Friday, February 29, 2008

Hitler Plagiarized Disney Cartoons

An article in last weekend's Telegraph, linked by Pajamas Media, peaked my curiosity, as it did I'm sure for many thousands of other readers around the globe.

In a story originating from Reuters, we learned that a Norwegian museum director had found some drawings of Walt Disney characters, seemingly made by, of all people, Adolf Hitler:

The director of a Norwegian museum claimed yesterday to have discovered cartoons drawn by Adolf Hitler during the Second World War.

William Hakvaag, the director of a war museum in northern Norway, said he found the drawings hidden in a painting signed "A. Hitler" that he bought at an auction in Germany.

He found coloured cartoons of the characters Bashful [sic... it's obviously Sleepy, not Bashful] and Doc from the 1937 Disney film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which were signed A.H...
...Mr Hakvaag, who said he had performed tests on the paintings which suggested that they dated from 1940, said: "I am 100 per cent sure that these are drawings by Hitler. If one wanted to make a forgery, one would never hide it in the back of a picture, where it might never be discovered."

No news account of this story seemed to ever identify which actual museum this was. Well, I found it: it's the Lofoten World War II Memorial Museum in Lofoten, Norway. I wanted to learn about this museum, and its director, in order to follow up a particular hunch I had. To my surprise, the museum's website carried a more detailed article with yet another "Hitler drawing" of another dwarf, Dopey:

When you see these sketches, do you think, "this Hitler seems like a rather good artist"? Well, he's not. As soon as I saw these sketches, I had a nagging sensation that I had seen them before, that they were only copies, not originals. Which is why I wanted more details from the museum about their provenance. I had seen these poses before, somewhere... but where?? It took a bit of digging, but I succeeded in locating the real source. It turns out that they are from this book:

My copy pictured here is a 1993 reprint of a book originally published back in 1938, in England, by William Collins, the former incarnation of HarperCollins. This 1993 edition was meant as a faithful reproduction of the rare original. Here's a picture I took from its contents:

Does this Dopey sketch on the right look familiar to you..?

Here are scans I've made right out of the book, of the ORIGINAL two dwarf sketches that the world saw copied, courtesy of that Reuters article. Compare these two to the two at the top of this post:

Whether the drawings are actually by Hitler's hand or someone else, the fact is that these are such meticulous copies; it seems pretty obvious they are mere tracings of their originals. There's nothing inherently artistic, nothing remotely creative, involved in what "A.H"/Hitler did: he put a piece of paper on top of his 1938 edition of "Sketchbook of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" [the book's original title] and traced a handful of someone else's drawings.

The proof that these are tracings comes, unknowingly perhaps, from the very mouth of the museum curator, William Hakvaag:
I discovered that Hitler thought this [Snow White] was one of the best movies ever made. As a matter of fact, he was so in love with it that he had his own copy of it for his private movie theatre in Obersalzberg. It is said that the Fuehrer was furious that German movie makers could not make a movie that good.
For that reason Hakvaag believes Hitler sat down with pencil and paper to see if he at least could match Disney's drawings as well as the creators.
"When you look at these drawings you realize they have been done with great affection", says Hakvaag.
"In two corners of the papers you can see little holes from the pins that kept them in place while the artist was working."
And so with "great affection" the fuhrer pinned his paper in place to more effectively recreate a slavish copy of American artwork.

I think this reveals a lot about Hitler's shallowness as a thinker. He skips over everything "inside" the drawings that made them what they are, i.e. their structural foundation. He only copyies the "outside" lines, in order to presume to arrive at the same result as the harder working American artists.

The Disney studio followed a style they called "solid drawing", devoted to the portrayal of form; all their figures' lines are really "edges", edges of shapes. First the Disney artists made an elaborate series of inner shapes, and from them they painstakingly find the final, outer lines.
There are two stages, not just the one that Hitler copied.

No wonder Hitler was "furious that German movie makers could not make a movie that good"; he tried to just jump to the finish, to skip over the truly hard part. Few see the initial, messy, structural, stage when they look at the second, cleanly linear, stage... but that doesn't mean this first stage didn't happen, or isn't important. It seems a cruel fate of the craft that nobody sees all the hard work that goes into the final result; we the viewing public just get to enjoy the elegant beauty of the "outside" of the cartoonists' art, leaving us with the unfair assumption that the shell itself is the sum total of the art.

Hitler evidently just looked at outcome, decided "that's all there is", and resented not being able to reach the same results of others; he was probably unwilling to admit that the intense struggle involved in true creation, truly adding to the existing wonders of our world, follows a humbling path necessarily filled with honest admissions of error. (Ironic for someone whose autobiography was entitled, "My Struggle"... Mein Kampf) One wonders if his earlier painting career stumbled from a similar limitation: did he expect to be given the same opportunities as the other candidates for the prestigious Austrian art school that turned him away, even though he was unwilling to work as hard as they did to build talent worthy of that school?

Maybe I'm reading too much into the original Reuters piece, but it appears to me as if the article is implicitly trying to suggest Hitler had a certain amount of artistic skill. Well, laborious copying is hardly comparable to, and scarcely as valuable as, original artistic creation. What's next, will Reuters serenade us with revealed excerpts from a supposed "original Hitler script":

"This above all: to thine ownself be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man."

An international army of Shakespeare fans would immediately spot this plagiarism a mile away, whether "A.H."'s handwriting matches or not. There doesn't seem to be much effort being made here by journalists, let alone this museum, to contact anyone in cartoon animation, at Disney or otherwise, to put this discovery into a proper context. As a lifetime Disney fan, as someone who has long admired the dedication of their great artists to persevere through grueling disappointments in order to dare to create great art, I hope this post can be seen as providing some much-needed context for the Reuters story, so that a talentless hack doesn't get credit for finished work he stole from others.

These Hitler sketches should be appraised, and sold, for what they truly are: empty shells, empty of the mixture of laughter and tears impregnated within the breath of life with which any Artist worthy of the title, "animates" their art.

Terry Glavin on Felton and the Vancouver Public Library, in the Ottawa Citizen

Terry Glavin • Harmful speech:
...the genie the VPL let out of the bottle is a pathology that makes demands that the "marketplace of ideas" can never meet without completely debasing itself, and that no quasi-judicial human rights tribunal could ever sufficiently remedy.

Greg Felton came to his infamy back in the late 1990s in a way that is still commonly explained as a story of a plucky columnist who was fired from his job at the Vancouver Courier, a respectable community newspaper, because he dared to be critical of Israel.

The story is not true, but senior library staff more or less took the story at face value when Mr. Felton came asking for a venue. It clinched their decision to give him the Freedom To Read Week spot for his new book, The Host and the Parasite: How Israel's Fifth Column Consumed America. The title should have been a giveaway.

The library then advertised Mr. Felton as a journalist with "several awards for investigative reporting and column writing," but that wasn't true, either, so library staff had to fix it. But by then, the Vancouver Public Library was the host, and Greg Felton was the parasite, and there was no turning back.

