Sunday, November 29, 2009

MEC Buycott

Update:

Vancouver's MEC "Buycott" to counter the angry scapegoaters who want Mountain Equipment Co-op to stop sourcing products from Israel was, from my vantage point, a success. I was only there for half an hour but saw many people stopping outside to sign the petition and have a chat with the organizers. Inside the store, there was a noticeable group of buycotters around the Israeli-made underwear and water bottles. I had a chat with Jonathan Narvey, at whose site earlier in the day I watched a video, reminding us of all the high-tech products serious Israel boycotters will give up if they aren't just self-righteous poseurs wanting easy ways to identify with (and hence further encourage the production of) putative victims of the only state in the Middle East that has yet readily adapted to the liberal values of the modern global marketplace. At MEC, I was glad to discover that Israel is not just a land of computer programmers, chip makers, and fruit growers. They also work at the other end of things. Here are a couple of snaps of my purchase which should keep me dry and comfortable in worship of Vancouver's Arcadian religion:




For photos and film on the event, Jonathan Narvey points us to Aha media. Jonathan also has blogged his own excellent write up.

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Late notice, sorry, but I think I'll head down to Vancouver's MEC in a couple of hours to support the Israel Buycott
Vancouver Action Alert: BUYcott MEC Goods on Sunday, November 29! « BUYcott Alerts

Here's a photo from the Toronto event yesterday:

Lumpygrumpyandfrumpy

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Update 2

Here's some interesting discussion of the possible future of boycotts and buycotts from Adam at the GAblog:
The only real contribution made by the Left to contemporary politics has been in its pioneering use of boycotts—whether it be the strike, the Montgomery bus boycott, the boycott of South Africa in the 80s, and, more recently (and, of course, far less obviously virtuous), attempts to gin up shunning campaigns against “socially irresponsible” companies like Wal-Mart.

Whatever one thinks of any particular cause, one can’t deny that the boycott is a completely voluntary and non-coercive form of political action—it may be experienced as coercive by its targets, but that just means that a new set of imperative have been introduced into your “table.” If you wish to sacrifice sales in order to continue with practices you consider necessary and justified, that’s up to you. (You can market yourself as a company willing to stand up to unwarranted intimidation—buy our products and stand alongside us!) My point here, though, is that advertising, that practice wherein the seller presents potential buyers with a model of what it would mean to possess the commodity or, to put it another way, where the producer or seller thinks about how its products and organization take shape in others’ self-representations, is where boycotts would show their results. More commons and skillful uses of boycotts might lead to all kinds of economic “irrationalities” (according to what model of rationality, though?) but it might be that a richer sense of the assemblage of imperatives one articulates with each new sale and purchase would create a more rational system overall. When some powerful activist group targets a corporation, there appears to be a conflict between the company’s duties to its shareholders and to some notion of social responsibility, but if ignoring the demands of that group ends up reducing sales, those duties are no longer competing. Nor need things end there—other groups are free to weigh down on the other side, and the company itself is free to make its case to the public; others can propose boycotts of companies that cave into the noxious activist group, etc. Boycotts can get more sophisticated and targeted (new companies would spring up to consult on them), and companies will more and more market themselves as “pro-family,” “pro-community,” or anything else. Of course companies do this now, but given the kind of development I am proposing, these claims would come under closer scrutiny all the time, and branding become an activity carried out by consumers as much as producers.

The moral imagination might think it needs to discipline the market, but the opposite is likely to be the case more often—we will become more conversant in the economics of morality. Indeed, we could imagine getting to the point where no moral claim for reform will be taken seriously without the proposal, at least hypothetical, as a kind of metric, of a boycott that would likely do more good than harm.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Ezra Levant in Vancouver

Ezra came into town for a whirlwind stop at Vancouver's Cherie Smith Jewish Book Festival Wednesday night. Someone won a book for knowing the four Canadian cities in which Ezra would find himself over twenty-four hours today/tomorrow. Ezra was introduced by bee man, Mark Winston, who admitted to growing up in Cleveland, where all the Jews were Democrats and all the WASPs Republicans. Winston hadn't met a Republican 'till he was about twenty-five, and thought it novel that we could now be blessed with the company of conservative Jews.

Ezra recounted his story, which I assume is well-known to readers of this blog, of his 900-day Orwellian dance with the Alberta "Human Rights" Commission. He also gave us a brief history lesson on the 1960s-70s campaign to silence an elderly Nazi kook, John Ross Taylor, and his antisemitic telephone answering machine, that led to the provisions in Canada's "human rights" act that allow for the prosecution of telecommunications "likely" to expose someone to hatred or contempt. In doing so, Ezra condemned the Jewish lineage of Canada's "hate speech" censorship laws. "The Jews," he despaired, "so smart as individuals, so dumb as a group". Now, if only someone took that to the Human Rights Commission, how many days of investigations...?

Ezra has mastered the telling of his story and figured out the considerable joke potential in its absurdities, yet like a great jazz musician each time you give him the floor he makes the standard into something fresh and newly embodied; his every gesture and word spins forth in sarcasm and anger that this is how he has come to his public moment in a country whose greatness is/was its freedom. But at the end of the day, Ezra seems to truly believe that the "hate speech" mandate of the "human rights" commissions will in future be abolished.

But I wonder if his attraction to the argument that "censorship is not a Jewish thing", that the Jewish intelligentsia does not support it (except for neurotic Woody Allen types, and the hate law-invested Canadian Jewish Congress) is not really as much an unspoken campaign to change ordinary Jewish minds as it is a confident description or present Canadian reality.

When I asked Ezra where the political opposition to abolishing Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act was really coming from, he suggested there is a fear within the Harper government (and perhaps the Liberals?), of the damage that sundry demagogues of the left might do, given their taste for self-righteous caricatures of PM Harper as some kind of dangerous man with a semi-secret agenda that threatens our rights. Indeed, since the left has few other kinds of arguments today, one can appreciate that they must be desperate for new material. And, in the present political environment, a few votes in a few ridings could make the difference in an election outcome.

Furthermore, as the recent news makes clear, the Conservative Party has its eye on winning a lot of the Jewish vote away from the Liberal Party of Canada, especially in certain swing ridings. And so I wonder if this is not a good part of the source of politician fears of being condemned for putting "Nazi" hunters out of business. Ezra made fun of Jews who wanted to get even with the Nazis in the 1960s by lobbying for "hate speech" laws, thus empowering themselves with government sticks to have a few whacks at some pathetic representative of the enemy. The real Jew, he suggested, has confidence and fights off his indolence so that he can publicly debate and call out the hateful for all to see and shun, while working at the never-ending task of telling the truth of the Holocaust to each new generation of confused Canadian youth.

I overheard two things of interest as the crowd left the talk: 1) A man said to his apparent wife, in mid-conversation, that something had to have been done about Jim Keegstra teaching hate to the schoolchildren in Alberta. She replied, well maybe we don't need the "human rights" act, but just the criminal code. (While Keegstra was tried under the criminal code, I nonetheless took this as a sign that Ezra had an effect on challenging someone's fear that "Nazis" must be suppressed by bureaucratic censors.) 2) A couple of middle-aged women were made a little gaga by the super-charged talk/performance: "he must have an IQ of... 145!"

The more I think about it, maybe the path to getting rid of Section 13 is to keep Ezra talking and to have the CJC taken over by Jewish mothers...


