Thursday, September 27, 2007

[sneer quote]Foreign Bad Guy On Campus[/sneerquote]

Professor Richard W. Bulliet's article drawing parallels between Fidel Castro's visit to Harvard University in 1959 and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to Columbia U. this week is depressing. The watchword throughout seems to be épater les bourgeois. Where has the man been these past fifty years? Castro's long, bloody rule is almost entirely in the books by now. Yet such is the totalitarian temptation among academics, and such is the pull of youthful nostalgia, that the only image Prof. Bulliet can summon is the excitement-charged crowd being harangued by El Jefe from the balcony of the Field House. With great difficulty, academics can be gotten to admit that yes, Castro eliminated thousands of people. And yes, many were innocent, even through the political lenses of progressives. And no, all those refugees who've been fleeing to Miami for the last half-century can't all be evil kulak oppressors. But, but, but....

But the dream of a better world, coupled with a superior dissatisfaction with the humdrum here-and-now, minus a developed sense of compassion for real people (as opposed to The People), just seems to dissolve progressives' sense of perspective. An example from not too long ago:

The advantages of the "left" regimes and movements in the eyes of the world media have...not disappeared. They do not have to pursue "left" policies so much as to adopt "left" stances. Anthony Howard, then editor of the left-wing _New Statesman_, once pointed out that if Huey Long had only used left-wing phraseology he would have enjoyed wide support from the New York and London intelligentsia.
-- Robert Conquest, Reflections on a Ravaged Century, 2000

Being flattered is like being drunk: we never think we are least so, as when we are most so. Castro has a long record of playing norteamericano sophisticates like a pawnshop Gibson in a Pete Townshend impersonation contest. Count Professor Bulliet among the duped, and pray for the sake of the next generation of students, if Ahmadinejad's charm is as seductive to progressives as Castro's was.

Also: HA!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Ken Burns' "The War"

So I watched the first hour, then turned it off to bundle the kiddiwinks into bed, and didn't really feel like turning it back on. All I could think about was, it's a Ken Burns® film.

In the course of sighing over another PBS doco some years back, Michael of 2Blowhards blog had this to say:
Over the years, I've taped a bunch of PBS shows on good topics, and there on the shelf the tapes still sit. I'd love to know more about their subject matter, but I know in advance what the shows are going to deliver: yet more mournful piano and guitar music, yet more shots of sunsets and water, yet more sepia photographs, and yet more earnest academics denouncing racism -- more brain-dead hours in someone else's church.

Burns' work is snappier than that, I admit. In his film The Civil War, he was limited to panning into, out from, or across old photos, so that when the moving footage of the reunions appeared toward the end it had quite an impact. With this war, he can splice the endless supply of footage into whatever collage his vision desires. The visual points of emphasis, the cinematic exclamation points, are just what you'd expect, if you're familiar with his work.

Thing is, I don't see what supposed to be so new and different about it. I've been listening to Burns on NPR's chat shows this past week, giving his the-making-of interviews to the hosts on Weekend Edition and such. He makes much of the democratic aspect of the film--it isn't going to be just some grand biopic of famous generals and politicians. Plus, it's going to show the war's real gore and grue, which nostalgia has bleached out of nation's memory.

Eh? Has anyone ever seen a WWII documentary, at least since the fortieth anniversaries, which didn't have crusty old vets and gracious old ladies, reminiscing about how it was in the long, long ago? And has everyone forgotten that documentary that one of the broadcast networks aired for the sixtieth anniversaries, with all the unedited battle film clips? (If you didn't, suffice it to say that death by flame-thrower is not instantaneous.) Other than Burns' trademark black title boards and his innovative framing of still photos, I just didn't see what was supposed to be so different about this one.

But, if it's time to dust off the oft-told tale of The Greatest Generation yet again for a new crop of young people, then all this can be ignored, and they can watch it and be duly edified. As only PBS can edify, if you believe them.

Addendum: If you think you might not be able to go the distance on "The War", here's an overlooked gem of a song that will make the same points for you, in much less time. The faux-period jazz that Wynton Marsalis composed for The War is pretty cool, but this would have been a perfect backdrop against which to roll the credits.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visiting Ground Zero is like Mussolini visiting the City Of London after the Blitz.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Talk like a pirate day? Humbug!

I prefer to celebrate Don't Do Anything Like A Pirate Day, myself.