Mr. Felton's thesis is that long before Sept. 11, 2001, a Zionist "junta" helped concoct a thing called al-Qaeda, and from the fruit of this labour the Zionists carried on with their plot to subvert the American Constitution and subject Muslims to mass murder.

The most cursory review of Mr. Felton's writings over the years reveals even more sordid claims. In his columns for various fringe Arab and Islamist publications, Mr. Felton has written that Zionists worked with Hitler's Nazis in the drudgery of incinerating Jews.
You can call this perfectly harmless all you like.

It is not harmless in Iran, where Mr. Felton's column appears in the Tehran Times, a propaganda front for a regime that has banned hundreds of books, just in recent months, and has shut down as many as 150 publications last year, throwing perhaps 1,000 journalists out in the street.

Neither is it harmless when Mr. Felton's writings appear in the newspapers of Arab countries where there is no free press, and no "marketplace of ideas" to sort things out, and the Khazar legend has lately returned to animate the hatreds of Israel's less literate enemies.

In those newspapers, Mr. Felton can now describe his new blockbuster on Zionist intrigue as the toast of Freedom To Read Week in Vancouver, and he can introduce himself as the author that Vancouver's beloved library embraced as an honoured son in his father's house.

There is no remedy available from any Canadian human rights tribunal that can hold anyone adequately accountable for this. And to allow Mr. Felton's obsessions into the "marketplace of ideas" merely grants intellectual legitimacy to historical fiction and anti-semitic legend, which debases the very purpose of free speech.

In the uproar that followed the library's decision, chief librarian Paul Whitney said it was all a matter of "intellectual freedom." It isn't.

When he welcomed Mr. Felton's delusions into an "open and public exchange of contradictory views," Mr. Whitney made a demand that amounts to this: This man will have his megaphone, and you will dignify him by debating with him or shut up.

This isn't something one can easily ignore. The library is not some seedy bookshop in a dodgy part of town. It is a cherished, taxpayer-funded, public institution that must be trusted to know the difference between real history and black propaganda, and between "contradictory views" and mere succour offered up to the torturers of Iranian intellectuals.
More comment at Terry's blog.As I said in our comments section, here, the defense of intellectual freedom that would require the library to give a free room (with paid staff, security, etc.) to Felton's conspiracy and fear mongering, is a defense that subverts real intellectual freedom. The bad idea that "anything (legal) goes" in the name of "free speech" is popular as a certain kind of cowardly, and falsely apotropaic, ritual, because believing in "anything goes" is easier that doing real thinking about truth and value, and most of all about one's own position and responsibilities in a world in conflict. "Freedom to read" becomes a substitute for dealing with real existential questions, and the propaganda that is part of a world at war, where people are dieing, and many more will die, because of lies. "Anything goes" becomes a kind of last gasp Utopian project for a certain kind of leftist, or even libertarian, who has seen all the other more confident Utopian projects devolve into mindless violence.

Don't get me wrong. I believe in free speech and have very little tolerance for hate speech laws. But for me or anyone to seriously exercise my free speech, I have to be involved in a real public debate about truth; and such a debate cannot be seriously sustained if there are no consequences for abusing the truth. Let people do what they will with their own resources. Public resources, however, are something else.

As I said in the earlier comments,
For someone to pretend to be open to all things and all people is to admit that we should have no real debate; because debate can't be real unless there is something, in the way of public status, to win and something to lose.

A defense of "free speech" that won't argue about who should and should not appear on the public dime is like playing poker without real money and real risk. Bluffing loses all meaning in such a game.
Felton did nothing at his talk other than bluff about historical reality. The library should have called him long before the angry audience had to waste their evening doing so.

When even the CBC won't have you...

Here's one of those rare moments when a headline's first words brings Canadian taxpayer jubilation, quickly followed by a painful, if somewhat predictable, shock: Ex-CBC host Avi Lewis joins Al Jazeera. Avi's new old beat is anti-American politics. One wag at the National Post comments,
I hope someone has notified US Homeland Security and put him on a terrorist watch list.
But then, maybe it's not a joke... (HT a dime a dozen)

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Judging the Covenant

One of the reasons, dear Vancouver reader, you may not be attending our regular Covenant Zone Thursday night meetings - in the atrium of the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library, 7-9 pm, look for the guys in the blue scarves - is the proximity of our meeting place to a modest hang out for homeless guys, some of whom beg and display their mental illness for all to see. But, for us, it's a constant reminder of how our society has given up much faith in a shared bond that would work against simply allowing Vancouver's public street culture of tolerance and dependency, that only facilitates some people's collapse into the abyss.

Charles wrote about this shocking assault on an elderly man by a homeless person who was the regular beneficiary of the elderly man's charity, last summer.

And now comes the verdict of the judge who seems more intent on telling off the "tolerant" folks of Vancouver for tolerating the intolerable, than on punishing the malefactor:
The violent encounter last August between a homeless panhandler and an elderly parishioner at the entrance to Holy Rosary Cathedral has led a Vancouver Provincial Court judge to question society's willingness to accept homelessness and the chaos it has brought to the city's streets.

Judge William Kitchen's remarks came during the sentencing of Darcy Lance Jones, who has lived in the Vancouver area for almost 20 years subsisting on income assistance, panhandling and petty crime to support a drug habit involving marijuana, crack cocaine and heroin.

Jones -- described by Kitchen as not being a productive member of society ... "in fact he has been pathetically inadequate" -- was given a two-year-less-a-day conditional sentence that amounts to house arrest with strict reporting conditions.

The court was told that on Aug. 1, Jones was waiting outside the cathedral for Peter Collins, who always made a point of speaking to him after mass, and would regularly give him $5.

But on this occasion, as the 81-year-old retired doctor took out his wallet, Jones lunged and grabbed the wallet and threw Collins to the ground.

Jones removed $40, then handed the wallet back to Collins, who was still on the ground.

Kitchen noted the age of the doctor and said he ought to have been injured, but Collins made light of the incident at the time and suffered no apparent injuries.

A video surveillance camera captured the incident and Jones was recognized. Police stopped him on the street the next day and arrested him. He admitted the robbery, was remorseful and told police he couldn't understand why he had done it.

"Nor can others understand," said Kitchen. "Why rob an old man while he is giving you money? And why in the sanctity of the man's church?"
Jones's criminal record did not show an inclination to violence, Kitchen said, and nothing in his past would predict this attack.

"Which raises again the issue of why this robbery occurred. Jones has been part of the street culture in Vancouver. He has been homeless most of the time and relied on public money and handouts to support a continuing drug habit. His idea of being a productive member of society is to frequent the entertainment district at night performing pushups in front of nightclubs, giving directions, and hailing cabs for money," said Kitchen.

"Most people would see this as being a nuisance but those living on the street view it as their role in society," he said.

Kitchen then made a number of withering observations about the state of affairs on Vancouver's streets and society's tacit acceptance of homelessness and all it brings.

"Two generations ago, there were almost no street people in Vancouver. If a person slept or begged on the street, the police would intervene. Public welfare was even more limited than now. Perhaps family and peers took more responsibility for people with problems.

"Somehow society coped without creating the chaos on the streets that we now have," said the judge.