It must be hell being a public speaker with cameras constantly flashing at you. So I only took one shot of Ezra, not the best I'm afraid (pre-talk, before the arms were flailing).

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Fraudulent Science

The local worthy, ahem, who writes for the Vancouver Sun had a little conniption a while ago about the anthropogenic global warming "skeptics" who assert that we are currently witness to a lot of "junk science". Stephen Hume wrote:
In the world of climate skeptics, skepticism is apparently acceptable only when it agrees with the climate change skeptics' point of view. Show skepticism toward their own implausible theory of a vast scientific conspiracy at leading universities to deceive the world about global warming with fraudulent "junk science" and it's just unworthy scoffing from a lazy, dishonest hack.
[...]
"Junk science" is often used by non-scientists to imply that work by scientists is false or incompetent, although the term is an oxymoron since if it's "junk" it can't, by definition, be science. And if it is genuine science, it can't, by definition, be junk.
Well, I wonder if Mr. Hume will now advise us which it is, in light of the apparent revelation of fraudulent science being conducted at the heart of the AGW industry.

In an earlier article, Hume invokes Britain's top science academy, the Royal Society, and its recent rejection of the "skeptics", as the epitome of good science. Today, I had moment to remind myself of the origins of modern science and the Royal Society in a comment at Pajama's Media (Charlie Martin's post on the Hadley Climate Research Unit's betrayal of our trust in the peer review processes of science, that sparked some comments on whether peer review is essential to science) that might be worth reproducing here, since, along with illuminating the circumspect origins of "good science", and its relationship to the honour of the gentleman observer, it ends with Adam Katz's illuminating comment on a concern dear to our hearts: should we be raving about or reviling the youth of today?:
It’s interesting that the little debate that has erupted here parallels that which occurred at the birth of modern science. As the publisher’s blurb (http://press.princeton.edu/titles/2353.html) for Shapin and Schaffer’s book on Robert Boyle’s airpump reads:

In the aftermath of the English Civil War, as people were groping for new forms of political order, Robert Boyle built an air-pump to do exper­iments. Does the story of Roundheads and Restoration have something to do with the origins of experimental sci­ence? Schaffer and Shapin believed it does.

Focusing on the debates between Boyle and his archcritic Thomas Hobbes over the air-pump, the authors proposed that “solutions to the problem of knowledge are solutions to the problem of social order.” Both Boyle and Hobbes were looking for ways of establishing knowledge that did not decay into ad hominem attacks and political division. Boyle proposed the experiment as cure. He argued that facts should be manufactured by machines like the air-pump so that gentlemen could witness the experiments and produce knowledge that everyone agreed on. Hobbes, by contrast, looked for natural law and viewed experiments as the artificial, unreliable products of an exclusive guild.

The new approaches taken in Leviathan and the Air-Pump have been enormously influential on historical studies of science. Shapin and Schaffer found a moment of scientific revolution and showed how key scientific givens–facts, interpretations, experiment, truth–were fundamental to a new political order. Shapin and Schaffer were also innovative in their ethnographic approach. Attempting to understand the work habits, rituals, and social structures of a remote, unfamiliar group, they argued that politics were tied up in what scientists did, rather than what they said.


And, as Bruno Latour in his book We Have Never Been Modern writes:

Far from “situating Boyle’s scientific works in their social context” or showing how politics “presses in upon” scientific doctrines, they [Shapin and Schaffer] examine how Boyle and Hobbes fought to invent a science, a context, and a demarcation between the two. They are not prepared to explain the content by the context, since neither existed in this new way before Boyle and Hobbes reached their respective goals and settled their differences.

The beauty of Shapin and Schaffer’s book stems from their success in unearthing Hobbes’s scientific works – which had been neglected by political scientists, because they were embarassed by the wild mathematical imaginings of their hero – and in rescuing from oblivion Boyle’s poilitical theories – which had been neglected by historians of science because they preferred to conceal their hero’s organizational efforts. Instead of setting up an asymmetry, instead of distributing science to Boyle and political theory to Hobbes, Shapin and Schaffer outline a rather nice quadrant: Boyle has a science and a political theory; Hobbes has a political theory and a science. The quadrant would be uninteresting if the ideas of our two heroes were too far apart… But by good fortune, they agree on almost everything. They want a king, a Parliament, a docile and unified Church, and they are fervent subscribers to mechanistic philosophy. But even though both are thoroughgoing rationalists, their opionions diverge as to what can be expected from experimentation, from scientific reasoning, from political argument – and above all from the air pump, the real hero of the story.
[...]
Boyle carefully refrained from talking about vacuum pumps. To put some order into the debates that followed the discovery of the Toricellian space at the top of a mercury tube inverted in a basin of the same substance, he claimed to be investigating only the weight of the air without taking sides in the dispute between plenists and vacuists. The apparatus he developed… that would permanently evacuate the air from a transparent glass container was, for the period – in terms of cost, complication and novelty – the equivalent of a major piece of equipment in contemporary physics. This was already Big Science….

While a dozen civil wars were raging, Boyle chose a method of argument – that of opinion – that was held in contempt by the oldest scholastic tradition. Boyle and his colleagues abandoned the certainties of apodictic reasoning in favour of a doxa. This doxa was not the raving imagination of the credulous masses, but a new mechanism for winning the support of one’s peers. Instead of seeking to ground his work in logic, mathematics or rhetoric, Boyle relied on a parajuridical metaphor: credible, trustworthy, well-to-do witnesses gathered at the scene of the action can attest to the existence of a fact, the matter of fact, even if they do not know its true nature. So he invented the empirical style that we still use today.

Boyle did not seek these gentlemen’s opinion, but rather their observation of a phenomenon produced artificially in the closed and protected space of a laboratory. Ironically, the key question of the constructivists – are facts thoroughly construced in the laboratory? – is precisely the question that Boyle raised and resolved. Yes, the facts are indeed constructed in the new installation of the laboratory and through the artificial intermediary of the air pump….But are facts that have been constructed by man artifactual for that reason? No: for Boyle, just like Hobbes, extends God’s “constructivism” to man. God knows things because He creates them. We know the nature of the facts because we have developed them in circumstances that are under our complete control. Our weakness becomes a strength, provided that we limit knowledge to the instrumentalized nature of the facts and leave aside the interpretation of causes. ONce again, Boyle turns a flaw – we produce only matters of fact that are created in laboratories and have only local value – into a decisive advantage: these facts will never be modified, whatever may happen elsewhere in theory, metaphysics, religion, politics or logic.


So you see, science, as a human practise, cannot be understood absent certain understandings of the role of an honorable “gentlemen” observer/fact recorder. But the “peer” is a necessary but not sufficient part of explaining the overall scientific process. A genealogy of “peer review” would have to start at least here though of course our understanding of the “gentleman” goes far back into the history of aristocratic values and their social roles. Anyway, consider that there is a fundamental difference between science and other forms of human-focussed knowledge in that anyone who has a great revelation into human nature can be, say, an artist or religious leader and make a genuine contribution. If those of us without scientific credentials or at least some serious amount of formal education, have a genuine revelation in the natre of physics or chemistry, there is really little we can do with it. No one will listen to us, because we will not know how to represent our little revelation in a way that makes it presentable to those in the field. We won’t know how to relate it to the established understandings and limits of present-day science. Science is ineviatbly a guilded discipline and has to have the honour code appropriate to such. Of course, this has to adapt to new technology and the increasing demands for tranparency and it has to know that it cannot have the final word on how we interpret the causes or socio-political-religious implications of its facts. But if science begins with facts, we need to be able to trust the integrity of those few with the resources and training to create them in the first place.

