Thursday, May 31, 2007

We happy few.

We are few but they are many. Come and join us this evening at the Vancouver Public Library in the atrium near Blenz coffee bar. Forget the death hippies. Sit in on the New Blue. Join us at the Covenant Zone. 7-9:00 p.m.

Dr. Dossa and our dumbing down

Some things you wish would just go away. How often must we return to discuss the delusional resentment of Israel among many on the Western left who are never able to digest or admit the plain fact that no significant segment of Arab society has ever recognized the state of Israel as having a right to exist and never will as long survives the present orthodox Islamic understanding in which the lands of Israel are deemed Dar-al-Islam - Muslim lands that, having once been conquered for the true faith, can never again be ruled by infidels without being the focus of a Jihadi struggle to win back the lands for Allah. No Palestinian leader will ever have the right, in the minds of his fellows, to sign a peace treaty with Israel that recognizes any kind of state in which Jews, Infidels, will have some role in ruling Muslims in Dar-al-Islam. No matter what Israel offers, short of packing Jewish bags and going somewhere else, will the Jews of Israel be allowed to live in peace, until this orthodoxy is defeated by some overwhelming reality.

With this in mind, how can one not admire the great patience with which the Israelis treat the Arabs of Palestine, those who have refused and been refused assimilation into the surrounding Arab states, that they may remain in the vanguard of the maddening struggle against the Infidel, sacrificing their own children to the cause. Countless wackos would portray the Israelis as Nazis for acting violently to keep the armed Arabs at bay, all the time ignoring the fact that if this portrayal were true, there would be no Palestinians about. But there are, and Israel continues in the faith that one day Moslems may choose to free themselves from the more devastating aspects of their political faith and get serious about building peace with the Jews.

In the meantime, we have all become familiar with the arguments that proclaim anti-Zionism is not antisemitism, that holding the former antipathy need not entail the latter. In abstract terms, this seems logically sound. And yet, when we examine the nature of anti-Zionist arguments, we usually find that the implied problem with Israel is that it is too Western and technologically and militarily successful (an embarrassment for its often oil rich Arab neighbors whose cultural or political/ethical shortcomings are revealed in comparison), too pushy, too aggressive, too sure of itself, too keen to proclaim a special relationship with God as a model of a covenant for others to follow in creating their own nationhood. In short, once we move beyond abstract logic, we generally find that Israel is resented for being just what the (stereotypical or real) Jew has long been resented for being. Hence the protestations that anti-Zionism is not antisemitism are rarely convincing. What is a Zionist for most anti-Zionists? A dirty Jew.

At least, if you are going to try to convince fair-minded people that anti-Zionism is not antisemitism, you have to put some energy into explaining how this is possible when one leaves the world of abstract logic and enters the real world in which millions of Jewish lives depend on the security of the state of Israel.

What's more, this is especially true if, say, you are someone who takes travel money from the Iranian government, and helps its propaganda efforts by attending Iranian state-sponsored conferences, a state that has repeatedly expressed extreme hostility to the state of Israel. In such a case, it is only fair that you should have to do a lot to convince intellectually competent people that you are not Judeophobic.

Alas, in today's Canada you can put up a rather intellectually shabby defense of your anti-Zionism and find people in high positions in the national media to report that your arguments deserve a fair hearing in an open "multicultural" society. At this blog I have often argued that invocations of multiculturalism are often not the sign of a free and open society, but rather of a nation turning towards some form of imperial or oligarchical rule by self-accrediting experts who are less interested in the world's diverse cultures as they are in keeping the peace among a migratory hodge-podge of peoples who increasingly find themselves without shared understandings about national and constitutional values and norms, as would be necessary to any form of democratic self-rule in which the experts serve the people's will, and not vice versa.

All this is by way of introduction to a question that has been slowing down the writing of this post. Must we rehash all these arguments yet again in order to voice our protest at the support voiced in some quarters for the shabby defense just published by Canadian Professor Shiraz Dossa of his attendance, last December, at an Iranian government-sponsored conference that was held to cast doubt, in some way, on the established memory of the Holocaust as it is generally understood among the world's academic elite?

We first talked about the trip of the St. Francis Xavier University professor to the Teheran Holocaust deniers' conference (a characterization of the conference that Dossa now contests) here.
In my view, there is little of substance to add to that discussion, since I find Dossa has said little new of substance to explain his trip. Yet he has come up with an "explanation" that some apparently find convincing and so we must try to support our initial doubts about the need for more discussion.

Let's start by considering the first news of Dossa's return to the national stage, the story in the Globe and Mail by Michael Valpy who calls Dossa's essay "compelling":
A Canadian political scientist excoriated for attending what was widely labelled a Holocaust-denial conference in Tehran has retaliated with a blistering published attack on his university president and his colleagues for being illiterate Islamophobes.

Writing in the influential Literary Review of Canada, Shiraz Dossa, a tenured professor at Nova Scotia's St. Francis Xavier University, said that his academic integrity and academic freedom were grossly impugned by the university administration, an assault on his reputation that he said has yet to be remedied.

He accused the president and chancellor of authorizing a "small Spanish Inquisition" to denounce him - a campaign he said was initiated by two Jewish professors and the Christian chair of the political science department.
James Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, likened the treatment of Prof. Dossa to the 1950s McCarthy period in the United States when academics and others were subjected to intense pressure not to attend events that were unpopular.

This is the first time Prof. Dossa has spoken out since the storm erupted over his attendance at the Tehran conference in mid-December.

His two-page essay appears in the issue of the LRC that will be posted today on its website, Although the monthly publication's circulation is small, it is widely read in the academic, journalistic, political and public-service communities.

In an interview, Prof. Dossa said he wrote the essay because he wanted to set the record straight and because he still hasn't received an apology from either St. FX president Sean Riley or chancellor Raymond Lahey, the Roman Catholic bishop of Antigonish where the university is located. He also said he has refused to speak to his department chair, Prof. Yvon Grenier, since December.

He wrote that the university administration uncritically accepted the Holocaust-denial label "concocted by the Simon Wiesenthal Center [a Jewish human-rights organization] and the [U.S.] Jewish Defence League and peddled by media outlets such as The Globe and Mail."

Prof. Dossa, a Muslim, teaches political theory and comparative politics at St. FX. His focus as a scholar has been on the Holocaust and its aftermath. He abruptly dismisses any suggestion that he is a Holocaust denier. Rather, he said, his interest has been in what use of the Holocaust has been made to promote Zionism - the right of Jews to a national homeland - and to support the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.

In both his essay and in a telephone conversation, he makes a compelling case for why he attended the two-day Tehran conference, titled "The Review of the Holocaust: Global Vision."
We might pause at this point to query what Valpy considers compelling about Dossa's claims since Valpy concludes his article with an apparent contradiction that weighs mightily on how one should read Dossa's justification for his attendance at an event that was well publicized in advance by the international media, such that any minimally informed person knew, before it happened, that the point of the conference was to cast doubt on the memory of the Holocaust as an iconic event of postmodern times. Rightly or not, it was suggested by the media that Holocaust deniers were to attend alongside those questioning Israel's right to exist.

Valpy first writes:
Prof. Dossa said the presenters, himself included, were invited, but he said he had no idea in advance that Holocaust deniers were on the list. He said that, until his arrival in Tehran, he did not see an agenda, something he said is not uncommon for global South conferences.
And then we are told:
He said he would not have attended a conference entirely of Holocaust deniers because it would have held no scholarly or intellectual interest for him. But a conference with five Holocaust deniers was of academic interest for him to see what kind of reception they'd be given.
Well, that sounds like Dossa did know what the event was about in advance, at least as much as anyone reading the papers. But perhaps Valpy and Dossa were at this point discussing hypotheticals in some intellectual search for best justifications for attending an Israel hate fest held by a totalitarian regime that uses hate of Israel to help preserve its own power which entails much violence towards its own people. Draw your own conclusions.

Let's now turn to the justification of the editor of the pretentious but (in my experience) intellectually boring publication, the Literary Review of Canada:
When Shiraz Dossa, a professor of political science at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, got in touch with us back in April, we felt some shock, followed by acute curiosity. This gentleman had been the brief centre of feverish media attention last December, when he surfaced in Tehran as the only Canadian attending what was being called a "Holocaust-denial conference", supposedly organized at the behest of Dr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad himself and including among its attendees a number of notorious Holocaust deniers or sceptics, such as David Duke.