"Today in Vancouver there are perhaps thousands living on the streets and in the parks. They sleep everywhere -- even in the doorways of the courthouse and police station. Public areas are their bathrooms and garbage disposal facilities. They subsist on inadequate income assistance, food lineups and public handouts, and low-level crime.

"Society created this situation. Law-abiding citizens condone it and it has become the expectation of those like Darcy Jones. In fact it is more than an expectation; it is viewed as an entitlement -- the public are expected to respond favourably to silly justifications for demanding money such as 'squeegee' car windshield [washers] or doing pushups on the street.

"It is not surprising that some street people have taken the next step of physically enforcing their right to this support. We have a name for it -- aggressive panhandling," he said.

Regardless, there was no excuse for Jones's crime, which must be forcefully denounced, Kitchen said.

Since his release on bail two weeks after the assault, Jones has been staying at Luke 15 House, a Catholic transition home for addicts and newly released prisoners in Surrey. His lawyer, Susan Daniels, said he should be allowed to continue rehabilitation there.

Jones told Kitchen he planned to stay at the home for the foreseeable future and was planning to become a Catholic at Easter -- decisions supported by staff at Luke 15 House, who spoke up for him on sentencing.

"How ironic that the very church where Jones committed this offence supports him when society will not provide the resources," said Kitchen. "It is a sad fact that there are more resources provided by such charitable organizations as Luke 15 than by our correction services."

Admitting that a conditional sentence -- house arrest -- would be counter-intuitive for many, Kitchen said this case required it. He sentenced Jones to two years less a day to be served at Luke 15 House, to be followed by three years probation.
How do we begin to even think about how to change the massive social problem that has evolved over the years on the streets of Vancouver? Well, there will be no silver bullet to solve this problem. It will take a lot of people saying "no" to the unacceptable and at the same time providing real opportunities that give lost or losing people a way out, opportunities, freedoms, that come with responsibilities. But none of this can happen until people start talking about and assuming the existence of a covenant we all must share to guarantee each other's freedom. That's what we do every Thursday, to the sometimes curious looks of the street people who hang out around us.

Whether you think Darcy Jones got off easy, or if you agree that church is a better place than prison for a man in need of reforming, just be thankful that Jones is seen as one of the bad guys in all this. More sophisticated players of mental illness can now pick up $80, 000 via our scandalous "Human Rights" Commissions, for lying to their new employers and then getting fired because of it. Margaret Wente asks:
Does it really matter if rights tribunals sometimes make dumb decisions? You could argue that's just the price we pay for all the good they do. The trouble is that they're more and more disconnected from common sense. They're taking on cases that would strike most of us as absurd. They're summoning journalists and magazines to defend themselves for exercising basic free speech. They're prosecuting private-sector doctors who choose not to perform elective vaginal surgery on transsexuals. They're about to hear the case against a small-time restaurant and pub owner who told a guy to scram because his marijuana smoke was bothering the customers. The smoker says he was discriminated against because his marijuana is medicinal, and he has the right to smoke it wherever he wants to.

These bodies are fast losing their legitimacy. They have no one to blame but themselves.
Yes, but are they losing legitimacy fast enough for our governments to actually get off their duffs and do something about them? Or will we all just accept the corrosion of common sense, like we accept the pervasive mental illness on the streets of Vancouver? Will our politicians be willing to stand up to all the ritualistic flack that in doing something about the rogue "human rights" tribunals, or about the mentally ill patrons of the professional social work povertarians, they would be attacking "human rights"? Or will we be forced to endure more and more costly and socially and economically corrosive rulings form the victim religionist at our tribunals? For our governments to act, the people need to lead. There needs to be a lot of phoning, faxing, letter writing to our politicians to tell them that there are rogue bureaucrats acting as Star Chambers with a destructive zeal for victimary thinking, and that it is ruining our national covenant and hence eroding freedom for everyone. If you want to share in working up this angle, making new ways of thinking both compelling and popular, that's one thing the talking shop that is Covenant Zone is for, here in cyberspace or at the library Thursday nights. Or wherever and with whomever you are.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

GODS AND MONSTERS. Book review of D. Sklar, The Nazis and the Occult.

Dusty Sklar's The Nazis and the Occult, Dorset, 1977, appeared at a time before such a thesis as hers was likely to be popular or credible, and one even now many will dismiss as unlikely: That many top-ranking Nazis were occultists; that many millions of people died at the hands of the Nazis because some high-ranking Nazis thought they were in touch with the spirits from beyond; that the Nazis were doing the work of the gods against the devolved masss who inhabit the world: the Jews, the Slavs, the degenerate "other"; Nazis leading a battle between gods and monsters.

It's hard for the average reader to accept that the madness of Germans could have been unleashed for the simple sake of satisfying a lust for the arcane and the occult among a clique of bored philistine German upper-class middle-aged losers in the hope of restoring Germans' former glories as a nation of warriors rather than languishing as the defeated and riven beggars they were in 1918 and onward. The German nation that brought us Beethoven, Kafka, Rilke, Einstein is a nation we see as rational, sophisticated, and orderly; and then we see simultaneously the madness of the Nazis and the German people lapping up murder as their daily bread soaked in blood, terror, and genocide. How can one nation be both so good and so utterly and irredeemably evil? Look, and we look, and we try to puzzle it out, and there is nothing much to find but the occasional wisp of blame against the French and their demands on the Germans for war-reparations, a thin gruel no better than today's anti-American blame-mongering. Not all Germans were Nazis, to be sure, but it is from Germany and its blood and soil from which sprang Naziism. There is no one else to look to for the fact of Nazis. But that doesn't cover the problem rightly, and Sklar does us a service, if we will, by making some insight possible. If we demand a rational explanation based on reason to explain the Nazis, then we will forever be lost. The Nazis were not rational, and we cannot expect to find the Nazis' motives in Reason and Rationality. It is not all, of course, but it is much in the realm of the occult that we can find the truth of the reasons for the Nazis.

Some 5,000 years ago a few people staged a revolution in Human affairs that continues to enrage and incite to violence many people to this day, that being the Agricultural Revolution. The Human animal, being an animal, wandered and hunted and gathered, "at one with Nature" and "authentic". That is the natural and perhaps the real manifestation of Humanity at its most plausible. Just another animal among many. Those few who lived in agricultural settlements had to build walled enclosures to protect themselves from nomads who hunted and gathered, breaking into walled cities the way they'd break into anything shell-covered and defended. Those outsiders, the marauding bands of killers and eaters were the norm, the way it was, the way it had always been. And they faced a rich and tasty prize inside the walls of cities. A city rose, a city fell, and the devouring horde would settle in their place in turn to be eaten by others coming along to eat the spoils of cities. The nature of Man: Greed and Fear.

There is nothing new in anything the Nazis did, only in how they did what they did. The Nazis: a hybrid of primitive nomads and industrialized city-sackers-- post-modernists, as it were.