I chose the blogging name “truepeers” because it is inherently paradoxical; you can’t specify exactly what is a true peer. But, at the same time, you can’t engage in this world, or any human world, without adopting, as a base assumption, some form of the paradox. Which reminds me of something a friend writes (http://gablog.cdh.ucla.edu/) :

Perhaps the assumption that certain moral and ethical dispositions (certain patterns in the relations between ostensives, imperatives and declaratives) are required for a healthy political economy would help account for and benefit from exploring the one time and place in history, so far as I know, that genuinely approximated a free market: the 19th century Anglosphere, the U.S. and Great Britain (and Canada?) in particular. One of the greatest accomplishments of early modern bourgeois culture was the conversion of aristocratic into republican values, as notions like “nobility” and “virtue” came to be attached to action and character as opposed to being markers of social class. The “gentleman” and the “lady” were critical results of this process, and these figures eased the transition from status to individuality, maintaining their currency until very recently—only the cultural revolution of the 60s decisively dealt them their death blow (how long before the terms no longer even grace our public restrooms?). The gentleman and the lady domesticated ancient notions of “honor,” directing them away from violence perpetuated in the name of tribal and patriarchal prerogatives and protection towards a harmonious balance between public and private life, centered on the division of sexual roles in the nuclear family. My point here is not that we can revive ladies and gentlemen, but simply that no account of free market economics would be complete without them— without the assumptions of upward mobility and generational transmission through discipline and effort, including female responsibility for sexual deferral and “manly” self-reliance, implicit in these “categories,” the daunting rigors of Victorian laissez-faire economics would be unthinkable. An originary political economy today, then, would likewise have to study the novel forms of individuality and family life emergent today. An unsentimental and disinterested observation of today’s children and youth—if we can impose upon ourselves the discipline restraining us from either marveling at their supposedly splendid new qualities or flunking them due to their deviation from a more familiar model—would certainly be a good place to start, especially given the almost absolute independence and simulated internal coherence accredited to the world of teenagers in particular by the contemporary market. Maybe the representation of children holds at least one key towards unlocking today’s political economy.

Is antisemitism funny?

Is our inability, at first, to see why we are antisemitic, why we resent or fear the Jew among nations, funny? You be the judge, old man: J’Accuse!: The Frame-Up of Captain Israel by Major Dictatorships

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Richard Warman threatens Walker Morrow

Richard Warman is threatening to sue Walker Morrow. Must read.

http://walkersunknownthoughts.blogspot.com/2009/11/my-newspaper-caved-in-to-richard-warman.html

The man who won't lie for peace

Wishful thinking pervades discussion of some fancied Middle East "peace process". Here's an excellent video of a lecture given at Yale by Prof. Barry Rubin that touches on many issues but especially on the nature of Arab antisemitism and why, at the end of the day, Israel simply cannot exist in the Arab mind. That's to say, the predominant ideology in the Arab world, in which Jews are but weak, evil, and dhimmis, believes Israel is but a short-term fluke, a Western mistake, or conspiracy, that is bound to fail; and hence it is worth doing whatever it takes to wait for the final victory when Israel will be wiped off the map. Rubin does not tell us what the "liberal" West wants to hear about some "solution" to the Arab-Israeli problem being already known, if only everyone can compromise a little. He refuses to lie for peace. The West, he says, has fancied that it can reshape the Arab and Muslim worlds to adapt liberal values. What is really going on is that Western thinking is being reshaped by Arab and Islamic antisemitiam and anti-Western values. It's a long video but, as Gil Bailie (ht) says, worthwhile. It seems that Rubin believes that in the short term, at least, it is ordinary Muslims whose live are much more threatened by the Islamists and the lies the West tells, than is Israel where people have actually learned from experience. Indeed the great threat is the expected appeasement, by the Arabs, of Iran, when the latter gets nuclear weapons. This, Rubin suggests, will increase the likelihood of something akin to the Iranian Revolution, or Talebanization, in the Arab countries.

Professor Barry Rubin - "How the PLO 'Adapted' Antisemitism as 'Anti-Zionism'" from YIISA on Vimeo.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist

So says Baudelaire. But what about Herman Van Rompuy? Paul Belien tells us:
Get used to the name. He is the first President of the European Union, which with the ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon by all the 27 EU member states in early November was transformed into a genuine United States of Europe.

The President of Europe has not been elected; he was appointed in a secret meeting of the heads of government of the 27 EU member states. They chose one of their own. Herman Van Rompuy was the Prime Minister of Belgium. I knew him when he was just setting out, reluctantly, on his political career.
[...]
A closer look at Belgium, the laboratory of Europe, shows, however, that the country lacks more than patriotism. It also lacks democracy, respect for the rule of law, and political morality. In 1985, in his book De Afwezige Meerderheid (The Absent Majority) the late Flemish philosopher Lode Claes (1913-1997) argued that without identity and a sense of genuine nationhood, there can also be no democracy and no morality.

One of the people who were deeply influenced by Dr. Claes’s thesis was a young politician named Herman Van Rompuy. In the mid-1980s, Van Rompuy, a conservative Catholic, born in 1947, was active in the youth section of the Flemish Christian-Democrat Party. He wrote books and articles about the importance of traditional values, the role of religion, the protection of the unborn life, the Christian roots of Europe and the need to preserve them. The undemocratic and immoral nature of Belgian politics repulsed him and led to a sort of crisis of conscience. Lode Claes, who was near to retiring, offered Herman the opportunity of succeeding him as the director of Trends, a Belgian financial-economic weekly magazine. It is in this context that I made Herman’s acquaintance. He invited me for lunch one day to ask whether, if he accepted the offer to enter journalism, I would be willing to join him. It was then that he told me that he was considering leaving politics and was weighing the options for the professional life he would pursue.

I am not sure what happened next, however. Maybe word had reached the leadership of the Christian Democrat Party that Herman, a brilliant economist and intellectual, was considering leaving politics; perhaps they made him an offer he could not refuse. Herman remained in politics. He was made a Senator and entered government as a junior minister. In 1988, he became the party leader of the governing Christian-Democrats.
[...]
In 2003, however, the Christian-Democrats were not in government and Herman was a leader of the opposition. His complaint was intended to cause political problems for Belgium’s Liberal government, which refused to divide the BHV district because the French-speaking parties in the government refused to accept the verdict of the Supreme Court. The Flemish Christian-Democrats went to the June 2007 general elections with as their major theme the promise that, once in government, they would split BHV. Herman campaigned on the issue, his party won the elections and became Flanders’ largest party.

Belgium’s political crisis dragged on from June until December 2007 because it proved impossible to put together a government consisting of sufficient Dutch-speaking (Flemish) and French-speaking (Walloon) politicians. The Flemings demanded that BHV be split, as instructed by the Supreme Court; the Walloons refused to do so. Ultimately, the Flemish Christian-Democrats gave in, reneged on their promise to their voters, and agreed to join a government without BHV being split. Worse still, the new government has more French-speaking than Dutch-speaking ministers, and does not have the support of the majority of the Flemings in Parliament, although the Flemings make up a 60% majority of the Belgian population. Herman became the Speaker of the Parliament. In this position he had to prevent Parliament, and the Flemish representatives there, from voting a bill to split BHV. He succeeded in this, by using all kinds of tricks. One day he even had the locks of the plenary meeting room changed so that Parliament could not convene to vote on the issue. On another occasion, he did not show up in his office for a whole week to avoid opening a letter demanding him to table the matter. His tactics worked. In December 2008, when the Belgian Prime Minister had to resign in the wake of a financial scandal, Herman became the new leader of the predominantly French-speaking government which does not represent the majority of Belgium’s ethnic majority group. During the past 11 months, he has skillfully managed to postpone any parliamentary vote on the BHV matter, thereby prolonging a situation which the Supreme Court, responding to Herman's own complaint in 2003, has ruled to be unconstitutional.

