Sunday, December 31, 2006

Like father like daughter...

It's always interesting to me how in some ways we can be determined to be so different than our parents, while at other times, no matter what happens, we can remain exactly the same as our parents.
Take, for example, "Daddy's little girl" Raghad:

Dictator's daughter told her father would hang as she enjoyed beauty salon

She was relaxing in the Dazzle beauty salon awaiting a hot stone body scrub when she got the call.

There was much arm-waving, cursing and shrieking. But as a member of staff noted when she recounted the story to another customer, this kind of behaviour from Raghad is hardly unusual.
In the beauty salon, and elsewhere in the Jordanian capital Amman, the 39-year-old mother of five, who is nicknamed "Little Saddam' because her temperament so closely resembles that of her father, is much-feared.
And like her father during his brutal reign, she is used to getting her own way, although unlike him she has relied on nothing sharper than her tongue.
Number 16 on the Iraqi government's most wanted list, Raghad took charge of family affairs after the capture of the dictator, assembling the international team of lawyers to defend him.
On the death of her brothers Uday and Qusay, killed by US troops in July 2003, Raghad and her sister Rana fled Iraq for neighbouring Jordan where, protected by paramilitary police officers, they are guests of the royal family.
It is not clear how much of her father's money Raghad escaped with, although if the stories about his ex-wives fleeing with millions in cash and gold bars are to be believed, she is unlikely to have been neglected.
Given her father's notoriety, one might expect Raghad to lead an anonymous, if not a humble, life in exile, especially as her mother Sajida and Saddam's three other wives all but disappeared without trace following the fall of Baghdad and are said to live under assumed names.
But Raghad, not one to shrink from the public gaze, went on TV on more than one occasion, at least in the months immediately after her father's capture, to defend him.
Of his arrest, she said: "Saddam was tranquillised when captured. He would be a lion even when caged. Every honest person who knows Saddam knows that he is firm and powerful."
To the annoyance of Jordanians, Raghad enjoys a conspicuously extravagant lifestyle in Amman, largely funded, it is claimed, by her hosts.
Driven wherever she pleases by bodyguards, she has an almost comical appetite for designer clothes and accessories and shops with a gusto that would earn approval from the high-spending wives and girlfriends of England's footballers.
"She buys shoes by the sack load," said a woman close to Raghad's tight circle of friends.


Raghad is said to have a penchant for Gucci handbags and £400 Sergio Rossi boots and pays for them - or rather, her personal assistant pays for them - with a thick wad of crisp US dollars.
It is perhaps not surprising then that Raghad was pampering herself in a beauty salon rather than engaging in, say, a humanitarian act on behalf of her troubled people when she learned her father's fate last week.
If not out shopping she can often be found in Dazzle, or in the Iraqi-owned ladies' gym above it - Body Design - where she works out most mornings.
They are in Amman's upmarket district of Abdoun, an area populated predominantly by wealthy Iraqi exiles. Raghad, an avid Hello! reader, also has her hair styled three times a week and is said to have received cosmetic surgery - nose, breasts, bags under the eyes - at the Amman Surgical Hospital.
...
What is more remarkable still is that it was Saddam who ordered the assassination of Raghad's husband, Hussein Kamel, after he disclosed Iraqi weapons secrets to MI5 and the CIA.
He was killed in 1996 after being persuaded to return to Iraq from Jordan, believing himself to have been pardoned.

When we say that someone is "heartless" or "soulless", it offers us a good opportunity to learn a little more about what it might mean to have a 'heart' or to have a 'soul', in that by learning from comparison, we can better see what is missing.
Does it seem that the lesson from this article, is that the more attuned to the merely physical and material, the more soulless one may find oneself becoming? That a necessary part of being human, is to connect to something (or someone) outside of ourselves, outside of our own flesh and blood shell? Part of this connection seems to involve seperating ourselves from the present as well, involving ourselves in both the past and the future; even though both are not in view, they must be invoked, else we fall prey too easily to the material side of life. If this mother of five ever spent five minutes thinking about all the other mothers who are now childless, thanks to her father's monstrous savagery, would she be so quick to spread out the banknotes on so many flashy shoes and fussy hair-dos? Instead, she's fixated on the present tense, seemingly to the point of obsession if she's spending so much time in beauty parlors and workout clubs, trying to preserve her temporary, youthful beauty.

For some reason I'm reminded of the ending of the film Saving Private Ryan, at the cemetary (spoiler warning), where the aged soldier starts crying at the thought of the lives sacrificed in order to save his, and he looks to his family for confirmation: "tell me I'm a good man". I wonder if Raghad is ever plagued by the slightest guilt, and whether that might account for some of her compulsive behavior, as she strives to elevate her body and "social position" to make up for the crater she feels in her heart at what has happened to get her where she now finds herself.

Fitting that fate finds Raghad at the beauty parlor, of all places, at the time of her sugar-daddy’s execution… her version of a holy place, dedicated as it is to the embellishment of the physical.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Covenant Zone Meeting: Blue Scarves for a clear horizon

Over the holidays I put together a short video tribute to our brave brothers and sisters in France, who meet and march in public as part of the "Révolution Bleue", the blue revolution. I've been very inspired by the courage of their actions; it's one thing to say and do such work here in North America, but far different to act as they do over in post-Christian western Europe, where their own governments are aligned against them.

For the last year, their courage to speak up and take a stand for liberty has inspired a hearty group of bloggers here in Vancouver, BC, to meet in public in order to preserve and perpetuate liberty on our own shores.

An ongoing curiosity to this alliance, and to the bond we feel with our camarades in France, is that our pursuit of universal liberty has been forged in an alliance of vastly different individuals. In some ways we have very little in common, beyond our belief in the value of western civilization, the blessings it has brought to our lives, and our desire to safeguard these achievements for generations to come.
One of the main incentives to meet with others has been this sharing of differences, born of unique experiences and individualized perspectives. Trying to discover that which is shared, and universal to our lives as men, and that which is unique, and unknown to others outside of ourselves... this is the meat and drink of reason, the gift human beings possess where other animals do not. These revelations are ongoing, as every week we learn something new about each other, but primarily, about ourselves, by having our lives compared to those others around us.

To advance towards this increase in understanding requires in turn, a fine balance of arrogance and humility. Arrogance, being necessary to all progress; for the conviction that we are worth advancing, that we are worth improving, must precede any attempt to actually improve. Its opposite, humilty, is needed in equal measure; for there must be a certainty that there remains room for growth, room for improvement... that we are all missing a piece that needs to be filled, and can be, with sufficient contact and comparison with others.
So much of life involves a reconciliation of these opposites, a veritable struggle between opposites. Struggle and conflict are not just part of life, they are a useful part of this life, and we ignore this truth at our peril. After all, you can't build muscles by lifting feathers.

France's blue revolution movement, hoping to re-energize France's belief in itself as a nation worth preserving, has its members sport blue scarves as a badge of recognition, blue to symbolize a cloudless sky, a clear horizon. It is not a promise for Heaven on Earth, as utopias are a fool's paradise; only a fool could believe conflict to be so perpetually absent from the life of man. Rather, the simple and humble blue scarf enables it that much easier to take a leap of faith, that all is not lost, we can go forward as assuredly as backward... that, like wearing the scarf itself, progress is a choice, a decision, a commitment, to believe in that which is worth believing in.
We get readers from all around the world who find their way to our little corner of the blogosphere. Why not start blue scarf meetings in your town, in your city, in your country, and see who shows up? Acting once makes it easier to keep acting. Acting on your beliefs makes it easier to keep believing in them. If you believe that liberty and progress are values worth preserving, why not resolve this year to act on those beliefs?

Our meeting, as ever, will be this thursday evening, 7:00 to 9:00 pm, in the Atrium at the Vancouver Public Library, wearing our blue scarves.
Where will you be?
We know where our colleagues in France will be: at the barricades.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Bye Bye Saddam

Some good news over the holidays, as we learned that former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein is to be sent to the gallows in 30 days… or is he?


Saddam's defense lawyers, who are based in Amman, Jordan, urged Arab governments and the United Nations to intervene to stop the execution.
"Otherwise, all may be participating in what is going on, either actually or due to their silence in face of the crimes, which are being committed in Iraq in the name of democracy," the lawyers said in an e-mail statement to The Associated Press.
The statement signed by "the Defense Committee for President Saddam Hussein" said the court's rejection of Saddam's appeal was part of the "continued shedding of pure Iraqi blood by the current regime in Iraq, which (is) directly connected with the American occupation."
An expert on war crimes speculated the sentence might be carried out very quickly.
"I won't be surprised if there's just an announcement in several days saying the sentence has been carried out. The ruling says the sentence has to be carried out within 30 days, but it doesn't say you need to wait," said Michael Scharf, a professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Law.
Human Rights Watch, which opposes the execution, said the law creating the Iraqi High Tribunal mandates that death sentences can never be commuted. However,
international law says that when a death sentence is given, there must be an opportunity for it to be commuted, the group said.


The real human rights watch, namely the troops serving in the US military, were asked to comment on the upcoming event:


BAGHDAD, Iraq - Some U.S. soldiers patrolling Baghdad's dangerous streets Wednesday cheered news of the execution order for, but others worried his trip to the gallows could spark a surge of insurgent attacks.

