.R types "waging peace" on behalf of the Nork regime.


G. K. Chesterton had socialism so figured out, decades before it began devouring mankind in earnest.

A permanent possibility of selfishness arises from the mere fact of having a self, and not from any accidents of education or ill-treatment. And the weakness of all Utopias is this, that they take the greatest difficulty of man and assume it to be overcome, and then give an elaborate account of the overcoming of the smaller ones. They first assume that no man will want more than his share, and then are very ingenious in explaining whether his share will be delivered by motor-car or balloon.
-- from Heretics

Monday, January 22, 2007

Shipwreck off the Devon coast

News stories are reporting that a cargo ship that's run aground off of the southwestern English coast is attracting looters. This reminds me of a coffeetable book I once read by John Fowles (of The French Lieutenant's Woman fame), Shipwreck. It was a collection of photographs of shipwrecks from along the Cornish coast, from the 19th century up to the mid-1960s, with extended caption provided by Fowles. The book said that the treacherous coast was famous for dooming hapless ships, and the inhabitants were famous for flocking to the shore to carry off the washed-up cargoes. So in this case it looks like nature and the natives are both playing true to type.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

ParEcon: Here we go again!

Participatory Economics (Parecon for short) is a type of economy proposed as an alternative to contemporary capitalism. The underlying values are equity, solidarity, diversity, and participatory self management. The main institutions are workers and consumers councils utilizing self managed decision making, balanced job complexes, remuneration according to effort and sacrifice, and participatory planning.


The study of history is a powerful antidote to contemporary arrogance. It is humbling to discover how many of our glib assumptions, which seem to us novel and plausible, have been tested before, not once but many times and in innumerable guises; and discovered to be, at great human cost, wholly false.
--Paul Johnson The Quotable Paul Johnson: A Topical Compilation of His Wit, Wisdom and Satire, edited by George J. Marlin, et al (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1994), p. 138.

The Russians had a word for those "workers councils". They called them "soviets". When can humanity finally put "paid" to this delusion, and pack off these radicals, with their adolescent outrage at the world's failure to remake itself to their liking by the time they hit 30?

Pigs fly, Hades freezes over, and...

...liberal Boston churches switch sides and defend Israel!

Why, reasoned Stavis and Brodsky, should Jews be silent? After all, Palestinian groups are not shy. At synagogues, JCC’s, the annual Israel Day parade, and at AIPAC meetings they’re there, vocally exercising their right to free speech, sometimes politely but often not, shouting down the Jews and using crude and vile language.
So, a few Sundays back, with a handful of Christian and Jewish protestors, Stavis and Brodsky stood outside each of these churches with posters and flyers, politely informing the congregants of the nature of the groups that their churches host.
The congregations were vexed. The ministers rushed out of the churches and began to protest. Unfair! Inappropriate!
Stavis and Brodsky politely and calmly explained that hosting these groups is what’s inappropriate: It violates the spirit of dialogue that the churches claim to be all about. And guess what reason (or was it the threat of continual embarrassment) won the day? When they listened to the facts, the Congregationalists agreed to evict the SDP from their church.
This was not a small victory.

Indeed not! Every political compass needs a butt end, and all during the Cold War and the War on Terror, the Unitarians have served that function. So this is a remarkable turnabout indeed.

RIP former Senator George Smathers

Only reason I take note of this is because of Boston Globe reporter Matt Sedensky's semi-dismissal of one of the late Senator's better qualities:

...his expertise on Latin America made him an early advocate for the people of that region, if for nothing more than to quash communism's expansion.

Putting the "quash" on communism was a better service to Latin Americans than anything the Che shirt wearing, Cuba vacationing, Voices of Compassion© ever did. Someday Cuba's dungeons will open, Miami's Cuban boat people will get recompense for their stolen land and property, and the mass graves will be exhumed--and it won't be the anti-communist norteamericanos who'll have to account for themselves to them.