Four months later, Professor Dossa wanted to tell his version of the story, including the real purpose of the conference (not Holocaust denial), who organized it (not Dr. Ahmadinejad), who attended, and what he thought and felt about the all-out attack on him back home in Canada, particularly from The Globe and Mail and from his own university, St. FX. At the LRC we read his manuscript, which seemed to us a serious exploration of the right of academic freedom in Canada and who gets to exercise that right. After rigorous fact-checking that went on for a number of weeks, we agreed that the essay was ready for publication.

Academic freedom, like all freedom of speech issues, calls on thoughtful citizens to broaden their horizons. It's never individuals who are voicing mainstream or non-controversial thoughts - ideas we can all agree with - who find themselves on the wrong side of academic freedom debates. It is always individuals who are raising uncomfortable ideas that the majority would rather not hear who end up excoriated or denigrated in the media and who are left twisting in the wind by the institutions within which they work. Reading Shiraz Dossa’s essay gives us all the opportunity to confront some important and controversial ideas that go to the heart of our identity as a multicultural nation.

We hope you agree.

Bronwyn Drainie
Before turning to Dossa's "essay", I will ask you to keep in mind those words "rigorous fact checking", and also to ask yourself what academic freedom is for. You see, part of the problem with the cult of multiculturalism is that no one in authority can any longer know, or at least pretend to know, what culture or intellectual freedom is for. To know what culture is for would be to assert a norm, which would in turn be deemed oppressive of those somehow thought to be victimized by hegemonic norms. For today's authorities, it is as if academic "freedom" were a utopian end in itself, as if the end of freedom (which is something that really only exists when it is shared within a society) were not the building of some particular form of social order in which claims of freedom can be weighed against those of order and of sharing responsibly in common projects to expand human freedom. Drainie seems to imply that a happy and balanced social order naturally emerges from everyone being allowed to do their own thing, as if we don't have to defer to any common and particular purpose that inevitably values some histories more than others.

The idea that we, as a duly constituted society, or academy, might make collective decisions about academic values, scares those without a clear sense of Canadian values, or those who fear shared values. For such people, academic freedom somehow came into existence to defend the idea that anything remotely academic that a tenured prof. wants to do with his freedom should be allowed (because who are we to know what may or may not come of it). But what of those who would use our shared freedoms in causes (like those of the Iranian apocalyptic and totalitarian regime) antithetical to our shared freedom? Must our respect for academic freedom always preclude our judging the arguments of a tenured professor as absolutely beyond the ken of serious academic discussion, and a sign that one may not be worthy of keeping his job?

Again, beyond denying us a right to feel intellectually comfortable, does Bronwyn Drainie provide us any real hint of what academic freedom is for? Does it exist primarily to preserve the peace by deferring judgment on contentious issues, or does it exist to allow any and every utopian intellectual to think that his or her resentful critique of the status quo, along with vague promises of an emerging knowledge or ideology that can save us from our fallen humanity, fall within the bounds that a serious regard for serious thinking should defend?

Let's turn now to Dossa's "essay", which should not require too serious a refutation since it in large part relies on the logical fallacy of ad hominem attack, and parts of it have already been ably critiqued by Angry Steve Janke, who makes quick work of the claim that Dossa has been rigorously fact (or logic) checked by the LRC. I won't retread all of Janke's ground, so read him first and then see here what else might be said about the matter at hand. The essay begins with ad hominem:
It would be a shocking event in any university. It was doubly so in a university that takes pride in its “Catholic character.” Last December, St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, authorized a small Spanish Inquisition of its own to denounce a St. FX Muslim professor. It was launched by two Jewish professors and the Christian chair of the political science department (Michael Steinitz, Samuel Kalman and Yvon Grenier). My sin: I attended a conference in a Muslim nation on the Holocaust entitled The Review of the Holocaust: Global Vision. It took place in Tehran, Iran, in December 2006, and it was widely—and erroneously—described in the western media as a “Holocaust-denial conference.” I have never denied the Holocaust, only noted its propaganda power. Yet my university tolerated this assault on me.
But, in my reading, Dossa wasn't widely attacked for denying the Holocaust but for keeping company with the Iranian regime which is evil on so many levels (not least against the Iranian people) and with those who similarly took up the travel-paid invitation from the Iranian government to partake in what was obviously, for the government, a major propaganda event. When I first wrote about Dossa, I noted he was a fan of Chomsky, who is among other things famous for questioning all sorts of "facts" about the Holocaust, including the number of Jews murdered, in such a way as to throw into doubt the general validity of established accounts of the event. Of course he does not admit to "denying" the Holocaust, he just throws doubts on its highly symbolic status or on the uses of the Holocaust symbol in world history. That, we might assume, is Dossa's game too. As Dossa told the Globe and Mail last year
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
Here, we return to the original point of this blog post. Dossa may be able to make a distinction with some coherence in abstract logic. But the relevant question is how, not if, he questions the role of the Holocaust in historical memory. While the company he kept in Tehran is inevitably part of a fair answer, to answer this "how" question properly might require a lengthy study of his work which we cannot do unless someone pays us for time and boredom.

But it seems inevitable that we anticipate that Dossa's reasons for resenting the present historical status of the Holocaust are relevant to our defense against the resentment and delusion that all manner of Jewish historical precedence, from Moses to Auschwitz, causes in people. It seems clear enough that Dossa resents a memory of the Holocaust that makes the "Jewish loss" somehow more (or unduly) significant in world history than are other losses, even those which compete (and not without some success) with the memory of the Holocaust when their supporters call the Israelis Nazis. But resenting the "uses and abuses of the Holocaust" is, it seems inevitably, to resent the Jews for being the kind of people that led to the kind of historical resentment that led the Nazis to a profoundly revealing form of racism and genocide and modernity that is, somehow, more historically significant in this day and age than other losses (rightly or wrongly, if we can even pose the question). In other words, at a certain point of understanding, it is likely not possible really to keep separate, in one's mind, resentment of the "uses and abuses of the Holocaust in historical memory" from a general resentment of the Jews' role and existence in history. To keep the two separate, one must remain in the realm of abstract logic, and not in the real historical world.

I believe it is a rhetorical sleight of hand to deny that anyone who questions major aspects of the mainstream historical memory of the Holocaust, labeling it a "political construct", anyone whose questioning is evidently motivated by an aim to deny sympathy to the state of Israel, is not in some sense denying the Holocaust. But it is a very deft sleight of hand and to argue this point properly is not an easy proposition, as Dossa no doubt intuits. It is a tough point to make because it is not widely appreciated that a widespread historical memory of an event can emerge that is in no way either a conspiracy or a rationally refutable "political construct". A certain form and content of historical memory is an inherent part of an event as it unfolds for the first time. But to argue this fully would require an anthropological essay on the nature of human historicity - a discussion of how facts about an event and its historical memory emerge in tandem, how and why participants in an event consciously act in ways that irreversibly shape the memory of the event - and now is not the time or the place.

Suffice it to say that in an age when Israelis are repeatedly framed as the new Nazis by the left, I doubt Dossa's concern is really to get at the heart of the widespread desire for victim status in the postmodern age. He just wants to limit the victim status he implies (with no evidence) is supposedly widely accorded the Jews of Israel. While I would agree that limiting victimary status is generally a fine thing, Dossa wants to dole out victim status to the Palestinians and the martyred professor victims of McCarthyism (but he still has his job and can still get published!), which is not so fine.

Moving on, Dossa writes:
The anti-intellectual storm at St. FX was driven by two fallacies pushed by the media and the literati. The first is that Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has dismissed the Holocaust as a “myth” and threatened to “wipe Israel off the map.” In fact, Ahmadinejad has not denied the Holocaust or proposed Israel’s liquidation; he has never done so in any of his speeches on the subject (all delivered in Farsi/Persian). As an Iran specialist, I can attest that both accusations are false. U.S. Iran experts such as Juan Cole and UK journalists such as Jonathan Steele have come to the same conclusion.1

As Cole correctly notes, Ahmadinejad was quoting the Ayatollah Khomeini in the specific speech under discussion: what he said was that “the occupation regime over Jerusalem should vanish from the page of time.”2 No state action is envisaged in this lament; it denotes a spiritual wish, whereas the erroneous translation—“wipe Israel off the map”—suggests a military threat. There is a huge chasm between the correct and the incorrect translations. The notion that Iran can “wipe out” U.S.-backed, nuclear-armed Israel is ludicrous.
Israel is a small country, it could be largely destroyed with one bomb. As an aside, the fact that this nonsense got past the LRC "fact checkers" should be enough to end the debate on whether fact/value distinctions can be made by an "objective" political science (they cannot be), (a debate which Dossa, as a one-time reader of Eric Voegelin, could be more open about).

