Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Good Old Days

We may be tempted to think that the moral decay we see around us is a new phenomenon, unparalled and unknown to history. Yet has there ever been a time when the old have not clucked their tongues at the falling standards of their world, living, in their mind, in the shadows of a bygone day when, among other delights, Good Help was **not** hard to find?

As a nod to Reformation Day, here are some observations made by Martin Luther, in light of the changes he saw happening around him in his day. Even when you nail 95 theses to the door of a church, the more things change, the more people stay the same:
"The more we go forward, the worse the world becomes.
...It is clear enough how much more greedy, cruel, immodest, shameless, wicked the people are now than they were under popery...
We Germans are today the laughing stock and disgrace of all peoples; we are regarded as ignominious and obscure swine... We steal, we lie... we eat and drink to excess, and we give ourselves to every vice...
It is the general complaint that the young people of today are utterly dissolute and disorderly, and will not let themselves be taught any more...
The women and girls of Wittenberg have begun to go bare before and behind, and there is no one to punish or correct them, and God's word is mocked."

(Compiled by Will Durant in The Story of Civilization VI: The Reformation, Chap. XXXIII, pg 765.)

Are there no more heroes, Charlie Brown?

It was with growing dismay that I had read the advance press on the new Charles Schulz biography, Schulz and Peanuts, and the surprise revelations it promised on the great cartoonist behind everyone's favorite loser, Charlie Brown. As a fan, I had followed Schulz's work for decades, hunting down interviews wherever I could find them. He always seemed like such a nice guy, I thought... how sad to hear that the artist behind a lifetime of Peanuts comic strips was a creep, who didn't seem to care about his family, especially the welfare of his own children.

Another toppled hero, it seemed.

Well, not so fast.

Now we find out, through some correspondance his family have been leaving at a cartoon site discussing the new book, that the biography is the worst kind of projected nonsense being passed off as history. The writer, David Michaelis, had a story he wanted to tell, and immortalized it in print, whether it fit the actual facts or not.

From a thread of over 180 comments (as it stands at this posting), comes letters from the artist's son, Monte Schulz, and daughter Amy Schulz Johnson, expressing their many reservations about the new book. The negative biography is gathering a lot of approving publicity, sanctifying its contents; will the family's disappointment and disagreements with the author's pronouncements receive the same amount of attention..?

10/15/07 11:53pm Monte Schulz

[Michaelis] cherry-picked quotes, put ones together that did not belong together (getting my sister Amy in a section about how Dad was unaffectionate to his children to say that she had to learn to hug from the Mormon church. Actually, she told me that she explained to David how when she was younger, she hated people invading her personal space, but when she joined the Mormons, people were always coming up and hugging her, so she had to learn to do so, as well. But she said that story had nothing to do with Dad at all). Yet David conflated the ideas together.
For my part, Dad was a wonderful parent, reading to me, teaching me to throw baseballs, watching movies with me, driving me to school for years, taking me down to SF for doubleheaders, hitting fly balls to me for hours, teaching me how to shoot marbles, sharing his books with me as I grew older and began to write, flying out to Minnesota with me to help buy sheets and pillows for my dorm room, picking me up at the airport each time I flew home, and even in the last six months of his life, staying up late at the ice arena, well past his bedtime, to watch his 49 year old son play hockey games. None of that is in the book.

10/16/07 11:29pm Monte Schulz
...Talking tonight with my stepmother, [I] did tell her that it occurs to me now that had [Michaelis] described more fully my relationship with my father, many of his assertions about Dad as a parent would’ve been contradicted. I believe he left me out deliberately for that reason...

10/17/07 8:45pm Amy Schulz Johnson

...It is important to me for fans to know that David’s book is more fiction than fact. When David came to my home to spend time with me, learning about who my father was, he distinctly gave me the impression that he wanted to learn and write the truth.

David committed the ultimate “sin of omission” by leaving out what would have been many, many chapters of what a wonderful father and friend my dad had been. From the time each one of us was little, to his dying day, my dad devoted large amounts of time to us. There is no way he could have been a more involved and loving father. As for being a friend, it would be extremely difficult to record all the good that he did and the time that he spent with each person that he had the chance to meet and spend time with. There are too many people, not enough time, and it would take volumes of books, not just one.

Having said that, I believe David had the sacred obligation to compile this information as best he could and lend credence to it. Leaving out the generous man that was my father, David ends up publishing a book about someone else, not Charles Schulz

In the grand scheme of things, an untrustworthy biography on a popular cultural figure counts as small potatoes, I know. Yet it is such a common sight nowadays, to see people of great goodness twisted into caricatures of themselves, making the very idea of goodness itself into a fantasy.

The fantasy is to pretend that goodness does not exist. Great men walk the earth, doing great things. There are heroes. Not gods, perfect and faultless; but heroes, nonetheless. There are also villains, burning with envy, seemingly determined to spare no effort at befouling even a small corner of light that may dare illuminate our dark world.

Good grief.

Lama vs. Papa

The Dalai Lama's visit to Canada is receiving a lot of media attention. Yesterday I saw CTV's Robert Fife interview the holy man, after which, in trying to explain the experience to Mike Duffy, he said it was like meeting Nelson Mandela.

That Mandela line brought to memory a funny Youtube video featuring Australian tv personality John Safran. There is a certain unambiguously heroic aura that, for Westerners, only leaders of the "third-world's" oppressed can now obtain, given the centrality of guilt-ridden anti-Western ideology today. As Safran shows, the Dalai Lama has an image that "progressives" love, even though he happens to have views on sexuality that would shock them, the kind of thing for for which many would condemn the Pope.

Monday, October 29, 2007

God's eternal word is human freedom

Dag asked me for my opinion of Jamie Glazov's Front Page interview of Bruce Tefft, a former CIA spy and now a counter-terrorism consultant. Jamie was not at his best in defending Front Page's preferred concept of "Islamofascism" to identify the supposedly specific problem we are having with the Islamic world. Many have asked, “what is the point of trying to distinguish bad “fascist” Muslims from regular Muslims who are also full of antagonism towards the West, as they are encouraged to be by the dictates of the Koran? Why use Western political terminology ("fascism") to describe Islam at all?” In my opinion, while there is always a role for comparative analysis, and thus for seeing similarities among disparate phenomena, imposing any terminology on a religion that it does not itself use is problematic. It is to imagine a world of ideal types and not one of historical particulars.

But leaving this question aside, I do think there is something wrong with Tefft's take on things, his argument that all of Islam is essentially the same thing, and all deadly for the West, just because, it seems, the Koran says this is the way it must be.

So, here are some of Tefft's arguments, and my responses:

Tefft: The "War on Terror" and the use of the terms "Islamofascism" or "radical Islam" are basic examples of faulty nomenclature. One terrorism is a tactic, used by an enemy. One wages war on the enemy, not the tactic. During WWII we did not wage war on the "blitzkrieg" or "kamikaze pilots" -- we fought a war against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japanese. We are fighting a 14-century year old war against Islam and its adherents, Muslims. And it is a war that they have declared on all non-Muslims as part of their religious mandate, their ideology, to make the whole world Islamic, under the Caliphate, and to convert, kill or enslave all non-Muslims.

The two main branches of Islam, Sunni and Shi'ite have both, as the initiation of the Third Jihad (Holy War) of the modern Islamic resurgence, have repeatedly declared war against the U.S. and the West -- the Sunni with bin Laden's 1998 Declaration of War and the Shi'ites when Ayatollah Khomeini overthrew the Shah and attacked our Embassy (sovereign U.S. territory under international law) in 1979. Ignoring the fact that we are indeed at war with Muslims, and not simply a tactic of war that they use, leaves us vulnerable to infiltration, subversion and other forms of attack and makes it impossible to defeat the enemy.
[responding to Jamie Glazov] I've heard this argument before: "radical" Muslims kill and terrorize other Muslims as well so they must be different from the "moderates" that they are terrorizing. I don't think so. As with any group of human beings, there are factions in Islam and personal ambitions and petty egos of various leaders which will them to power. So there are conflicts between Muslims as well as between Muslims and everyone else. However, those Muslims killing other Muslims (which is forbidden in the Koran) do not view the "others" as true Muslims but rather as 'takfir' or apostates, thus not true Muslims and therefore subject to the same killing as the rest of us.

Like Nazism, Islam is an ideology one chooses to adhere to. Were there "good" or "moderate" Nazis? If not, then no one can claim that there are good or moderate Muslims as they are voluntarily subscribing to an ideology that advocates murder, torture and jihad and does not permit its follower to cherry-pick which parts they believe in. The requirement to accept the Koran as the literal word of God also carries with it the obligation to accept it all. And as you say, the Koran instructs all Muslims to wage war against non-Muslims and all schools of Islamic thought instruct the subjugation of the non-Muslim world through jihad. Therefore, I do not believe it wise to attempt to create artificial distinctions between Muslims that don't really [exist] as far as their attitudes towards non-Muslims is concerned.