Sklar, in her book on the occultist clique who created Hitler, and then the occultist clique who continued with Hitler after the first wave were diminished, shows the genesis of the Nazi Party in a small group of rich fools who dabbled in the occult, giving themselves and each other fantastic titles and awards, making a reality of a fantasy that only isolated children could be excused for, a group of upper-class dilettantes who had the money to engage in politics in post-war Germany, and who, like many of the 1930s, were ready to use violence to gain political power. Sklar details the lives and doings of these now-obscure figures and shows clearly how they took a penniless and hopeless Adolph Hitler and groomed him to be their orator, their front-man in a theater of the absurd politics of racist and genocidal pan-Germanism in a post- Weimar Republic.

Sklar and others of this field of history show clearly and convincingly that Hitler was not a Right wing conservative Christian, as so many Leftards would have us believe, but that he and many of his followers at the higher echelon, were occultists who delved into Irrationalism as philosophy, turning to utterly stupid ideas for the sake of furthering their mad dreams of becoming world-rulers.

What, though, is strange about people acting out rituals in the forest, dancing naked in the moonlight, celebrating the sacredness of the soil? It's ordinary. It's normal. It's the same old thing that has been the nature of Man for time uncountable. The Nazis did little out of the ordinary. They adorned themselves with costumes, gave themselves fancy and arcane titles, and they sacrificed millions and millions and more millions to the savagery of life as a brutal contest between Man and Nature, a play, a theater of the mind of the primitive. A game of deliberate rejection of Reason, the Nazis played with life the way any savage would; and the Nazis did nothing others didn't do and wouldn't do had they the means today. Blood-lust, cruelty, Human sacrifice, violent triumphalism, these are the things of Man as he is. The Nazis weren't different. There was no root cause in capitalist economics or oppressive social paradigms that pushed the Germans into the realms of Nazi madness. It as a choice to abandon Modernity in favor of laughing rage and uninhibited exultation in the primitive, in the most base of Human behavior, the only strangeness in any of it being the German addition of industrialized primitivism. The Dionysian Death Machine.

We will never understand the Nazis if we look for rational explanations. If we look at them as like us but unhappy, then we will have missed the whole point: that it is we who are revolutionary and beyond the life of Man in his bloody and horrible history. We are the strange ones in the world, not the Nazis. Sklar shows it clearly in the biographies and details of the background figures of Hitler's rise to power and his later fellow pagans indulging in the ordinary madness of Mankind. More than 30 years later, Sklar's thesis is still unloved, unliked, generally dismissed.

None of this would matter if Man had changed fundamentally in the past 60 years, if the innate violence of Man were gone with the defeat of the Nazis, if social engineers could just make the exactly right calculations to turn us all into happy beings at peace with all and Nature. But Man is still the same animal, still looking for the meat in the nut, still conquering, still roaming the wilderness in search of that which to eat. Man still hears, in the distance at times, sometimes here and now, the call of the wild and the lure of the battle between gods and monsters. Nazis are not removed from us. We, by the grace of God, as it were, merely resist the normal.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Terry Glavin on the MAWO-NDP alliance

Taliban Jack: How the NDP lost its way on the Afghan war:
Two weeks before the NDP convention, an immigration board hearing in Vancouver found that Bodine, an American, had misrepresented herself to Canadian border officials to get into Canada. The ruling brought an end to a MAWO campaign, endorsed by such respected NDP figures as the MPs Libby Davies and Bill Siksay, that based its claims on a government plot to target "anti-war" activists.

Bodine was ordered to leave Canada. Her opening- night NDP convention speech was her last activist gig in this country. She got a standing ovation.

Meanwhile, back in Toronto-Danforth and its environs, the Toronto Stop The War Coalition, the Canadian Peace Alliance and several affiliated groups are busy making good on their oath, which 20 of their delegates pledged to Hamas and Hezbollah in Cairo a few months ago, to redouble their efforts against Zionism and imperialism, here in Canada.
As Terry also notes, MAWO is run by a cult. The last (only) time I saw Alison Bodine, she was a featured speaker at a MAWO hate fest at the Burnaby Public Library, vigorously defending the genocidal regime of Sudan against the forces of Western imperialism.

Bizarro Performatism

UPDATE: for more reporting on this story, see a dime a dozen; and Downtown Eastside Enquirer

I've just come home from the Greg Felton lecture (see also) at the Vancouver Public Library, and even after a few post-mortem discussions with friends, my head is still spinning from what we saw. The conspiracy theory that Felton spun was outrageous, but so outrageous as to move beyond outrageous and into some bizarre but unconsciously brilliant revelation of the bankruptcy of postmodern victimary culture. The audience, variously mad, offended, and true to truth, was often superb in playing, in a simultaneous mix of Canadian politeness and proper outrage, a variety of public ritual roles, exemplifying various solitudes of the Canadian mosaic (not the official mosaic of the "multicultural" state, but the real one of somewhat eccentric individuals), solitudes that showed their potential to create some greater esthetic whole when together in passionate dispute. For, notwithstanding the intellectual bankruptcy of the event, what we saw was a grand performance, from largely marginal or ordinary people, a performance that could not have been scripted or even imagined in advance.

It was unpredictable, perhaps thanks in good part to our friend, David, whose unbridled spontaneity quickly ruined any pretense that this was an evening that would follow any standard rules of public decorum. And this, as perhaps one can only see in retrospect, was as it was meant to be. As soon as Felton, in his preliminary remarks, mentioned that he would be selling or signing books at the end of the lecture, David, who in his various pre-lecture conversations/demonstrations with the city librarians thought he had heard one of the librarians give an undertaking that Felton would not be allowed to commercialize the evening, started shouting loudly and repeatedly and outrageously "no books (allowed) for sale" and other words to that effect, eventually running around the room to the librarian to complain, which immediately set the tone for the play within the play as David offered more objections throughout the evening and parried angry attacks from Felton supporters around him, all this taking place in the front and centre seats.

Various security personnel looked on, but no one seriously intervened in this event held in the name of freedom of speech.

By the way, unauthorized cameras were banned from the event, so we have no photos for you, though there were about four authorized video recordings of the event, about one camera for every twenty-odd people in the more than half-empty room. Anyone who has access to those videos has a potential gold mine performance, a style of theatre yet without a name. Apparently these videos were taken by groups wishing to make a historical record, or to monitor the event for any hate crimes. Of the various people who will probably stick in my memory, the police officer (I believe) from the hate crimes unit, leaving the event at the end of the night, with a look of great bafflement, exhaling heavily, and looking like he didn't have a clue what to put in his report, beautifully figured the absurdity of the event, an event the library had defended as appropriate for "freedom to read week" in part because there was no criminal action proposed against Felton's book and hence he had not crossed some line. And yet the only thing that could really have justified this event in the name of freedom to read would be if Felton had been under criminal prosecution by Canada's dubious hate speech law.