Dossa is referring to this blog post by Juan Cole, which is a response to this article by Christopher Hitchens. One leftist blogger aptly describes Cole's tone here as hysterical, and out of touch with reality. I think most readers would concur that Cole is hardly strong support for anyone on this point, a curious authority for Dossa to invoke. The leftist blogger then goes on to show that there is surely no doubt that Ahmadinejad and the Iranian regime have repeatedly called for Israel's destruction. Any sane fact checker would surely read this debate and come down on Hitchens' side. After all, given the array of domestic media outlets and international attention that the Iranian regime controls, if they wanted to correct a widespread misinterpretation or mistranslation of their intentions, they could very well do so. Instead, the calls of "Death to Israel" remain a standard and uncontroversial part of Fridays in Tehran. But I don't think Dossa's heart is really in denying Iran's eliminationist attitude to the state of Israel, a position which is merely orthodox in Islamic circles and nothing new. Rather, he seems furiously stuck on insisting that hatred of Israel is not Holocaust Denial or antisemitism, as if all the contempt he has received were caused by some outrageous logical error.

Dossa then writes:
The second western fallacy is that the event was a Holocaust-denial conference because of the presence of a few notorious western Christian deniers/skeptics, a couple of a neo-Nazi stripe. It was nothing of the sort. It was a Global South conference convened to devise an intellectual/political response to western-Israeli intervention in Muslim affairs. Holocaust deniers/skeptics were a fringe, a marginal few at the conference. The majority of the papers focused on the use and abuse of the Holocaust in Arab, Muslim, Israeli and western politics, a serious and worthy subject for international academic discussion.
Again, what Dossa fails to grasp is that the resentment of the self-styled representatives of the "Global South" for the West, in a conference devoted to "the use and abuse of the Holocaust" can only be distinguished from a more general resentment of the symbols of Western firstness (which include the Jews and Israel, the discoverers of monotheism, the first nation) by rhetorical sleight of hand. Those in attendance may not have been conscious of hating Jews (though some clearly were), but you can be sure they talked of Israel and the West's "use and abuse of the Holocaust" as if Israel were some kind of domineering Western hegemon controlling historical memory and conspiring to keep down the masses of the developing world. In short, they were figuring Israel, consciously or not, in terms of the stereotypically pushy, conniving, domineering Jew-American.

But the really offensive part in all of this is the great delusion that "Global South" or Muslim intellectuals who make a living condemning the West, often while living in the West or while in service to totalitarian regimes like the one in Tehran, are in any way serving the cause of the poor and marginalized in this world. What, pray tell, would a withdrawal of Western involvement in the Muslim world entail for those so isolated? Keeping in mind that one cannot have trade, development, medical, and technological ties without political involvements of many kinds, it would surely mean mass death in those large populations whose numbers would not be sustainable if cut off from much if not all of the modern world. Again, this is another topic best left to another time. But I'll just drop a link to one of my favorite essays, if anyone is interested in dropping this and doing some real thinking.

After another slough of ad hominem attacks buttressing weak arguments, while showing an apparent desire to label those who condemn Islam and the Palestinians as "racists" (as if Islam were a race) and while trying to claim Islamophobia as a form of "antisemitism" (see Angry Steve Janke's post) and the ethical equivalent of Judeophobia (another point for another day), Dossa moves on to a defense of academic freedom saying nothing more than that academics have a right to speak the truth as they see it. He says nothing about when an academy has a right to sanction its staff (keeping in mind that Dossa has only been criticized - he still has his job) or judge them for ethical stupidity or an overabundance of resentment and delusion.

Then, in Dossa's conclusion, there is one more outrageous statement that must be addressed, since it snuck by the LRC fact checkers:
Iran’s elites have protected Jews since Cyrus ruled West Asia. Anti-Semitism is a Euro-American problem, not an Islamic one. Iranian opposition to Israel and its wars on Muslims/Palestinians is ethical and political; it has absolutely nothing to do with hating Jews qua Jews.
I have little idea where to start with this. Public opinion surveys shows that antisemitism is pervasive in the Arab world, as any study of Arab media shows. I can't recall at hand a survey of Iranian opinion but does Dossa really want us to believe that antisemitism doesn't exist there too, that the regular chants of "death to Israel" are simply political and not racial? But what, in any case is a "Jew qua Jew"? Someone with a funny nose? Surely, there is no meaningful understanding of "Jew" that is not essentially ethical and political in nature; so how does one really distinguish a war against Jewish ethics from a war against Jews? Only in abstract logic, not in reality. One could be for the ethics and ideas of some Jews as opposed to those of other Jews. But to be this, one would have to recognize the legitimacy of Jewish politics, perhaps even of the state of Israel.

The few Jews in Iran - who serve in a commercial function that the present regime (as in the past) is wise to protect for it could not readily replace their knowledge and international connections - would surely not agree that having the status of privileged Dhimmis is the same as being free and equal members of the Islamic Republic. It is possible to protect Jews and to resent them at the same time. Indeed I rather imagine this is the norm in much of the world.

It is no doubt true that a lot of the antisemitism in the Muslim world today is, in form and content, an import from Europe. Yet there is also no doubt that some form of Judeophobia (as opposed to the nineteenth-century European construction of "anti-Semitism") is a part of the Islamic self-understanding, since the political religion of Mohammed clearly evolved in opposition to the historically pre-existing monotheistic faiths. Just read the Koran and Sunna and see how many times the Infidels, unbelievers, and even "Jews" are cursed.

Anyway, to say that "anti-Semitism" is not an Islamic problem today is simply the baldest of lies, or the most dishonest of word games. The evidence is everywhere for anyone who looks. I will only note, as a first thought, the standing ovation given to the hateful speech of the former President of Malaysia, Mahatir Mohamad, at the 2003 Islamic Summit Conference (for a discussion see here).

I actually have some empathy, not sympathy, for Dossa. I sense that he is an angry man, living in a mental turmoil that is only partly of his own making. However, the fact that we are all resentful and deluded, to some degree, is no excuse for our nation having leading journalists who call Dossa's rhetorical games "compelling" and invoking our need to read them as part of a great struggle for freedom. There is nothing liberating for the poor masses of the world in this sort of performance, nor for Canadian students, nor for Jews and Israelis. A growth in freedom does not come from wanting it or demanding it, in some abstract conception of "human rights" divorced from shared social responsibilities; it comes from sharing in real revelations of human self-understanding and in shared ethical covenants that expand the possibilities for all in a shared human society.

We must take seriously, however, the possibility that much of the Canadian establishment has lost any sense of what it stands for, beyond the idiotic name calling of victimary politics, and its attendant cultural relativism and false moral equivalencies. A nation is only free, the people can only hope to rule themselves, when there is some shared understanding about right and wrong, when one doesn't have to spend endless time to pretend to debate, e.g., the most ludicrous propositions about Israel. To deny this need for a shared reality, for a national Covenant, while making noises about "academic freedom" and invoking the trauma of "McCarthyism" is not only to forget that the academic left has yet to redeem its supporting role in the tyranny and mass murder that was real world Communism in the 1950s, but that it continues to play the victim game in a way that corrodes the possibility of serious thinking in our public and academic life. If this goes on, sooner or later we will fall apart into real sectarian conflict.

When we see the degrading oppositional culture of academe bring another mind into the mimetic madness of endless trials of accusation and rivalry, we really must think twice about our paeans to academic freedom and multiculturalism, especially when they don't actually prove conducive to free and open discussion about truth. And when a "rigorously fact checked" essay in a national publication allows the claim that anti-Semitism is not also a Muslim problem today, we should know that we no longer have a sufficient regard for truth or freedom.

True freedom requires some kind of shared discipline, based on a concern for shared human truths. In a truly free academy, people would grapple openly with the big theological questions, and openly weigh the pros and cons of, say, Jewish, Christian, and Islamic belief. But to do this, they would have to share a faith that they were collectively pursuing some fundamental human truth and not just letting every sect and camp have their turn at the front of the room, or letting every lonely and angry intellectual do his own thing.