As the prime minister of Turkey recently said: There is no radical nor moderate Islam. That is an insult to Muslims. There is only Islam.

We may wish to give Muslims the benefit of doubt, due to our humanistic and liberalized Western way of thinking. But treating the enemy as we wish they were, than as they are, will only lead to our ultimate defeat.

Truepeers: The point of our humanistic way of thinking is to allow us to distinguish human reality from fantasy ideologies. Islam is in many respects a fantasy ideology/religion, so I'll argue we can’t begin by taking its word at face value, keeping in mind the power of the fantasy over its believers.

What if it is actually impossible to live, in this day and age, (as well as in the past) by simply “accepting the Koran as the literal word of God”. Do people actually begin with the Koran and other Islamic holy texts, and model their lives on them, in some exact process of transforming words into lives? Or, do they live according to the various exigencies, imperatives and necessary freedoms that constitute life in a particular place and time – for example, all the extra-Islamic imperatives and freedoms that are required to keep a family or kinship structure going, or to put food on the table, in face of daily conflicts - and then look for religious norms or justifications to guide them in their free engagement with the basic realities of their day?

Put another way, since when has a ritual order been sufficient to order a society, with no kings or extra-ritual legislators having freedoms to impinge on the practice of the ritual order? Only the most primitive societies can make do without kings or big men and the freedoms that make such men necessary and that become a model for others to aspire. Only the most primitive or basic forms of human society are largely bound by ritual and its myths, but even here there is necessarily freedom to help the ritual and myth grow. No language, no religion, is ever entirely static.

For example, recently the Taleban in Afghanistan, a rather backward place by the standards of the present world, tried to make the Koran and Sharia into a sufficient ritual-legal code to govern every aspect of life, something few Muslim countries still try to do, whatever the professed desires to the contrary. But how long could such a regime ever survive in our globalized world? As we saw, there were plenty of clan and tribal leaders in Afghanistan, interested in access to material wealth and the modern technologies of power, who were ready to ally with the West against the Taleban when they had the chance.

For the Talebanization of the world to be a possibility, there would have to be so much destruction of the present global economic and political order, along with most of the world’s population that this order sustains, that it seems unlikely that when faced with the choices that our globalizing reality ultimately puts to us, that many Muslims would willingly choose the Talebanization of the world, or some slightly more highbrow, Persian or Arab, equivalent. That’s not to forget that there aren’t plenty of Muslims around willing to play with fantasy ideas of a world ruled by Sharia law. But I rather think that’s because they have little idea what it would take for such a world to emerge. Would they offer up their own families as victims of the necessary cull? That is the kind of question we need to put before them, rather than simply repeating the fantasy that Muslims want to live in complete submission to Sharia.

I’m not out to defend Islam; I’ve yet to see an Islamic understanding of God that I could advocate as sufficiently true for people trying to find their way in the modern world with all its demands for the responsible exercise of freedoms, for people needing to accept and ally with the infidels and the freedom that makes the modern global economy possible. That, of course, hasn’t stopped some Muslims – no doubt bad or insufficiently pious Muslims according to the arguments of people like Tefft – from succeeding in the global economy, even in high positions in the West. They succeed because they accept to some degree certain Western values, ultimately rooted (if the roots are now forgotten) in Western religion. Pragmatic imperatives that no one need give a name or lineage to are ultimately more important than any ritual code, even for Muslims.

In any case, it strikes me that in developing a successful counter-Jihad strategy we need to keep forefront in our minds the fact that Islam is not and cannot be a closed ritual system, despite the orthodoxy that Sharia should rule the world. Indeed, the history of Islam, as first well explained by the medieval historian, Ibn Khaldun, has been one of a continual tension between puritanical attempts at realizing such a complete ritual system, and the inevitable decadence of such attempts. It seems to me the challenge of our age is to defeat the current fundamentalist movements to renew the puritanical desire, and to defeat it in such a way as to make more or less permanent the realization that only some kind of decadent or “moderated” Islam is compatible with a globalizing modernity and the free marketplace.

To do this, the first step, as noted, is to free our own thinking from the infatuation of many counter-Jihad forces that Islam is something immutable and unreformable just because the Koran claims to be the final, eternal, and perfect word of God. There is no need or good in reaffirming this Utopian lie, however fundamental it is to many Muslims’ consciousness.

Furthermore, it is time that those counter-Jihad bloggers who are presently calling on the West to separate Islam from the rest of the world - in some kind of quarantine to protect the world from violent Jihad (the inevitable outgrowth of fantasy ideology is violence and blood lust) that is currently being waged all around the borders of the Islamic lands - be asked to come to terms with the consequences of their own desires and fears. It seems inevitable to me that any real separation of Islam would quickly lead to the inability of the Islamic world to support anything like its present population. A true separationist strategy would have to come to terms with the likely civil war that, if we were in anything like the current ideological environment, would be engendered in the West at the sight of millions of Muslims dieing helplessly. One might also address the morality of allowing millions to die. And a less than complete separationist strategy that allowed the Islamic world to keep going on in something like its present form, by receiving various forms of foreign aid and having some access to global trade and modern technology, would have to explain why a more active engagement with the Islamic world wouldn’t be better suited to our need to find ways to defer the massive resentments of the West that is the motive force for an increasingly nuclear-tipped Islamic politics.


Tefft, like many counter-Jihad bloggers, takes issue with the Bush slogan, "war on terror”. "How can you declare war on a tactic?" they ask. Of course, many would not be happy if George Bush had simply declared a "war on terrorists", because what they really want to hear is that we are at war with Islam or with Muslims, and that we have given up trying to distinguish moderates from radicals, which is to say the relatively more passive from the more active Jihadis/Muslims.

But the thing is, if we were seriously at war with Islam, wouldn't we have invaded or nuked Mecca by now? Of course we are not yet in such a war. Bush declared the "war on terror" because he or his advisors rightly understood that they were in the somewhat novel historical situation of not having enough responsible state actors whom they could hold responsible for terrorist violence, and on whom they could thus declare war. We might invade Afghanistan and Iraq, but that would not come close to ending the terrorist problem, one that is endemic to most of the Islamic world and in fact takes the form of civil war in the Muslim countries. For example, bin Laden could have operated in such a way that he would not have given us the easy target of Afghanistan to make the object of a traditional war of state vs. state. Could we have successfully invaded nuclear-armed Pakistan if bin Laden had being operating there, prior to 9/11, without the consent of the Pakistani government? The fact that he has probably been in Pakistan for some time now suggests the answer.

Since American "realist" policy has for some time been to prop up various dictatorships in the Islamic world - like those of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, that are at (civil) war with many of the terrorist elements, even as they may also be supporting some of them in various double games in which all Muslim parties are willing to scapegoat America and Israel for being free and successful societies - there were all kinds of pragmatic reasons for America and the West to maintain certain alliances and not see it in anyone's interest to engage a total civilizational war between the West and Islam.

More to my point, however, is that the “war on terror” refers to the idea that our enemy are precisely those believers in a fantasy ideology, premised on a complete rejection of the modern global marketplace, believers who cannot seriously hope to hold the reigns of power in any existing or readily imagined future state, with the possible exception of Afghanistan which is sufficiently isolated from global markets in all but opiates. In other words, our enemy are not "freedom fighters" in some war of liberation. They are fantasy players. What propels the present wave of Islamic terrorism is not simply the traditional Jihadi doctrines of Islam, but also the near complete failure of Islamic civilization in the modern era and its much less than stellar performance in the increasingly global economy. The losers in today's global game feel their lands are being invaded by Western business and culture, as to an increasing degree they are. In more confident times, Islam sent regular armies to the Gates of Vienna, now they send lonely immigrants full of hateful Islamist preaching and fantasies of a restored Caliphate – fantasies, that as I say, can only become more or less real if there is first a drastic reduction in the population and economy of the world.

We are not at war with Islam because we recognize that there is a civil war going on within the Islamic world and because our leaders still believe, quite rightly I think, that it reasonable to assume that it is in our interest to use the pressures that can be applied on those wanting to participate in the global economy to ally with us in choosing sides in that civil war, thus dividing “Islam” and conquering the serious Jihadi forces. Of course we have not yet found the resolve or imagination to do this at all well, or found the co-operation needed internationally.
But if there is any point to my present writing, it is to say that it is time we started to find the imagination, and not give in to our own pathological desires for some great act of violence - separationism, or civilizational war - to solve this mess.

In any case, our essential choice is whether we hope to continue to invade the Muslim world, in the form of the global economy and all the demands, restraints, and disciplines that puts on people determined to suceed in the global game, leaving questions of religious reform or apostasy and conversion for Muslims themselves to work out in their own minds, or whether we come to the conclusion that Muslims cannot be anything but a threat, no matter what their level of participation in the rational global economy. For example, we can find ways, if we have the will, to pressure Muslim countries to protect the right of people to leave Islam.