Now, Herman has moved on to lead Europe. Like Belgium, the European Union is an undemocratic institution, which needs shrewd leaders who are capable of renouncing everything they once believed in and who know how to impose decisions on the people against the will of the people. Never mind democracy, morality or the rule of law, our betters know what is good for us more than we do. And Herman is now one of our betters. He has come a long way since the days when he was disgusted with Belgian-style politics.

Herman is like Saruman, the wise wizard in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, who went over to the other side. He used to care about the things we cared about. But no longer. He has built himself a high tower from where he rules over all of us.
I guess Tony Blair was too obvious.

Meet the President of Europe | The Brussels Journal

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Vote for Covenant Zone

We're unfaithful only to the right people!
The Infidel Blogger Awards: Voting for 2nd Annual Infidel Blogger Awards Has Begun!

A kind soul has nominated us; the blog has not been super-active lately, but this will change when work and family pressures subside and I believe we have an archive and comments sections full of great material that deserves your consideration for outstanding achievement in infidelity.  And don't forget to vote for someone's mother.

Sincerely yours,
etc. etc.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday Cleansing

Washing the dirt off a confounding week of highs and lows, with stories glimpsed between the headlines on a damp Friday night.

Apology For Slavery... From Africans: Nigerian Civil Rights groups are demanding that Nigerian tribal chiefs apologize for their role in capturing and selling fellow Africans during the trans-Atlantic slave trade:
The Civil Rights Congress (CRC), a leading coalition of human rights groups, said in a sequel to apologies by the US Senate last June and by Britain's former prime minister Tony Blair for slavery, it was time African traditional leaders take their cue.

"We cannot continue to blame the white men, as Africans, particularly the traditional rulers, are not blameless" said the grouping in a letter to Nigerian traditional chiefs.

"The rulers had participated by - helping to systematically raid and kidnap ... defenceless communities ... and then trading them off with European, American and other collaborators.

"They must apologise on behalf of their ancestors and... put a final seal to the history of slave trade.

"In view of the fact that the Americans and Europe have accepted the cruelty of their roles and have forcefully apologised, it would be logical, reasonable and humbling if African traditional rulers, [... can] accept blame and formally apologise to the descendants of the victims of their collaborative and exploitative slave trade..."
Polluted China: Haunting photographs in a gallery of horrors that catalogues rural life in today's polluted People's Republic of China. An interview with photographer Lu Guang is translated here:
Q: The places you shot at where you think the pollution was very serious, how did the villagers see the pollution in their lives? Did they feel the pollution was very serious and threatening their lives or [that the polluting industries] driving the local economic development was more important?

Lu Guang: In fact, there is no economic development for them, it only brought them destructions. Back then they had fertile fields. There were many water conservancy facilities built in the 70’s, all were every good, used to irrigate the fields. But now, pollution came and the water could not be used to irrigate the fields anymore. After a long time, now all the water conservancy facilities are wastes. The polluted water has led to contamination of the underground water. All their drinking water is underground water, water in the wells or from the water tower. Water from water tower flows straight to their homes, unlike us, the tap water we drink is already processed. Drinking this kind of water for long time, many people got very ill...
What Do Ann Landers and Daniel Defoe Have In Common? Both wrote advice columns for newspapers, reveals the new book on the history of "Agony Aunts": Never Kiss a Man in a Canoe: Words of Wisdom from the Golden Age of Agony Aunts. A review in the UK's Guardian reminds us how much those columns are a mirror of their times:
In our anti-authoritarian age, in which nobody's opinion – professional, amateur, drawn from experience or the ether – is deemed to be more or less valid than anyone else's, the hectoring tone of the Victorian agony aunts sounds utterly alien and alienating. ... Many agony aunts [now] seem to prefer a generalised I-feel-your-pain response. Cloying sympathy has replaced bracing empathy, which may make the reader feel momentarily better but doesn't really do much to resolve the problem.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Recognize them. Before the Human Rights Commission outlaws infamy

The "Georgies" are back:
The Infidel Blogger Awards: Welcome Thought Criminals, Kuffars & Apostates to The Infidel Blogger Awards 2nd Edition!

At their best, these awards recognize reality, so let's not go off again with that mentally unstable, seasick reptile, in California.

This year's categories!

Best Overall International Infidel Blogger


Best Overall Canadian Infidel Blogger

Favourite Non-Politically Correct MSM Pundit

Most Despised Politically Correct MSM Pundit

Favourite Apostate Blogger or MSM Pundit

Blogger or Pundit most likely to be charged under Hate Crime Laws

Blogger or Pundit most likely to be assasinated by Islamists

Biggest Pro-Censorship Ass-Hat in the Known Universe

The Bloody Cost Of Willful Denial

Writing from a nation at war with itself, Pakistani blogger Nadeem F. Paracha's passionate post reminds us that the world is filled with souls at war with reality, and how tragically common it can be for the human mind to imprison itself within a cage of lies, binding itself into a slumber so deep that neither bullets, burnings nor bombs can successfully wake it from a living dream of willful denial.

A Nation Of Sleepwalkers:
...
Take for instance the recent case of a famous TV anchorman who visited a devastated area in Peshawar that was bombed by a remote-controlled car bomb. He talked to about 10 people at the scene. More than half of the folks interviewed spouted out those squarely unproven and thoroughly clich├ęd tirades about RAW/CIA/Mossad being the ‘real perpetrators’ and that ‘no Muslim is capable of inflicting such acts of barbarity.’
...
I felt bad for the few bystanders at that Peshawar bombing site who kept contradicting their more gung-ho contemporaries by reminding them that for months the shopkeepers where receiving threatening letters from the Taliban warning them that they should stop selling products for women and ban the entry of women in the area.

One shop-owner who said he lost more than millions of rupees worth of goods in the blast was slightly taken aback when the anchor asked him who he thought was behind the bomb attack. For a few seconds he looked curiously at the anchor’s face, as if wondering why would a major TV news channel be asking a question whose answer was so obvious. ‘What do you mean, who was responsible?’ he asked. ‘The Taliban, of course!’

Fasi Zaka wrote a scathing piece on the floozy response of some students who chanted slogans against the Kerry-Lugar Bill outside the freshly bombed Islamic University. He was battered with hate mail, even from those who did agree with him that it were the Taliban who bombed the unfortunate university. But these folks turned out to be even worse than the deniers. They are apologists of all the mayhem that takes place in the name of Islam in this country.