I am not a Christian, but I have no problem in ending on a Christian note because I see the anthropological value in many of Christianity's truth claims. In a truly free academy, a guy like Dossa would not be reduced to puerile smear campaigns against "Christian boys". He would be taking on ideas that today we can only find at humble web logs, such as Gil Bailie's:
During his 40 days in the desert, Jesus was tempted to do things that would make the truth of his claims and the meaning of his existence irrefutable. He declined. His followers down through the centuries have sometimes tried to do what Jesus refused to do.

But irrefutability is overrated. Christian faith appeals to freedom and to love, both of which require the absence of irrefutability, what Hans Urs von Balthasar calls "the purely worldly power of persuasion." The truth of Christianity is simply Christ -- the Way, the Truth, and the Life -- the Truth that will set you free.

The kind of evidential power with which God manifests himself must be of the highest kind, precisely in virtue of the fact that it allows freedom because it makes men free. And it wants to overpower a lover that answers in freedom only in its own way -- by the evidential power of love ...
Balthasar cites Blaise Pascal as the thinker who best understood this, quoting this from Pascal's Pensées: "Perfect clarity would please reason but harm the will. The proud man must be humbled."

Balthasar goes so far as to say that "only that person can truly recognize the Messiah who knows how to keep his secret."

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

American academia in retreat on military history

Military history was one of the first subjects I can consciously remember studying, even before I ever went to school.

My interest began from the afternoon that a favorite uncle had handed down to me his old, old collection of Civil War News bubble gum cards, with gory images on one side and an accompanying newspaper-style account of the illustrated battle on the back.

These graphic cards taught this youngster about valor and ingenuity and perseverance, as well as the horror of war. From there it was a natural progression to reading about World War I and II, Napoleonic and American Revolutionary history, Roman and Greek history and so much else. (Sadly, the military historian is not lacking for subject matter...)

There's been much to learn, offering many inspiring stories of courage and duty that have dramatically improved my adult life, especially due to having read so much American military history.

Rich Lowry offers an article today at Town Hall, suggesting that such knowledge and the life lessons one can learn therefrom, may be becoming a thing of the past. Read his sad assessment on the current state of military history as a subject in today's college and university curriculums, here:
Battles are so important to history that their names alone -- Vienna, Waterloo, Stalingrad -- can evoke the beginning or end of epochs and empires. Violent conflict is one of the most persistent characteristics of human history, and warfare features the interplay of strategy, weaponry, chance, logistics, emotion and leadership. It is the occasion for folly and brutality, and -- as we remember on Memorial Day -- heroism and sacrifice.
Nonetheless, military history has been all but banished from college campuses. In an article on this strange deficit in National Review, John J. Miller chalks it up to "an ossified tenure system, scholarly navel-gazing and ideological hostility to all things military."

History departments are dominated by a post-Vietnam generation of professors for whom bottom-up "social history" is paramount, and the only areas of interest are race, sex and class. History focusing on great events and the "great men" central to them is retrograde -- let alone military history that ipso facto smacks of militarism. Hence, the rout of military history from the academy that Miller catalogs.

Edward Coffman, a former military historian at the University of Wisconsin, studied the 25 best history departments according to U.S. News & World Report rankings and found that a mere 21 professors out of more than 1,000 listed war as their specialty. A Notre Dame student complained recently: "We have more than 30 full-time history faculty members, but not one is a military historian. Even in their self-described interests, not a single professor lists 'war' of any era, although half list religious, gender and race relations."

Even professors who supposedly specialize in military history do it through the prism of trendy academic obsessions. Miller notes a professor at West Virginia University who lists World War I as one of his "teaching fields," but his latest work is on "the French hairdressing professions" and the "evolving practices and sensibilities of cleanliness in 20th century France."
That military history has been chased from the academic field is especially perverse given that, when the classes are offered, they are popular with students.
Brave men always will be necessary to defend freedom, and what they have done deserves to be remembered, and studied.

The blank page and the crisis of faith

I was staring at a blank page, and the thought occured to me; who says it is really blank? And what is involved in my filling it with content?

It feels like there is much to be learned from this most common and basic of tasks, since it offers such a wonderful example of the power of faith.

After all, first comes the belief that there could be something to fill that blank page. Then comes the act to fill it. Creating is so often re-creating; the idea already exists, just needing the physical effort to transpose it into more material form.

Like storytelling itself, the creative process seems to be structured around a beginning, middle and end. Each has its own challenges, and while each challenge is different, deep down it is always the same challenge; one of faith.

Facing that blank page and beginning the creative process requires a pure act of faith, a creator's belief in the existence of something, all too often without any physical proof to back up that belief. To anyone but that believer, their blank page is merely a hole, a void; nothingness. The creator may easily be taken for either a liar or a fool, for their professed conviction to see unseen art, hear unwritten symphonies, or read unformed books. No hovering thought balloons accompany their heads, establishing the basis of the commitment and confidence expressed by the believer; only the reality of the blank page exists for sure. Confronting that blank page, the creator works to imagine their idea upon it, hopefully in as completed a form as possible, because the clarity of that idea will be solely challenged by the very first steps taken to bring it to light. The clearer the objective, the more able we shall be to keep reaching for it, come what may.

The bitter truth that haunts the start of any creative process is that no single first step seems to be able to accomplish any meaningful advance. No matter what first sentence gets written, it will likely need rewriting before much longer; similarly, no initial brushstroke, or musical note, no initial act undertaken is ever satisfactory in itself. Such beginning stabs at the blank page need to be accompanied by such a torrent of additional steps that right at the very start of the creative process there must be a pragmatic humbling, an admission that it will be a while before any of one's preliminary efforts start to make a difference in the grand scheme of things. Many changes are likely ahead of us, therefore the creator must believe that change is part of the creative process.

The middle of the creative process requires its own act of faith, a lingering belief in the initial value of the imagined dream and a renewal of belief in the problem-solving potential of the dreamer who began the process to bring it to light. Persevering through initial false starts, the creation starts to take shape, yet inevitably disappointment takes shape as well; the original idea is revealed as flawed, its weaknesses becoming increasingly apparent, the differences between what we believed we would be making, and what is instead emerging upon that blank page, challenging our belief in ourself. This crisis of faith can be resolved through the creator's ability to adapt, to negotiate a reconcilation between subjective hopes and objective results, illuminated by an awareness of what can be, and what is. Any chasm between these two can be breached with the adoption of a "two steps forward, one step back" attitude towards the creative process; expect to make mistakes, expect to come up short somehow, and judge how to overcome those shortcomings so that in the grand scheme of things there may be continual advance, no matter how many missteps occur along our way out of the maze. Creation needs to be seen as re-creation, a continuing reshaping of ideas, treating our believed objective as being in a constant state of becoming... that is, a constant state of becoming more of itself.

The end of the creative process requires yet another triumph of faith: faith in letting go. To start, and to keep going, required such effort in grabbing hold and then tightening the grip on our commitment to our creative process, that letting go may prove the hardest act of all. How to let go and let the filled page stand on its own, without our accompaniment as a kind of greek chorus to rationalize or justify or even clarify the less-than-ideal content of that page? How to let go, so long as the content on our page is not "perfect"? What are to be the consequences for revealing a less than 100% representation of our initial idea? Is any point less than perfection, to be taken as total failure? Surely every finished result will be a combination of two opposites; in some ways it will be less than we hoped it would be, but in other ways more than we imagined it could be.
It requires an act of faith for a creator to accept their compromised, half-and-half work as "good enough", and move on, by moving away from it... letting it stand or fall on its own. The passion necessary to keep fueling that initial conviction, and each subsequent act of faith, may defeat the whole process if it doesn't allow for any conclusion, and final judgment. How can there be progress without judgment?

Interestingly, even when abandoned, the work is likely to still "grow"; for as the creator changes, their perception of their creation will change as well. For example, an adult looking back at an old drawing they made while a child, will see the drawing entirely differently as they look at it through older eyes. The drawing has remained the same, yet the creator's vision has competely changed, adding or subtracting a world of values to that act of creation. Even though the child making the drawing had a specific objective in mind, the result contains so much more than the child ever expected it would showcase; how they view their family, their home, their life... even when completed, the content of the creation can be forever re-created, by a renewal of observation. The child may have been disappointed or frustrated that the drawing they did of their family isn't "right", but years later the adult may look at the smiles on the faces, the holding of hands, the warmth of the home suggested by the inevitable smoke coming out of the inevitable chimney, and judge the drawing as a success; despite the flawed perspective or the out-of-proportion figures in relation to the doorway (with the round doorknob) or the windows (with the "plus-sign" design to suggest glass), the drawing is a nevertheless a triumphant representation of what was really important, the ideas as they were felt by the heart, rather than seen by the eyes.