Time and again, we must return to the point of recognizing that Islam taken "literally", as many idealized readings (by both Muslims and anti-Islam people) would have it, i.e. the vision of a united Umma ruling the world under a successful Caliphate and Sharia, is pure nonsense, the height of Utopianism. All those Muslims killing each other aren't really doing it because one or another side is apostate - that's just an excuse for simple minds - but because conflict is inherent to the human condition and Islam is not a very sophisticated technology for mediating and deferring conflict and violence, however more sophisticated it is than the pagan and tribal faiths that it partially replaced.

What is real is that some Muslims are starting to undermine the Islamist fantasies of overturning the global order, by participating in it. I recently saw a BBC story on the new Turkish wine industry, which aims to compete with product from neighboring Bulgaria. The BBC pointed out that this was kind of strange in a Muslim country. No doubt those who tell us that you can't reason with a Muslim, and so those who participate in the reason-demanding global economy are not real Muslims (but more or less apostate) will also tell us that those Muslims who drink alcohol aren't real Muslims either, because of course it is forbidden in Islam. But in Turkey some “Muslims” do drink alcohol.

Should we tell our potential allies in the Islamic world that they are not real Muslims, or should we deny that we have any potential allies in the Muslim world, unless and until they become full-fledged apostates? Must we live forever in fear that all the “moderate” Muslims who want to participate in the global economy are but one brain cramp away from turning en masse to becoming fundamentalist Jihadis? Only if we don’t trust that reality, if well used by free people, can overcome fantasy. Only if we believe that fantasy can become reality (instead of simply death).

Declaring war on Islam, as a whole, will strengthen its resolve. Making friends with Muslims who drink wine and want to have comfortable lives with all the modern amenities is not a sure-fire way to avoid Jihad or betrayal by our friends - we all know that many of the active terrorists are precisely those among the Muslims most exposed to the modern world, its wealth and education - but it is nonetheless a pragmatic strategy.

Many Muslims who like a glass of wine will not turn out like the Muslim doctors who recently tried to let off bombs in Britain, or the young men of suburban Toronto who plotted various terrorist acts in this country. Many Muslims who like a glass of wine are on the road to rejecting terrorism, however much the terrorists may have a better grasp of orthodox Islam than the wine drinkers. People can and do live with contradictions. No one can be a pure Muslim because Islamic theology is untrue, unrealistic. Perfect Sharia regimes generally can't and don't survive many years of their attempted implementation, as an Afghanistan or presently crumbling Iran would suggest. When we in the West come to the rightful conclusion that we must make Muslims choose, at risk of their lives and freedoms, between harboring or supporting Jihadis, or living in fear of them, and participating in the global economy, many will choose to ally with us. And those who don't will be fair targets for our self-defense of the global economy.

But the larger point is, we don't know how many Muslims we are at war with until we define and prosecute the terms of our conflict in ways that make people choose sides between freedom and the fantasy ideologies of one world Umma and Caliphate. Right now we let many people get away with being all things to all people. And right now there are many counter-Jihad bloggers who don’t want to find the mental energy to think through how putting unmistakeable choices before Muslims could work. They’d rather deny any offer to Muslims to show good faith can work. They'd rather believe in some one great solution, like separationism or re-colonization or total war. But these are fanciful and impractical ideas in many respects. If we learn well to offer both the carrot and the stick we will go farther towards achieving something realistic.

Tefft, above, asks rhetorically if there were any good or moderate Nazis, as if to suggest the inanity of believing in moderate Muslims. But this is silly. First, if we distinguish all the Germans who wore uniforms and fought in the war, or worked for the state in some capacity, from those who gladly joined the Nazi party, of course we will discover that there were good German soldiers who refused to do just anything in the name of the Nazi movement. I dare to say there were even people with Nazi party cards who had some kind of conscience that troubled them. There will always be people who recognize basic human decency and who put it before overarching ideologies. Grand ideological or religious systems are latecomers to the game of structuring human consciousness and they simply cannot eliminate more pragmatic and more sacred modes of thinking that long predate them. What’s more, Naziism was a short-lived movement that people really had to make a choice about joining. Islam has been around 1400 years and those born into it today need make no commitment to the cause to be considered one of its number. It is thus entirely likely that many Muslims are less interested in Islam than in being decent or pragmatic human beings. That, of course, is no guarantee that pragmatism or decency can come to the fore in the Islamic world, given violent politics and the privileged status of Koranic forms of representation. But it is the basis for hoping that when “we” find the will, we can pressure the Muslim world to expand its forms of representation.

FP: So is Islam an ideology or a religion?

Tefft: That is a good question, a key question.
Islam is an ideology with religious trappings. The Koran can quite logically be viewed as Mohammed's "Mein Kampf" -- it lays out his justification for murder, rape, torture and military conquest on a daily basis. Since Mohammed made it up as he went along, it lacks some of the coherency and consistency of the "Mein Kampf" but it has the same effect. It is full of contradictions, but Muslims start from the premise that Allah can make no errors, and mere mortals cannot know what Allah really means. So if there are contradictions, the principle of "abrogation" is applied -- whatever Allah says last, trumps whatever went before. This leads directly to the example of the so-called "peace, love and tolerance" of Islam vs. it's holy war bloodthirstiness.

TP: It’s not a good question if you take it for granted that the difference between ideology and religion is self-evident. To any kind of traditional Muslim, without an understanding of Western ways of distinguishing secular metaphyisics from religion, the question would be incoherent. And that is perhaps the essential problem we face with Islam: the inability of Muslims to separate religion and ideology, the church and the state. Islam attempts to be an all-encompasssing ritual-legal order. But because it can’t be that in this day and age, if it ever could, it is increasingly open to fundamentalist "reform" ideologies, like those of bin Laden, which often rub the established clerical authorities the wrong way. The question remains whether more secularizing reform ideologies will also have their day, or whether the reform of Islam will entail its complete dismantling. I would prefer the latter, and imagine it will happen one day, but for pragmatic reasons I can’t suggest we put all our eggs in advancing that basket. Muslims will have to work through all the possibilities for reform first.

Tefft: Islam, unlike either Christianity or Judaism is not reformable. Christians are in general agreement that the Bible was written by humans, inspired by God; the primary and central tenet of Islam is that the Koran is the literal word of Allah. How does one 'reform', interpret or change, the Word of God (or Allah)? The answer is one can't and it would be blasphemous to try to do so and apostasy, in Islam, like so much else, is punishable by death.

Truepeers: Tefft is confusing the widespread desire to live as if one had the literal word of Allah, with actuality. In fact it is not possible to read any book, even the Koran, and to relate it to your actual life and experience, without doing a lot of your own interpretation. People, especially Muslims, need to be told this and we need to quit reinforcing the fantasy that Islam is some computer program running inerrably in every Muslim robotic mind. The problem with Islam is that interpretation has become codified for centuries by the Ulema, and there is very little original thinking going on in the Muslim world other than by radicals opposed to the established Islamic authorities. The fact that the traditional Islamic authorities, are increasingly less successful in interpreting Islam for a wider audience, than are the modern fundamentalists, suggests that the pressures posed by global conditions can and do change Islam. If the extreme fantasy ideology now has a hold, it is not proof that Islam is unreformable in more moderate directions, only that fantasy fundamentalism is the easy way out for many trying to come to terms with globalization.

This returns us to the question of whether, given the dangers posed to us by a lack of real thinking in any significant Islamic quarters - other than those of the fundamentalists of the bin Laden variety - do we follow a separationist strategy or do we think about ways of forcing Muslims to make choices about freedom or oppression that necessarily engage them in acts of interpretation.

For example, do we make immigration and residence in the West, the licensing of Mosques and imams here, dependent on a person’s demonstration of a consistent commitment to reform of Islam, e.g. the separation of church and state? Do we punish any links to violent Jihadi activity accordingly? Do we demand worldwide protection for Muslim apostates and converts to Christianity, and are we willing to back up such demands with a full range of sanctions, including force from time to time? Or do we just throw up our hands and say none of that will ever happen because Muslims must be inerrant in following the word of God?

The idea that a human must inerrably follow the word of God is actually a very basic idea, long pre-dating Islam, and grounded in a rather basic kind of religious consciousness and its corresponding language: the ostensive and imperative forms of signifying the sacred. These are things every primitve tribesman knows. And these forms of language cannot simply be stabilized by any attempt to codify the ostensive and imperative in a major text like the Koran. IN other words, there is an inherent freedom in our ability to signify “the word of God”. The existence of language, any human language, entails freedom. One can continually find new ways of signifying the sacred, new ways of pointing to something and saying “holy!", or “you must do this”. For example, imagine you are an Afghan today, and an Imam tells you to kill the infidel invaders, as the Koran demands. But these infidels are presently defending your clan against the local enemy, and they are feeding your village. What do you do? What is the imperative sign that you must recognize and share with your fellows? Once the infidels (or any competing sect within Islam) are in your country, you can’t avoid the freedom of choice, to hell with the pretense that it could ever be otherwise.