Apparently the evening was supposed to have begun with some speech by some official from some library association for intellectual freedom. This person wisely phoned in sick, or so I was told. It was left to the City Librarian, Paul Whitney (who would become the target of many angry audience members) to introduce Felton. Whitney took some responsibility on his shoulders, but he really wasn't able to provide a convincing rationale for the choice of speaker. He invoked Freedom to Read week as a time for difficult and complicated subjects; he noted that since Terry Glavin's article in the Vancouver Sun of February 12, exposing the library's choice of speaker, things had been very difficult for the library. Many angry, hurt and offended (Jewish) people had been heard from, something he regretted. (He was later challenged on how he knew they were Jewish; he said many self-identified; he was then challenged if he had kept a count of Jews, non-Jews, and Zionists...) But he felt the library had to stand by its decision to provide a venue to this controversial speaker. Just why this controversial speaker, and not another, was not explained. But what became clear is that Whitney does not believe in admitting to having any kind of hierarchy of standards by which one might make choices about whom to invite to represent Freedom to Read week.

Whitney claimed that in the ethics of today's public librarians, every person has a right of access to the system, within the limits of the law; librarians must make available a wide range of materials including books people might be uncomfortable with. The effects of this "anything goes" attitude applied to public lectures would soon become apparent in the post-intellectual theatre that followed... And then, noting that Felton would have a mere thirty minutes to speak, before answering questions/audience statements, Whitney ushered in Felton who emerged from behind a closed door at the side of the room.

In what follows I cannot recount every twist of Felton's argument, as my speed of note-taking does not allow. But here is the gist, as I have it, paraphrasing Felton, except where quotation marks are used:

Felton, dressed fairly casually, began by expressing how he can only look on the United States today, in comparison with his fond youthful memories of a great Republican country, with despair.

Torture is now official policy in the fallen USA; it is a country at war with its own citizens; it is nine trillion dollars in debt; we are supposed to think of the U.S. as a republic, though it no longer is. We might think the downward spiral began after 9/11, but in fact the story begins considerably earlier than that.

After 9/11 the USA Patriot Act was presented to Congress by the Dept. of Justice, on October 3, 2001 [I wouldn't trust Felton's facts but I'm not going to look them up; readers can do this if they wish], a piece of legislation whose scope and scale defies explanation if we are to believe it was simply a response to an event that occurred only a few weeks earlier. The Patriot Act passed Congress with absurd rapidity and turned America into a proto-fascist empire.

Why would Congress commit suicide, giving the knife to the once proud and free Republic? Why was it incapable of defending the Constitution?

Well, the USA went downhill beginning, at least, with Ronald Reagan. It started mutating towards a police state in the wake of Vietnam which demoralized the nation and delegitimized the established political culture, including both of the leading parties.

Felton then explained how an evil troika of three post-Constitutional ruling camps emerged in the sixties and seventies and eighties: 1) Evangelicals who took offense to Lyndon B Johnson's Great Society programs, to the Supreme Court's decision on abortion, etc., and started to organize politically; 2) Neocons organizing around the Heritage Foundation and taking Reagan as a front man for an evil Straussian philosophy; Leo Strauss believed in the right of government to lie to the people; 3) Jewish Zionists - Podhoretz, Kristol, Krauthammer, etc. - emerged on behalf of Israel to complete the fascist troika. [By the way, i'm not sure the point of distinguishing neocons and Jewish Zionists like the neocon Podhoretz - perhaps to avoid the accusation that "neocon" is a code word for "jew"; in any case, trinities are appealing to the imagination.]

Until 1967, American Jews had been worried about accusations of holding "dual allegiances" and so Zionism and the Holocaust had been downplayed in public. But with the Israeli-Arab war of 1967, Israel somehow [there are "logical" details to Felton's argument that went over my head] gained leverage over the Americans who were traditionally only interested in oil when it came to the Middle East; and powerful Jews in Washington now looked at Israel with pride and discovered that they could now love both their countries openly.

By 1976, American wanted a new start with Carter, an evangelical Christian who allowed evangelicals a new political centrality. While Carter initially spoke in favour of a Palestinian homeland, he was quickly attacked by the Israel Lobby and did an about face. Carter did not end up representing the USA, but rather Israel [while Felton did not say this, perhaps this was a subtle way of explaining the resentment Carter now holds towards Israel...?]

The Israel Lobby began in 1948 when Truman was pressured to recognize the new state of Israel. And the Lobby remained part of the Democratic party, until it went Republican with the coming to power of Ronald Reagan in 1980 who was a rather mindless front man for the neocons and Zionists.

Israel bombed the Osirik nuclear reactor in Iraq, using American weapons, contrary to U.S. law, but the US did nothing about it.

Reagan spoke of Palestinian peace in 1982 but was shocked in his nice-guy naivete by what happened with the bloody 1982 invasion of Lebanon by Israel, something Felton, in his manner, full of innuendo, did not seriously try to explain, Israeli barbarism or venality being apparently self-explanatory. When Reagan complained of the brutality, Israeli Prime Mister Begin just threw the Holocaust in his face. Israel now had carte blanche.

Throughout the 1980s there was a diminution in the importance of oil in US policies. This had something to do with a decline of self-interest and a growing obeisance to Israeli interests.

At this point in the talk, about twenty minutes in, Felton's voice began to crack. The strain of speaking to what was in large part a hostile audience, making various interjections and disruptions, was now apparent.

Felton soldiered on, recounting how George Bush fabricated a case against Saddam Hussein, as the entire US government flip-flopped on the question of whether Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction. Apparently there had been a time, pre-9/11 when everyone was sure they did not.

Iraq is rich in oil and water and it is land within the "maximal Zionist claim". No one in America will stand up to the "sadism" of the Israeli state. Israel wants complete military superiority, a desire which was the provocation for bombing Iraq which never posed a serious threat to anyone militarily [laughter in the audience grew yet further]. There was no justification for the war, Hussein had been an American ally.

The US government, especially since Clinton, was populated by people who had a primary allegiance to Israel. They were dual citizens, raising questions of their complicity with Israel. But that didn't matter now because Congress was no longer in control. The U.S. now serves Israel.

What happened on Sept. 11? Felton responded to his question with another: Who benefited from the fascist coup d'etat of 1980 which culminated with the Patriot Act?

Serious intellectual inquiry had been destroyed in America by the 1980s, a country that now put its faith in Reaganesque religion and jingoism. Reagan spoke to a feel good agenda after US credibility had been destroyed by Vietnam; this consigned the country to those people with anti-American objectives; it's impossible to think this is being done willingly. The US has been under Israeli occupation since 1980; occupied and humiliated by a lobby; there is an interplay between the military-industrial complex and the Israel lobby. Bush stole the last two elections; gansterism is now the ruling form of American politics. What has happened in America cannot be otherwise explained rationally, declared Felton in his conclusion.

At this point, audience members around me were suggesting Felton might be nuts but they were having little arguments over whether he was dangerous. It's hard to know; it's hard to know what was going on in his mind, but my guess is that Felton genuinely sees himself as a champion of Palestinian victims of the Israeli state, and was not deeply aware of what he was saying or doing to justify his role as champion. Despite the nauseating quality of the conspiracy theory being propounded in our public library, at public expense, I could not look at Felton with simple anger, feeling there was some kind of human tragedy here. Yes, this could all be dangerous talk for Jews; yet it was like a parody of a classic libel of the "enemy within", which Felton now dressed up, most carefully, as "anti-Zionism": here is a man who obviously knows from experience that he must distinguish "Zionists" from "Jews" and profess sympathy for ordinary Jews in order to appear "respectable". I felt this name blame game was somehow too bizarre for any but the most naive to get trapped in; and I felt it might be illuminating for some young people to see where a certain conspiratorial thinking - of which there are many more sophisticated variants - can take a man. But what do I know about how others' minds are affected by this kind of talk?