Such experiences might never be known, if the constant act of faith involved in the act of creation is allowed to be halted. Failure can still be seen as success if measured against a long enough period of judgment. Any disappointments can always be channeled into the next act of creation, toward the "next time"; therefore it's of immense value to grow the belief that there could even be a next time, and that we can get a second chance, a fresh start... a new blank page.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Communists hunt Laotian natives like animals

I see many young people these days wearing CCCP and hammer and sickle insignias on t-shirts and baseball caps, and I can't help but ask: what in the world is wrong with you?? Don't you **know** the depths of the evil that you are celebrating with your choice of apparel?

We don't have to open dusty history books to chronicle the horrors perenially part of any communist occupation of a nation, we can point to their actions TODAY and wonder why this is allowed to happen.
Here's a nightmare that, hopefully, can shame the kool kommie kids back to a more balanced point of view, getting them to put aside their red flags and (blood) red dreams and pursue a more humane approach to human rights.
From the Huntington News comes this story of a film documenting oppression of Indiginous Hmong Laotians by the communist government of Laos being successfully screened-- despite a cancellation demanded by Vietnam:

The 6th session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues [PFII] is held in the United Nations Headquarters and announced a record of participation by governments, UN agencies, Indigenous representatives and NGOs, over 2500 participants are attending.
"How can an UN agency, the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, obey one member state -- to hinder our voices to be heard, I can not understand this," said Kue Xiong, preseident of the Lao Human Rights Council, one of the sponsors of the other special event which got cancelled upon request by the Vietnamese Mission to the UN.
"We come here because we thought that one of the mandates of the PFII is to raise awareness and to disseminate information on Indigenous peoples, but I see only a silent wall, and no letter to us with a formal explanation why it was cancelled," he said...
One of the films, "Hunted Like Animals," covers rights abuses documented by Huntington News Network with reporting by Rebecca Sommer and others. The film, produced with the support of the US-based Hmong-Lao community, documents the systematic military aggression against the Hmong ethnic minority hiding in the jungles of Laos, and the reasons why thousands of Hmong from the jungle fled to Thailand. ... “Even though the UN has no access to the over 7700 current Hmong refugees in the camp, and no access to the conflict areas inside Laos — this film brings the words and testimonies of the Hmong Lao out to everyone,” Sommer told HNN.
Additional High-8 footage, shot and narrated by Hmong hiding in the jungles of Laos, is interwoven into the film like a tapestry, and gives graphic evidence of the ongoing and increasing aggression of the Lao PDR military, including artillery and chemical warfare.
The film can be seen dis-assembled at Youtube; below are links to some of the horrific clips.
It should be seen by as many people as possible, especially by young people who think there's something "cool" or "romantic" about their flirtation with communist idealism. Take a look at what it is like to live in the real thing, kids:
[Warning: extremely gory and disturbing content]
"Everyone has heard about the drama of the Vietnamese boat people, but Laos, which became Communist in the aftermath of the events of 1975 in Vietnam, has seen a proportionally larger section of the population take flight. ...
Around 300,000 people (10 percent of the population) have fled the country, including well over 30 percent of the Hmong minority in the mountains (around 100,000 people) and about 90 percent of all intellectuals, technicians and officials. In Communist Asia, only North Korea in 1950-1953 saw a larger share of its population flee the country."
[The Big Black Book of Communism, "Laos: A Population in Flight", pg 575]

Remembering Memorial Day

Memorial Day is not a Canadian holiday, but maybe it should be, as we owe so much of our nation's ongoing glory to the shield that the US Armed Forces have held with great courage and sacrifice for so long. We as a nation do not do enough to acknowledge the degree to which our freedom to posture as "peacekeepers" is due to the brave men and women of the United States.
Well this is one Canadian citizen who is immensely grateful to his southern neighbors, for all they do to safeguard our liberty. I remember my obligations to you, and thank you for your service on our behalf.

These photos are of a memorial to Canadian troops, located at the Waterfront station, downtown. It speaks of a time when such memories and gratitude were more common, and Canadians shared a greater awareness of the sacrifices made in order for our nation to continue.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

The environmentalists' war on Africa

In 1962, author Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring, "[which] exposed the hazards of the pesticide DDT, eloquently questioned humanity's faith in technological progress and helped set the stage for the environmental movement."

When Ms. Carson appeared on a CBS documentary two years later, she said:
"Man's attitude toward nature is today critically important simply because we have now acquired a fateful power to alter and destroy nature. But man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself..."

That insight is being twisted by the good intentions of far too many in the environmentalist movement, so that we instead arrive at a war for nature becoming a war against man.
The environmentalists increasingly adopt policy positions that end up killing people, or worse: allowing them to die when it would be so easy to save their lives instead. The usual moral checks that might curb this ignoble behavior seem to be washed away by the sheer absoluteness of the moral objective that the environmentalist movement claims for itself: "saving the planet".
In the shadow of that Ultimate Goal, what are the lives of "a few" dead Africans when measured against the advance toward such a towering "Good"..? No wonder so many in the Green movement have Red political leanings; same moral justifications being adopted for the same attempts at Heaven On Earth.
Thanks to the internet we can now listen to the voices of those whose lives are being sacrificed by the environmentalists in their long march towards material salvation. Consider the following plea for help from Fiona Kobusingye, coordinator of the Congress of Racial Equality in Uganda, and the Kill Malarial Mosquitoes Now Brigade:
The 2007 World Health Assembly is wrapping up and people are commemorating the birthday of Silent Spring author Rachel Carson. Meanwhile, millions of Africans are commemorating still more deaths from a disease that the chemical she vilified could help control.

I just got out of the hospital, after another nasty case of malaria. I’ve had it dozens of times. I lost my son, two sisters and three nephews to it. Fifty out of 500 children in our local school for orphans died from malaria in 2005.

Virtually every Ugandan family has buried babies, children, mothers and fathers because of this disease, which kills 100,000 of us every year. Even today, 50 years after it was eradicated in the United States, malaria is the biggest killer of African children, sending 3,000 to their graves every day.

In between convulsions and fever, I thought about the progress we’re making – and about those who would stop that progress. I ask myself, why do some people care more about minor, hypothetical risks to people or animals than about human life?

Last year, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) reversed 30 years of bad policy and reauthorized DDT to help combat malaria in Africa, by spraying it on the walls of houses to keep mosquitoes out. The World Health Organization (WHO) also came out strongly in support of DDT.

Both reviewed decades of scientific studies and concluded that using DDT this way is perfectly safe for people and the environment.
No other chemical, at any price, does what DDT does. It keeps mosquitoes from entering homes, irritates the few that do enter, so they don’t bite, kills those that land, and reduces malaria rates by 75% – all with a single inexpensive spraying once or twice a year.

DDT was dusted on American soldiers during World War II, to prevent malaria; and on millions of Europeans after the war, to prevent typhus. It was sprayed all over the US to protect crops and eradicate malaria. Contrary to what Ms. Carson claimed, DDT didn’t cause cancer, or decimate eagle and other bird populations.

DDT was also used 46 years ago to slash malaria rates in western Uganda’s Kanungu District. It can and must be used again – according to storage, handling and indoor spraying guidelines – to stop disease and save lives. Why do some people want to prevent its use? ...
WHO Public Health and Environment Director Maria Neira wants to stop all use of DDT. The Uganda Network on Toxic-Free Control plans to sue NEMA, if it doesn’t stop the DDT spraying program. Both worry about its hypothetical health effects.
We wish they would worry more about malaria, and focus on DDT’s health benefits – on the diseases it can prevent, the lives it can save.
DDT opponents want to return to strategies that were a devastating failure for 30 years. Hundreds of millions of Africans got malaria. Tens of millions died. Entire countries were kept impoverished.
We say, Enough! No more malaria. No more brain damage. No more workers who can’t work, students who can’t study. No more families that can’t afford food, because they must pay for drugs and hospitals. No more death. We support bednets. But we also need insecticides to kill mosquitoes. And we want a DDT shield or “net” over entire houses in malaria-infested areas – 24 hours a day, every day of the year, to protect everyone inside, whether they are sleeping or working.
Uganda’s Vice President Bukenya, Health Minister Mallinga, NEMA Director Arymanya and Members of Parliament support DDT spraying and comprehensive programs to eradicate Killer Malaria. May people of conscience everywhere stand with us. Praise Rachel Carson, if you wish – but support DDT spraying, to reduce disease and save lives.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

What is Covenant Zone?