We must seek ways to bring this reality to bear on Islamic consciousness. We must make re-interpretation or apostasy the clear-cut choice that our God-given human consciousness demands of any person. That last sentence is a paradox, I know. We must all suck on the lime. Truth is paradoxical.

One can of course read the Koran as if its rambling sentences and paragraphs were ostensive gestures and imperative demands, as believers try to do. But one cannot avoid a world in which the need for new ways to make ostensive and imperative signs continually arises from emergent circumstances. Conflicts arise and they can’t be solved simply by someone chanting the same old party line. New conflicts always demand somewhat new forms of resolution. Muslims have no choice but to live in history like the rest of us.

Tefft: While the war with Islam is eminently winnable, it is very difficult to be optimistic at this stage when one sees political correctness rampant and the Western leftists supporting Islam (as they supported the National Socialists and Lenin/Stalin in the last century), to the point our leadership (where is Churchill, Thatcher and Reagan when we need them?) is either too frightened or too ignorant to name our enemy.
Islam is basically a regressive ideology, reflecting the evil ambitions of Mohammed, a 6th century brigand. Even if it were to succeed temporarily in bringing a new Dark Age to the world, eventually it will collapse from its own internal inconsistencies and anti-humanistic beliefs.

Truepeers: Here I agree with Tefft. The left is often the enemy of freedom, however much they often sincerely believe otherwise. But what are these internal inconsistencies and anti-humanistic beliefs? As I have been arguing, I think these are rooted in the fallacy that one can ever have the final and eternal word of God.

While I have my disagreements with Tefft’s formulations, this doesn’t stop me from requesting any readers with a few extra dollars consider contributing to Tefft’s legal defense fund. If we are to believe in the power of human freedom to turn the Muslim world around, we have to start by resisting all forms of Jihadist blackmail that are corrupting our society, and Tefft has become the target of one such victimary blackmailer. Read the details at Front Page. We must stand for freedom and have our door open to any Muslims wanting to be free. The rest should be given the choice in rather brusque terms that make the price of their false belief in unquestioning slavery to “Allah” clear. To be a slave to God is to think and to be free. That's not a theological idea, it's human, god-given, reality.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Montrealistan author now a blogger

Montreal journalist Fabrice de Pierrebourg, author of the recent book Montrealistan, an inquiry into Quebec's potential islamist problem, is blogging from Afghanistan (in French), here.

He has many short posts on his sojourn with Quebecois troops stationed there. His terse writing reflects the scale of the challenges still ahead of us in that half-forgotten war.
After a quick run through of his writing for October, a couple of posts stuck out for me. The first one , entitled "Money Out The Window", concerns the backstory to this ferris wheel, spotted by de Pierrebourg while driving through Kandahar.

It seems that this colorful beginning to an amusement park is a well-intentioned gift from the Japanese. The enormous ride sits unused, gathering dust under the hot sun. There's no electricity for it to run.

After reading many bleak posts on the awful conditions under which our troops must live and still fight the enemy, it was a welcome sight to see this video, showing troops from Valcartier, Quebec, playing hockey in Afghanistan. The taleban turned soccer stadiums into abattoirs, forbidding children simple games like flying a kite, and continue to kill those who would teach women how to read; to face a barbaric enemy so wicked, so filled with evil, a civilized man needs to remind himself what it means to be human, he needs to renew the feeling of what it is like to live, so as to be all the more able to defend all that is good about humanity and all that is great about living... God bless the brave men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces, who put up with so much and yet still can be Canadians... and still play hockey, even in Afghanistan.

Shining a light into our eyes

Catching up with an old friend this week, through the miracle of the internet, I was saddened to hear a nightmarish tale from a young lady (well, not so young anymore...) whom I had much admired for her good cheer, and ability to make anyone laugh despite their mood. Never shirking her own duties, she nevertheless always found time to make sure the stress we encountered would be lessened by her endless funny remarks. Looking back I can see that her philosophy was obviously to celebrate life as a great gift bestowed upon us, and to not become ungrateful for that blessing. She never said as much, but her actions regularly spoke for her.

From that cheerful heart came a letter filled with despair. I hope I'm not betraying a confidence by quoting a last line:

"I miss Vancouver so much. A place I wish I never had left."

She's not doing so well back home in Asia. Lots of danger in living where she's living; she returned home to find a much worse situation than before she left to live here in BC for a few years.

We in Canada live in such a secluded fantasyland, we often forget how lucky we are, and how grateful we should be for the comparable paradise in which we find ourselves.

Today in Vancouver, British Columbia, the weather is beautiful; sunshine, warmth, calm winds and clear skies. Somewhere someone is worrying whether or not they will be killed today, simply for wanting to turn their home into a little bit more like our Canada.
It's hard to imagine their fears, when the sun is shining in your eyes, and your biggest problem revolves around paying off a credit card debt.

It sometimes takes only the quietest of whispers to make the biggest noise, to bestir our consciences and re-awaken our Canadian tradition of valuing freedom; yet who has time to hear these soft notes when we fill our lives with useless noise and carefree tunes that drown out the world crying around us.
Sometimes the smallest of lights can shine in our eyes and penetrate the blinders we impose upon ourselves, as we vainly summon the nerve to feel sorry for ourselves in a world much more sorrowful than we, besotted with our liberties, our minds dulled by ingratitude, could ever imagine existing outside our borders.

This morning I thank God for having been born in Canada, seeing my blessing with a clarity of perception made all the clearer by having had a small, tiny light flash before my eyes, courtesy of a young lady forced to live a life in fear.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Belgium hasn't got a prayer

From the Belgian (magazine?) news site Le Vif comes this article , provocatively headlined, “Priests may not pray for the unity of Belgium” [translated below, hopefully accurately, by me].
It begs the question: does the separation of Church and State mean that the belgian church should stand by and do nothing while the state of Belgium is poised to no longer exist..?

The pro-Belgian association Spontaan had sent an email to 600 flemish and walloon priests, asking them if they could have their faithful sign a petition to save Belgium. The petition would then be distributed at the end of mass. Cardinal Godfried Danneels didn’t want to hear anything about this initiative, he said in a letter brought forward by Het Belang van Limburg and the Gazet van Antwerpen on Monday.

"Separation of Church and State must be respected", affirmed the cardinal. "Everyone is free to sign the petition. To distribute it within the church throughout the different parishes might be interpreted in erroneous fashion. The Church does not want to put pressure on anyone to make a choice like that."
The diocese of Hasselt goes even further. "Priests who allow themselves to be tempted by the initiative may expect a franc discussion", says their spokesperson Clem Vande Broek.

The Spontaan group see this as a missed opportunity. "We wanted to reach as many people as possible", explains Annette Spiltoir of the association. "The Church could have helped us."

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

France's cycle of violence

A couple of Saturdays ago I blogged on France's unceasing urban violence, discussing the large-scale destruction that had taken place in the besieged community of Saint-Dizier.
Tonight there's an update to that story, good news in fact, as several arrests have been made in the case. My hasty (and hopefully accurate) translation from a report at Yahoo France:

Some 120 police officers belonging to public Security, GPIN ["Groupes d'intervention de la police nationale", National Police Intervention Group; the equivalent of our SWAT teams], PJ [“Police Judiciaire”; Judicial Police] arrested early Tuesday 14 youths from the neighborhood of Vert-Bois in Saint-Dizier (Haute-Marne), with a 15th arrested later in the day. Among them were three minors, it was revealed during a press conference by Jean-Claude Dumarets, the district attorney of the Republic of Chaumont…
The DA bowed "before the act of courage of the neighborhood inhabitants who [came forward to] testify. They have had enough". Twenty crucial testimonials were collected, of which 12 were anonymous. DNA analysis, possible due to collected evidence, notably by a fire expert, allowed several young rioters to be identified. All of the troublemakers were known to police.

Some of the youths face 20 years of prison before the felony court if it is upheld against them as having acted as leaders of «destruction or voluntary damage by explosive substances, fire or other means creating a danger for others with aggravating circumstances committed as part of an organized group."

On the evening of October 4, about thirty hooded youths armed with metal bars, baseball bats and Molotov cocktails had set a trap for firefighters and police, very certainly to avenge one of their own who had been arrested for violence committed a few days earlier against a police offier. The youths had set fire or damaged 41 cars, after having set fire beforehand to the HLM Office, the local MJC and a rental car agency in the neighborhood in order to attract the firefighters and police officers. Three of these officers and one firefighter were lightly wounded.
There's a new detail to the story within this last paragraph; I don't remember reading in any of the previous accounts that there was speculation such a large-scale armed assault had been organized in retaliation for an earlier arrest of a "youth".