"It's great news," said Army Sgt. Danny Barrett, 25, of Denair, Calif., a soldier in Headquarters Company, 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment. "It's good for Iraq."
The appeals court said Saddam must hang within 30 days — something Pfc. Michael Petersen said he was not looking forward to.
"I think personally that things might get heated up around here then," said Petersen, a 22-year-old native of Pensacola, Fla., in the battalion's Company A. "There's still a lot of people who support him."
Another A Company soldier, Sgt. Stuart Fowler of Badger, Calif., hopes the execution weakens the insurgency by Saddam's fellow Sunni Arabs.
"As long as he's alive, there's still some power and people still rise up," said Fowler, 30. "Once the execution goes through, I think it will be a relief for a lot of Iraqis."


I can sympathize with the concerns over security that will blanket this upcoming execution, yet I think it’s important to set a date for the hanging, and stick to it. Mostly for saddam’s sake: I think it would carry the maximum amount of grief and stress for him, to be given the day, hour and minute that he will die, in a manner that he himself described as unworthy of a soldier.
(his preference is to be shot)
Staring at the ticking clock with dread, watching each sunset with the knowledge that it brings his grubby neck into that much closer contact with the hangman’s noose… what more fitting justice could there be, for such a monster as he, than inexorable justice?
A megalomaniac being confronted with the inevitability of his ultimate failure: that seems the perfect hell for him to suffer through.

Bye Bye saddam, and good riddance. May your lingering evil be cleansed by the spirit of renewal that struggles to win through in Iraq today.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Keeping faith in Iraq

Every day the news from Iraq contains grim stories such as this:
A suicide bomber detonated an explosive vest outside a police academy in central Baghdad Thursday, killing 13 in the latest brutal attack on Iraq's beleaguered security forces.
...
The attacker triggered his bomb amid a crowd of cadets arriving near the Iraqi police academy off Palestine Street in the heart of Baghdad, interior ministry operations chief Brigadier General Abdel Karim Khalaf said.
Medics at the city's Kindi hospital said that 10 people were killed on the spot and three more died later of their injuries. Another 12 people were wounded, a hospital official said.
...
"Sectarian violence is getting worse," Ambassador Mukhtar Lamani, the Arab League representative in Baghdad, said.
"According to our information, there were 250 political murders last week, including five tribal sheikhs who came to last week's reconciliation conference ... there are 200 armed groups, each with their own agenda," he added.
On Thursday, a car bomb and mortar attack killed four Iraqis in western Baghdad, including two women out shopping, a security source said.
In the volatile northern city of Kirkuk, a local police chief escaped an assassination attempt while gunmen shot dead a civilian in the same area.
...

In the wake of such dreadful news, it is hard to maintain an ongoing faith in the value of a continued presence in Iraq, and those who continue to believe the sacrifices to not have been in vain, must hold on to this belief in the teeth of a storm of protests from our fellow citizens. The socialists wail about the war's financial costs, attesting that we cannot climb out of such debt. Tribalists grind their fangs at the thought of good US men and women dying to save "others". Well-meaning folk wish that bad guys would just go away, as if evil could melt like winter snow. And cynical partisans use Iraq as a sick kind of chessboard, with the suffering Iraqi people reduced to mere pawns in a battle for political leverage back home.

Well, I still have faith in the Iraqi people, that they want for themselves what I wish they could have: liberty. I take as my evidence, that despite years of peril there were still cadets enrolling at the police academy. That sheikhs even attempted a reconciliation conference. That free citizens still try to shop in the marketplace. Even grim stories such as the one linked above, may contain seeds of hope, that sufficient Iraqis also believe in a universal liberty.

"The Iraqi masses are not ready for democracy", goes the cry. Who is, these days? Who among us are readily capable of the long-term vision, the mutual trust, the self-discipline, the spirit of self-sacrifice, acceptance of responsibility, and sense of teamwork, that must be heartfelt in order for democracy to succeed?
Fortunately for our side, our Iraqi brothers and sisters have the best teachers in the world at their disposal, from whom to learn these values: the United States military.

Those of us who are too old to enlist, can still find ways to serve, as every single one of us has a talent, skill, or trade whose weight can be added to the side of good in this fight.
This modest video, I hope, may be one such contribution.

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Religious Revival

Last night, we were talking about this sort of development:
In their book, Adjiedj Bakas, a professional trend-watcher, and Minne Buwalda, a journalist, argue that Holland is experiencing a fundamental shift in religious orientation: "Throughout Western Europe, and also in Holland, liberal Protestantism is in its death throes. It will be replaced by a new orthodoxy."
[...]
From both sets of figures, it seems clear that something of a high-water mark for secularization in Holland was set in the last decade. What is less clear is what is happening now and what happens next. If 40-50 percent of the population are Christian, yet only half of these are in traditional churches, Protestant or Catholic, what is going on with religion in Holland?

The reason the Christian population of Holland has stopped shrinking and is likely to avoid further decline is a phenomenon that until now has been largely overlooked by commentators on Dutch politics and society: Christian immigration. Analysts usually focus on the one million Muslim immigrants and their offspring who have made the Netherlands their home since the early 1950s. But in the past decade, Muslim immigration has been overtaken by a larger stream of immigrants, namely Christians from Africa, Asia, the Americas, and Europe. An SCP estimate puts the number of Christian immigrants in Holland at around 700,000-- and rising fast. Recent immigration reports suggest that for every new Muslim moving to Holland, there are at least two new Christian immigrants.
[...]
For better or for worse, Dutch Christianity is now largely an underground phenomenon. If an average Dutchman has any picture of Christianity, it is of empty pews and derelict church buildings. Dutch Christians have increasingly withdrawn from the public sphere, either voluntarily--as in the case of the house churches and the youth church movement--or because they lack the confidence to speak publicly about their faith to an unbelieving audience. If they do enter the public sphere, as in the case of the Alpha course, they do so under a neutered, de-Christianized guise: not imposing their views, merely inviting people to come along, have a meal, and ask any questions they like. They may be successful, but a city upon a hill they are not--more like a city in wartime, its lights hidden behind thick dark curtains. Any genuine seeker might stumble past it without knowing it was even there.

What that seeker will find, and very visibly, is Islam. While Dutch Christianity is making the move from church buildings to living rooms, sports centers, and factory halls, Dutch Islam is moving in the opposite direction. At the Kostverlorenvaart in the Amsterdam suburb of De Baarsjes, the foundations are being laid for a new mosque, with a 110-foot-high dome and 140-foot-high minarets. "We don't want to pray in basements and school buildings anymore. We want a proper mosque," is how Fatih Dag explains the idea behind this project. Dag is chairman of the board of the local Aya Sofia Mosque. He says he understands local objections to the scale of the project: "Of course, if I were living in Turkey and people wanted a big new church next to my house, I might object too. But the fact is that we are here, and we're here to stay. And we want a place to worship." Indeed, in all major towns in Holland, building projects are under way for the construction of supersized mosques.
It's an interesting article but there are parts I don't find convincing:
With government sponsorship--and the accompanying demands of gender neutrality--of university-based imam training courses about to become a reality, the day is not far off when the first feminist and gay imams will start preaching in mosques in Holland. There is no reason to assume Islam will be any better placed to deal with this liberal onslaught than mainstream Christianity was in the 1950s and '60s.
The assumption here is that secularization and liberalization are world historical forces that are bound to affect all religions similarly in time. This may be true in some very general sense; but the specific content of any "secularization" or "liberalization" will always depend on what it is being secularized or liberalized. The difference between Jesus' and Mohammed's revelations is all important in shaping what can evolve from them, and there is no reason to think that just because one has led to openly homosexual clergy (in the kind of churches, by the way, that the article notes are in decline) so will the other.

In other words, the secular is just another evolving form or stage of the sacred within a particular cultural tradition. And what may be partly behind the reported religious revival in the Netherlands is a dawning realization that the dichotomy between the sacred and secular as it has long been understood is something of a false dichotomy. At our Thursday night meetings, we never tire of noting that the "secular" elites in our universities and mainstream media practice a religion - a devotion to certain understandings or visions of the sacred - that is just as powerful a mix of the rational and irrational, probably more so, than the practice and thought of those often more humble folk who profess belief in God. And on the other hand, religion can be a much superior vehicle for a "secular" or rational human self-understanding as anything put out by the likes of, say, Richard Dawkins.

Meanwhile, Pope Benedict's understanding of Christianity is receiving further clarification, here:
The point of departure is the radical crisis in which Christianity finds itself today, especially in Europe: a Christianity that has lost its certainty of being the “true religion.”

What has separated the faith from the truth has been both the changes that have taken place in thinking and in science, and those who have weakened Christianity itself.

But Benedict XVI, on the other hand, wants to reunite reason and freedom with Christianity – and with this, to illuminate the “strange shadow” in which modern man lives, who in addition to losing God has also lost the awareness of good and evil.

But Ruini emphasizes that the pope does this “in a way that is not at all rationalistic.”

The heart of Benedict XVI’s preaching is, in fact, Jesus.

This explains why he has dedicated himself to writing a book about Him: about the “historical” Jesus, who is one and the same as the Jesus of faith.