The question period saw a number of people attack City Librarian Whitney, as well as Felton, in very blunt terms. There were also Felton supporters thanking him and also thanking Whitney for his courage in going forth with the event. And then there were various people who thought this was an occasion to profess their respect for neither or both sides in the debate, who stood to defend free speech to the death, or something like that. There were 9/11 was an inside job types, and someone who seemed to be a plant with a question on the USS Liberty, which was, says Felton, a "war crime" and cover-up of Israeli "mass murder", but also an alleged event which we can actually not have an honest debate about until Zionist money and media coercion is circumvented and new arenas for discussion established.

There was one apparently Muslim man who became very angry with those antagonistic to Felton. He loudly proclaimed, when some in the audience shouted "never again" that no one has the copyright on "never again"; later when Whitney was challenged on what kind of critics of Islam the library would allow, this man declared that we could have our Irshad Manji, she is no longer "our [Muslims'] daughter" but yours. Irshad, it seems, has taken the Zionist salary, a point on which Felton concurred.

The most memorable questioner was a man who said he was a history professor for thirty years. He was less interested in talking history with Felton as asking Whitney why the library had a history of inviting Israel bashers and demanding to know how Whitney personally felt about Jews. Whitney would not give a direct answer, merely saying that he did not believe there was any bias among the library staff (a belief in a myth of neutrality which should be shocking in itself, for it is just this myth that allows responsible persons to avoid responsibility, standards, and accountability for their inevitable political choices, and that gives rise to the kind of postmodern victimary free-for-all we witnessed, and an openness to anything legal, an openness that has little to do with advancing the cause of intellectual freedom, for such a cause requires intelligent discrimination). But Whitney also displayed an ignorance of previous events held at the library. He is either new on the job or not usually concerned with such program details. In the heat of the audience attacks on Whitney, a diminutive and hippyesque woman in yellow neon tights jumped up to stand by Whitney in his defense of free speech at the front of the room. Felton also felt some desire to defend against attacks on Whitney. The whole chaotic scene was in some ways beyond my skills of language. You had to be there.

In the question period, Felton also had a chance to mention how the Canadian government under Paul Martin met with and subjected itself to the Israel lobby, thanks to the work of the Jewish Justice Minister, Irwin Cotler. Again it was all innuendo, without much detail or logic to make the conspiracy compelling. But the real villain on the Canadian scene is the present Prime Minister Stephen Harper whom Felton called a "venal traitor" who won't do anything about the Canadian peacekeeper in Lebanon whom Felton alleges was "murdered" by the Israelis.

Felton also retailed a bizarre conspiracy theory regarding the Holocaust, explaining how Zionist Jews were complicit with the Nazis in the murder of other Jews. My head was spinning too much at this point to follow the nasty "logic" closely. Apparently he gets this stuff from a book by one Edwin Black.

As I say, one thing that became clear to me by the end of the evening was that if one is to uphold the cause of "Freedom to Read" one must have some sense of standards. If the librarians take an "anything goes" attitude in a postmodern fear of making judgments, or defending hierarchies of value, the only thing that will ensue is a collapse of any serious thinking and consequently a lack of any intellectual freedom.

And yet, though it is too soon for clarity, I found the evening, in its absurdity, potentially revealing. It showed the failure of the postmodern scene to renew itself by developing new insights into the human. It also showed how an audience that was at most a third Felton supporters could attack the evident absurdities of the event and/or defend free speech in various theatrical performances that point the way to a future in which ordinary Canadians will increasingly grasp the importance of their own personal centrality in representing the covenant we must all share if we are to guarantee each other's freedom and security. This need for the personal performance and responsibility only grows at a time when our erstwhile civic, professional, and academic leaders are no longer able to maintain the integrity of the culture and its former (elite) centres of attention, having given up authority and responsibility to various claims of alleged victims of each and every centre of institutional authority and power in Western countries.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Greg Felton-Vancouver Public Library scandal is tonight

Recently at his blog, Terry Glavin writes, in regard to his comments on Greg Felton in the Vancouver Sun:
I didn't write about the contents of Felton's book, and I never claimed to. It's the product of a crank publishing house that's situated somewhere in the bleak Arizona desert and is almost wholly concerned with spacemen and thought control. I've read excerpts of Felton's book. I'm fully conversant with its thesis. I've read Felton's slanders against the Jews on white-supremacist websites, and I'm quite familiar with the Medieval legends that Felton persists in reporting as fact. This is "intellectual"? These are his "views"?

I've spent far too much time reading through Felton's voluminous ouevre to insult anyone's intelligence by stooping to mount a condemnation, spirited or otherwise, of anything he writes. Facts alone condemn Felton. They need no help from me.
While I share Terry's sentiment that time spent on reading Felton is time wasted, and that one should not encourage others' attention to focus his way, we cannot entirely answer the real question that the library's invitation of an "anti-Zionist" to highlight “Freedom to Read Week” poses unless we attempt to explain how professional librarians could be enticed into thinking that Felton's claims of a Jewish (or "Zionist") conspiracy to run America and its foreign policy, to create al Qaeda (and 9/11) as America's whipping boy, had any kind of merit.

There are all kinds of writers whose books no one is stopping anyone from buying, who will never get invited to speak at the Vancouver Public Library because these writers would, variously, just be seen as too crazy, boring, obscure, silly, unduly provocative or offensive, and would not have the cache of a “suppressed” voice that Felton seems to have convinced some he has. Vancouver is a city where a rather thoughtless and left-wing, but nonetheless fairly fashionable and mainstream opinion, heard in media, classrooms, union halls, and white collar bureaucracies, expresses resentment towards the Asper family's (“Jewish”, "Zionist") ownership of the main city newspapers and other local media outlets. The fact that Felton was fired from a newspaper job in the early 1990s for retailing bizarre "anti-Zionist" theories about the "real" ancestral homeland of the Jewish people, and that he has been going on about the "Jewish lobby" ever since, gives him, it seems, the aura of someone who stands up to the “mainstream” opinion and media, in regards to Israel.

While resentment of Israel is actually commonly heard in the city's universities, media, and public forums (including some held in recent years at the Vancouver Public Library - where 9/11 conspiracy theory DVDs were offered for sale at at least three events I attended) there nonetheless remain a lot of people who have a (religious) need for the left's tired old rituals of opposition to the status quo; and such people may not fully appreciate how these rituals have themselves become part and parcel of mainstream media and commerce. And so Felton, merely a somewhat extreme proponent of a kind of anti-Israel mindset, and of conspiratorial interpretations of history that are common in our universities and media, appeals to the librarians, I would guess, not because he is seriously controversial or radically challenging in his thinking, but because he expresses popular resentments to an extreme degree that is yet not politically acceptable to do in public forums, and so cannot be done except under the guise of "freedom to read" week.