Senate fails to pass stealth troop withdrawal legislation

Let it not go unnoticed that ever since 9/11 the Dems' response to The Jihad has been 100% poll driven. Bush's efforts have been more dogged than deft, but no one can claim he's been at this for popularity's sake. A politician acts with an eye on the next election, a statesman acts with an eye on the next generation. Six years after 9/11, I haven't been attacked, but thousands of terrorists have. Thanks, Mr. President.

O.J. Simpson--I can't resist...

If he's acquited of these charges, will he declare that he's going to search for the real kidnappers?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

First Things is still shackled to the Intelligent Design scow

It is curious to note the old sea-margins of human thought. Each subsiding century reveals some new mystery; we build where monsters used to hide.
-- Longfellow

This article, God and Evolution, on faith and reason by Avery Cardinal Dulles sadly includes this howler:

An important school of scientists supports a theory known as Intelligent Design. Michael Behe, a professor at Lehigh University, contends that certain organs of living beings are “irreducibly complex.” Their formation could not take place by small random mutations, because something that had only some but not all the features of the new organ would have no reason for existence and no advantage for survival. It would make no sense, for example, for the pupil of the eye to evolve if there were no retina to accompany it, and it would be nonsensical for there to be a retina with no pupil. As a showcase example of a complex organ all of whose parts are interdependent, Behe proposes the bacterial flagellum, a marvelous swimming device used by some bacteria.

The august Cardinal surely knows better. Intelligent design has been disproven in every jot and tittle, a hundred-fold over. Even the editors of First Things were chastened, for awhile last year, to back down and pronounce it more metaphysical than scientific.

The Cardinal has simply been outpaced by developments. As the genes of living creatures unspool under the gaze of geneticists and their ever-advancing techniques of understanding, many mysterious things are no longer quite so mysterious. Very simple mutations can give rise to quite striking morphological differences. As for the irreducible complexity of the eye, he should be embarrassed to bring out such a weary old fallacy. Suffice it here to say that the eye is found in all levels of sophistication and precision throughout nature, and that human eyes are not even the best there are. And once again Intelligent Design is presented as a real opposing theory in the arena of ideas, rather than the rabble of flat-earthers it is, trying to shout down real scientists trying to do their work.

Then there's this:

Much of the scientific community seems to be fiercely opposed to any theory that would bring God actively into the process of evolution,[...] Several centuries ago, a group of philosophers known as Deists held the theory that God had created the universe and ceased at that point to have any further influence. Most Christians firmly disagreed, holding that God continues to act in history. In the course of centuries, he gave revelations to his prophets; he worked miracles; he sent his own Son to become a man; he raised Jesus from the dead. If God is so active in the supernatural order, producing effects that are publicly observable, it is difficult to rule out on principle all interventions in the process of evolution. Why should God be capable of creating the world from nothing but incapable of acting within the world he has made? The tendency today is to say that creation was not complete at the origins of the universe but continues as the universe develops in complexity.

Funny, I don't feel Deist...Seriously, anyone can see the problem with this. If we admit the supernatural as an agent in the natural world, then out the window goes science itself. Because of course God could intervene however He wished, and He would not be constrained by any natural laws, and thus could not be predicted by any scientific experiment or theory. That way lies intellectual stagnation and fatalism. For example:

...our opponent claims that the agent of the burning is the fire exclusively;’ this is a natural, not a voluntary agent, and cannot abstain from what is in its nature when it is brought into contact with a receptive substratum. This we deny, saying: The agent of the burning is God, through His creating the black in the cotton and the disconnexion of its parts, and it is God who made the cotton burn and made it ashes either through the intermediation of angels or without intermediation. For fire is a dead body which has no action, and what is the proof that it is the agent? Indeed, the philosophers have no other proof than the observation of the occurrence of the burning, when there is contact with fire, but observation proves only a simultaneity, not a causation, and, in reality, there is no other cause but God.

That's the medieval Muslim philosopher al-Ghazali, credited with killing off whatever scientific spirit the Islamic world ever may have had. With no reason to investigate, since everything is determined by the Creator, there is nothing to do except switch off your mind, marvel at the panoply of nature, and prostrate yourself before The Infinite.