RIP Art Buchwald

The best satire has a perfect blend of truth and ridicule in it. Although he was never my very favorite political satirist, Art Buchwald was the first one that caught my fancy. He whetted my taste for political satire in the years ever after, setting me up to enjoy stronger stuff as offered by people like P. J. O'Rourke, James Lileks, and a dozen others I can't think of right now. He was 81.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

End of guest stint at Protein Wisdom

So now Jeff Goldstein is back full-time at Protein Wisdom, and I'll not be guest-posting there anymore. It was good to let my inner smart-alecky adolescent out for air for a few months. Here are a few posts I was particularly proud of:

Why Communism Still Matters

The journalist and the jihadis

A Video Nightcap

A visit from St. Jeff

Yes, that was quite a lot of fun. Who know? I might carry on some more here, at my earnest, serious blog!

Los Angeles Jewish and Muslim Groups: Together Again?

Daniel Sokatch, executive director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) and Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Pacific Affairs Council (MPAC) are profiled in this LA Jewish publication.

I've gotten into the habit of running the names of public Muslim figures through the search box at LGF. Can be an eye-opener... Anyway, if these two can increase harmony in the City of Angels, great.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

al-Farooq Masjid, or Mosque, in Atlanta: the AJC's take

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution had an article this past Sunday Jan. 14th, (subscription only, sorry), on the opening of a big new mosque in Atlanta. So intent were the writer and editors on their multi-culti story template, that they didn't ask some basic questions. Who paid for this mosque? Wahhabist fundamentalists, backed by limitless Saudi petro-billions, are building and funding mosques and madrassahs all over the world. This particularly merciless, desert-dried sect of the One True Faith has, because of these efforts, supplanted the more easy-going types of Islam in Nigeria, for example; directly causing the religious strife there in recent decades. Their money and hence influence in America is not hypothetical. Wahhabist money and influence = trouble, everywhere, in a big way, without fail. I would have liked some commonsense recognition of this fact, and some reassurance of the absence of the Saudi hand in the building of this mosque.

Other than that shortcoming, the article is the predictable NPR All Things Considered type of happy-clappy multi-culti heartwarmer. The principal of the article is an medical professional who left his homeland Pakistan 38 years ago. Professional suburbanite, professional wife, great all-American kids--you know the stereotype: everyone is essentially the same except for headgear and cuisine, and could live in harmony together if not for those ignorant, intolerant rightwingers.

But, as the formula for these types of stories continues, after 9/11, the dark night of fear descended over the embattled Muslim community here in racist South of racist, racist America. We are regaled with yet more arm-waving about the loudly deplored (but completely non-existent) oppression of Muslims in America. Why, someone tossed a board with an insulting grafitto into the mosque's construction site. Americans actually observed out loud--within hearing of the local Muslims, if you can believe the barbarity of this--that Islamic terrorists were responsible for Islamic terrorism. Business travellers were questioned. Friendships cooled. Children grew despondent. But now, with the opening of this new house of worship, the Muslim community can take pride in its heritage and message, and can educate the public, dispelling the climate of fear and the proverbial "misconceptions" about Islam.

At this point, it's always good to remember Jamie Glazov's maxim: Islam is what Islam does. The main interviewee in the AJC article is originally from Pakistan. So, let's reverse the scenario. Imagine a big Christian church being built in, say, Hyderabad, with its congregation proudly declaring their intention to reach out to the Muslim majority. What would happen? Oh, you're so right!

Look at what life is like for Christians in countries where Islam rules. Look at what life is like for Muslims in America. And look at what life is like for everybody in countries where the tipping point is approaching. So congratulations on the new mosque, folks. Enjoy it in good health. It's a free country, after all...

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Monday, January 15, 2007

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day

MLK is far along the path of becoming, like Mahatma Gandhi, a simple plastic dashboard saint in the popular conception. This is a shame, because the more removed from the common run of humanity he gets in the public mind, the harder it is to convince people that they too can accomplish extraordinary things--if they set their efforts towards truth and justice. Dr. King was a fallible man infused with a noble vision, and he followed it, to the immeasurable betterment of all of us. That's possible for anyone, in some measure or other.