We meet again today, as every Thursday, in the atrium of the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library, 7-9 pm, in front of Blenz coffee. Look for the blue scarves and the Israeli flag on the ballcap.

What is Covenant Zone? Most simply, in my view, it is an attempt to create some new form of market in which people seeking covenants, for various purposes, can come together, not around a specific dogma, platform, or manifesto, but more generally out of a desire to create new possibilities, freedoms, through shared promises to do things whose end or covenantal outcome cannot be entirely foreseen but will emerge as a negotiation among free and responsible individuals seeking personal opportunities while renewing the covenantal culture of Western civilization in opposition to those (the elite bureaucratic class and the "victims" they patronize and encourage in order to justify the rule of bureaucratic elites) who see every innovation, political departure from a status quo, and market freedom as a probable source of victimization of those who do not immediately share in the advance.

As usual, Adam Katz has some ideas on how this can work:
One of the most pernicious elements of the post-World War II, welfare state culture has been the assumption of a consensual “mainstream,” authorized to marginalize “extremes.” The deflection of American civilization during this period was toward anti-covenantal, anti-constitutional forms, toward the rule of experts in circularly self-accrediting institutions. Even conservatives play into the logic of such institutions when they complain about the “liberal bias” of the media. The very notion that the media should be unbiased is a liberal one, and unwittingly supports the association of journalism with institutions genuinely charged with disinterestedness, like scholarly activity and, more important, the judiciary. Criticizing journalists for falsifying the reality they report on is perfectly appropriate, of course, but there is nothing wrong with a newspaper or TV station primarily concerned with eviscerating one party in particular. The most healthy media environment is one in which each outlet seeks to please and increase its audience, and in which each reader therefore has access not merely to publications with widely varying political stances but publications with widely varying tolerance for error (so there would be some insisting upon very high standards of verification while others sacrifice some credibility in the interest of getting better hidden stories, or getting stories faster), with different standards for “appropriateness,” etc.—and without any one or any combination having the kind of near monopoly status that enables it to be certain that ignoring some other interest won’t cut into its own audience share. Meanwhile, newsmakers themselves would harvest their own “value” as objects of attention, and confer it upon those media markets they favor, while always needing to calculate the value they might be losing by sacrificing the attention of another audience, ultimately trying to use their “capital” to use antagonistic outlets for their own purposes.

The same is true, more problematically but therefore more exemplarily, for more entrenched institutions like our universities. In the last instance, universities provide their graduates with something employers or graduate and professional schools want; somewhere along the line it is likely that other ways of providing that, more cheaply and perhaps better, will be invented. On-line “academies,” for example, modeled on the discovery of free inquiry in ancient Greece, might hire tutors and issue certificates that such a participant has received such an evaluation from other participants in a reading group on American literature, or sociology, or a for pay apprenticeship at a blog or in a hospital or laboratory, and that, furthermore, this group including the following members and was supervised by the following tutors…in the end, one would put together a package that would have a certain value for employers and professional schools. In that case, each person and each institution will have to take responsibility for assessing value, which would, moreover, be constantly changing as such groups would most likely have far more rapid turnover than today’s universities. The day of the New York Times or Harvard “brand” would, thankfully, be over. And, rather than all of us being peppered by hysterical assertions of academic freedom or journalistic privilege, subversive and illuminating truths would come out because somewhere along the line we would find someone interested in helping the discoverer disseminate them, and we would all get in the habit of “shopping around.”

I would consider such associations products of a genuinely covenantal culture insofar as they would refer us back to the pledged reality each generates, rather than some manufactured or hyped “right” or empty references to the public good. Also, in order to “receive” and judge the results of such institutions we would need to covenant with others ourselves: enforcing an acceptable degree of transparency would require that we collaborate with others on determining norms and standards, on the distance between the reality and the pledge. We would all be gatekeepers, editors and certification boards for each other. And we can already begin to speak in these terms now, and thereby help hasten the arrival of such a reality, by examining institutions in terms of covenants between teachers and students and among faculty, between media outlets and readers and viewers and among journalists themselves: what, precisely, can we determine to be the implicit terms of any particular “covenant,” training ourselves to ignore banal invocations of journalistic “ethics” or academic “rigor” or “consensus.” There can and will, indeed, be covenants in which the participants pledge to suspend existing assumptions and arrive at a representation of reality all could contribute to, but the basis for judging such efforts will lie in the specific “devices” and “procedures” the covenant itself accounts for.

Proposing or even, at times, acting unilaterally on the assumption of a covenant with those behind enemy lines provides the most promising way of generating a pledged reality capable of displacing the viral one imposed by the Global Intifada. I mean this, first of all, in the simple sense of creating facts that can’t ignored because they in turn create webs of other facts which ultimately touch other facts that pretty much anyone would be interested in. In my most recent essay for New English Review, I proposed that the Israelis might offer citizenship to individuals (and their families) who help in substantive ways with finding kidnapped Israeli soldiers (or, let’s add, help break up the system of terror in other visible ways). The principle can be extended in many ways. We should, for example, be opening cracks in the increasingly monolithic Muslim world, by asserting Christian and liberal interests wherever we find them and introducing them where we don’t. If the Saudis can fund madrassahs throughout the world and give millions to fund chairs in Middle Eastern Studies we can surely establish Friedrich Hayek Centers for the Study of Economic and Political Liberty in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan and insist that our government make permitting the existence of such institutions a condition of diplomatic relations with these countries. Not to mention supporting every single persecuted Christian we hear about, and setting in place mechanisms (like rewards and promises of asylum) to make sure that we do hear about them. Private institutions can provide funding for memorials to the victims of jihad (past and present), as Marianne Pearl called upon the Pakistani people to do for her murdered husband. In this way we would be creating realities, around which events and conflicts would coalesce, and on our terms—this would not be mere spin or disinformation, in part because we would willing concede control over the outcome. Our own position would be impeccable, in terms of both human rights principles and long term self-interest, and we would be placing ourselves (or, to be honest, some of us would be placing the rest) in situations where all we need is courage.
Even my proposal for common Israeli-American action raises no principled questions, only ones of prudence—and that a mere question of prudence has become so taboo is itself revealing. In fact, our willingness to consider such a break with an established taboo would itself be a sign of our enhanced “market value” as an ally; conversely, its “unthinkability” testifies to our sinking value. Clearly there would be a great deal to debate here, but the point would first of all to create events worthy of sparking such debate. In other words, we should first of all “seed” the world with “sites” we are ready to pledge ourselves to support and defend, and let that be our continuing source of reality.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Swedish teens: "What's so bad about communism?"

It seems that North American schools aren't the only ones turning out reprehensively ignorant students. This report from Yahoo News suggests that Swedish kids are, if at all possible, even more dangerously stupid:

A majority of Swedish teenagers don't know what communism is and don't know which countries neighbour their own, a poll published Wednesday showed, raising questions about Sweden's education system.

Ninety percent of teens aged 15 to 20 don't know which foreign capital is closest to Stockholm, 90 percent don't know what the Gulag is, and 40 percent think communism has increased prosperity in the world.
"They have a lack of understanding for basic concepts such as dictatorships and democracy, and that is unsettling. There must be a major change in their level of knowledge, and schools in particular must take responsibility," Camilla Andersson, the head of the Information About Communism organisation that commissioned the study, told Swedish news agency TT.
[Schools Minister Jan Bjoerklund] said he planned to propose more history lessons for students, and would recommend that the Holocaust and crimes committed in the name of communism in the Soviet Union be mandatory elements of the history curriculum.
The results of the study, published in daily Dagens Nyheter on Wednesday, also showed that 50 percent of the 1,004 teens questioned didn't know that Berlin was the capital of a country bordering the Baltic Sea, 82 percent didn't think Belarus was a dictatorship and 43 percent said they thought communism had claimed fewer than a million victims in the 20th century.
Fifty-six percent said they didn't know if Western market economies were democratic societies, and 22 percent said communism was a democratic social structure.
Maybe my initial sense of outrage is misplaced; for all I know, these are "good" students, who might well be successfully parroting the information fed to them by their professors, eager to brainwash a new generation in the left's latest attempt to "practice communism correctly", unlike those misguided and mis-informed 20th century marxists like Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao, Fidel Castro, Lenin, Krushnev, and Every Single Other One Of Them.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Radio Galgalatz

My computer guy stopped in to do things magical this afternoon, and this evening I am the coolest guy on the planet and beyond. I am surfing the aether with the best of them. I'm listening to Radio Galgalatz. I put on my silver hat and got on my special suit and I make communion with the spirits.