We certainly need to have a robust element of reason in our daily faith. I only wish I were more familiar with the riches of the Thomist heritage. Maybe I'll dig into it when I retire. And we must of course be wary of another onslaught of atheistic scientism, as happened in the first third of the previous century. But atheistic scientism is not science, and it is hardly a Christian attitude to misrepresent it as such.

No Farking around with kids!

My children are getting old enough so that I've got to be careful what I have on the computer screen when they're in the room. I was on just now, and my young daughter saw the word "dumbass" onscreen. "Ooh!" she exclaimed. I quickly minimized the screen. "Shoo!" She paused to explain, "If you take off the letters A-S-S it spells "dumb" and that's a bad word to call somebody!"


Saturday, September 15, 2007

Man struck by lightning becomes pretty good pianist

If you have

*a piano
*a child who won't practice
*jumper cables

then you probably shouldn't read this.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

President Bush's address on Iraq

An isolated impression:

Note Bush's insistence on "flexibility" for his commanders. TIME magazine's Joe Klein says that Bush is hiding behind General Petraeus, but a comparison with Vietnam is helpful here. One of the reasons that U.S. bombing of North Vietnam was ultimately unfruitful was because it was so predictable. And one of the reasons that it was so predictable was that, during Lyndon Johnson's administration, the flight plans of the bombers were drawn up by the President himself. Dates, times, courses, everything. According to people who were there at the time, the rigidity of these telegraphed blows resulted in quite a lot of American deaths. (Not that proggy "world citizens" would give a post-pee shake about that, but that's another rant.) Kudos to Bush for avoiding that particular trap.

New Zealand pol bagged by "dihydrogen monoxide" hoax

How long has the "ban dihydrogen monoxide" campaign been around, anyway? I remember its predecessor, back in the late 70s. Someone's syndicated newspaper column asserted that water would surely never be approved for sale in this country, if it were put on the market today, because the swarming panic lobbyists (in Tim Blair's phrase) would never abide water's many hazards.

Yet here is this New Zealand MP apparently falling for the hoary old gag. I guess it's a good sign, that she has a life too full and busy to bother keeping up with internet pranks. But, I hope she's not on any science committees in the kiwi parliament!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Memo to self: don't forget to live!

But it is better to be a fool than to be dead. It is better to emit a scream in the shape of a theory than to be entirely insensible to the jars and incongruities of life and take everything as it comes in a forlorn stupidity. Some people swallow the universe like a pill; they travel on through the world, like smiling images pushed from behind. For God's sake give me the young man who has brains enough to make a fool of himself! As for the others, the irony of facts shall take it out of their hands, and make fools of them in downright earnest, ere the farce be over. There shall be such a mopping and a mowing at the last day, and such blushing and confusion of countenance for all those who have been wise in their own esteem, and have not learnt the rough lessons that youth hands on to age. If we are indeed here to perfect and complete our own natures, and grow larger, stronger, and more sympathetic against some nobler career in the future, we had all best bestir ourselves to the utmost while we have the time. To equip a dull, respectable person with wings would be but to make a parody of an angel.
-- Robert Louis Stevenson, Virginibus Puerisque, 1881

There's many a current self-help guru who'd give their time-share condo to be able to write like that!

The hospitality of the Deobandis

Via Family Security Matters comes this affront to multi-cultism in The Times of London: "Hardline takeover of British mosques"

It concerns the proliferation and entrenchment in Britain of the fundamentalist Deobandi branch of Islam, named after the north Indian city of Deoband where the sect is based. Pull quote:

A commentator on religious radicalism in Pakistan, where Deobandis wield significant political influence, told The Times that "blind ignorance" on the part of the Government in Britain had allowed the Deobandis to become the dominant voice of Islam in Britain's mosques.

Khaled Ahmed said: "The UK has been ruined by the puritanism of the Deobandis. You've allowed the takeover of the mosques. You can't run multiculturalism like that, because that's a way of destroying yourself. In Britain, the Deobandi message has become even more extreme than it is in Pakistan. It's mind-boggling."

Alarming stuff, however depressingly familiar it may be by now. However, the story reminded me of this anecdote, which was the fist I'd heard of the Deobandis, by name at least:

I had not realized it was possible. But the mullahs of Deoband, the center of Islamic orthodoxy in south Asia, had managed to circumvent a fatwa[...]out of courtesy to me. They did it so that I could drink a cup of coffee. I was visiting Dar-ul-Uloom--the House of Knowledge--a large Islamic school in the town of Deoband, about ninety miles north of New Delhi. [...] I was sitting on the ground in the study of Maulana (an honorific given to learned Muslim men) Abdul Khalik Madrasi, vice-chancellor of Deoband, with a group of his students [in October 2001...]