In rediscovering Jesus as true God and true man, the Christian West can approach the other cultures and religions of the world, offering them its own genuine proposal.

Raztinger and Ruini say ‘no’ to both inculturation and multiculturalism.

In their view, the approach that “belongs to the original form of Christianity” is that of interculturalism.

Interculturalism “implies both a positive attitude toward other cultures and religions, and the work of purification and the ‘courageous stance’ that are indispensable for any culture that truly wants to encounter Christ.”
(Hat Tip: GABlog)

Thursday, December 21, 2006

When getting an "A" on your report card is not necessarily a bad thing

Young America's Foundation has released it's "Dirty Dozen": America’s Most Bizarre and Politically Correct College Courses.

1 Occidental College’s The Phallus covers a broad study on the relation “between the phallus and the penis, the meaning of the phallus, phallologocentrism, the lesbian phallus, the Jewish phallus, the Latino phallus, and the relation of the phallus and fetishism.”

2 Queer Musicology at the University of California-Los Angeles explores how “sexual difference and complex gender identities in music and among musicians have incited productive consternation” during the 1990s. Music under consideration includes works by Schubert and Holly Near, Britten and Cole Porter, and Pussy Tourette.

3 Amherst College in Massachusetts offers Taking Marx Seriously: “Should Marx be given another chance?” Students in this class are asked to question if Marxism still has “credibility,” while also inquiring if societies can gain new insights by “returning to [Marx’s] texts.” Coming to Marx’s rescue, this course also states that Lenin, Stalin, and Pol Pot misapplied the concepts of Marxism.

4 Students enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania’s Adultery Novel read a series of 19th and 20th century works about “adultery” and watch “several adultery films.” Students apply “various critical approaches in order to place adultery into its aesthetic, social and cultural context, including: sociological descriptions of modernity, Marxist examinations of family as a social and economic institution” and “feminist work on the construction of gender.”

5 Occidental College—making the list twice for the second year in a row—offers Blackness, which elaborates on a “new blackness,” “critical blackness,” “post-blackness,” and an “unforgivable blackness,” which all combine to create a “feminist New Black Man.”

6 Border Crossings, Borderlands: Transnational Feminist Perspectives on Immigration is University of Washington’s way of exploring the immigration debate. The class allegedly unearths what is “highlighted and concealed in contemporary public debates about U.S. immigration” policy.

7 Whiteness: The Other Side of Racism is Mount Holyoke College’s attempt to analyze race. The class seeks to spark thought on: “What is whiteness?” “How is it related to racism?” “What are the legal frameworks of whiteness?” “How is whiteness enacted in everyday practice?” And how does whiteness impact the “lives of whites and people of color?

8 Native American Feminisms at the University of Michigan looks at the development of “Native feminist thought” and its “relationship both to Native land-based struggles and non-Native feminist movements.”

9 Johns Hopkins University offers Mail Order Brides: Understanding the Philippines in Southeast Asian Context, which is a supposedly deep look into Filipino kinship and gender.

10 Cornell University’s Cyberfeminism investigates “the emergence of cyberfeminism in theory and art in the context of feminism/post feminism and the accelerated technological developments of the last thirty years of the twentieth century.”

11 Duke University’s American Dreams/American Realities course seeks to unearth “such myths as ‘rags to riches,’ ‘beacon to the world,’ and the ‘frontier,’ in defining the American character.”

12 Swarthmore College’s Nonviolent Responses to Terrorism “deconstruct[s] terrorism” and “build[s] on promising nonviolent procedures to combat today’s terrorism.” The “non-violent” struggle Blacks pursued in the 1960s is outlined as a mode for tackling today’s terrorism.

And to think I used to feel guilty about dropping out of college...

Bravo Mr. Harper, Part... XVI?

There's an interesting opportunity to compare competing takes on reality in today's Globe and Mail. Why is it that our Prime Minister, who spends most of his time grubbing with politicians, has a much better take on reality and morality than many university professors whose job, ostensibly, is to think?

Prime Minister Stephen Harper:
says Canada will not talk with the "genocidal" Islamic groups Hamas and Hezbollah even though he acknowledged that dialogue is the way to peace in the Middle East.

"We will not solve the Palestinian-Israeli problem, as difficult as that is, through organizations that advocate violence and advocate wiping Israel off the face of the Earth," Mr. Harper said yesterday in a wide-ranging year-end interview with CTV to be aired Saturday.

"It's unfortunate because with Hamas, and with Hezbollah in Lebanon, it has made it very difficult to have dialogue -- and dialogue is ultimately necessary to have peace in the long term -- but we are not going to sit down with people whose objectives are ultimately genocidal."
After reporting this, the Globe seems compelled to note that Harper has received much criticism from Canadians stuffed with anti-Israel resentment, as if there were substance to the delusional notion that Israel is somehow to blame for the (alleged?) genocidal resentment directed against it - a resentment that is in fact very real and ultimately rooted in a refusal of much of the Islamic (and even Western) world to join fully a modernity for which Israel is but a small but geographically and historically prococative symbol. Well, perhaps I am being unfair to the Globe whose intent, perhaps, was only to note the political repercussions of Harper's stand. Thank God we have a leader who knows what is involved in confronting resentful delusions and will only acknowledge the undoubted political repercussions by taking a higher road:
He told several media, including CTV, that he wouldn't succumb to political pressure to pull Canada's troops from Afghanistan. He said he has talked to the families of soldiers who have been killed in that conflict and they have urged him not to abandon the mission for which their loved ones died.

"I couldn't care less if the opposition brings me down and defeats me in an election over this," Mr. Harper said.

"I have to do what I think is right for the long-term security interest of this country and right for the men and women who have put themselves on the line."
Meanwhile, on the education page, we hear about the response of the colleagues of Shiraz Dossa (whom we discussed here) to the Antigonish Professor's attendance at the recent Iranian Holocaust Deniers' Conference:
As controversial St. Francis Xavier University professor Shiraz Dossa remained inside his home yesterday, more than 100 of his colleagues issued a letter proclaiming their "profound embarrassment" over his attendance at a Holocaust deniers' conference last week.

Prof. Dossa, who has been a political science professor at St. Francis Xavier University since 1988, met with academic vice-president Mary McGillivray on Tuesday to discuss possible repercussions from attending the conference. They are expected to meet again.

Prof. McGillivray did not return calls yesterday. So far, Prof. Dossa's status with the university has not changed.

The St. FX professors' letter reads in part: "We would like to make clear that the faculty of St. Francis Xavier University [is] united in condemnation of this event. . . . While adamantly defending the academic freedom of our colleague, Dr. Shiraz Dossa, to espouse any views that he pleases, [we] are nevertheless profoundly embarrassed by his participation in the Holocaust-denial conference held in Tehran...
So, apparently, as a professor you have the academic freedom to espouse whatever you like (including nonsense and delusional resentment, it is implied) and no one can touch you; but go to Tehran and jump on Ahmadinejad's hatred of the Jews and modernity propaganda stage (whose greatest victims, at present, are the Iranian people themselves), and your good colleagues will be... profoundly embarrassed. Reading between the lines, it still seems as if the good professors just don't know the difference between academic freedom and plain bad ideas that shouldn't have a place at a serious university. The real problem of course it that, whatever the case may be, the good professors just don't believe any more that anyone can be (or should presume to be) in either a position of common moral sense or, alternatively, real thinking, from which one might truly judge what are plainly bad ideas deserving of dismissal for sheer incompetence. The professors have given up taking that far any kind of "truth" (the professors' scare quotes), either pragmatic or fundamental truth. But, they still allow themselves their sacred opinions that protect against the opinions of the hoi polloi who might call for Dossa's tossing:
St. FX physics professor Michael Steinitz said yesterday that 105 of his colleagues signed the letter to make their feelings known, and they hope it spurs, at the very least, an apology from Prof. Dossa.

"It was a colossal error of judgment," Prof. Steinitz said. "From my point of view, [attending the conference] had to be done with previous knowledge. He's a political science professor; he said he didn't know what kind of a crowd he was getting in with. . . ."

Last week he told The Globe and Mail from the conference that he is not a Holocaust denier.

He said he was presenting a paper about the war on terrorism "and how the Holocaust plays into it."

"None of us have read his paper but I'm sure it's quite innocuous," Prof. Steinitz said. "It's probably quite okay. But that's not the point.

"What is upsetting is the lending of his credibility, and by extension ours, to an exercise that was known in advance to be . . . the organization of what would be a hate crime in Canada. He lent our university's credibility to that."

Prof. Steinitz stressed that the letter is not a petition. He said he doesn't expect Prof. Dossa to resign and he can't imagine he will be fired, either.

"You think little old St. FX is going to get rid of him?" he said. "I don't even know if it would be a good idea to try. But thank God they don't pay me to administer the university.
Not exactly a sign of intellectual courage on your part, if you ask me, Prof. Steinitz...
"I do hope he is very embarrassed, but considering his tendencies I suspect he won't be."

Despite Prof. Dossa's insistence he is not a Holocaust denier -- he called those who are "hacks and lunatics" -- his strong beliefs are well known around campus.