As for the civil rights movement, it's over, and has been for years. The ills of black America today are not civil rights issues. There is no unjust law on the books anywhere in the U. S., the removal of which will raise the life prospects of a black child born today. One hundred years ago, the fledgling NAACP was writing furious letters to Southern governors, demanding investigations into rampant lynchings. Today, the descendants of those heros complain about something they call unconscious racism. I can't even stomach much of what passes for the modern civil rights leadership' commemoration of MLK anymore, in fact. Listening to those shakedown artists laud that hero is like listening to a pack of the more predatory TV evangelists hosting an appreciation of John Wesley.

So enjoy the holiday. Hit the lake, go to the mall, whatever. Just don't forget how very different things used to be, how much better they are now, and who's responsible.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Islam on the calendar

I've seen Canadian holidays on the calendar for forever. A few years ago, I noticed that my new day-planners had Mexican holidays on them. And this year is the first I've seen, in which Muslim holidays are marked.

Why yes, I'm ambivalent about that. How did you guess?

Making yourself dispensible

I'm listening this week to an audiotape of C. S. Lewis reading his book The Four Loves. It's the only commercially available recording of him reading his own work, btw. I've been enjoying both his rich, plummy accent, on top of the pithy insights he delivers on Affection, Friendship, Eros, and Charity. And I in fact expected these pleasures, when with relish I popped the first cassette in the player during my commute.

What I didn't expect was to be pinked with the poignard of regret over family troubles from the past. In the first chapter, Lewis discusses how Affection can become selfish and deaf to The Other. Not being made in Person A's image, Person B may well resent unwanted, infantilizing shows (and demands) of affection and devotion. The resulting withdrawal and possible rift is bitterly resented by A, who concludes that B is unloving. B can scarcely answer, of course, which only deepens the resentment.

This isn't a diary blog, so I'll just say that I spent a lot of years being B, and unfortunately do not always catch myself when I lapse into the role of A. Are you familiar with the experience, when some inchoate emotion of yours snaps into focus, when someone else describes it better and more clearly than you could? Hearing those passages in that fifty-year-old recording was one of those.

*sigh*...Thanks Clive, I guess.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Smarting With Illusions

For many liberals, there simply is no such thing and never was such a thing as a communist. These alleged "communists" were simply liberals in a hurry, or they were innocent victims of McCarthyist witchhunts. Even after all these years, after it's been proven that the liberals in a hurry were really stalinist stooges, and the blacklisted artists were in fact out and out traitors, there's still some spiritual boundary that liberals seemingly dare not transgress, to call someone a communist.

In the early years of the end of the Cold War, some eastern European countries took formal steps to call their former communist masters to account. Czechoslovakia was probably the model for this swift and just societal purgative (though it is a shame the country broke up along ethnic lines). There was a book, which unfortunately I don't remember the title of, which recounted the case of a Czech human rights activist whose own husband spied on her for the security forces. Westerners simply do not comprehend the extent to which the communist evil insinuated itself into people's ordinary lives. Nor do they comprehend the heroism of the Polish Catholic church in resisting High Stalinism, and the later, subtler (by comparison) blandishments of Stalin's successors. The de-sovietization process is still going on in some countries, including Poland, speeded or slowed as passing political winds dictate.

So here is a story of the new Archbishop of Warsaw, Stanislaw Wielgus, forced to resign, because allegations of collaboration with the communist government seem to be sticking. Even NPR and the New York Times reported it straight, the Times going so far as to mention the Rev. Jerzy Popieluszko, murdered by the secret police in the 1980s. (I still remember the astonishment of the spooks when they were convicted and sentenced, some time later.) However, for TIME magazine, it's...drumroll...McCarthyism. An Archbishop Falls to a Witchhunt, is their headline. The article, co-reported by, click, click yep, Jeff Israely, sees instead the sinister hand of gasp right-wing political parties. As someone once said, "right-wing" is simply the news media's way of whapping the reader on the nose with a rolled-up newpaper and saying "bad dog!". No mention of Popieluszko. And as for Pope John Paul the Great's heroism against communism, there's this: "The late pontiff, while a strident anti-communist,..." Now tell me, dear visitor: have you ever seen the press say...oh, you know the comparison that's always made in these cases. Just see for yourself!