Hello Israel!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Arab snake worshippers

I don't know if this - News in Science - Snake cults once common in Middle East - sheds much light on Islam, but it may be fruitful to reflect on how Mohammed, in building his political religion, presumably had to appeal to people for whom worship of venomous vipers underpinned their understanding of the dangerous but attractive powers of the sacred.

Let's try to save our suicidal students

At our meeting last night, we discussed how one of us has observed that at a certain school, all the students who fall into depression, sometimes suicidal, are without fail marked by a nihilism in which anti-American, anti-Israel, atheistic sentiments are ubiquitous. Here - Escape from Nihilism - is a personal account from Dr. J. Budziszewski of how a highly intelligent and supposedly educated person rose to high position in the academy, while "believing", or willing, and teaching nihilism. It gives us insight into the mental processes involved - an account that in parts rings pretty true to my own experience - and how one might escape from this nihilism:
St. Paul said that the knowledge of God's law is "written on our hearts, our consciences also bearing witness." The way natural law thinkers put this is to say that they [the natural or anthropological laws] constitute the deep structure of our minds. That means that so long as we have minds, we can't not know them. Well, I was unusually determined not to know them; therefore I had to destroy my mind. I resisted the temptation to believe in good with as much energy as some saints resist the temptation to neglect good. For instance, I loved my wife and children, but I was determined to regard this love as merely a subjective preference with no real and objective value. Think what this did to my very capacity to love them. After all, love is a commitment of the will to the true good of another person, and how can one's will be committed to the true good of another person if he denies the reality of good, denies the reality of persons, and denies that his commitments are in his control?

Visualize a man opening up the access panels of his mind and pulling out all the components that have God's image stamped on them. The problem is that they all have God's image stamped on them, so the man can never stop. No matter how much he pulls out, there's still more to pull. I was that man. Because I pulled out more and more, there was less and less that I could think about. But because there was less and less that I could think about, I thought I was becoming more and more focussed. Because I believed things that filled me with dread, I thought I was smarter and braver than the people who didn't believe them. I thought I saw an emptiness at the heart of the universe that was hidden from their foolish eyes. Of course I was the fool.

Escape Through Horror

How then did God bring me back? I came, over time, to feel a greater and greater horror about myself. [truepeers notes: this is the part the really rings true to my own experience of the horror.] Not exactly a feeling of guilt, not exactly a feeling of shame, just horror: an overpowering sense that my condition was terribly wrong. Finally it occurred to me to wonder why, if there were no difference between the wonderful and the horrible, I should feel horror. In letting that thought through, my mental censors blundered. You see, in order to take the sense of horror seriously--and by now I couldn't help doing so--I had to admit that there was a difference between the wonderful and the horrible after all. For once my philosophical training did me some good, because I knew that if there existed a horrible, there had to exist a wonderful of which the horrible was the absence. So my walls of self-deception collapsed all at once.
As an ethical an political theorist, what I do now is poles apart from what I did sixteen years ago. What I write about now is those very moral principles I used to deny the ones we can't not know because they are imprinted on our minds, inscribed upon our consciences, written on our hearts.

Some call these principles the "natural law." Such as it is, my own contribution to the theory of natural law is a little different than those of some other writers. One might say that I specialize in understanding the ways that we pretend we don't know what we really do--the ways we suppress our knowledge, the ways we hold it down, the ways we deceive ourselves and others. I do not try to "prove" the natural law as though one could prove that by which all else is proven; I do try to show that in order to get anywhere at all, the philosophies of denial must always at some point assume the very first principles they deny.
Many of my students tell me they struggle with the same dark influences that I once did. I hope that by telling the story of my own escape I may encourage them to seek the light.
Interview with Budziszewski here. (Hat tip: Athos)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Thursday Night Meeting

We meet in public in the Atrium in the main branch of the Vancouver Public Library, from 7:00 to 9:00 pm, next to the Blenz coffee. (despite the mice!) (private joke) (well not so private if you've ever sat in the Atrium...)

We meet to discuss the issues we raise on our blog, and to have the opportunity of learning from the personal experience of others who may or may not agree with our point of view. There's a far different degree of understanding to be obtained through personal conversation, than what can be attained through written communication.

This point was definitely underscored at last week's meeting, where we were joined by two members of France's Blue Revolution, abroad here in BC on their summer holiday. It's one thing to read about what's going on over there, quite another to sit and talk and listen to someone struggling to keep their business afloat despite the penurious taxes, the anti-business mindset of the bureaucratic elite, and the outrageous street crime the gauche dirigistes have allowed to become unleashed throughout that nation.
We think we have it bad, but we don't have to legitimately worry about our car going up in smoke..! It was sobering to meet with people who do...

So whether you're just visiting or regularly in town, you're welcomed to come and join us, to help discover if there is something you can do to forestall such decay from taking root here in Canada... more than it already has.

In solidarity with the liberty-seeking citizens of France, we wear blue scarves, as they do, symboling our shared objectives, no matter the nation: a clear sky, an untroubled horizon.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A timely coincidence

So there I was, resting in one of my favorite parks, reading one of my favorite books on one of my favorite benches overseeing one of my favorite scenic views… when I was asked to move.

An elderly couple had strolled over to my park bench, slowly yet purposefully. At first glance they appeared to be just another couple out for a walk. There’s a certain aimless pace, however, that such wanderers tend to follow, a recognizable tempo that identifies them as explorers admiring the unveiling landscape… and this couple were not marching to that tempo, theirs was a far more deliberate advance. An advance towards me.

There was the briefest moment of mutual discomfort, before the awkward silence was broken by the apologetic older gentleman. “I beg your pardon”, he hesitated, “may we read the plaque on that bench you happen to be sitting on? You see, it’s our son.”

I have written before on the touching custom here, in and around Vancouver, of mourning families to mark the passing of loved ones with small memorials in the form of public park benches. These benches can be found along our forest trails and sea wall walks, offering weary travelers a seat with a welcome view of the passing majesty of British Columbia. I try to make it my habit to spare the time it takes to read the messages of devotion, gratitude and shared memories that these modest tributes have to offer, partly out of respect but mostly out of admiration for the love that animated the public gift.

And so to my sudden surprise, I was meeting the two people responsible for one of my favorite memorial benches to sit in and pass the time.

I tactfully got out of the way for the time they needed to re-read the plaque for their lost boy, and for their brief reflection. I don’t know what reaction I expected from them, but I didn’t expect the warm smiles on display, perhaps the reflection of many happy memories. The mother could have cried and wept at her loss; instead she smiled at the memory of her gain, of the blessing her son had clearly been to her life.

All three of us seemed to feel a need to share some words, the pair feeling a little embarrassed at the circumstances, myself even more embarrassed for being an unexpected witness to such a personal moment. With less than ideal eloquence, I thanked them for the bench, confessing how often I came here and how far I travel to get to this one spot, to read and relax in this most inspiring of places. My sincere compliment increased the smiles that were looking back at me, and the couple opened up a little more. The mother recounted some of her sons exploits, pointing in the end to a mountain half-hidden by the clouds: “That was his favorite mountain to climb, and so we chose to place the bench here. He sure loved that view.”

That conclusive statement seemed to bring the curtain down on our encounter. Off they went, continuing along the trail, their pilgrimage at an end. I resumed my place but could not resume my reading. All I could think of were that mother’s smiles. With all that had been going wrong in my world lately, I wondered from where I find the resolve to follow her example, and find consolation in the blessings that come our way, instead of dwelling on what we are denied… a fault I have a hard time losing.
This chance meeting made it easier to think through the ongoing problems at work, and come to terms with the new conditions there, however unfortunate they may be. Life changes around us; these changes affect how we live on. Yet the decision concerning **how** they are to affect us, rests within ourselves. Giving in to despair or summoning the faith to continue living a life worth living; these are, always, our choice. A choice made easier when presented with such a superb example to follow.