The burly Maulana, whose beard almost reached down to his rotund belly, then asked if I wanted a refreshment. I said I would like a Nescafe, which is the only kind of coffee usually available in north India outside the cities. "No, no," he said sternly. "We have issued a fatwa forbidding the faithful from buying any American or British products." I tried in vain to argue that I was not one of the faithful so the fatwa should not apply to me. They laughed it off. Then I tried and failed to convince them that Nescafe is owned by Nestle, which is a Swiss company. But they had either never heard of Switzerland or could not see the difference. In much of India the word *Angrezi*--English--simply means "foreign", or "Western". No, they said, wagging their fingers, as if they had caught me pulling a fast one, Nescafe is Angrezi.

Then something occured to the Maulana, who was a member of the committee that issues Deobandi fatwas. "I have thought of a legitimate loophole," the Maulana announced with a smile. "The fatwa applies only to products bought after September 11. Does anyone here possess Nescafe that is older?" A student raised his hand. The mildewed sachet of instant coffee that he fetched from his room considerably predated 9/11. It was one of the most satisfying coffees I have ever had.
-- Edward Luce, In Spite of the Gods: The Strange Rise of
Modern India, 2007

Cute, eh? In a creepy sort of way? So maybe I do have a suitable 9/11 anniversary post, after all. Maybe the common courtesies, which Near Easterners have historically been so famous for, will have some hand in bringing about peace. Wouldn't bet my kids' futures on it, but wouldn't it be...sweet?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

9/11 Anniversary Post

Sorry, not up to it. I remember it like it was this morning, and I'm still furious; it's just that I don't have anything different to say than I've said in years past. But, if you haven't found a good anniversary post yet and are hankering for one, try this one at Blonde Sagacity. It's a repeat post, she says, but that's okay. We're still close enough in time to the event to have the same emotions as in earlier years. That creeping seducer, "Perspective", can wait until the big, even anniversaries roll around--for those who weren't here on 9/11.

Israel air strike in Syria

According to CNN, there really was an Israeli air strike inside Syria. Likely target: a delivery of weapons for noted Islamic charity Hezbollah. Guess the IAF thought they'd save the UN the trouble and expense of interdicting those weapons, before they got deployed under the peacekeepers' noses in south Lebanon.

Wish we could do the same about the flow of jihadists infiltrating Iraq on Syria's other border.

The Petraeus Report

The Petraeus Report, replete with maps, bar graphs, and other PowerPoint accoutrements, is here.

Monday, September 10, 2007

On the recent spate of combative atheist books attacking religion

Via Patrick Kurp, I find this excerpt from this Theodore Dalrymple piece: How To Hate The Non-Existent

Perhaps one of the reasons that contemporary secularists do not simply reject religion but hate it is that they know that, while they can easily rise to the levels of hatred that religion has sometimes encouraged, they will always find it difficult to rise to the levels of love that it has sometimes encouraged.

I haven't sat down with Dennett, Hitchens, and Sam Harris, and probably won't save possibly for Hitchens, but I wonder how closely this fits any of them. It's gratifying to think of oneself as a lonely, even desperate voice of reason, trapped in a world of mindless pod people. Maybe it takes a conscious effort, some learned life skill, to not turn into the stereotypical "village atheist", and instead just take one's own rather unique but hardly unheard of place in the larger society. Yet something has set off the hardline atheist intelligentsia these past few years, as the flood of new, hard-hitting books attests. What could it be? 9/11? Advances in science? The Bush administration and its talk of "faith-based initiatives"? Do they sense an opening for a fresh offensive, or do they feel they are holding a line? Whatever, these new books may mark (or announce) the beginning of a pervasive anti-religious tone in educated society, the like of which we haven't seen since Voltaire.

However it may play out, there's one thing that's for sure:

We can keep from a child all knowledge of earlier myths, but we cannot take from him the need for mythology.
--Carl Jung, 1912

Well, here's one way of boosting your blog's traffic!

Live to age 95! Congratulations to the senora on her advanced years, and her popular blog.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Appropriate technology

Via Reynolds, I read this article by Megan McArdle about a bizarre new form of assuaging one's eco-conscience: Turning the locals into human gerbils, during your adventure tour.