TIME had bugged out of the Cold War a decade before it ended, roughly at the the start of The Dread Ron's administration. By the end, they were really, reeeally mortified to be represented in the world by The Gipper. If they don't "get" communism by now, they never will. So, here's hoping that Pope B16's staff does a better job vetting the next Warsaw archbishop.

Van Halen inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

If any proves that the spirit of the Sixties is dead, it's the famously acrimonious career of Van Halen. Guitarist Edward Van Halen is so impossible to get along with anymore that he would probably sling himself out of the band, if he could split in two.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

David Petraeus returns to Iraq

Blackfive gathers some initial reactions.

If any passersby are unfamiliar with Petraeus, I recommend Rick Atkinson's book, In The Company Of Soldiers. (Which, *koff* I reviewed on my amazon page) He, along with the other commanders of the 101 Airborne during the invasion of Iraq are acutely and sympathetically portrayed therein.

I hope it works. He's a splendid soldier, and if we fail in Iraq it won't be because we're not sending our best.

Vatican edition of Oscar Wilde quotes!

Oscar Wilde, poet, playwright, gay icon and deathbed convert to Catholicism, has been paid a rare tribute by the Vatican. His aphorisms are quoted in a collection of maxims and witticisms for Christians that has been published by one of the Pope’s closest aides. [...]
Father Sapienza said that he wanted to “stimulate a reawakening in certain Catholic circles”. Christianity was intended to be a radical cure, not a humdrum remedy for the common cold: “Our role is to be a thorn in the flesh, to move people’s consciences and to tackle what today is the No 1 enemy of religion — indifference.” [...]
[Wilde] displayed a long fascination with Catholicism, once remarking: “I am not a Catholic — I am simply a violent Papist.” He was born in Dublin to a Protestant family but fell under the spell of Catholicism at Oxford. He even made a journey for an audience with the Pope, but declared: “To go over to Rome would be to sacrifice and give up my two great Gods: Money and Ambition.” The way for Wilde’s rehabilitation was paved six years ago by a Jesuit theologian, Father Antonio Spadaro. On the centenary of Wilde’s death, he raised eyebrows by praising the “understanding of God’s love” that had followed Wilde’s imprisonment in Reading.
-- "Vatican comes out of the closet and embraces Oscar", The Times, Jan. 5, 2007

B-b-but-but...aren't Catholics supposed to hate gays? Aren't Catholics supposed to be closed-minded and incurious and unappreciative of worldly wit? Hmmm. Maybe the nuanced-base community hasn't been leveling with me about Catholics, after all...

Friday, January 05, 2007

Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, RIP

Conservative thinker and professor at nearby Emory University Elizabeth Fox-Genovese died a couple of days ago, I just learned via Jody Bottum. I once received a letter from her husband, ex-marxoid Eugene Genovese, back in the days when I was in the habit of pestering intellectual celebrities with correspondence.

There's been next to no coverage of her passing in the press. A notice in the local Atlanta paper, something in the Chronicle of Higher Education, several National Review comments, and a sporting encomium at Huffington Post. A quick check of the blogs and yep: too many farewells to surf at once. The blogosphere to the rescue again.

Have a quote:

Feminists expect children to fit into the nooks and crannies of women's lives the way women have traditionally fitted into the nooks and crannies of men's. But when motherhood is demoted from the center of women's lives to a parenthesis, children are demoted as well. The real struggle is not between women and men, but between children and work. The real losers in these conflicts are children.