I got the message, finally; and if I had missed that second bus, I would have missed the messenger…

Old-Fashioned Feminism

The new issue of Weekly Standard magazine features an article by Christina Hoff Sommers, on the subject that should be receiving far more attention than it does at present:

The Subjection of Islamic Women And the fecklessness of American feminism

...If you go to the websites of major women's groups, such as the National Organization for Women, the Ms. Foundation for Women, and the National Council for Research on Women, or to women's centers at our major colleges and universities, you'll find them caught up with entirely other issues, seldom mentioning women in Islam. During the 1980s, there were massive demonstrations on American campuses against racial apartheid in South Africa. There is no remotely comparable movement on today's campuses against the gender apartheid prevalent in large parts of the world.
For a brief period before September 11, 2001, many women's groups protested the brutalities of the Taliban. But they have never organized a full-scale mobilization against gender oppression in the Muslim world. The condition of Muslim women may be the most pressing women's issue of our age, but for many contemporary American feminists it is not a high priority. Why not?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Return of the rat: stealing the shell to better steal their souls

Since people with no honor have a tendency to act dishonorably, we should not be surprised to learn that the rat is back on palestinian television, to serve as the purveyor of nightmares the jihadist haters of life need him to be.

How can any living human being watch these videos and not become enraged at the sheer evil of it all?
12-year olds call in and sing songs that testify to their willingness to die for allah. Nice fellow, this allah who wants to see little children kill other little children. Nice people, these palestinians who so gleefully poison the minds of yet another generation, and by so doing curse them to a rubble-filled life of failure, pain and death.
In the face of such towering malevolence the following may sound trite, but it is nonetheless appalling to use Mickey Mouse, of all things, as the container for this twisted brainwashing; as the iconic symbol of America's belief in progress, through being the agent of change in one's own life, Mickey Mouse is as far removed from the self-perpetuating cycle of failure that is palestinian culture as one could get.
Born out of frantic necessity, Mickey was the brainchild of two extraordinary men, Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks. When Disney lost most of his staff and the star character they were creating, through the unscrupulous sharpster a step up from him in their distribution chain, Walt could have whined and complained, succumbed to the paralyzing despair of depression, or gone into another business; instead he chose to keep going, start fresh and try again with a new character, soon to be known the world over as Mickey Mouse.
The delegation of creative labor being as it was in studios in those days, much of the mechanical aptitude that Mickey exhibits in his first few years of films comes from the hand that drew him, Walt's old friend Ub Iwerks, as gifted in mechanics as he was with cartooning. Iwerks love of tinkering with machinery and mechanical innovation helped Mickey conquer a new frontier: sound film, positioning the Disney studio into a role of artistic leadership that the company only relinquinshed decades later. Iwerks relished working in an exciting juxtaposition of spontaneous invention and thorough pre-planning, allowing him to become the most prolific animation artist in that young medium's history. Creative differences pushed the two partners apart, yet Mickey's popularity continued to climb, his shell now "animated" by the happy-go-lucky, never-say-die, shrug-off-your-problems attitude of the guiding spirit similarly breathing life into the whole studio emerging around him.
Walt Disney was the type of ambitious crafstman who was continually attracted to new challenges, always pursuing a vision of entertainment that seemed tantalizingly out of reach, thereby improving at his trade, even when failing to achieve his goal; in failure he would still be going forward. Working in what can so easily remain a solitary art, and a formulaic business, Disney forged a new division of labor, turning the art from a group effort towards a Team effort, gaining the unexpected artistic treasure that this more complex form ensured, for now each participant got to measure and compete and compliment every other participant's efforts.
Disney went further than any of his contemporaries in his perceptive assessment of an employee's talent, where each individual contributor was acknowledged as being an actual individual, capable of a unique contribution. Whole new specialized departments would be created, based entirely on an individual's demonstrated specialty; some of these adaptations proved more practical than others, but to Disney such risks were merely the nature of his business. Delicately, yet unhesitantly, a constant re-assessment of production methods and techniques would constantly be underway; a creative restlessness allowing every film to be different because every film was made differently, a "like-but-not-same" panorama, the manufacturing process behind the scenes as flexible and malleable as the bouncy figures on-screen.
Sadly, as Disney's creative energies demanded trials more challenging than those he felt the world of cartoons offered him, his studio's work took on a more infantile dimension, to the point where today, Mickey Mouse is considered a character to be aimed at children. Under Walt's more hands-on direction, however, Mickey was more subtly meant to speak to the child in all of us, recalling us to the memory of more hopeful times, holding us to the promise that all children **should** cling to, that the future can be a bright, beautiful world, filled to the brim with productive possibilities. Mickey and his creator believed in acting on faith such as this; that if we can dream it, then we should be able to do it. If at first we don't succeed, spare a chuckle for the vainglorious folly that is inescapable to our human nature, then roll up your white gloves for a plucky second try.
Would that the palestinians could have adopted Disney's inner characteristics instead of stealing the physical shell produced by the end result of those attributes... then the world would be spared the horror of seeing the future being sucked out of these children, chaining them to a perpetual formula for despair in order to keep them from escaping their parents undying resentment, denying these children the love of creation that we in the west take so much for granted that we seemingly have given up dreaming ways for its light to shine over all parts of our world.
UPDATE: A busy week kept me from seeing this follow-up to the original broadcast: Walt Disney's daughter, Diane Disney Miller, calls the palestinian Mickey rip-off "pure evil":
"It's not just Mickey, it's indoctrinating children like this, teaching them to be evil," said Miller... "The world loves children and this is just going against the grain of humanity."

Wilderness Committee: Save Trees, Cut Down Israel.

Next time a kid comes to your door asking for donations to the Wilderness Committee, ask yourself if some of that money you want to give to save whales is instead going to kill a Jew.

Below is part of a story by JR at Downtown Eastside Enquirer on the boycott of Chapters/Indigo bookstores. The Wilderness Committee below hosts propaganda for the www . new socialists. Hey, hang out with them, it's the same dirty thing.

de: Ernst Heinrich Philipp August Haeckel (* 16. Februar 1834 in Potsdam; † 9. August 1919 in Jena) war ein deutscher Zoologe und Philosoph.

Will Heather be your pick?

I thought the Wilderness Committee was about saving trees, not cutting down Israel.

But it was on the Wilderness Committee website that I saw an announcement for Saturday’s launching of a boycott of Chapters-Indigo books. On the Wilderness website, boycott organizers were provided space to remind readers that Israel-supporters Heather Reisman and her husband Gerry Schwartz are the primary owners of this bookstore chain. And to warn customers that this couple is up to no good.

“A bookstore that kills?”, was the message scrawled on a piece of beige cardboard held by a twenty-something woman standing by the front door of Chapters in downtown Vancouver yesterday.

More here:

We of the Covenant Zone meet each Thursday evening at the Vancouver Public Library main branch in the atrium outside Blenz coffee bar. Join us for coffee from 7-9 p.m. You'll recognize us easily. I wear an Israeli flag patch on my baseball cap. Hard to miss in this day and age.

Happy Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day to mom's everywhere, and a special Mother's Day greeting to my three mothers: the gentle, ever-helpful one I faintly remember from the days before I started going to school, the patient, persevering one who still found something to love despite all my teenage and college-inspired idiocies, and the current one, who continues to teach me through example and wise counsel, now passing on her gentleness and patience and wisdom to her grandchildren.

As we look back on the changing roles and evolving partnerships imbedded in the blessing that is the covenant of Family, we can marvel at, and hopefully appreciate, how some things may change, yet some things never seem to change. Whether it was learning to tie one's own shoes for oneself, passing a big test, getting our dream job, finding our dream girl to marry, each accomplishment would be greeted with an affirming smile, and the eternal phrase, "I knew you could do it."

It is forever humbling to realize that no matter how much we learn about ourselves and our growing potential, there remains one far more insightful than ourselves, about ourselves and the extent of that potential... who seems to forever be one step ahead of us, engaged in a challenging dance of contradictions: tugging and waiting, talking and listening, granting a stage to allow the puppet to pull their own strings, and becoming their own puppeteer; giving advice and later asking for it in return, letting the student earn the triumph of becoming a teacher in his turn, and in so doing, establishing a harmonious balance to the experience of being human, indeed the very experience of being alive.
And today is Her day.

Thanks for everything, mom.