In an interview this year with an Antigonish newspaper, he spoke at length about a bias in Western countries toward the position of Israel.

"He feels most of the problems in the world can be laid at the feet of the Western world and colonialism, and he may be right, but he expresses these views very strongly in his classes," Prof. Steinitz said.

"I find his [political tendencies] offensive and wrong, but that's my business and that's the purpose of a university, to have disagreements under one hat. His basic premises are not unreasonable; it's just that he's very one sided. Some students like him and some say they don't."
Sorry Steinitz, but even as the universities are full of professors who lay most of the world's problems at the feet of the West and its "colonialism" (read imperialism), it's no excuse for not being connected to reality and standing up and saying this delusionary worldview is in large part nuts. Long story short: does a Professor of Physics really want to return a dark age in which the advances of Western culture these last five hundred years are submerged in the resentments that free market society and real intellectual freedom undoubtedly create, the resentments of those who cling to some desire for traditional society (e.g. Islam as defined by traditional Sharia and Jihad), or some idea of returning to a pre-industrial "harmony" with nature, with all the brutality such choices would honestly imply? Can students and parents take seriously someone whose idea of politically-sensitive handling of the academically most sensitive issue (what is most sacred to the academics is their self-understanding as martyrs for science, reason, truth, and liberal progress in the face of "the masses" and their politicians who might just call the professors heretics, not martyrs; hence any talk of modifying academic freedom, tenure, or firing someone for supporting the propaganda of the evil and anti-liberal Iranian state must be deferred in order to protect all the other academic martyrs from heresy hunters) consists of: "I find his [political tendencies] offensive and wrong... His basic premises [that Israel and America are the source of most evil in the world?] are not unreasonable; it's just that he's very one sided."?

I'll leave it to others to explain the logic or reason of this last statement; suffice it to say I think the good professor could learn something from the straight talk of Prime Minister Harper. Harper's grasp of reality clearly requires some self-understanding and a moral centre. I wonder how many come out of universities today with much sense of these.

Modifying the professors' right to tenure and freedom to spout or support evident nonsense might be a good idea. It might show that the world does not come to an end once such a step has been taken, that professors' left-liberal-Gnostic opinions are not somehow more sacred than anyone else's, albeit more influential and hence potenially dangerous, given their somewhat captive audience of students in search of the grades, favours, and degrees necessary for many jobs. Modifying academic freedom in such a way as to encourage greater transparency and accountability for the resentful delusions that are commonly propagated in the humanities and social sciences might actually be a path necessary to promoting real intellectual freedom in the universities.

Oprah rumoured to be considering joining our Thursday blue scarf meetings

Covenant Zone meets every Thursday, 7-9pm, in the atrium of the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library, in front of Blenz Coffee. Can Oprah resist putting on a scarf and joining us this Thursday? This could be the week, don't miss it!

On a more sober note, I've spent the last little while trolling for a thought to clarify our purpose in meeting each week. I'm very happy to discover that Gil Bailie, a thinker and Catholic lay teacher I've admired in recent years, is blogging. In a couple of posts from earlier this month, Gil provides some insights into resentment which help me better understand the purpose of our weekly meetings where we attempt to discuss certain important truths in public that few others are discussing publicly in Vancouver.

In reference to our academic elites and their tendency to engage in diatribes against the cultural achievements of the West on behalf of its putative victims, GIl notes:
That so much resentment is found among those who enjoy so many of the privileges of Western culture requires a psychological analysis. Mine (for today at any rate) would be this: once one has ruled certain social and cultural phenomenon morally off-limits and insulated from moral misgivings (political correctness), then the only alternative to admitting one's moral insouciance is to find some other "cause" that will simulate the exercise of moral rectitude (in the same way that a stairmaster simulates climbing), preferably a "cause" which condemns miscreants who can be trusted not to respond to the condemnation in any serious or meaningful way.

The more we suppress moral misgivings and turn those we cannot suppress toward more politically acceptable surrogate evil-doers, the more irrational and psychologically dubious our hatred of the adversary will become.
In an earlier post, Gil had explored the question of what happens to us when we refuse to speak publicly our true moral intuitions (as those of us in Vancouver have an opportunity to do each Thursday):
To pretend that something is true when in one's heart one knows it isn't -- for instance that "Islam is (unambiguously) a religion of peace," or that the homosexual act is the moral equivalent of the nuptial embrace, or that non-whites are too crippled by historical injustices to be treated as equals by a truly color-blind system of justice -- to pretend that what the heart knows to be false is true is to stoke the fires of resentment, poisoning thereby one's own spirit and infecting in one way or another the moral and political life of one's society with the same poison.

Humility does not require the artificial suppression of moral revulsion or healthy indignation at mendacity, callous cruelty, and injustice. Turning one's cheek to one's own oppressor is one thing, turning one's back on the powerless victims of oppression is another. Humility must never be mistaken for spinelessness.

Today in the purportedly liberated West there is a great deal of psychological repression going on. What is being suppressed is the ordinary moral response to morally problematic developments. The effect of this repression is the building up of unacknowledged resentment, a kind of distorted and unhealthy moral reaction that all too readily poisons its carriers and the society which enforces the moral equivocation that produces it.

To give expression to one's moral concerns is to free oneself from such resentment. These moral concerns may be extremely powerful, and they make awaken considerable zeal, but if they are not poisoned by resentment they can coexist with a genuine concern for the moral agents whose behavior aroused them and a persistent hope for a morally acceptable reconciliation with them.
There is much else in Gil's blog to provoke your moral concern. And, if you're in Vancouver, Covenant Zone is a place to bring some of this into voice. If you're elsewhere, consider creating your own "covenant zone", make a committment to go out in public, use the internet to let others know where you'll be, and then wait and see if you can initiate a conversation into the ills that threaten our culture and the resources available to be rediscovered in our pasts. There is much to be discovered via our libraries (traditional and virtual) and other institutions that will help us frame the new world we are living and, without getting lost in dreams of an impossible return of a lost past, will allow us to rediscover our moral and historical purpose as the inheritors and renewers of a magnificent cultural legacy.

Also of note: in an optimistic reply to Mark Steyn's fearful writing on Europe's demographic demise, Eric Gans has just put out a crackerjack column that reminds us of the pressing need to re-affirm our covenant with generations future and past. Scenic Politics replies here.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Seed of a lesson in feline tragedy

A haunting reminder that we should not take our blessings for granted. No matter how bad things may seem, they can assuredly still get worse. And someone else always has it worse than we do, so whining and complaining doesn't earn us special compensation; it's by how we endure and persevere through our adversity that we reveal our worth.
That is the lesson that comes to my mind, following a look at one of 99 photos from this slideshow of the year's memorable photos:


Cy, short for Cyclopes, a kitten born with only one eye and no nose, is shown in this photo provided by its owner in Redmond, Oregon, on Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2005. The kitten, a ragdoll breed, which died after living for one day, was one of two in the litter. Its sibling was born normal and healthy.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Joe Barbera R.I.P.

In the preceding thread, Dag tossed in a bit of advice that really impressed me with its wisdom:
"Doing our best, getting over our failures, and moving on to the next task is simply better than weeping over our failures..."

Coincidentally, that life lesson can be personified through the venerable artist and filmmaker Joe Barbera, who passed away Monday at the ripe old age of 95.

Joe Barbera was an admirable man, for many reasons that the online obituaries seem to be missing. He was so creative, it was said by his co-workers that ideas could flow out of his pencil like water from a tap. He was unusually optimistic, believing that it was worth keeping a positive attitude through life. And he was capable of successful adaptation: his world kept changing around him, yet he persevered and kept pace.

I was profoundly impressed when I read his autobiography, many years ago. One particular passage, on Barbera and his co-worker Bill Hanna having to confront a catastrophe in their lives in the mid-1950s (paraphrasing from memory here): "We built this impregnable monument to success, and suddenly the whole thing is taken away with a telephone call".
The "monument" he referred to, was his Tom and Jerry series, successfully earning MGM the prestige they had long wanted for their animated shorts department. Barbera, working hand-in-glove with his creative partner Bill Hanna, had to suffer through a rare indignity when they first were teamed up to work together; the boss had insufficient confidence in either one of them to inherit a director's empty seat, so both were made to work together instead. Confounding the embarrassing situation, they were to "make their films before they made them", by filming the preliminary production drawings in such a way that the producer could verify that the duo's tentative first project was actually worth producing.
Instead of being resentful for the intimidating conditions, however, the co-workers decided to make the best of it. And that humility allowed a partnership to blossom.

They discovered they were a great fit, each one's strength remarkably complimenting the other's weakness: Barbera was the idea man, Hanna the skilled organizer... a wonderfully balanced "right brain/left brain" combination. And they discovered that the imposed production technique offered them unprecedented insight and control over their work, to the point where they not only kept their tool long after the boss relented on its need, they eventually turned thorough planning into the cornerstone of their television empire. (How else do you make so much work so fast, with so little loss of quality? By Knowing What You're Doing)

In the 1950s, studio after studio closed down their animation units, regardless of how many Academy Awards their cartoons had earned; business is business, and it was simply taking too long to make back the investment on the average theatrical short cartoon. Even after giving MGM Tom and Jerry, a fateful phone call still left Hanna and Barbera facing unemployment, alongside most other cartoonists of the time. Again paraphrasing from Barbera's autobiography: "I watched my son playing baseball, and wondered, how am I going to take care of my kid? I wasn't a young man anymore, I'd been through a career..."