Every time the barbarians set themselves off taking innocent men, women, and children with them, these apologists suddenly emerge to write letters to newspapers and try to dominate internet forums explaining the intricate ‘socio-economic problems’ that are turning men into terrorists.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Giving Thanks On Remembrance Day

I was pleasantly surprised that of all the young people I work with at my new job, it was the most rebellious one who ventured out in acceptance of my invitation to spend part of our holiday attending the Remembrance Day ceremony at Victory Square in downtown Vancouver.
The idea of paying respect was new to them, they said as we chatted while we watched the gathering crowd. They had heard of this event before, but admitted they had never really paid much attention to it. As the ceremony unfolded I would occasionally glance in their direction to see a face staring in rapt attention at the ongoing ritual, eyes darting to the program in order to dutifully follow along when we would we welcomed to join the choir in song.
"What happens now", I was asked when the ceremony seemed to conclude. "Now we have the third parade", I said. "We saw the 'parade' of officials laying their wreaths and paying their respects, we're seeing the bands and branches of service parading past us now, and when they finish we all go down to the Cenotaph, to walk past and pay our individual respects. One of the ways we do this is to lay our red poppies on one of the wreaths that has personal meaning to us."
We watched parents reading aloud to their young children, in answer to curious little fingers pointing at one wreath or another; we watched teenage couples, men and women old and young circle around, then stop, and think, before depositing their poppies and moving on. One younger gentleman got down on bended knee, shut his eyes for a long moment before adding a red poppy to the growing number gathering around a particular memorial wreath in honor of recent sacrifice in Afghanistan. Almost on signal, the clouds let loose a brief sizzle of rain they had kept in abeyance throughout the morning, to mix with our tears.
What do you think of all this, I asked my young charge on our way out.
"Thanks for inviting me", came an uncharacteristically soft-spoken answer, and as I write this it occurs to me to add that this was the first time I had ever heard them say thank you for anything. The eyes looked into mine, then drifted up and away to someplace else, someplace within. "This was important for me to see. I'm gonna remember it."
And so should we all.

They shall grow not old,
as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them,
nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun
and in the morning
We will remember them.

We Will Remember Them.

Remembrance Day 2009

Three moments in Canadian history:

The Landing of the First Canadian Division at St. Nazaire, 1915 after Edgar Bundy, A.R.A



Jack McIntosh recalls the story behind this nose art. "We had flown six operations before the crew decided it was time to give our Halifax a name and some type of nose art painting. I was asked to pick a name and selected my home city in Alberta, Medicine Hat. The nose artist was one of our ground crew and he picked the painting of Walt Disney's 'Goofy' dropping bombs. The thinking was that each time the aircraft flew, the enemy was receiving more 'medicine' from the 'hat'. The painting first flew on our ninth operation on 21 June 1943. Over the next five months, I completed 23 operations in 'Medicine Hat' and although we had a few close calls, we never received another hit or injury to the crew. The name and nose art made it feel she was 'our' aircraft and would always bring us home."


Poppies

by 8th Argyll


There you are,
standing,
in a field of innocuous
dress scarlet tops
that conceal a deadly
purpose:
steel clothed in velvet.
And there she is, the poet,
standing,
dress ablaze in poppies,
scarlet petals curling
round a darkened head
of deadly harvest.
One day soon
the Afghan moon will
glow, and you will be there,
standing,
gazing at self-same heads
that ebb and flow
in silvered glow
of mountain night;
a trick of light,
so poetic
swaying in the
balmy breeze;
and you may think
of Wordsworth’s
Lakeland view.
What was it now?
‘Ten thousand saw I
At a glance’.
But they were gold,
what you see is
moon-blanched red,
gaunt faces of the
needled –dead.
But then again,
you may think
upon the mangled
waste of Somme,
where poppy-red,
life-blood hue,
a match for tunics next to you,
was born the everlasting
symbol of the dead.
And you may think,
as poets think,
of things that others
take as read.

March 09
smsteele


With no vividly realized res publica of their own to talk about, they take refuge in silence, unable to formulate their loyalties, confused over their deepest aspirations. Yet they are surcharged with a sense of duty and when the great occasion of war comes, their efforts seem to know no limit. They must surely have an intuitive faith in the unexpressed essence of their traditions for few of them have a formulated creed.
-Arthur Lower, 1946

Monday, November 09, 2009

20 Years After The Fall Of The Berlin Wall, Why Is Communism Still "Cool"?

"Let us never forget Nov. 9, 1989, nor the sacrifices that made it possible," said President Obama today in his reflection on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

And let us never forget the evil that raised that wall in the first place, the evil that continues to enslave so many with tragically false promises of peace and prosperity. One wall down, but many more still to go, many nations still prisons, many souls trapped within -- with so few hammer blows being raised to rescue them, and no shortage of masons willing to raise the walls higher still.
"Communism is the death of the soul. It is the organization of total conformity - in short, of tyranny - and it is committed to making tyranny universal."
__Adlai Stevenson
Warning: the following video has some graphic content, though nothing obscene... unless you want to count the willful ignorance and moral callousness that keeps people believing that communism is "cool".

video

The Nazi-Islamist Cabal

This ad appeared in today's National Post (HT: BCF):



Comments welcome.

Three funny videos.

I'm relying on others to do the heavy lifting today. Here are a couple of videos that do the work better than my old mate, Hydraulic Jack.

http://nodhimmitude.blogspot.com/2009/11/fort-hood-shooting-mystery-deepens.html

Excellent video at the bottom of the post:

http://nodhimmitude.blogspot.com/2009/11/im-not-making-up-this-story-below.html

And here's one I wish were real:

http://nodhimmitude.blogspot.com/2009/11/i-wish.html

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Radio Memories: Service And Leadership

"I was convinced that the President needed three essentials if he was to survive his job: a sense of humor, a belief in the power of prayer, and a refuge away from the Executive Mansion."

In the years before the shadow of television fell upon our culture, families gathered around another item of living room furniture for their entertainment: the radio, closing their eyes and opening their imagination to the wonderful world of radio drama, the theater of the mind.

Every Sunday we tune in to memories of those distant times, to find a link between our present and our past, in the hope of lighting a way to a better future. Rarely do the distances feel as magnified than with this week's offering: the historical drama, Mr President.

Radio drama allowed playwrights and sound effects crews the opportunity to recreate history in detail rarely possible in television, with that visual medium's requirements of physical sets and physical actors needing to look like their historical counterparts. Starting in 1947, the ABC network began a radio program that plunged audiences for the next six years deep into American history in a series built around an interesting hook to make history itself seem more interesting to listeners expecting otherwise from boring history studies endured in school.


Robert Jennings and Dick Woollen created an anthology program starring Edward Arnold entitled "Mr President", dramatizing, and humanizing, a different President of the United States in each episode. The hook was that the actual identity of the President would be withheld, thereby inviting the audience to test their knowledge of US history. At the play's climax, the announcer (in the early seasons) or a character in the story (in the latter days of the series) would reveal whether the audience's best guess had been correct... an interesting intersection with the formula used in detective radio programs so popular with listeners in those days.

Each week the series would open with a short introduction meant to strike a difficult balancing act between establishing the President as a leader worthy of respect, but a mortal man, not an infallible genius:

Mr President, at home in the White House, elected leader of our people, our fellow citizen and neighbor.
These are little known stories of the men who've lived in the White House.
Dramatic, exciting events in their lives that you and I so rarely hear.
True, human stories of... Mr President.
The series starred Edward Arnold week in and week out as Mr President, an actor whose rise from humble beginnings to movie stardom rivals the rags-to-riches biographies of many of the presidential characters he portrayed on the air.

Many of the surviving episodes teach an elusive lesson: that the greatest leaders often arrive at their title through being such excellent servants, and that the secret to effective leadership lies in the humility of a leader's service, and the sincerity of a leader's sacrifice, as they give in order to receive.