As I read about incidents like this one, I find myself even more impressed with France's firefighters. Theirs must be a hard enough job under normal circumstances; now as they respond to calls they have to worry about whether or not they are to come face to face with the very arsonists who cause the fires they risk their lives to put out. In addition to worrying about burns, which surely is scary enough, they have to worry about getting their limbs broken or faces smashed by thugs carrying metal bars and baseball bats...

Some further pictures illustrating the aftermath of the original October 4 attack can be seen in this french-language video taken from France's nightly news:

Emeute à Saint-Dizier
Uploaded by Chevalier_du_Christ

The chore of thinking

Cleaning my cat’s litterbox is a chore. It is to be done regularly, whether or not I have other prefered ways to spend my time. However helpful it is to my cat for me to provide this momentary bit of service, this assistance does nothing to reduce the disagreeableness I find in the task at hand. Cleaning the cat’s litterbox is an act I sometimes turn to with anger in my voice and vulgarity on my lips, because of the degree of its unpleasantness, especially if I let myself fall behind in my self-appointed routine. Yet it is a chore I pursue with accursed regularity… for my cat’s sake, more than my own.

Does a chore ever get accomplished without an accompanying mental picture of someone other than oneself? The self-discipline to persevere through difficult or unwelcome challenges is best grown through focusing on the others besides ourselves who are destined to reap the benefit of our sacrificial efforts on their behalf.

If we live only for ourselves, and think of only our own needs and pleasures, what surer recipe could there be for leaving chores unfulfilled..?
It requires no effort, surely, to summon ideas of what we’d prefer to be doing, to whimsically drift from one spontaneous desire to another. What’s difficult is to stretch the mind to also include room for others, and to factor their desires alongside ours. Not making room for new only by eliminating old, but by straining to find the way to include some of each.

What happens to my cat if I leave for work without bothering to clean the litterbox from it’s, er, use, the night before? Easy for me to justify forsaking a chore by claiming her feline majesty capable of summoning the resolve to “deal with it”; yet why not simply be of service, if service is possible, by shouldering what for me would be a small moment of self-denial, in favor of allowing her a moment of later dignity?
Making room in our mind for the thoughts of others besides our own is an exercise that owning pets allows us to practice. Giving kids pets is a fine way to teach them responsibilities, that is, giving the child an opportunity to learn how to live their life as a response to the life of another.

Measuring our choice of responses involves the hardest chore of them all: thinking. Not a pleasant act to a creature such as man, geared by survival instinct to value spontaneity. It’s so much easier to just live for the moment, to forsake any mental exercise spent conjuring up moments likely to come in the future. Who knows if they’ll even be a future?? Living without regard for the future is to very much live without regard for others, for by living for only the moment, living for a single idea rather than through a chain of thoughts, how can we build ourselves as agents of service?

By constructing alliances such as Covenants, the beast of man tames his natural instinct to limit his mind only to thoughts limited to himself. Covenants offer the needed training to stretch the mind to make room for the possible thoughts of others, by making it as hard as possible to ignore the existence of these others as they share our lives. When we walk hand in hand with another, we must pause to consider what response they will have to actions undertaken by us, and balance that response with our own. Finding a golden mean between what we desire, and what others may need, is the process of thinking so necessary in living a life worth living, a life of meaning. An ennobled life.

It is not fun to temper instinct, to weigh a spontaneous action on a scale conjured up only through unnatural effort. It is a chore to be civilized, to balance the things that could be done against the things which should be done. The unpleasantness associated with that self-denial is made easier to accept by focusing our minds on the responding thoughts of others, by imagining ourselves in their situation, and tying their response to our own. I might summon fantasies to turn my mind against the chore of thinking about that damn litterbox, easily excusing even the most momentary lapse of exercising my duty. It’s the connection I feel with my cat that weakens my resistance to my chore, my learned ability to put myself in her paws that breaks my resistance to being of service to her, each and every time.
If we can summon a thoughtful connection to serve a simple housecat, we can surely broaden our scope to include connections to the lives of fellow human beings. Whether through the Covenant of Marriage, Family, Team, or Nation, we need to learn the value within the act of reaching out to add others’ lives to our own, for the help it provides us in becoming better versions of ourselves. We learn to serve others, to better serve ourselves, and teach ourselves how to rise above the condition of animals.

Such service begins with the unnatural chore of thinking: conjuring up a future and connecting it to the present, imagining the thoughts of others within our Covenant, and summoning the resolve to act responsibly towards them. For the true leader is he who is of the most service, to others, and therefrom to himself.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

French teens in suicidal leap of faith

"What its children become, that will the community become."
___Suzanne Lafollette

From France, a story as sad as it is horrible, courtesy of the Guardian: French police are investigating the suicide of two teenage girls who tied themselves together and leapt from the 17th storey of a tower block while their horrified boyfriends watched.

... The girls, named only as Marion and Virginie, had apparently carefully prepared their deaths and had intended their boyfriends, Ben and Julien, to witness the event. The two friends had gone to a relative's flat and told the two boys to wait in the living room while they prepared a "surprise".

One of them called out from the bedroom: "OK, come in." Ben opened the door. Marion and Virginie were standing on the window sill, their hands tied together. They smiled. And jumped.

"They dressed the same, always black, lots of make-up, and they liked the same music, Marilyn Manson, goth rock, metal ..."
The handwritten note found in her pocket said: "Life is not worth living."

This story has level upon level of horror. For a young teenager to choose to kill herself is terrible enough, for two friendly youngsters to plot to kill each other is worse still, and for them to strain their youthful ingenuity to abandon life through a ritualized finale calculated to cause as much pain and despair as possible for their family and friends, such is a nightmare sufficient to shatter the mind of those who once loved them. What future now for the two boys who witnessed the girls' leap off that window ledge... what kind of lives will they choose to lead, in the shadow of this memory?
What does it teach the soul of those left behind, to remember their loved one choosing to die, not with an apology on their lips, but with a smile?

One suspects that all of us have, in one form or another, stood at crossroads as real or figurative as the ledge which these teenage girls found themselves poised to leap from, on that fateful September day. Every such crossroads suggests two paths, one leading to an immediate end, the other a deferment to an uncertain end at an uncertain time. To choose the path to an immediate end requires a strong and committed faith that such a choice is the lesser of evils, indeed a better choice than the unknown one hidden behind an unclear horizon.

For those who climbed down from such immediate ends, swallowing their pride and admitting that their initial choice may have been the wrong one, there may come the blessing of humility, born of memory, nurtured through gratitude, and culminating in long-term, big-picture thinking, seeing one’s life as a single thread woven inside a wider tapestry. To climb down and embrace life is to painfully admit you don’t know everything; to leap out the window is to presume that you do.

In our narrow conceit we like to pretend that none have ever suffered as we might be suffering, we deny that anyone living before us could have ever endured hardship as we have been made to endure it. Our blinding arrogance and willful ignorance push us step by step onto the ledge, lending us the necessary strength of will to walk that last mile, and the endurance to persevere to that last step, the smallest in physical space yet the largest leap of faith. For it's as much an act of faith to jump off as it is to step back, each choice ultimately derived from belief without proof, just conviction.

There does come a time in our lives, seemingly in our teenage years, when we grow to recognize that life ends in death. Like a smug theater patron seeing a film for the second time amidst an audience of "newbies", there comes a temptation for teens to rub this grim foreknowledge in the faces of those older fellows who, seemingly, live unaware of the reality discovered by the younger teenager. Like mourners in any culture, the teenagers ritually clad themselves in black to mourn the loss of the innocence they leave behind in their youth, and face the decision we all must make, as we learn of death waiting for us at the end of the trail. If all paths only serve to lead to the same destination, then why make the sacrificial effort to live a good life at all? If all physical things die soon anyway, what difference does the extra time make? When earnestly followed, such thoughts naturally lead to a blind faith in nihilism, the cynical brand of wisdom, which, if honestly adhered to, can only lead to suicide.

What, then, would make someone turn from the ledge, taking an equally small step in material space, to climb down and find a reason to live? This other “leap” of faith, straining to find positive meaning in life, is the much harder choice of the two options... no wonder the cynical nihilists mock it with such ferocity; who likes to admit they're a coward? It is not natural to be optimistic, knowing as we do full well that everybody we share our lives with will someday die, that every thing we make will someday rot into dust, our physical shells often the first to go. Where in nature would the imagination to have faith in a meaningful, and even joyful, existence come from? The faith to see one’s life as a precious gift, not as a curse?
Such faith is second nature... learned behavior. Learned most effectively through experiencing the humbling covenant of Family.

An expression I heard all too often when I was young was to "act your age!", which to my young mind always seemed an admonition to act older than I actually was, to demand of us a little more than you felt prepared to give... making us reach above and out of ourselves, teaching the mind to discipline the body as it struggles to negotiate with needs besides its own.

We used to teach that the covenant of Family was the grappling hook that you could toss into a distant cloud and it might, it should, carry you along into the future. Your individual present was rooted in memory of the family's past, through the presence in your life of parents and grandparents, a lineage leaving you more able to penetrate a clouded horizon to imagine your own self eventually growing as a parent and grandparent in your own turn, learning from their example.