Saddam's execution and the Catholic Church

It's an enduring dilemma: The Catholic Church opposes capital punishment, while the conservative Catholic journal First Things supports it. Here is Villanova professor Roger T. Miller navigating the shoals, respectfully disagreeing with Fr. Frederico Lombardi, S.J., the director of the Vatican Press Office over Saddam's end.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

2006 Indian religious riots in review

En route to looking up something else, I found this Indian Muslim website, which has a quite detailed and seemingly objective account of India's religious and communal riots for the past year. According to the site, it was a pretty mild year, all things considered. That's not to say that what actually happened wasn't appalling enough, of course. In addition to the bloodletting itself, there were archaeological atrocities like this:

Baroda, communally highly inflammable place since early eighties, once again was in flames on May 1st when a three hundred year old dargah of Chishti Rashiduddin was demolished by Vadodara Municipal Corporation which sparked riots in which 4 persons were killed and more than 12 were injured in police firing. Two of the dead had bullet injuries while other two were stabbed. It was demolished as an ‘illegal structure’. How can a three hundred year old dargah be declared as illegal?

A dargah is a shrine over a gravesite, and Chishti refers to an order of Sufism. Just awful. I felt the same way when Iraqi Sunni extremists blew up the Shia shrine in Samarra, and earlier when the Saudis knocked down an Ottoman castle in Mecca, to make way for a hotel.

No massive death toll in Mecca pilgrimage this year

For once, the Saudis have been shamed into protecting the pilgrims who perform the hajj. In recent years, there have been triple-digit trampling deaths, all apathetically chalked up to the Will Of Allah. It's not so bad this year. This year, so far, only a few have died, mostly it seems from exposure. So, congratulations to the Saudi authorities, this time, for successfully managing the part worship service, part windsprint, and part camping trip that is the Islamic hajj.

What are you optimistic about for 2007?

Over at the big-think site, the question of the moment they are posing to their stellar contributors is, What are you optimistic about? The clickable links to all 160 responses are there, as well as links to newspaper articles about the query. The predictions range from the eternally nonsensical: no religion (Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins), no war (John Hogan) to hot anticipation of forthcoming scientific discovery (Maria Spiropulu's and CERN's big new particle accelerator), to progress against simplistic 'monocausalitis' (Ernst Pöppel).

This being a collection of Really Smart People, the hopes tend to be more for liberal goals and outcomes. Concern about global warming was present in most every entry I looked at, which admittedly is statistically insignificant. I do intend to go through it all, though.

The hopes voiced that religion will f-f-f-fade away in the coming year strike me as especially wrong-headed, even for intellectuals. It reminded me of this article about Sam Harris, earlier last year:

I want to talk to [Sam] Harris about emotion, about politics, about his conviction that the days of civilization are numbered unless we renounce irrational belief. Given the way things are going, I want to know if he is depressed. Is he preparing for the end?

He is not. "Look at slavery," he says. We are at a beautiful restaurant in Santa Monica, near the public lots from which Americans -- nearly 80 percent of whom believe the Bible is the true word of God, if polls are correct -- walk happily down to the beach in various states of undress. "People used to think," Harris says, "that slavery was morally acceptable. The most intelligent, sophisticated people used to accept that you could kidnap whole families, force them to work for you, and sell their children. That looks ridiculous to us today. We're going to look back and be amazed that we approached this asymptote of destructive capacity while allowing ourselves to be balkanized by fantasy. What seems quixotic is quixotic -- on this side of a radical change. From the other side, you can't believe it didn't happen earlier. At some point, there is going to be enough pressure that it is just going to be too embarrassing to believe in God."

Suddenly I notice in myself a protective feeling toward Harris. Here is a man who believes that a great global change, perhaps the most important cultural change in the history of humanity, will occur out of sheer intellectual embarrassment.

A mild surprise is the presence of art-rock auteur and famed record producer Brian Eno among the savants. In the course of talking about the prospects of tackling global warming on the macro level, he hopes for a big government, "wise men" approach: "The future may be a bit more like Sweden and a bit less like America." Guess he hasn't heard that Sweden is well on the way to becoming more like rural Pakistan.

So, to round off, what are you optimistic about? Me, I'm optimistic that I'll rebuild some personal bridges, and move into a better school district. Those are the major things that I have any direct effect on.