But it can't be said of Felton that he is without intelligence. He is fully capable of presenting the form of a serious intellectual argument, with the rhetorical and linguistic polish of someone who has had some advantages of education and time to hone his formal intellectual skills.

I accent the formal aspect of his intelligence because I think that what he writes – judging from a tour of his website that I endured Sunday – is largely divorced from empirical reality. And herein lies, I can only imagine, his appeal to certain librarians sufficiently resentful of Israel and hence delusional (since all resentment is inherently delusional, given the formal nature of resentment; try thinking honestly and seriously when you are feeling resentful, it can't be done; no matter what possibly genuine injustice the resentment originally grows from, the experience of resentment still deludes to some extent). If one is sufficiently resentful of Israel then perhaps one can be enticed by the formal intelligence of Felton's writing into thinking here is a guy sufficiently polished to allow ourselves to sell him as a “controversial” speaker with admittedly extreme views we can distance ourselves from (while nonetheless entertaining those of us who resent Israel but couldn't ourselves find the intelligence or nerve to say much about it in public).

There is a form of thinking very common in the West and in our universities (not least Israeli universities), one that appeals to, or encourages people to become, out of touch with reality: it is a great desire to draw false moral equivalences, such as Felton regularly does, when he outrageously compares the state of Israel to Nazi Germany. The appeal is that one can find a formal idea and apply it widely, allowing one to apply certain “insights” widely. If one allows form to trump content and empirical verification, one can gain the appearance of being critically engaged in all manner of human situations, even when one has little appreciation of how history actually works (conspiracies of a few against many are never the driving force of history).

One takes a specifically revealing historical event, or a powerful concept detached from the event in which it first emerged – an event like the persecution and murder of the undoubtedly innocent European Jews by the undoubtedly evil and delusional scapegoating of the Nazis – and makes of it a formal idea that one then attempts to apply to other historical conflicts, inequalities and asymmetries.

If the Nazis taught us what evil a modern Western state, with the full apparatus and complicity of all manner of professional expertise (yes, even librarians), technology, and military sophistication at its command can do towards a group it defines as racially Other and disenfranchised, then the thinker more interested in formal ideas and political scandal mongering than in empirical distinctions is prone to make of another "similar" situation a scandal comparable to that of the Nazis' treatment of the Jews.

The mere fact that if the Israelis were really the new Nazis we would already be long past the time when there would still be Palestinians out and about to build walls and checkpoints around, is only the most obvious of countless empirical objections one could make to the insane claim about Israel that suffuses Felton's work: that since the Palestinians are, to the Jews, a disenfranchised Other whose members sometimes die violent deaths, therefore their situation is like that of the Jews under the Nazis. The fact that Israel acts with moderation (given its potential force) towards a long threatening Arab and Islamic culture that, for its own core religious reasons, leads many of its members to think that they cannot accept Israel's mere existence under any terms, is simply ignored by a kind of intelligence that is obsessed with certain formal ideas about the importance of the Nazi-Jew victim figure.

To many people on the left, practitioners of White Guilt, the great revelation of the Holocaust must be universalized and applied to any dominant Western power in its relations to less successful non-white cultures. This is no less true even when, as in the case of the Arab and Islamic culture, the less successful culture nonetheless controls a huge portion of the world's real estate and population from which, without fanfare or unending cries from the international left, it has for decades now banished far more Jews and Christians than the number of Arab refugees who (in many cases, willingly) fled from Israel in the conflict of 1948, and even while Israel is but a tiny sliver of land and all that the Jews claim for themselves in a world that in many ways remains fundamentally hostile to them.

Much of the world is hostile to the Jews for reasons not ultimately to do with the Palestinian conflict. After all, there are many conflicts over land between competing peoples, in various parts of the world, and some of these are far more bloody. And yet no one makes an obsessive scandal of them, the way the Feltons of the world do with Israel. What attracts scandal in the case of Israel is that it is a modern Western nation struggling with a less successful though no less determined culture.

To put this in broader terms, what ultimately attracts scandal in the case of Israel is what has always been, for Judeophobes, the essential problem with the Jews: they were the first people in the world to develop a high culture. A high culture is the creation of a particular people and culture that nonetheless makes genuine and ethically (and hence economically, militarily, etc.) productive revelations about what is universal to our shared humanity. In discovering or inventing monotheism, the Jews did not develop a culture in which one invoked or named one's own singular God, as if seeking his imminent favor, or comparing him to other people's great gods; rather, the Jews developed a culture whose goal was in the way of defining the nature of the one God as the Being who is also the God of all humanity. In other words, the Jews developed a religion that is also a form of universal anthropology. The Jews told us who or what we all are, to some degree. And that's always a problem.

Yet someone had to go first in developing a high culture; but after this all following religious and national high cultures that further developed our appreciation of universal truths - made possible thanks to their attention to the revelations inherent in their own culture's particular experiences in history - were nonetheless somewhat imitative competitors who might resent, until they learned better, Jewish priority and, at times, success.

When one resents Jewish priority, one is even prone to resent Jewish priority as the exemplary and indubitable victims that gave rise to the revelation and culture that defines the postmodern age. To the resentful formalist, like Felton, the Jews' victimary status (a status that becomes desirable, because unimpeachable, when all claims to authority become tainted with the brush of Nazi tyranny) must be universalized; everyone "under-privileged" deserves a piece of it, even if that means making the privileged Jews (or "Zionists") into the new Nazis, with no empirical foundation to truly justify the formal claim. Or, like the vogue among certain university students today, one can proclaim Israel the new apartheid state.

In any case, here is the kind of writing that apparently appeals to our librarians' consciousness or desire to exemplify, on the taxpayer's dime, the cause of “freedom to read”. Felton writes, on the occasion of Remembrance Day, 2006:
Even though Remembrance Day and its symbols date to the end of the First World War, it is the Second World War that attracts the most attention. We still act as if our modern world could trace its origin to the end of hostilities in 1945, oblivious to the fact that we have become the new fascists. As I said this time last year:
“Do we seriously believe that our soldiers, airmen and sailors fought against Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan only to bequeath to us a world terrorized by Israel, the U.S. and Great Britain? What right do we have to indulge the conceit of our own virtue when we have become the enemy and are doing to Arabs and the Middle East what Hitler did to Jewish Europeans and Europe?”
The U.S—the great Allied power in the fight against fascism—openly repudiated them so it could torture Muslims and destabilize the Middle East. It acts with the same contempt for humanity as Hitler did; in fact, parallels with Hitler are numerous. If there were any justice in the world, the entire Bush administration, to say nothing of every Israeli leader that ever lived—would be placed before a N├╝rnberg-style war crimes tribunal to account for their atrocities.