Near its conclusion the path to that distant horizon may be cloudy, but not nearly as much as the one step closer at hand. A step away, one can create a new target to aim for, and progress towards. As we progress the fog ahead shifts, new objectives emerge, forcing our plans to adapt once more, as we renew our search for reasons to choose to survive. One never “knows” whether the march will pay off, one can only believe that it will, and act on that belief.

The knowledge awaiting the teenager is that the path never concludes, for at the end of our line we, hopefully, leave behind lives that help others come down off their ledge, take up where we leave off, and set out from the point at which our faith brought us… God willing, a point far enough along to save their lights from extinguishing themselves through the blind faith of nihilism.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Kill Your Parents.

The following "paragraph" seems to be denouncing the formation of a new and improved version of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). If not, then please excuse me for not getting it.

I got news for you asshole, this is a new SDS that means that it might not be exactly the same as the old SDS. Not only that but my parents wouldn't buy me an x-box nor would I want one, wasting all your time on those stupid video games is not something I want to do. I am actually commited to changing things in this country and am working towards that instead of living in some happy little fantasy world where everything is just peachy. Soldiers and families in Iraq are dying right now, womens and queer rights are being flushed slowly down the toliet, corruption is running rampant as well as poverty, workers are getting screwed, and you know what rather than be a complacent whino like you, I am trying to work against all that stuff and I think maybe you should try it too or just stay the heck away from politics. It seems like you can't take the heat, but for some reason you won't leave the kitchen so your just standing in the kitchen whining!

Some might recall Tom Hayden as more than Jane Fonda's ex-husband. He was in his prime, a co-founder of the SDS. I was thinking Hayden and his lot earlier this evening as I considered writing a review of Diana West, The Death of the Grown-Up . I thought of titling the post "Go West, Young Man." Then, thinking of Hayden, I recalled the slogan from the 60s that I'm using here as headline. I might not have been the smartest kid when I was growing up in Slackjaw, Alabama, so that probably explains why I assumed the slogan was meant metaphorically, as some fancy-pants Yankee hyperbole. Now, having read some large portion of West's book, I'm not so sure it was not meant literally by the Haydenesque totalitarians of the time. Nor am I so sure this evening that if it was meant literally that it would have been such a bad thing. Yes, dear reader, that is an instance of Walkerian humor. "Ha." (Wait for it because another approaches.) "Ha."

Enough preamble.

Diana West, a writer I was not until a few days ago familiar with, or rather, with whose writing I was not familiar, has won me over in a matter a few short hours. How could it be otherwise? The kiddie Lefties like the one quoted above above hate her. She's a -- gasp-- conservative!

This brief analysis from sort of sums it all up.

By Preston C. Enright (Denver, CO United States)
Another hate-mongering, arrogant conservative, imagine that?
Actually, these so-called "conservatives" are simply corporate lobbyists throwing out these bigoted arguments to delude/divert their audience about the realities of US foreign policy, global corporatism, ecocide and other pressing issues that the ruling elite doesn't want us to think about. West is fortunate that there is a segment of the US population that is profiting off of our society of mass destruction, so they welcome these ridiculous books with open arms.
If people are worried about how people are being encouraged to be irresponsible, it may be worth their while to study the most powerful entity in the world today, private transnational corporations.
The Corporation
West and the corporatist cabal she works for must just laugh at how easy it is to get some people to believe this nonsense, and also the way some will consciously avoid any ideas that challenge their world view.
Peace, Propaganda & the Promised Land: U.S. Media & the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.

Grad. School ain't what it use to be.

According to Diana West, things aren't what they used to be since the end of World War Two when American parents decided that their children knew better than adults. News to me. News that such a thing could be seen so early on as the late 1940s and the 50s. Parents, West writes, gave up their responsibilities as adults and as parents, seemingly en masse, and decided that Buddy and Sissy were so special that they should run the family and then the world. Cool, daddy-O.

Except that it came true and it's totally fucked up.

West doesn't make the argument that we should kill our parents. (I don't either.) West's book makes the argument that leads me as a reader to wish the parents of the hippie generation had killed themselves and saved us all a world of hurt. I feel that way. So it must be valid.

West has written an easily accessible work, a few hundred pages long, word-witty, and insightful. Reader reviews at amazon make it clear that this is a book one either loves or hates, the five star system there being mostly fives or ones. I'm a four and a half guy here. I don't quite grasp, if its still to come, why the Greatest Generation abdicated their responsibilities as adult parents in favor of grotesque indulgence of children. I don't understand, from reading this book, why adults want to be perpetual children in the Western World.

Look at this as Part One. I'll try to finish the book tomorrow and continue in the hope of making clear that this is at least so far a book I think our readers for the most part will want to read. If you have read it, then please leave a comment. I would like to meet people who enjoy this book.

Friday, October 12, 2007

More polite, smart, well-behaved teenagers on the horizon

Some good news in the world, for a change: Homeschool numbers increase

... In 1999, according to federal statistics, there were 850,000 home-schooled children in the United States. In 2003, that number rose to 1.1 million. Some estimates put the figure today as high as 2.4 million.

"It's certainly on the rise, there's no doubt about it," said Brad Haines, executive director for the Missouri-based Families for Home Education. "Exactly how fast is up to speculation."

Before their four children were born, Kim and her husband, David, decided they were going to home-school them. They had the most common reasons for doing so: They wanted an alternative to the sometimes violent culture of American public schools, and they wanted to educate their children with a Bible-centered focus.

"People always ask me, 'Why do you want to stay home with your kids?'" Perry said. "I tell them, they're my kids. I want to have a positive impact on them. I want to raise them according to my values not someone else's."
Regina Morin, director of admissions at Columbia College, says the school is seeing more home-schoolers apply each year. "They tend to be better than their public school counterparts," she said. "They score above average on tests, they're more independent, they're often a grade ahead."

"Why do you want to stay home with your kids?" I hope this question is not coming from other parents. Although, that would go a long way to explain all the messed up kids out there; if their own parents don't want to be around them, who else would..? What teacher would? If a parent acts as if their child was a curse to them, why wouldn't the child believe themselves to be unworthy of improvement?

I've tried to keep an eye on the growing trend of homeschooling since I first started meeting homeschooled teenagers a few years ago. To date, making their acquaintance has remained a uniformly inspiring experience. They are so well-mannered, respecful and well-spoken. Particularly admirable is their curiosity; they seem to have developed learning into a habit, an itch always in need of a scratch. I'm sure there must be ill-served homeschooled children somewhere in North America; people are people, some good and some not so much. Nevertheless I've yet to meet any homeschooled young person who didn't impress me mightily. And really make my day.

If we are ever blessed with children, we both hope to be able to have them home-schooled, for as long as we can manage it, as our preference.

Seems as if we're in good, and growing, company.

(With thanks to the blog Why Homeschool, one of my favorite places to visit when looking for good news)

Autumn in Vancouver

Took a brief break from life to enjoy a brisk Autumnal day in Vancouver. For all its faults, this is still a city full of beautiful sights to see.

After enduring a cold wet summer, so far we're being blessed with a generally pleasant fall.
Hopefully, no matter where you're reading us from, you are having weather as pleasant as we are..!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Free tonight

I really don't have much to say at this moment other than to express my feelings of gratitude to my colleagues in Covenant Zone and to remind you that we meet every Thursday, 7-9pm, in the atrium of the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library, in front of Blenz Coffee, wearing blue scarves.

What do we do? We talk. We preserve the freedom of our language by simply talking in a context entirely divorced from any kind of institutionalized authority. We have no need or desire to defer to the technocracies of our time. And that is why I am so grateful to my colleagues: because they can and do talk freely, and generally responsibly, and week in and week out show a commitment to doing this and for no other reason than that doing it is both fun and necessary. They also write regularly on this blog and as you can see they are full of the linguistic freedom that is the sign of our shared humanity and ability to think for ourselves. The freedom of the group as a whole depends on individuals being able to love their own freedom as part of the group. We don't speak together as members of a disciplined political party, but only as conservative defenders of the culture of freedom.

Before one does anything in political life, whether it is calling on your own "covenant zone" colleagues to participate in some political action, like a demonstration or electoral campaign, you first should have some sense of a horizon towards which you are acting. You can only get that half-formed sense of new possibilities from free discussion. It is through our engagement in political actions (which are always as much about words as deeds) that we are trying to complete (for a while) the sign that our freedom to talk presupposes we will one day discover together.

Politics is the action, the deed, that takes place around shared linguistic signs whose meaning - e.g. the meaning of the words "the freedom of Canadian citizens to rule themselves" - we debate and negotiate. We don't talk about our freedom, as individuals, from society. We presuppose that we are the owners of our own society and government, that there must be such a thing as a shared covenant, good faith, before any conception of "minority" or individual rights can emerge. We talk and hope about the freedom of our Canadian society as a whole. We talk about how each of us must act as a guarantor for the others' freedom and how each nation must do this for other nations. That is why we wear blue scarves, as a sign of our sympathy with the Revolution Bleue in France (see links on our side bar).