This episode of Mr President was first broadcast on a Sunday long ago, on October 31st, 1948. See if you can guess which Chief Executive made the observation opening this week's Radio Memories post; but don't worry, I picked a rather easy one. If you enjoy the challenge, and develop a taste for more, be forewarned: the few surviving Mr President shows tend to be listed in collectors' and dealers' archives by the name of the President, rather than a general episode description... defeating the whole purpose of the historical guessing game in the first place! (It would be like listing whodunit detective programs by titles such as, "the butler shoots the millionaire", "the secretary poisons the boss"...)


Meanwhile, we invite you to listen to a servant of the people renewing his humility through his sense of humor, refreshing his courage through meditative prayer, and remembering his mortality by balancing the stress of duty with a calming, restful peace; all worthy habits that help us survive the tests of character involved in becoming a true leader.


video

Previous Radio Memories posts:

Mercury Theatre: Hell On Ice
Gunsmoke: Indian Raid?
Biography In Sound: George M. Cohan
Fibber McGee And Molly: The Scrap Drive
D-Day Broadcasts (from June 5, 1944)
Red Skelton: Vacations
Frontier Gentleman: Gambling Lady
Information Please: Guests Walter Duranty and John Gunther
The Aldrich Family: Cleaning The Furnace
Tom Mix, Terry and the Pirates VE Day broadcasts from May 8 1945
You Are There: The Capture Of John Wilkes Booth
Fort Laramie: War Correspondent
CBS Radio Workshop: Son Of Man
Great Gildersleeve: Easter Rabbits
Dimension X: Time And Time Again
An American In England: Women Of Britain
Cavalcade Of America: Bob Hope Reports
The March Of Time: Feb 10 1938 broadcast
Hear It Now: Coming Home From The Korean War
Escape: Vanishing Lady
Rogers Of The Gazette: Rewinding The Town Clock

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Saturday Night Stirrings

A sobering shower of grey stories, fallen from the margins of headline news, for late-night contemplation on a wet autumn evening.

Generation Of Ingrates: Shocking statistics from the UK, with the infuriating revelation that Britain's war memorials are being increasingly desecrated by thieves and vandals at the rate of more than one a week:
Most of the vandals are never caught, and those who are face little deterrent. Offenders found guilty of criminal damage under £5,000 can only be dealt with in a magistrates' court, where the maximum sentence is six months' jail.
MPs and military campaigners yesterday voiced disgust at the trend and expressed concern that the incidence of desecration is growing when British soldiers are fighting and dying on the front line in Afghanistan.
The figures have been compiled by the Tories. Defence spokesman Dr Liam Fox said: 'At a time when we are honouring those who have sacrificed themselves for our security, this sick and despicable trend is a miserable commentary on contemporary Britain.'

Islamists' War On Women: While US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was visiting Pakistan in late October, a car bomb targeting Peshawar's women erupted in the Mina Bazaar, a market selling wedding dresses, toys and food to the poorer residents of the northern city. Over 100 people were killed, of which at least 60 were women and their children.

This grim figure is double that of the death toll from a car bomb driven by an islamist through Peshawar's busy Khyber Bazaar in early October. 49 people were killed and over a hundred wounded when explosives diabolically laced with bearings and shells erupted next to a bus filled with women and children.

In reading the regional media we can see how the scale of the islamists' attacks may change, but the hatred towards the intented targets remains the same.

Two girls' school were bombed last week in Pakistan's Khyber Agency; it's startling to learn how common such horrors have now become:

Militants have destroyed hundreds of schools, mostly for girls, in the northwest of the country in recent years.
Nearly 200 schools were destroyed in the Swat valley alone during a two-year Taliban uprising to enforce sharia law in the district.
On Wednesday, two women teachers driving home from school were dragged from their car and sprayed with machine gun fire in the Bajaur Agency, in the northwestern corner of the FATA, Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan.

Earlier Saturday, "suspected militants" threw a grenade into a girls' school in a Quetta suburb, injuring two teachers and an 8-year old student.
Grenade and bomb explosions and drive-by shootings are fairly frequent in impoverished Baluchistan province, which is gripped by an insurgency.
16 bodies are still missing from the forementioned late October Peshawar market bombing. It takes a strong heart to read through recent accounts of loved ones still holding out hope that they might recover the remains of their missing families. It is feared that the massive fire unleashed in the crowded marketplace as a result of the bombing has probably burned the missing bodies to unrecognizeable ashes.

"Finding the dead bodies of these missing people is equal to impossible", says a Peshawar public official. Finding a way to understand the depth of the evil triggering these innumerable cruelties seems equally impossible.

Friday, November 06, 2009

The West's cult of human sacrifice

(Update: welcome Steyn/NRO readers; feel free to join the discussion in the comments...)

If you ever doubted that the political correctness of the West is a cult of human sacrifice, one that needs a continual stream of victims to sustain its reality-denying pieties, now is the time to watch the MSM. Wretchard, as he so often does, provides some great analysis of the problem, as he responds to MSM reports that the Fort Hood killer, Hassan, was somehow a victim of Muslim baiting, traumatic stress, and "compassion fatigue" (quotes are from comments 47, 110, 132, and 155):
I wonder whether we as a society kept saying “it’s OK” even when it really wasn’t OK. So a guy like Hasan follows the breadcrumbs without apparent consequence. Political correctness denies him any real negative feedback until one day the breadcrumbs lead him over the edge and society comes at him like Gangbusters. The negative feedback comes all at once all in the shape of the SWAT team.

Even after the Fort Hood incident polite society may still be sort of sending the message “it’s OK” by dancing around the jihad issue. This disincentivizes the Muslims who hate what Hasan did by making them invisible men. Society has built a kind of closet for peaceable Muslims to go an hide in. If any of them wanted to come out and call Hasan an SOB they’d be like little kids looking around them in a haunted wood surrounded by thousands of glowing wolf eyes.

I sometimes wonder whether half the guys who decide to go and become jihadis aren’t carried along three quarters of the way by polite approval and reflexive anti-Americanism until all some imam has to do was pick them up and carry them across the finish line. While it’s true Hasan crossed the line all on his own it may be because he had the guts to put some of the toxic points some people only talk about into action. The things he espoused are old hat. You can get any edgy radical to say them. It was the action that was new.
[...]
All democratic struggles, whether in secular society or in a religious context, are between the region +/- 2 sigma from the mean and the tails. In other words, it’s a battle that the ordinary Joe — or Mehmet as the case may be — must wage to preserve daily life against the brilliant kooks on the right hand tail of the distribution and the moron kooks on the left hand tail. It’s between the people who are content to wait for Jesus — or the 13th imam — and those who for reasons of their own, think they are the Messiah — or Mahdi — himself.

One of the reasons political correctness is so damaging is that it shuts everybody up. It creates inaction, and therefore prevents the implementation of small, relatively painless corrections until a huge head of steam is built up; like a boiler at 2,000 psi, just waiting to blow. It constipates every politician; turns public discourse into codespeak, creates a climate of suspicion, enables fruitcakes and in general turns the whole friggin political arena into a funny farm.
[...]
I don’t think it is right to wish for the death of hundreds of millions of people or to hope for mass deportations. But it is precisely for that reason that it is important to restore a rational process that prosecutes the guilty and protects the innocent. When you think about it there is little to choose from between a system of political correctness which treats everyone, regardless of guilt, as innocent and one that treats everyone, regardless of innocence, as guilty. Both have the same net outcome: the goats have no incentive to separate themselves from the sheep.