Television had the answer. The team analyzed the traditional production system and found many ways to streamline that system, cutting costs by increasing the amount of pre-planning that would go into every film, necessity being the mother of invention: they **had** to find a way, if they were to continue in the line of work they so deeply loved. The ingenuity with which they approached their new careers, as pioneers in the medium of television, is so admirably American: deliver inexpensive but quality goods that can appeal to as wide a potential market as possible, usually meaning a family and not just children. Find a way to offer Value for Money, Getting the Most from the Least: is that not the very lifeblood of economics?

One success beget another, and another, until soon they were responsible for turning out several hours of animation each week, compared to the single hour of animation their group had to turn out each year, back when they were making Tom and Jerrys for MGM. Their world changed, and they found a way to change with it. Barbera could have whined about the increasingly absurd standards that year after year the know-it-all network executives imposed upon them, he could have cried about the tight budgets, the impossible demands, the forced compromises on quality required for these demands and these budgets to be satisfied. Instead he just decided to do his best, and see what would happen. Impossible situations were still no excuse not to do your best.
Both Hanna and Barbera have stated in interviews how proud they were of the new monument they built, a gigantic studio employing hundreds of artists. Bill Hanna once defended his studio against artistic critics, by pointing out how many of his employees were raising families by making art, compared to the options he faced in the 1930s during the Great Depression. How many families were these art critics supporting?

We don't have to pretend that Joe Barbera made great art; he made what he made. Yet he gave hundreds of artistic people a regular job where being organized and disciplined was to go hand in hand with being creative and resourceful. He cashed in his MGM pension in order to finance his and his partner's humble studio at the dawn of television, taking the kind of risk that his critics, we may presume, are unfamiliar with, for how else to explain the venemous envy in the tone of their criticism?

Meanwhile millions of children got to spend a few pleasant hours in their early lives never appreciating all the sweat and pride of craftsmanship that goes into making the impossible, possible. (As with the sacrifices of parenting, that's a revelation that comes with age and adulthood)

When you watch his films, recognize you're not seeing great art. You are still seeing art that is a darn sight better than it should have been, given the impossible circumstances set against its creation in the first place. Art carefully made better than it might have been, by the care and skill of a good man.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Barbera. And thanks for living your life by doing your best.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The mathematics of faith

The more you give, the more you will get.
How's that for a leap of faith? Yet it is true.
When I started taking giving to charity as a serious commitment in my life, I was amazed to find how true it is. Raise after raise has come my way, promotion after promotion, one lucrative opportunity after another.
The cause and effect is an indirect one, to be sure, which makes it all the more challenging to imagine. Yet it does happen, through the long-term.
Therefore it was with great interest that I read the following article in the National Post, Canada a nation of cheapskates. I can look to my personal experiences and affirm, "this story is all-too true", whereas others may glance into their experiences and mutter, "this must not be true"... for the more it is true, the more false their clinging to a moral foundation for socialism.
Who can deny the mathematics establishing the article's sub-title, "In societies where governments have generous social programs, people give less to charities":

Americans give US$900 per person to charitable causes each year, while in Canada, the average is $400. In Quebec, the average is $176, the lowest amount of any province or territory.

In his new book Who Cares: America's Charity Divide -- Who Gives, Who Doesn't, and Why it Matters, economist Arthur C. Brooks compares the United States to western European nations and finds Americans give on average 14 times more than Italians, seven times more than Europeans and 3 1/2 times more than the French. "There is a view [in Europe] that if something is truly important, then government should be doing it and that discharges my duty to privately help others," says Mr. Brooks. "Maybe this explains something in Canada as well."
In his research, Mr. Brooks discovered those who believe government has little place in many areas of society -- many of them religious conservatives -- tend to give more to charity than liberals who push for greater taxation and more government involvement in social programs.
The same argument may explain Canada's divide.
"When you compare the giving rates between Quebec and Alberta [where average donor rates are $500 a year, the highest in Canada], they look like two very different countries," says David Van Slyke, a professor in the department of public administration at Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, who studied at McGill University in the late 1980s.
"Alberta very much has a small-government philosophy, pro-market, pro-individual action, supporting those in need through private-sector dollars."

"In contrast, Quebec has a larger, more established public-sector presence and a much larger and stronger union environment, and each of these contributes to the expectation that it is government's role and responsibility to serve the poor, treat the unhealthy and provide some level of income security among the most fragile of
individuals."
Beyond the views on government's role in society, a far more influential factor on patterns of giving is religion.
"Giving is a learned behaviour," says Mr. Brooks. "An effective place to learn giving is a house of worship, where you're getting the message week after week after week."
In Canada, 45% of the $9-billion raised for charity in 2004 went to religious organizations. The next highest amount -- 14% -- went to health care, which means that even with all those Terry Fox runs and hospital fundraisers and Walks for the Cure, religious organizations still pulled in three times as much across Canada, more than $4-billion.
….
Wealth in this country does not necessarily translate into largesse. Just ask Cyrille Esteve, better known as Spoonman, who has been clacking out traditional French-Canadian tunes in front of Ogilvy's on Ste-Catherine Street in Montreal for the past nine years. He makes $8 an hour in the regular season, but on Christmas Eve, his best day, his wage swells to $30 an hour.
"Pierre Elliott Trudeau used to give, but he'd give a quarter," he says. "Imagine, the man's a millionaire. And he'd drop pennies in my plate!"
….
A growing body of research indicates those who give are happier, healthier, more successful and earn more money.
"There is huge evidence that giving makes people more effective, it gives them more meaning and it makes them more successful," Mr. Brooks says.
"Part of the reason is that people who give feel so empowered and fulfilled -- they feel like they have a voice."
"Charitable giving is a valuable and unique form of expression, in a very different way from a ballot box or a picket sign," Mr. Brooks says.
"There's really no more profound way of expressing oneself humanely than doing that."

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Happy Hanukkah


Light to conquer darkness, faith to conquer despair, gratitude for a faith that continues to shine.
Happy Hanukah.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The secret life of Queen Elizabeth, according to Reuters

Wow, it seems that Canada's head of state is a far more versatile character than I ever imagined! Why wasn't I taught this hidden side of her royal duties back in high school?
Reuters had the "scoop" back in October, and we've been reminded of this news and much more, at Regret The Error's annual "Crunk" awards, honoring the year's most regrettable moments in journalism.
The moral of the bee story, for me: you should use spellcheck as an assist to, not replacement for, thinking about what you write.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Covenant Zone: Why Bother?

Some of the people who visited our blog over the recent furore concerning an Iranian-Canadian professor who attended the Holocaust Deniers' Conference in Iran might wonder why I feel a need to spend my time attacking such people. People have a right to free speech, to free association, and to attend conferences where they disagree with everything being said... (though I'd note that one should not have to think twice about accepting an invitation to a global propaganda stage in service of the present Iranian regime, if only out of respect for the Iranians oppressed by this regime).

Do I spend my time blogging because I want to distance myself from guys like this professor? (It's probably obvious to any regular readers that I hold grudges against academe, though I do hope one day to let the grudges go because healthy universities are a fundamental requirement for a free and open society...) Do I have something against immigrants, people of colour, non-Jews or Christians? No, I don't think I do in any general way. In fact, in a love-resent-love kind of way, I actually think I want to get closer to the people I criticize, especially the Canadians among them. I want to assert that we have a better choice than the multicultural ideology that, though basically incoherent, nonetheless dominates public rhetoric in much of the West today.

I want to suggest that we, especially public figures like university professors, have an obligation to use our freedom not just to assert our differences but to devote time and energy to covenanting, to coming to an understanding of the developing basis for the unity on which any forms of social or cultural diversity that can be sustained in the long run will depend. Freedom positively requires some assumption of unity in any community that would allow for its members' freedom.

And for me, a bottom line in all of this is respect for that part of Western culture that gives us the very idea of people covenanting in order to rule themselves through partnership in an unfolding human-divine creation. This is the model of nationhood and constitutionalism that comes to us from the Biblical history of Israel and from Jewish-inflected Western thought and culture more generally. This is a history that I feel continues in the modern state of Israel, which is a nation the majority of whose people, I believe, want to enter into honest covenants with their neighbors, if only the neighbours could aspire to the kind of self-ruling nationhood that will provide a basis for the democratic accountability and responsibility in leadership that makes nations transparent and trustworthy to neighbours. But it is the very idea of nationhood - deemed "exclusionary", when it is quite the opposite - that is under attack in much of the Muslim world and in the universities and bureaucracies of the West.

So, I believe a sense of shared nationhood is essential to the growth and health of any democracy where people can hope to rule themselves, and also hold their leaders accountable to maximize reciprocity among nations. I criticize my fellow Canadians who act and think in ways that I believe undermine the national idea. It is not because I want to alienate them, though this is no doubt what they often think when they hear people criticizing multiculturalism.