The bit about the treadle pump reminds me of something I heard long ago, during a visit to the Southern Institute for Appropriate Technology. Seems that there was once an idea to help some village mechanize their agriculture without bringing in expensive, high-maintenance First World machinery. So they rigged up a contraption whereby the villagers could grind their grain with millstones connected to bicycles. But, the initiative failed, due to cultural ignorance. In their society, only women ground grain, and only men rode bikes. This was supposed to be the classic example of well-meaning NGO ignorance, I was told.

Update: Welcome, to readers of Andrea Harris! Be sure to click back, if you didn't come there, and catch her funny post there. It reminded me of one time in south Georgia, strolling around a neighborhood with some suburban kids from Michigan, down South for a mission trip. They looked at the laundry on the lines, and I heard one kid say, "How do the clothes get dry hanging out here?

Inhaling popcorn fumes

Microwave popcorn fans worried about the potential for lung disease from butter flavoring fumes should know this: The sole reported case of the disease in a non-factory worker involves a man who popped the corn every day and inhaled from the bag.

"He really liked microwave popcorn. He made two or three bags every day for 10 years," said William Allstetter, a spokesman for National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver where the man's respiratory illness was diagnosed.

"He told us he liked the smell of popcorn, so he would open and inhale from freshly popped bags," Allstetter said. And the patient said he did this for a decade.

Solution's obvious: Throw lots of money at panic lobbyists and grievance shriekers, in Tim Blair's phrasing, and deny non-idiots everywhere yet another simple pleasure of life.

Random Rock Bloggage

I find myself tuning out talk radio, as the presidential election gathers steam. Many of the hosts are still insightful and entertaining, but others are just pure and simple shills. Or worse, wanna-be kingmakers. Once I know the topic they are parsing, I generally know what they and their callers are going to say. I don't mind a good discussion, but I find myself having less and less patience for listening to like-minded people gather together and spraymark. And no, I am not "growing" in my political beliefs. I had even less tolerance for Air America, in the months that it was on the air here, for the same reasons.

The only AM station I can listen to for any length of time anymore is 1690, The Voice Of The Arts. Quite a lot of variety. They never take my requests, same as the other stations in the area, but with them I don't mind, since I always hear something new and interesting most every day.

I can't listen to the lone remaining classic rock station, 97.1, anymore. I'm sorry to say that I've heard as much top-40 classic rock as I need to ever again. I'll switch over to it, hear one chord, one note, even one drum tap, immediately recall the entire song, and then switch away. The former 96 Rock's playlist of nu-metal and 90s rock is just one long expectoration. I pity the millennium generation, who have that dreck as the soundtrack of their teen years. And Dave-FM always seems to promise a lot but never quite delivers. Just a lot of tuneless strumming, to my ears. I'm too old, probably. I'd much rather listen to Artie Shaw blowing the doors down, or Frank Sinatra moaning into his whisky sour, than anything from my own past, nowadays.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Happy Labor Day

And my sympathies if you are in fact a member of the labor force, and therefore have to work on this holiday. Sometimes I think they should just rename all the holidays, "Banks and Post Office Holiday No 1, Banks and Post Office Holiday No 2, Banks and Post Office Holiday No 3," etc.

Lebanese army roots out Palestinian terrorists

Nice shootin', Tex! As you may remember, I don't tend to get all moist and sniffly over these, the Western Left's mascots.

Update: But it isn't over yet.

Nahr Al-Bared, Lebanon - Lebanese military helicopters flew low Monday over the smoking ruins of this Palestinian refugee camp as soldiers scoured the nearby countryside for remnants of the Al Qaeda-inspired group whose three-month battle against the Army ended Sunday.

Fatah al-Islam, which violently burst onto Lebanon's turbulent political scene, triggered the worst internal violence since the 1975-19 civil war. But even though its leader, Shaker al-Absi, is dead and almost all his militants killed or captured, many Lebanese worry that it's just a matter of time before Sunni jihadi violence erupts again.

A weak central government, ill-equipped and factionalized security services, extremist Islamic groups in Palestinian camps, and the tempting target of European-led United Nations peacekeepers in the south make Lebanon a potentially attractive base for operations, analysts say.

Now is the time for the state of Lebanon to finally firm up and spit this slithering filth out.