Political correctness is lynch mob mentality in another guise. The eventual effects are the same. Group innocence flips to group guilt. Eventually anyway. It just delays the lynching until everyone can be hanged. So everything tootles along in a kind of fake normalcy with everyone smiling fakely at everyone else with gritted teeth until the desired and long awaited Der Tag comes along and then it is open season. The beast gets turned loose and look out below.

Now it is precisely because we must avoid nuking this place and that place in response to a nuke in this American city or that American city that a legitimate war on terror must be fought. That UN rapporteur who thinks using Predators is a violation of international law has everything backwards. If you don’t get them terrorists the day will come when it won’t be Predators but B1s and B2s that will be in action. It’s like the national security equivalent of the subprime crisis. Keep kicking the can down the road until you kick it over a precipice and then follow after it. It’s crazy.

What the subprime crisis — and the deficit spending of today — has convinced me of is that many politicians have absolutely no regard for long term consequences. they couldn’t care less. What matters is now. Ahora. En este momento. What happens tomorrow is none of their concern. Sayonara buddy. Been nice knowing you. You’d think it impossible, but we just saw it happen to the economy. Now we think: but surely the politicians can’t be crazy enough to set up a powderkeg that blow up in our faces. I wouldn’t bet on it.

But I think the real enemy — in the sense of the most important enemy — isn’t a bunch of flea-bitten jihadis sitting in a cave somewhere. It’s Western civilization’s craziness. We are setting our hair on fire and putting it out with a hammer.
[...]
What I’m really scared of, especially after watching the self-flagellating clips on TV talk shows, is that the elite are finally on the road to giving the Openly Ridiculous Order. Hasan created a terrible dilemma for the politically correct. If they recognize his existence their whole house collapses; and rather than bend slightly and allow for the fact that America might just be facing an enemy, they’ve doubled down. It’s incredible, but a lot of them are upping the ante on a patently ludicrous proposition. ‘Hasan was just too compassionate. Hasan was just another victim of George Bush’s failed policy’.

And the net result of this, if the PC clowns can get away with their campaign of inversion they will practically ensure two things happen simultaneously. A: they will make any rational inquiry into traitors in the military impossible and B: they will put all Muslims, however patriotic, however brave under a cloud of suspicion from which they can never emerge. It will be like affirmative action in its worst sense all over again. Rather than promote integration it will promote fractionalization. If America doesn’t have a Muslim problem now it soon will — courtesy of political correctness.

But there’s worse.

Eventually you will have situations in which people who are actually not trusted may be put in formal positions of authority simply because they can’t be questioned. This when the Openly Ridiculous Order situation comes in. When an elite starts to issue lunatic directives a certain something snaps. They lose legitimacy. People obey, but they do not comply. In other words, they start to obey only when the bosses are around. The moment the super leaves the room, they all start to laugh at him.

The really perverse thing about political correctness isn’t that they give you slops to eat; it’s that they give you slops to eat and expect you to smile and ask for seconds. The entire exercise is pointless except as an exercise and confirmation of power over you.

Societies don’t last long when their leaders become ridiculous. It’s a dangerous moment. In many ways the damage that Hasan created in Fort Hood, bad though it was, will be as nothing to the cannons he’s untied that are now rolling unsecured around the deck.

Horror And Heroism At Fort Hood

Praying for the victims, and the families and friends of the victims of the attack at Fort Hood. May they somehow grow the strength to carry the anchor of today's pain, to see through the current darkness to a day where they may rediscover a measure of peace.

Praying for those who place their lives on the line in order to keep us safe. Thank you for your service; may we rise above our many faults so that we may prove ourselves worthy of the extent of your sacrifice.

Praying for our enemies. May they somehow rise above and beyond the false beliefs that so poison their souls, thereby severing the bonds which are meant to connect us one to another.

Thankful to be blessed with heroes like Sgt. Kimberly Munley, who managed to take down the psychopathic gunman, even though she had been shot by him three times:

The hero cop who ended the bloody rampage at Fort Hood by pumping four bullets into the crazed gunman even though she was wounded is known for her toughness, friends say.

Before relocating to Texas, civilian police Sgt. Kimberly Munley spent about five years as a cop in North Carolina where she forged a reputation as a no-nonsense officer.

"I'd like to say I'm surprised, but I'm really not," said close friend Drew Peterson, 27.

"She was born and bred to be a police officer. If you were ever to be in a fight, she'd be the first person to stand up next to you and back you up. She's a tough cookie."

Munley's toughness and grace under pressure were on display Thursday when she and her partner responded within three minutes of reported gunfire, said Army Lt. Gen. Bob Cone.

Munley, who had been trained in active-response tactics, rushed into the building and confronted the shooter as he was turning a corner, Cone said.

"It was an amazing and an aggressive performance by this police officer," Cone said. Munley was only a few feet from Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan when she opened fire.

Wounded in the exchange of bullets, the 34-year-old Munley was reported in stable condition at a local hospital
...
Munley's brother Daniel Barbour told ABC News that his sister had been shot three times in the hand and the leg. One of the bullets pierced an artery, requiring her to undergo surgery Friday.

The diminutive Munley - she stands 5-foot-4 and weighs about 120 pounds - served as a cop in Wrightsville Beach, N.C., before she moved to Texas to enlist in the military, friends said.

She is married with two daughters and is no longer in the armed forces.

"She's the happiest, sweetest, most fun-loving girl you'd ever want to be friends with - and never want to cross," Peterson said.

The hero cop spent Thursday night phoning fellow officers to let them know she was fine and to find out about casualties in the attack - the deadliest ever on a military base in the U.S., Cone said.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The Long Shadow Of Slavery In Mauritania

The Islamic Republic of Mauritania's tradition of chattel slavery is back in the news this week.

A special report issued by Gulnara Shahinian, the first United Nations "Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery", reveals how little progress has been made in ending slavery within the borders of that West African nation.

When a new government came to power in 2007, there were attempts under President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi to pass legislation with sufficient leverage to finally, finally, start getting serious about breaking the chains of slavery in Mauritania. The light of that faint hope flickered in the storm of the country's 2008 military coup, and here we are a year later with the shame intact: people in Mauritania, from the day of their birth, continue to be other people's property. An estimated 20% of the people of Mauritania are considered things, not people...
... for they are slaves.

Against this background, the rulers of Mauritania are accused this week of perpetuating the cultural tradition chained to slavery itself: turning a blind eye to its existence.
Slavery in modern times has been documented in Mauritania by many local and foreign human rights groups and the UN for decades. Most Mauritanian governments, stemming from the military elite, have headed policies of denial regarding slavery, often criminalising organisations fighting slavery or speaking about it to foreign media.
...
Since the 2008 coup, however, civil society has again been limited in its freedom and the military government has shown little interest in fighting slavery and helping slaves to be freed.

The UN's Ms Shahinian confirms that slavery continues to be a problem. "In my visits to communities I met with people who told me that they had been victims of slavery practices such as serfdom and domestic servitude. These people had fled slavery and also told the stories of those they had left behind," she reports from her Mauritania visit.
...
The UN Special Rapporteur urged Mauritanian authorities to do more to address slavery. While the 2007 anti-slavery law was still in place, little is done to implement it, she noted between the lines. "In order for victims to be encouraged to come forward, I recommend that the 2007 slavery law include provisions that provide for victim assistance and socio-economic programmes for their reintegration into society," stressed Ms Shahinian.