Every reading, thinking, talking, free person needs to belong to a covenant zone. You are not really free unless you have one. We hope you can take our little blog as a sign that will be useful to you in modeling your own covenant zones. And if you are in our area and would like to join ours, the table is open for free discussion, every Thursday night, just outside the library.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Breaking Point

"He just knows its fucking fun to break shit, and that geeks like you will be asking forced rhetorical questions trying to find some existential purpose to the act, when, destruction is its own reward." Sean Orr.

Boy, 14, kills himself after shooting four in school rampage
By Andrew Gumbel
Published: 11 October 2007

A 14-year-old boy wearing a Marilyn Manson concert t-shirt and black fingernail polish walked into his high school in downtown Cleveland, Ohio, yesterday and shot four people before turning one of his .38-calibre revolvers on himself.

The gunman was the only person who died in the incident. Two adults and two teenagers were taken to hospital with gunshot wounds and were expected to survive. A fifth person, a teenage girl, injured her knee in a fall as she raced to get away from the scene of the shooting.

The 14-year-old boy, Asa Coon, was described by classmates and neighbours as frequently volatile and angry. He was suspended for fighting at the beginning of the week and was not supposed to be in school at all.

"He's crazy. He threatened to blow up our school. He threatened to stab everybody," fellow student Doneisha LeVert told the Associated Press.

I'm not smart enough to understand how George Bush, the Israelis and capitalism are responsible for this. I think Sean Is right. It feels good smashing shit. I think Sean is dead-on. I think the Nazi-esque celebration of death and destruction is what turns people on in this case and in that of the other above. I also think it's worth fighting, even if people get hurt in the process. Of course, following the fallacy of the Irrationalist dyeing hand, I'm as bad as those as I would do harm to. If only I were twenty and knew everything again. Too bad, isn't it, that I only know a little bit. I know it's a heart-break to see things broken like this.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Violent riots demolish Swiss political rally

A planned parade and political meeting by the Swiss UDC party (Swiss People's Party, or "Democratic Union of the Centre") was stopped in its tracks by a violent army of masked far-left rioters over the weekend.

The conservative party, headed by Christoph Blocher, saw several of its members physically attacked by the anti-free speech protestors, while waiting for the police to arrive. Several stands at the planned rendez-vous point were overturned before being set on fire... while the UDC members were still within them.

Violence erupted Saturday afternoon in Berne, leaving at least 20 wounded, of which 17 were police officers, according to local authorities. Hundreds of extreme left protestors destroyed the equipment installed in front of the Parliament for an electoral meeting of the nationalist UDC party, and played havoc until the police dispersed them with tear-gas.

In the early part of the afternoon, some 10,000 of sympathizers of the [UDC] had assembled in Berne for a parade in the streets of the old city up to Federal Place, where a large party had been planned, 15 days before the oct 21 federal elections. Yet several hundred counter-protestors dressed in black prevented them from attaining their rendez-vous. Sympathizers of the “Black Block” then moved over to Federal Place. The installations there were destroyed.

Restaurants were damaged, windows of banks were broken and cars set on fire. According to witnesses, several people were wounded. Several dozen members of the "Black Block" [group] were arrested, according to municipal police spokesperson Thomas Jauch.
UPDATE: For some reason I was difficulty posting video today. Below is a german-language news account of the violent extreme left rioters trashing the UDC rally in Berne.
(With great thanks to Bafweb for all their ongoing coverage of the riot and its aftermath. Bafweb has assembled many of the more striking personal videos filmed during the event and placed on Youtube, as well as a few media accounts of the story.)

Swiss Leftist Riots Run Like Clockwork

Following up one of the many links from Bafweb's coverage of last weekend's war on the Swiss People's Party, we find this report on the make-up of the violent group behind the rioting and destruction over the weekend: Black Block.

Who are the Black Block that are surging throughout Switzerland? [my translation]

The rioters surging upon Switzerland’s four corners constitute an organized and hierarchical movement, whose number of members are constantly increasing.

They’ve made themselves talked about three times in seventy days. After passing through Geneva and Lausanne, the leftist rioters known as “Black Block” spread into Berne, last Saturday. Same scenes of combat, same equipment, same strategies: the gatherings of the rioters have become well-oiled rituals. Who hides beneath the hoods? Who is dressing themselves in black? “Soldiers” commanded by small groups of “old professional revolutionaries”, confirm intelligence service experts.

First lesson: the Black Block assaults are more often than not methodically organized. It doesn’t always appear so, but, backstage, prepare all well and good, the actions to be carried out. The Service of analysis and prevention (SAP) of the federal Office of police describes four hierarchical echelons of activists.

Leaders over 50 years of age

One “command” – made up of a dozen militants based in Zurich and regrouped within a movement called “Revolutionary Reconstruction” – preside as éminence grise [grey eminence, “the figure behind the throne”]. Longtime activists, over 50 years of age, they maintain links between several european terrorist groups. “They never take risks, always leaving the scenes of the riots when violence starts”, notes Jürg Bühler, second-in-command of the SAP.

The anti-OMC Coordiantion situated in Berne sometimes plays the role of directing the Black Blocks. Ideologues delegate to a “core” of hundreds of militants the organization of the deployment of the troops onto the field. These “operational cadres” pass on the adopted plans – the hour at which certain Black Blocks must find themselves facing the UDC’s procession, for example – by internet and by [instant messaging]. They are themselves in command of a “network of personal acquaintances”, divided into two categories of activists more or less politicized over all of Switzerland, often very young. “In general around 20 years of age, these activists serve as soldiers that are sent into the streets”, explain Jürg Bühler. Last May, the SAP estimated the number of potentially mobilized Black Blocks in Switzerland at 2,000. They were only 850 three years ago.

Who are these soldiers adept at Molotov cocktails and broken windows? That’s the second lesson: one finds a bit of everything within the ranks of the Black Blocks. “Today, all the groups – punks, anarchists, redskins [Not natives; slang for communist skinhead], squatters – are mixed together”, says "Sandro", 35 years old, a veteran of the Lausanne alternative rock scene.

A glance at the rioters’ mode of dress proves it. Behind a uniform appearance of jackets with black hoods, a litany of dress codes appears. The only common denominator for the majority of these violent leftists: an anti-racist, anti-fascist, if not anti-globalization, leitmotif. “But there are also youths that have nothing to do with politics”, hints "Juliane", an ex-squatter with several protests to her credit. A statement corroborated by bernese police.
“Between 50 and 60 rioters came without any political ideology, as if they were going into the forest to let off steam upon some trees”, observed officer Jürg Gabi. ...

In the future, the forces of law and order are prepared to deal with a greater and greater Black Block front. “Even if”, says the SAP deputy Jürg Bühler, “it is one that is not influential or powerful enough to menace swiss society.” Reassuring?

Monday, October 08, 2007

Blind Faith Decapitates Madonna in French Church

France's churches are frequently the target of graphitti and vandalism. Sometimes the destruction is petty in scale, while other times, such as this time, it assumes a larger, more symbolic turn, as a medieval statue is decapitated by unknown vandals.

From the news site La Depeche [my translation]:

The break-in took place on the night of Sunday to Monday, in the basilica of Notre-Dame-de-Marceille at Limoux. The coat and the head of the virgin of Marceille were stolen. Only the Jesus that the black madonna carried in her left arm remained intact. According to first estimates, no other object had been stolen from the basilica that night.

What is it that the vandal thinks he is destroying, as he rips out the robe of a long-cherished statue, as he tears off Mary’s head, robbing the parishioners of her smile?
Does he think those who can have faith in God see that faith as a shield against evil, so that by destroying their hollow statue the vandal sees himself as destroying a hollow faith..?
Does he see those placing their faith in an unseen God as blind people stumbling in the dark, and that his act of destruction is an act to illuminate their world, freeing them from a “blind faith” in a divine goodness breathing life into an otherwise empty existence?
Does he think that only wordly repercussions may follow from his actions, denying even the remotest possibility that he may pay a price much more perpetual than the suffering he seeks for fellow human beings in this life?
Who, really, is the one with blind faith?

As I sat through Mass this Sunday I took the time to cast my eyes about my church, and imagined myself following a Liturgy in a much older church now decorated by a headless statue. What does such a sight do to the faith of those parishioners? What do the faithful look to in order to strengthen their faith, when violent acts such as these, or worse, make it so difficult to persist in continuing this most passionate of commitments?

Probably they affirm their faith through the same technique that works so well for us on this side of the world: the summoning of a sense of sincere gratitude.
Seeing hope in the future by clearly seeing the past.