To give evidence of our good intent, every Thursday night, from 7-9 pm, the Covenant Zone bloggers meet in the atrium of the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library to discuss our ideas about covenanting nations. We extend an open invitation to all Canadians to join us, in front of Blenz Coffee. We usually wear blue scarves to identify ourselves. Please join us if you can.

We feel that conservatives, as we generally are, labour under a Hollywood stereotype of the reactionary hate monger. But, we believe, serious conservatives are people actually more open to "the other" than are the kind of postmodern leftists who dominate our universities. I argue that multiculturalism makes a fetish of differences and sets up various rituals and ideologies to defend a few basic markers of difference in a way that actually demands a fair degree of conformity while eroding certain meaningful and useful differences. On the other hand, conservatives of the kind I relate to, seek to relate people only to pragmatic, open-ended, categories needed to create a basis for shared membership in a historically evolving discussion about what it means to grow as a person and share in the responsibilities of governing this particular society. We reach out to our various others as our fellow citizens, first and foremost. We ask, what do we need to share together in order to cement a bond of common citizenship? Instead of asking first what makes us different, we enquire into the shared human, universal, basis for any meaningful understanding of what is same and different. And from this we move on to recognizing the distinctive sacredness of each and every free individual.

A fellow at the swimming pool recently told me about his experience growing up in our working- and middle-class suburb of Vancouver. He is about sixty years old and he said that in his youth there was a lot less prejudice than there is today. Now that is a statement contrary to common understandings. It's not hard to find in the historical archives frank and often demeaning understandings of racial and gender differences. Still, he insisted, in his day people talked a lot to each other. They were sociable, they knew everyone on the street, they shared a common understanding. And they could thus be brutally honest about their sense of differences, to good and ill effect. Today, he says, Canadians don't know their neighbors, they don't talk to each other, and they give each other bad looks. They are not supposed to express prejudice publicly, but you know they are full of it by the way they treat people.

Is this just a fanciful notion or could there be something to it? Could he be right that we are more prejudiced today under the reign of official multiculturalism and human rights? Is it possible that we don't have a proper outlet for discussing our differences, secure in the knowledge that our arguments over differences are ultimately in the cause of building a nation which enjoys democratic self-rule, not rule by the imperial arbiters - bureaucrats and judges and public relations people - who are necessary to settle differences among people who don't share a common understanding, a shared sense of responsibility with which they can independently negotiate their differences and govern themselves? I mean we all know of stories where personal resentments and prejudices that are common to human interaction go unresolved by parties in conflict and get fed instead through bureaucratic forms of mediation where they are blown up and extended into something much bigger than they need to be.

I came across an editorial in the Australian conservative journal, Quadrant, that makes an argument along these lines. It is not the most thorough argument but its conclusion that it is time for Australia to drop the incoherent idea of "multiculturalism" might interest readers. The editors conclude:
In a society based on citizenship there is an assumption, says [Philosopher Roger] Scruton, that I am committed to the strangers who surround me. “This is how citizenship is, and must be, understood, and it is one reason why massive and unprepared immigration of people with no sympathy for the traditional customs can blow a society apart.”

Over the coming months, as Andrew Robb addresses the pragmatics of immigration, he will cop his share of resentment and silliness. Like the following, from The War on Democracy by Niall Lucy and Steve Mickler:

“According to the brutal logic of conservatism, if you’re not on the side of the right you must be a communist sympathizer … and of course “communism”, as everyone is supposed to know, is code for “Stalinism”. There could be no better illustration of this point than the Alec Baldwin character in the adult puppet movie, Team America: World Police (by ... Matt Stone and Trey Parker), who is nothing but a conservative caricature of a liberal. Because the real-life Alec Baldwin has spoken out, like other Hollywood liberals against the invasion of Iraq, then according to the brutal logic of conservatism he must be a militant, un-American, anti-democratic extremist. And that’s exactly what Stone and Parker turn the Baldwin puppet into in the film—a machine-gun toting “red”-lover, fighting side by side with the puppet of North Korean “commie” dictator Kim Jong-il against the puppets of Team America, a clandestine squad of God’s own patriots whose utter disregard for difference is a product of the jingoistic hogwash they speak and the power bestowed on them by their state-of-the-art weaponry. Conservatives don’t get the joke, of course, failing to see the Baldwin figure as a projection of their own strategic fantasy.”

But it is the conservatives and the pragmatists who are committed, as citizens, to the stranger, or “other”. Or as Andrew Robb might express the same thought, new arrivals from the Middle East and Africa need time to get some understanding of what makes us tick.
At Covenant Zone we are providing our time to help others see what makes us tick. Join us some Thursday.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The new british tradition: smirking at tradition

Years ago there was made a gloriously handcrafted monument to the magic of childhood, a small jewel of a film called The Snowman. I can’t remember when I first saw it, but I do remember how pleasantly it conjured up half-forgotten memories of playing around in the snow on a cold Saturday morning, struggling to build a snowman against all odds, with the moment of triumph ritually followed by restful contemplation. In the shadow of that icy creation I daydreamed as children do (did?) about the man of snow suddenly joining me in my backyard games with both of knowing an unspoken truth, that at some point he’d have to return to the far-away place from which he came, to make room for summer games in that same backyard.

A wonderful film for children, and for the child in all of us; it brings a smile to me now as I remember it again, for the first time in a long time. I am told that in the UK the film has enjoyed the same seasonal welcome with which we enjoy annual visits from The Grinch Who Stole Christmas or the Charlie Brown Christmas Special, as firmly part of the Christmas holiday ornamentations as Christmas lights and eggnog.

What to make, then, of this new (scottish?) commercial, and the manner in which it invokes that wonderful film, the Snowman? I watched this commercial and laughed heartily the first time; I’d be lying if I said otherwise. Then I thought about what I’d laughed at. And I got a bit angry.

If some of today’s culture poked fun at traditional values, traditional pleasures and memories, that would be a good thing, for it is good to rethink one’s position in life and whether or not traditions should still be taken seriously. One of man’s senses that surely must lift him above the animal, is his sense of humor, possessing the ability to recognize his gift for fallibility. One can go to church, vote in elections, raise a family, and yet still find room to laugh with the Marx Brothers. Surely there must remain room for both the sacred and the satirical, in order to be human.

But it is not “some” of the culture fulfilling this useful task: it feels like it is most, if not all, of our culture that takes aim at that which is good about ourselves, and seeks to reduce its value. “Why do you care about this old film, why would one care about anything”, were the messages I saw when I watched the commercial a second time. Is it because I don’t have a sense of humor? Is it because I think it’s important, even essential, for children to have childhoods, in order to able to age gracefully?

Here in Canada, I can’t buy the drink being advertised, but if I could I herewith would not. Brits, is nothing sacred anymore, in your world? Bad enough you turn your backs on Christmas, must you now turn up your nose to a work of such gentle grace as The Snowman? In doing so, are you not also turning away from the breath of life that children, and the child in all of us, must develop, in order to animate all their dreams, snowmen or otherwise? Humans, particularly their children, are flawed, but surely we must laugh **with** them, not **at** them, for the folly of what it is to be human?

Isn’t that what it means to have a sense of humor..?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Will the MSM protect Canadian students from Professors of Resentment?

[UPDATED, below, with Shiraz Dossa's defense]

Yesterday afternoon, I found myself in a car listening to the CBC Radio news. They had a report on the Iranian Holocaust deniers conference. The CBC's man in Tehran took it all too seriously, basically apologizing for the whole affair as Iran's way of somewhat justifiably responding to Israeli threats to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities. I don't recall him mentioning why Iran is such a threat to the very existence of the state of Israel.... Anyway, this reporter in Tehran then went on to mention that a Canadian professor from the University of Toronto was attending the conference, but he didn't know yet what the guy was going to say, or who he was.

When I returned home I checked out the CBC online story to find no mention of the Canadian professor, only a rather disturbing photo - the only one chosen for the story - of two of that small group of ultra-Orthodox, anti-Zionist Jews who go around shaking the hands of Jew haters, in this case the foreign minister of Iran, as a way of pursuing their dogmatic rejection of the state of Israel. The CBC is full of people who love to distract attention from the real issues at stake in Holocaust denial and hatred of Israel.