Enslaved Mauritanians still have little incentives to come forward, even risking being sent back to their masters by local police.

Ms Shahinian also urged the military government to bring back civil society into the process to fight slavery, as done by the toppled government. "The national strategy to combat slavery should be developed by different stakeholders from the government, local and international NGOs, political parties, religious leaders, trade unions, UN agencies and the donor community," she urged.

Finally, Ms Shahinian found the 2007 law too vague in its definition of slavery, as many master-servant dependencies - often encompassing former slavery bonds - fell short of inclusion in the anti-slavery policy. "In order for the judiciary to effectively use this law, I would strongly recommend that the law be amended to contain a clearer definition of slavery and socio-economic programmes which would act as an incentive for victims to bring cases before the law," Ms Shahinian advised.
One of the abolitionist organizations active within Mauritania is the beleaguered SOS Esclaves. To understand a problem in macro, it's sometimes of service to examine it at a micro level. Towards this end, last year I translated a French television documentary I had found online, which followed members of SOS Esclaves in their quest to free a single Mauritanian slave. The sequential videos of that haunting documentary have since been taken offline, but the translations I made still stand on their own as a sad testament to the scale of the tragedy being confronted, the scope of the difficulty in bringing relief to even a single soul in torment, and the degree of faith required to persevere in the belief that there can be such things as happy endings to this eternal problem, given the cruel indifference that persists hand-in-hand with the shadow of slavery.

Freeing one Mauritanian slave, part 1.
Freeing one Mauritanian slave, part 2.
Freeing one Mauritanian slave, part 3.
Freeing one Mauritanian slave, part 4.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Radio Memories: Cold Shivers

This Sunday's Radio Memories post spins the dial back to a day before television, when radio drama, the theater of the mind, held audiences spellbound with tales of adventure, daring, and, appropriately for this Halloween season: suspense.

When people are aware of the pre-television entertainment medium of radio drama at all, they tend to have heard faint echoes of one particular play: the notorious adaptation of H.G. Wells' War Of The Worlds.

Broadcast live the Sunday night before Halloween Monday, 1938, director Orson Welles and producer John Houseman feared arrest and imprisonment could be their kindest fate when, to their surprise, a frightened nation mistook the dramatized news accounts of a Martian invasion as the real thing. The grim police officers waiting for them by the end of the broadcast made it sound as if the streets were choked with bodies, Houseman later recalled.

(Many years ago I had occasion to read the archived October/November 1938 New York Times newspapers, to follow up the original reporting on the War Of The Worlds story. Everyone has probably seen the "day after" headlines; well, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that within the morning edition of the fateful Sunday itself, the Grey Lady had published a rather lavish article previewing the upcoming Orson Welles WOTW show scheduled for later that evening..! I guess few New Yorkers read the Sunday NY Times in those days, either.)

The resulting outrage over the national panic sparked by the show planted Orson Welles front and center on the cultural map, leading soon to Hollywood calling and the making of the "greatest film of all time", 1941's Citizen Kane.

For nostalgic reasons the Orson Welles-directed War Of The Worlds radio play is often re-broadcast on or around Halloween in our own time, and gets treated as if it should be considered the "greatest radio play of all time". Well, it's a fascinating historical curiosity, to be sure, but it doesn't truly represent the frequent skill dramatic radio demonstrated in sending shivers down the spines of faithful listeners. Even the participants in the WOTW play considered it below average, and when we take the time to listen to the rest of this incredible series, and one harrowing episode in particular, we discover why.

The War of the Worlds broadcast had been part of Welles' ongoing Mercury Theatre On The Air anthology series, begun as a summer replacement program for radio's ratings giant Lux Radio Theatre in July 1938, keeping the time slot warm until the popular show was scheduled to return in the fall. While Lux Radio Theatre brought adaptations of Broadway plays and Hollywood movies to radio, Welles filled his Mercury Theatre radio series with adaptations of the classics of litterature. Week after week listeners were treated to selections ranging from Charles Dickens to Mark Twain, Jules Verne to the aforementioned H.G. Wells, even making room for Welles' personal favorites like R.L. Stevenson's Treasure Island and G.K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday.

Welles and John Houseman continued on air the creative partnership that brought them much attention for their work on the New York stage, and the CBS radio network considered their contribution a prestigious addition to their programming line-up. As summer turned to fall, CBS did what they could to retain the Mercury Theatre series beyond its initial seasonal booking, slotting it in strategically within their Sunday night line-up as high-brow literary counter-programming to what was considered a low-brow comedy show on a rival network.

Virtually the entire run of the Mercury Theatre series has survived, making it that much more of a shame that the modern interest in the singular War of the Worlds play rarely gets extended towards the rest of that first season's offerings, such as the episode Orson Welles himself wrote for October 9th, 1938: an adaptation of a book that came out the previous February, Hell On Ice.

Commodore Edward Ellsberg's haunting naval recounting of the fate of the arctic exploration ship, the Jeannette, was a best-seller that year, and unlike the fantasy Martian invasion of Grover's Mill, New Jersey, Ellsberg's account is based on a true story, pulling together threads from the diaries and journals of crew members who starved or froze to death in the arctic wastes, as well as personal accounts of the pitiful few who survived the disaster... a disaster that may have been avoided:
Naval engineers shook their heads over the Jeannette, reported skeptically that "so far as practicable" she had been fitted for Arctic service. No naval vessel was on hand to do her honor as she waddled out of San Francisco Bay. No naval functionary attended the celebration when she sailed. The Jeannette went to her ruin with only the cheers of landlubbers speeding her voyage.

Orson Welles disappears into the role of reknowned naval engineer George W. Melville, who in real life was one of the few survivors of this polar nightmare, an expedition gone horribly wrong in the worst way imaginable.

Broadcast on October 9th, 1938, three Sundays before the more famous War of the Worlds adaptation cast all of Orson Welles' radio work behind its overwhelming shadow, the forgotten masterpiece Hell On Ice remains one of the most blood-curdling plays produced during the height of the art of radio drama, a forgotten story of real-life courage in the face of an unrelenting cold hell.

So be thankful for the warm sweater on your back and the hot chocolate at your side, as you dim the lights to better imagine yourself eavesdropping on the memories of explorers trapped in ice, and thereby trapped in Hell:


video

For previous Radio Memories posts:

Gunsmoke: Indian Raid?
Biography In Sound: George M. Cohan
Fibber McGee And Molly: The Scrap Drive
D-Day Broadcasts (from June 5, 1944)
Red Skelton: Vacations
Frontier Gentleman: Gambling Lady
Information Please: Guests Walter Duranty and John Gunther
The Aldrich Family: Cleaning The Furnace
Tom Mix, Terry and the Pirates VE Day broadcasts from May 8 1945
You Are There: The Capture Of John Wilkes Booth
Fort Laramie: War Correspondent
CBS Radio Workshop: Son Of Man
Great Gildersleeve: Easter Rabbits
Dimension X: Time And Time Again
An American In England: Women Of Britain
Cavalcade Of America: Bob Hope Reports
The March Of Time: Feb 10 1938 broadcast
Hear It Now: Coming Home From The Korean War
Escape: Vanishing Lady
Rogers Of The Gazette: Rewinding The Town Clock