When memory is properly exercised, when history is sincerely studied, then one can’t help but feel grateful for all the incalculable gifts and blessings that have come our way.
Ignoring the past is key to hiding from the future, for to remember even our own personal youth would beg us to recall a time and age when we didn't know everything there was to know, where we could never know all the kindnesses and sacrifices made on our behalf, the many times that we were watched over while we slept, blindly innocent of the scope of the good around us.

Easy for me to hope the parishioners facing a faceless Mary can renew their commitment to their faith; yet days like yesterday, a day of Thanksgiving in Canada, make it so much easier for us to assert belief in a positive future, as we take the time and make the effort to appreciate our blessed past.

Having a faith in one’s future can’t be classified as “blind”, surely, when such commitment is based on as strenuous an effort to continually see things as clearly as possible. It’s by anchoring oneself in the past, that the best estimates can be made for one’s future. If we’ve grown before, surely we may do so again. If we’ve been blessed before, why not presume the likelihood of being blessed again? History may not repeat itself in exact detail, but honesty demands we acknowledge that it does recycle itself in outline, in pattern. Gratitude for one’s past, affirmed through clear memory, is the best preparation for the soul to feel hopeful for the future; where else can such confidence come from, but from familiarity..?

It was not through any blindness that I was able, yesterday evening, to see the scope of the bounty of gifts that have come my way through my short life. It was with clear vision that I could see the scale of the homemade Thanksgiving Dinner that my wife and I shared with those valued customers whose appreciated patronage allows me to pay my bills.
My faith is not a wall between me and reality, as the faithless vandal might see it; it is a window, letting me truly savor all the Goodness that fills this world.

Too bad the vandals of this age can’t see what we see, trapped as they are within the cage of an eternal present tense, empty of past, empty of future... it is tempting to even pity them, for there are none so blind as those who will not see.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Piper at the Gates of Dawn.

Baby boomer suicide rate up 24 per cent: StatsCan.

OTTAWA (CP) They may appear to have it all, but new data suggests Canada's baby boomers are more likely than people in other age groups to take their own lives, experts say. Canada's suicide numbers jumped a startling 10 per cent in 1999, largely because so many 40-somethings took their own lives, Statistics Canada reported last week. The suicide figures jumped by 24 per cent for people in that age group, while the number of teens who killed themselves dropped by 6 per cent, the agency reported. Researchers are reluctant to speculate about a single-year spike, said Brian Mishara of the University of Quebec at Montreal. But some of the risk may be related to an inability to adapt to social change, he said.

Copyright © 1996-2002. Toronto Star Newspapers Limited.

Losing no sleep over this is the blogger at Die, Boomer, Die.

The flaw in Orwell's 1984 is that nihilism isn't motivating for the average person, not enough to sustain them throughout a long life of hardship and horror. Stalin managed to terrorize people only till he was gone, and then the pressure over, people turned to abortion and alcoholism and inertia, giving us the former workers' paradise that Russia is today. Orwell's world didn't even have the pressure of Stalin to compact the soul into sheer need for survival if possible. There has to be something, and Stalin offered at least the minimum. After him, not much, and eventually, one might go so far as to say only bare living itself. There needs be more to motivate even the dullest Man to live.

Canada? the West? the revolutionary Modernity of our time? Well, most of us have found or made something of it that works, but obviously many haven't or won't. Of those latter, many make meaning out of minding the lives of others in some gnostic nightmare programme of nihilism and despair reflective of their own nasty lives of the mind. The sooner they shuffle off this mortal coil the better. With luck they'll leave some nice slippers for us in second-hand shops. They won't leave much else anyone could want.

Yes, a new day dawns, and the piper wants his price. It's not like he was hiding this time. We knew all along of his presence: Panic sitting at the end, tootling. What surprise? Why the panic?

The rest, if there's any hope at all for us, must take charge of the world and its reason. No time for foolery, for morbid nonsense, for passivity. Life is for the living, and the generation that brought us to this pass is passing. And in their stead we offer....

Saturday, October 06, 2007

France tv: Speak no evil, just chat with it

Like muggings and petty theft, car burnings remain so common in France that it is no longer news-worthy to talk about them. A colleague of mine was surprised to hear, and somewhat dubious of, the ongoing reality that cars continue to be torched throughout France’s suburbs, because “it’s not on tv anymore”. Then it can’t be happening, right? If it’s not on television it isn’t happening.

This week the French municipality of Saint-Dizier saw a particularly rough non-event take place..: [my translation of the yahoo/france account]

Calm returned Friday to the sensitive neighborhood of Vert-Bois in Saint-Dizier (Haute-Marne), the day after violent acts committed by forty to fifty hooded youths against police and firefighters.

A first report attests to “two persons lightly wounded: a police officer suffered cuts caused by shattered glass and a firefighter was hit in the arm with by a lead pipe”, Guillaume Audebaud, director of the cabinet of the prefect of Haute-Marne. Elsewhere, "16 vehicles were burned, 19 others damaged by blows from baseball bats or metal bars."

“No arrests have taken place. The 30 or 40 youths acted very quickly and priority was given to protect people and property”, M. Audebaud added. CRS [riot police] reinforcements arrived from Reims (Marne) for a few days, and minister of the interior Michèle Alliot-Marie arrived on the scene mid-day.

Cautious about causes for the violence, which she condemned, the minister judged [it] “important to put all the people around a table so that each could express their point of view. Security is not the responsibility of a single individual. Responsibility is a chain which includes everyone”, she said, citing education, the municipalities, associations, police, fire department and justice.

“All must be [brought] together to discuss this between themselves. There are occasionally a certain number of things, solutions that deserve to be heard”, or “to be experimented with”, she added, without clarifying.

Thursday night, 40 or 50 hooded youths attacked two police and firefighter vehicles that were intevening to put out a fire in the Vert-Bois neighborhood. In breaking windshields and windows of the vehicles and threatening the few police and firefighters on site, the hooded youths made them flee.

They [the "youths"] then set sixteen vehicles in the neighborhood ablaze, overturned others and committed other acts of destruction. Notably, they set fire to the Vert-Bois House for youth and culture, after having vandalized it, breaking doors and windows. …
Minister Audebaud’s suggestion to sit down and listen to solutions proposed by people who attack firefighters with metal bars might sound sensible to a community choosing to name a boulevard after Salvador Allende, of all people. Will the tax-paying citizens whose cars are being destroyed also be invited to participate? I wonder what "solutions" they'd be interested in seeing "experimented" with...
They don't get much face time on television, whether it's french tv or ours, but there does exist a number of french citizens who would extend the minister's "chain of responsbility" to include the actual vandals who attack firefighters summoned to thwart the plans of the "young" arsonists. We at Covenant Zone know, because we met them when they came to our meeting last summer, and from reading and writing to them in France.

Meanwhile, a glimpse into what minister Audebaud’s tabled discussions might look like, courtesy of television station France 3. The station recently decided to give a platform to the two “youths” (one 24, the other 30, by the way) who assaulted politician Marine Le Pen, daughter and heir apparent to the Front National party, during a visit to Hénin in late September. According to some witnesses, there was a gun involved in the altercation. The suspects were said to be known to the police, according to people working in the area. None of this seemed to weigh on the mind of the state-supported television station who arranged to broadcast "their side" of their verbal and physical assault of a sitting member of the European Parliament.

Some (translated) context for their appearance provided by @rrêt Sur Images:

While authorities assured they were “actively” searching for them, two young men
suspected of insulting and assaulting Marine Le Pen chose to defend themselves... before the cameras of France 3 Nord Pas-de-Calais.
They appeared blurred out in a report broadcast Tuesday over France 3, in the office of their lawyer, defending themselves from having used a gun during the
altercation with the frontist candidate, on [Saturday] Sept 22 in Hénin-Beaumont.

The interview had taken place on Friday Sept 28. ...
M. Wallerand de Saint Just, lawyer for Marine Le Pen, said he was “surprised” before so much complacency on the part of the journalists, who, “in providing a voice for these two youths, topple Mme Le Pen from a status of victim to a status of aggressor.” “My client’s version of events is publicly put in doubt. These people parade through the city, on television while they should be being arrested, this is a first” the lawyer said, stunned. And he added, ironically: “If the journalists could find them, one may suppose that the police with succeed in doing so as well…”

Here are the suspects own account of their assault on Marine Le Pen. (Very hard to penetrate their accent, but hopefully this remains a fair and accurate translation)

“(0:38)…we went to have a coffee, we crossed paths with Marine Le Pen, but more so with her bodyguards and entourage. There was heat, insults, but nothing like what she was suggesting. Well, eventually there were words of profanity, and gross insults a bit too vulgar, but otherwise we said what we wanted to say in a manner of expression, in the manner in which we express ourselves, so, there you are, nothing more than that.”
It's not wrong, it's just their way of doing things, you see. Give them a seat at the table, at the expense of the value judgements of good and evil, which built the table in the first place, elevating us above the floor of an animal kingdom that has no "violence"... just natural behavior.
UPDATE: Arrests have been made in the Saint-Dizier case.