While this conference is now front page news worldwide, as of 1.20 pm PST today, a search of Google News turns up only one report on the Canadian professor, Shiraz Dossa, in the Western Standard's blog even though Dossa was scheduled to speak yesterday afternoon, Tehran time, more than a full day ago. It seems the Canadian media have no interest in the fact that a guy who teaches in one of our universities is hanging out with a bunch of history-denying hate mongers bent on the destruction of the Jews. [UPDATE - Dec. 13 - the Canadian media is today picking up this story - see the bottom of this post]

Who is Shiraz Dossa? Well, first of all it appears he may be misrepresenting himself to the Iranians. The University of Toronto web site has no mention of him. According to his home page, while he earned his graduate degrees from the U of T, he is actually for some time now a professor of political science at (the embarrasingly Christian-in-name?) St. Francis Xavier University of Antigonish, Nova Scotia. Dossa's home page suggests that this man enjoys postmodern irony where one takes nothing seriously, including those who come to your home page, but little class or grace (and I suspect he would concur):
Later he succeeded, accidentally, in earning both an MA and Ph.D. at the University of Toronto. But his miseducation, regrettably, continued under the guidance of scholars like C. B. Macpherson, Christian Bay and Peter H. Russell at the U of T....In 1996, he was invited, inexplicably, to deliver the Josiah Wood Lecture at Mount Allison University in Sackville (NB) on Liberalism and Cultural Difference. In 1998 he was invited, again inexplicably, to deliver a lecture on Human Rights and Global Politics at Middlebury College in Vermont (US). His only significant contribution to making this world a better place is his daughter Shirin.
One wonders if he actually sees himself as a fraud and while not openly admitting it will joke about "inexplicable" invitations to give prestigious lectures in the institutions of a society he, as we will see, resents. He exploits his nine-year-old daughter by putting a photo of her and a "quote" at the top of his home page: "My dad is not a bad professor…But he.… he does talk a lot about politics and Chomsky and natives and fisheries…my dad's cool…not totally….but he is sortta cool.…"

So we learn he is a Chomsky nut. Not only does that give us a sense of this guy's intellectual limitations, but it may explain why he is giving a paper to Holocaust deniers titled "Liberalism, Holocaust and war against Muslims". Chomsky goes out of his way to deny the Jews a unique role as the victims of a modern racism whose extreme possibilities the Holocaust revealed: the possibility of an absolute "Nazi-Jew" model of victimization, a model that is now (mis)applied to all kinds of relationships to assert the undeniability of someone's putative victimization. Chomsky cannot say "holocaust" without asking why some other victim group (it is almost always supposed victims of America) don't get more attention. And to this end, he has supported serious Holocaust deniers in discrediting the victim status of Jews. As Pierre Vidal-Naquet writes in "On Faurisson and Chomsky", in Assassins of Memory (NY: Columbia University Press, 1992):
To be sure, it is not the case that Chomsky's theses in any way approximate those of the neo-Nazis. But why does he find so much energy and even tenderness in defending those who have become the publishers and defenders of the neo-Nazis, and so much rage against those who allow themselves to fight them? That is the simple question I shall raise. When logic has no other end than self-defence, it goes mad.
Crazy or just funny? is apparently the question on the minds of some of Shiraz Dossa's students, as we see from the most recent page of comments at ratemyprofessors.com:
interesting, funny, we watched a lot of daily show with John Stewart. He's a hard marker though.

Dossa is very smart but he really is worthless as a prof and I think he would admit that; we were supposed to study Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and the like but instead we watched the Daily Show and listened to him rail against all his various hatreds. Funny how he lives and collects a generous salary in the part of the world he ridicules for a living.

Good prof overall. First year class didn't really suit him though as most people in there didn't seem to care about the topics. Interesting books. On tests always refer back to Chomsky in your answers.

I dislike Dossa as a teacher and possibly as a person. He is based, unorganized, not clear, and damn annoying. He makes his students unconfortable, and it is near impossible to achieve a high grade in that class unless the students nose is lodged way up Dossa's ass. STAY AWAY

DO NOT take this class. "Dr" Dossa (he's very proud of his Ph.D) rants all day about George Bush. He does not teach you ANYTHING. I still do not know anything about political science. The exams and paper topics are ridiculous. There is no text book, etc. He marks SUPER hard. This was just an absoulutely awful experience. DON'T DO IT!
Well, it's refreshing to see some of the students know what a sorry joke it is for professors to spend their whole day in resentment of the society that rewards them with comfortable lives and status. But why should the students have to put up with this crap where, when the professor isn't ranting, he is showing Jon Stewart videos? Not only does it waste their tuition money and time, it will be increasingly held against them in the real world as employers learn about the nonsense that pervades our universities. Graduates will be considered idiots until proven otherwise.

Now, if you think I am being too harsh about a guy I don't know much about, have a look at one of his book reviews (pdf) from 2002:
On Rushdie, though, [Parekh's] handling of the complex issues is fatuous: [according to Parekh] his novel is "brilliantly written", it is a "serious literary work" but Rushdie shows "poor literary judgement" and a "remarkable lack of political judgement" but "brilliant" nevertheless. In their reaction, "the Muslims" however, were moved by a "sense of power" and "a mean desire for revenge" abetted by leaders who were "unwise", who were ill-informed about the history and culture of Britain, and who "were not well-versed in the liberal discourse of free speech" and so on.

With precision and expertly, Parekh deflates Rawls's and Raz's pretensions to ecumenical fairness: both in fact privilege liberal justice, both patronise non-liberals. For Kymlicka's version Parekh has little sympathy, bluntly dressing down Kymlicka's liberal credentials. He finds it lacking in liberal equity and justice. Kymlicka's liberal theory is disdainful of non-liberal cultures; as an argument it is "not ... coherent and convincing". But having staked his terrain, Parekh commits harakiri: he throws in the towel (ch. 9); he surrenders to the superior claims of liberalism advanced by the troika of liberal theorists. In conflicts pitting the liberal orthodoxy against the non-liberal challengers, he solicitously avers, liberal society's "operative public values ... should prevail" because they are shared and deeply held by the liberal majority (i.e. white Christians). In effect, Parekh endorses the liberally mandated boundaries and exclusions of Rawls, Raz and Kymlicka, as essentially right. His saying that dialogue, sensitivity, understanding are still crucial in no way obscures his abject concession: that liberal public values and liberal rationality should trump rival ideals and values in the final analysis. This volte face, at the very least, suggests a deep ambivalence and incoherence in Parekh's attitude to multicuturalism
[...]
In his critical foray, Carens refutes the Orientalist canards about Muslims, and he does so intelligently. His strategy, nevertheless, is too defensive and unwittingly lends some credence to the extant anti-Muslim repertoire. For example, his ambivalent syntax about the Muslim (Quranic) position on female circumcision, and on the democratic legitimacy of 1997 elections in Iran even though the reformist candidate, Ayatullah Khatami, won by a huge margin (plus 83 % voter turnout). Like many Western liberals, Carens is not sufficiently well-informed about the culture and politics of Iran, and thus implicitly bolsters the hostile liberal discourse on Muslims. For instance, it is not very reassuring to encounter sub-headings like "Genital Mutilation" and "Wife-Beating". In a chapter in which Carens attempts to challenge the ruling prejudices against Muslims. No doubt unintentionally, Carens's tacitly reinforces the very prejudices he wants to extinguish.

In the end, Parekh aligns himself with English liberal individualism and liberal nationalism, against the cultural and religious claims of non-liberals. By contrast, Carens is the post-colonial liberal with considerable theoretical and practical sympathy for non-liberal forms of life, for the integrity of their cultures. In his own way, Carens honourably inclines towards a kind of liberal communitariansim that is disposed to respect non-liberals and their choices.
So, when he is not writing apologetics for women-hating regimes, including one that brutally beat, raped, and killed a fellow Canadian, what does Dossa himself believe in? That is the question that naive students always ask with a prof. like this. They shouldn't expect an answer beyond some fantastic gibberish because this is the kind of writer who takes pride in not being fooled by any normative "western" ideal - which are always deemed oppressive - and in being against oppression. That's not saying much; but try as you might, you will find this kind of writing doesn't add up to much, never does, never can, except that it allows some to fall into a fantasy world of heroic freedom fighters spouting bitter words against a fallen creation that only an elect few can understand and remedy.

Dossa makes a living criticizing liberalism, but only pushes the gnostic tendencies of liberalism into deeper fantasies that deny the need for shared cultural norms as a basis for human freedoms. This kind of resentment - like all resentment - is inherently delusional to some degree, just as the "multiculturalism" he vaguely lauds is an incoherent fantasy ideology, as I have often noted at this blog.

But Dossa has found his demon - "liberalism" - and he is going to flail it to kingdom come, berating the liberals for asserting some western, white male, bourgeois norm as universal at the cost of oppressing all those for whom it is not, says Dossa, normal. But Dossa is of course playing the same game of those he reviles - i.e. dissimulating his own institutional power and the reigning norms of the academy - just read this paper and try to figure out what possible reality, what transcendent truths, he stands for other than the putative victimization/empowerment of those who are his academic allies.

This paper appears in a journal, Political Theory. But can someone as resentful as Dossa have a political theory? As Eric Gans, the world's leading thinker on resentment, notes of Dossa's hero, Chomsky:
His political writings, from what I have seen of them, are litanies of accusations of immorality and greed directed against those in power, particularly in the United States. At best, such criticism can bring scandals to light; it is incompatible with any kind of political theory. "Anarchism" is just another word for a personal nihilism protected--and in cases like Chomsky's, richly rewarded--by the very order one affects to despise. Were I an anarchist, I would feel myself obliged to reject the benefits of such an order. Diogenes lived in a barrel; I doubt if Chomsky does.
Any real political theory must begin with some understanding of, and respect for, whatever cultural norms and values are for. To argue that our ethical values are tools of oppression in a world where mainstream culture only serves the powerful, as if our very culture were a conspiracy against the weak, the many, or the few, is nonsense. It is ignorance of the basic anthropological purpose of culture, which is our collective and univerally-shared means of engaging in exchange, and thus building an order in which we all contribute to keeping ourselves from meaningless violence through our common deference to the transcendent world of signs. If you want better to understand what I mean, check out the Gans link immediately above.

If you ask the universities why they allow themselves to be corrupted by angry nihilists, they will tell you about the importance of academic freedom. But what the universities really mean is that they have lost any basis for distinguishing serious intellectual endeavor from resentful nothingness, as long as the latter is of the leftist nihilist variety and is teaching that standards and common sense are tools of an oppressive "liberal" hegemony. In other words, the angry leftist (preferably not white or male) professors can use moral blackmail to gain institutional power and dominate the education sytem. Thus we have, for example, the ridiculous conspiracy theorists of "Scholars for 9-11 truth" teaching in North American universities. Such nutters are apparently tolerated in the name of intellectual and academic freedom. But universities are much less tolerant of conservative loons and a way is found to push them out the door (they can even get rid of the President of Harvard for a minor indiscretion against political correctness), which is where all loony teachers should be pushed.

Let's see how long the system protects chaps like Dossa. Let's see if the Canadian Main Stream Media gets on this guy's case. Will they ask whether he was given money by the Iranians? But don't bet on the MSM bringing attention to what nonsense is really in power.

---------------------------------

UPDATE: 11 AM PST, Dec. 13: the Canadian media are now picking up this story. The Globe and Mail interviewed Dossa so I am now happy to present his explanation for his attendance at what was widely reported, in advance, to be a conference at which Iran would advance its agenda of questioning the established facts about the Holocaust and their connnection to the legitimacy of the founding of the modern state of Israel. Doug Saunders of the Globe writes from London:
Gathered in a Tehran auditorium yesterday were some of the world's most notorious figures: Holocaust deniers, neo-Nazis, leaders of the Ku Klux Klan. And among them, somewhat incongruously, was a soft-spoken political science professor from Nova Scotia.

The presence of Shiraz Dossa of St. Francis Xavier University at a Holocaust conference organized by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has raised eyebrows in Canada. Mr. Ahmadinejad has called for an end to Israel's existence, and the conference is widely seen as a provocative exercise in anti-Semitism.

In an exclusive interview from his hotel in Tehran yesterday, Dr. Dossa said that he had gladly accepted the invitation from Iran's Islamist government to attend the conference, and that he had welcomed the opportunity to criticize the Western world and its policies. But, although he is no supporter of Israel, he said he was horrified to discover that he was sharing the stage with overt anti-Semites and supporters of Adolf Hitler.

"I have nothing to do with Holocaust denial, not at all," he said, defending the paper he read. "It's a paper about the war on terrorism, and how the Holocaust plays into it. Other people have their own points of view, but that [Holocaust denial] is not my point of view."
[...]
Dr. Dossa, the lone Canadian at the event, describes himself as an anti-imperialist and an admirer of left-wing U.S. scholar Noam Chomsky. He said he was surprised that Canadians were alarmed by his presence at the conference.

"I was invited because of my expertise as a scholar in the German-Jewish area, as well as my studies in the Holocaust," he said, noting he had published an academic book on the ideas of German Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt, whose best-known works dealt with the Holocaust. "There was no pressure at all to say anything, and people there had different views."

While a copy of his paper could not be obtained last night, Dr. Dossa described it as an essay on the abuse of the imagery of the Holocaust.

"My essential point is that the Jewish loss -- which is, of course, a reality, and anyone who denies it is a lunatic -- the focus here is on how the Holocaust is a political construct, distinct from the Jewish loss at the hands of the Nazis. And that political construct has been used to justify certain policies by people, some of whom are Zionists. And now that whole issue plays into the war on terrorism, which is essentially a war on Islam."
[...]
Dr. Dossa said he was alarmed to find that Holocaust deniers played such a visible role in the event.

"I did not know exactly who was coming to the conference, and frankly, I think these people are hacks and lunatics," he said. "I frankly wouldn't even shake hands with most of them."

But he said he supported Iran's motives for holding the conference.

"I understand where the Iranian government is coming from. Because I am well aware that for at least the last four or five years, there has been a steady stream of invective directed at Iran by Israel. People like [Israeli Prime Minister] Ehud Olmert have threatened Iran repeatedly with a nuclear holocaust if they did not fall into line. And there has been a steady stream of anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sentiment -- so I can see why Iran is nervous.

"My stand is that Iran is trying to embarrass the West and say, 'Look, we are practising what you preach. We are allowing freedom of discussion of just about any issue, including the Holocaust.' And I agree with that."
[...]
Dr. Dossa, a Canadian citizen who was born in Uganda and came to Canada in the 1970s, has Iranian roots on one side of his family. He said he accepted the invitation from Iran, which paid his expenses, as an opportunity to visit his ancestral land, and that he will travel the next week with his young daughter.

He also said he had expressed alarm at the extremists in an interview with Iranian TV, which broadcast the entire two-day event live.
Well, I find it unbelievable that any modestly-educated, newspaper-reading person with an interest in this subject would not have known in advance what kind of conference this was going to be, and not have had some idea of the type of people who were going to attend. Maybe Dossa is massively naive, but I doubt it. While I reject his claim that Olmert has threatened Iran with nuclear annihilation (Israel only claims that it will defend against the explicit threats of Iran's leaders to annhilate Israel) I will not speculate on his specific (to this event) motives further. But take a look at the comments to the Globe and Mail article if you want to be depressed by how many readers of that once august journal will jump to the defense of Dossa - many fail to distinguish academic freedom from academic nonsense with a vicious agenda; other readers however think he is full of it and don't buy his "excuse" for attending.

What is missed in all of this is the question of whose political stance is really the most dependent on both the memory of the Holocaust and on a need to memorialize that event incorrectly. People of Dossa's persuasion argue that the guilt flowing from the Holocaust is misapplied and used to outlaw or shun criticism of Israeli, and by extension, American policies in the Middle East. Quite aside from the fact that Western universities are filled with criticism of Israel and America, from professors and students, and that the media take a largely anti-Israel view as evidenced in the recent war between Israel and Hezbollah, the postmodern, postcolonial left have to obscure the fact that it is precisely their intellectual position that most depends on memory of the Holocaust. The "white guilt" and the idea of "racism" that are essential to the revelation of the postcolonial left stem, historically, from the realization, via the Holocaust, of what racism, when practiced by a modern industrial state can look like in its most extreme form. The fact that this realization came most fully to light through, and at the historical moment of, the Holocaust, and via the butchering of a Western or white people, is part of the unease the Holocaust creates in the postcolonial left and the reason why many deny that the event is somehow unique, somehow specifically Jewish, in nature.

What the left refuses fully to engage is the reason for why it was specifically the Jews who were the Nazis' victims. The Jews were hated and scapegoated by the Nazis as supposed agents and manipulators of the modern marketplace that was seen to be an alienating and de-masculinizing force. Jews were also hated, as they had always been, as the discoverers of monotheism and members of the first nation whose special covenant with God, along with the refusal of many to convert to Christianity, made members of the later nations and monotheist faiths susceptible to resentment of Jews for allegedly thinking "they're better than us". Thus the Nazis alleged that the Jews were not simply a backwards tribe but, along with the Anglo-American-led Freemasons, were out to control the world. They were the secret hand behind the Treaty of Versailles, they controlled the Bank of England, etc. etc. In other words, the Jews were hated for the signs of their "firstness" in matters of nations and markets, for being an allegedly destabilizing force, for putting their freedom before others' equality.

Little has changed. The present state of Israel, and the United States, are hated for the same reasons. The postmodern left, of which Dossa is clearly a part, is all about denying the universal human need for the kind of firstness, innovation, and freedom, that Israel and the United States represent in this world. The left would rather live under some tyranny (though they will never admit it must be tyrannical) trying to enforce "multicultural" equality on the world, forgetting what all the murderous and inequitous attempts to impose "equality" on the world resulted in in the last century.

Hatred of Israel is essentially a lack of faith in the possibilities for maximizing human innovation and progress via the vehicles of self-ruling nations competing in a global economy. The Mullah-led state of Iran is today the leading global force contesting this idea. It does it in the name of the Ummah but attracts many non-Muslim sympathizers. In taking Iran's side, notwithstanding its frequent claims to be about ready to destroy Israel, Dossa is demonstrating Judeophobia, even if he is not aware of it. The postmodern left makes a distinction between anti-Zionism and antisemitism, but they naively miss the point that the way they criticize Israel is pretty much the same "logic" with which the Nazis criticized the Jews. This is why the Jewishness of the Holocaust and the uniqueness that attends any and every memorable historical event must be downplayed. The event-based nature of human anthroplogy, the scenic nature of human self-understanding, is thus obscured. Chomsky and his legions assert that the Holocaust is just one of many similar crimes, the most recent being conducted by Israel and America (those "dirty Jews"). And the scary thing is how many at the Globe and Mail comments page have fallen for this postmodern hate mongering.

The Brussels Journal has more on "Canada's shame".

A CBC online story on Dossa has now appeared, here. It reports, sadly, on how Dossa's university has been shamed by his attendance at the conference; and it quotes most uncritically from the Globe and Mail interview, portraying Dossa as a sincere leftist - interested in defending Islam agains the "Zionists" - who was duped by the Iranians and their bankrolling of his trip to his ancestral homeland. On Israel, the CBC has no honour, and hence no shame.