Unfortunately, we do not see the U.S. or Israel as an enemy because we still imbibe the stale narcotic of the “Good” Allies and the “Evil” Axis. Our moral compass has changed polarity but we trudge ever onward, not realizing we have reversed course. The hoax of Remembrance Day is that it fosters false memories and selective amnesia. The allies may have defeated the Nazis, but they did not defeat fascism. It just took on Jewish form in Occupied Palestine.

A case could be made that WWII didn’t really end, in the same sense that WWI didn’t “end” with the 1918 Treaty of Versailles. Its absurdly punitive terms made possible the rise of the Nazis, renewed German militarism, and anti-Jewish persecution. In its early stages, the Nazi regime struggled under an effective worldwide boycott led by the U.S. Jewish War Veterans. It might not have lasted more than a few years, had it not been for Zionist Jews, who constituted at most two percent of Germany’s Jewish population in the 1930s. They collaborated with the Nazis to prop up the economy, facilitate the destruction of European Jewry, and sabotage the boycott.

But enough of Felton's dark mind. The hate and delusion in his writing should be evident to all. No one should have to waste time and energy discussing this stuff.

But thanks to Vancouver Public Library librarians, who have not simply taken on the job of providing books in demand, but who, like their colleagues in other cities, have appointed themselves the guardians of “freedom to read week", we must come to terms with Felton being given a public platform to speak his mind.

What does it mean to appoint oneself a guardian of “freedom to read”? Does not such a pro-active role require some responsibility and accountability? Does providing access to intellectual nonsense in any way help people gain intellectual freedom? Shouldn't a guardian of freedom to read have some intellectual responsibilities to maintain certain standards, to put before the public not simply “controversial” authors, but authors who are actually capable of more than formal intelligence, authors in touch with reality, authors who don't depend on conspiracy theories to explain history?

Whatever you think of Felton - and even, for the sake of argument, let's say he is in touch with reality - shouldn't a librarian have some responsibility to be accountable for his choices of public speakers? Public resources, such as library time and space, with well-paid librarians and security in attendance, are limited. Who is accountable for the use of such limited public resources? Should librarians really try to hide their choices behind a morally relativist rhetoric of insuring access to all kinds of ideas, as Vancouver's head librarian, Paul Whitney, has done?

The library is not providing for an “open and public exchange of contradictory views” as Whitney claims, by providing Felton a platform. How does one exchange views with people who make incredibly false moral equivalences with little respect for basic empirical distinctions between Nazis and Israelis? You can't debate such people, you can only engage them in mud slinging. Some people are simply too attracted to the mere form of victimary thinking to be able to critically examine their dependence on such thinking.

The whole culture of postmodern cultural relativism is a culture of unaccountable elites hiding behind deference to “other points of view”, instead of taking responsible positions of their own when required. The Canadian Jewish Congress has engaged the library, behind the scenes, criticizing Felton's appearance at the library. The CJC has told Jews not to attend the lecture, not wanting to create a scene for possibly violent trouble makers. But by engaging the library behind the scenes, the CJC allows librarians to tell their critics that they are, in the jargon of today, “addressing concerns”, again without having to be publicly responsible for what is going on. This politics of unaccountable elites is not what the citizens of Vancouver who want to engage in the free exchange of ideas deserve.

Forget Felton. I want to hear from librarians. I want someone to take accountability for his or her program choices. If that fails, I want the library board and civic politicians to demand it. So, readers, please write them letters to that effect.

In his writing, Felton often pretends to be only attacking “Zionists” or the “Jewish lobby”; but in implying a great and treasonous conspiracy is at work to subvert the once free nations of the West, his writing stinks of the same rotten thinking that antisemitism has always been about. Felton's target may be tactically the “Zionist”; but in calling the Zionist, in essence, a stereotypical “dirty Jew”, the enemy within, he libels all Jews, even as he professes otherwise in his bizarre sentimentalization of the Holocaust victims, making them into victims of “Zionists”. How is one to take this seriously from an apologist for the Iranian regime, the regime that not only proclaims that it will one day destroy Israel, but supports, among its many evils, Hezbollah, the terrorist group that has just proclaimed open season on Jews everywhere?

I encourage all Vancouverites concerned with this implicit attack on our Jewish co-citizens to come and occupy a chair at the library tonight (central branch, 7.30, in the Alma VanDusen and Peter Kaye room), silently and grimly doing a duty, attending but not engaging the unengageable, to make it clear to the librarians that we will not stand for such attacks on our shared civic covenant. Free citizens and free thinkers have a bond to work to guarantee the freedom of every individual, whatever his or her background. If “freedom to read week” means anything, it must mean that we will stand against hatred detached from reality and appealing to delusional resentments. It must mean that we distinguish between real thinking and mythical thinking and that we expect responsible public figures to also know and promote the difference.

Felton's appearance tells us something about the intellectual vacuity of many people in responsible positions in today's universities, libraries, and other cultural institutions. If we don't demand accountability, the culture can only get worse.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Christopher S. Morrissey on Bruce Chilton

Chris Morrissey, who has himself written an interesting critique of Rene Girard - in the recent book edited by Adam Katz (a book no serious intellectual, tired of postmodern academic nihilism, and wanting to know where the truly innovative thinking in the humanities is, should be without) - has come to Girard's defense in a review of Bruce Chilton's new book in today's Globe and Mail.

Chiding Chilton's attempt to explain much of history in terms of a recurring desire for martyrdom, Morrissey reminds us of the great appeal of the Gnostic desire to find hidden and/or ultimate explanations whose unveiling will open all doors to a rational human self-understanding and somehow allow us to overcome the great uncertainties attending our primary concern as humans: human-on-human violence. Starting with the Jews (Maccabees) but extending down to the modern age, Chilton apparently offers a consistent critique of diverse historical actors' desire for martyrdom and the violence it sustains. Morrissey, a Christian who, like Girard, believes in the exceptional lessons of his particular historical faith, responds that violent martyrdom or (self) sacrifice in the cause of a higher or historically innovative, e.g. Christian, understanding of the need to maximize human freedom from violence, is sometimes necessary.

This means, ambivalently, that we cannot reduce all of history to serve primary explanations of the good or evil of human sacrifice. Rather, with anthropological basics in hand, we must embrace the study of history to see how every event will teach us something different about our universal humanity, about the different possibilities inherent in our shared human origins and the sacrificial form of acting and thinking that distinguishes us from the rest of the animal kingdom.

Among the consequences of this way of thinking, with its respect for historical contingency, is that we cannot allow ourselves the temptation of pigeon-holing some group as our necessary enemy, except, that is, in particular places and times when he is our necessary enemy. History is forever open as a teacher, for those with the eyes to see the different possibilities inherent in any origin. Even Islam, with its violent origins, suggests Morrissey (in a favorable nod to Chilton) can be read as a lesson on the need to overcome violent origins as contrary to God's nature. If this is plausible (we have to check out Chilton's argument), only history, and our willing engagement with it, will tell us if Muslims will widely adopt such an understanding. We simply cannot yet know and must act accordingly on faith and reason, in respect for the historical sacrifices of our forebears (some of whom had to fight Muslims, some of whom found truth by deferring violence) who have given us our share of these two primary human goods.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Covenant Zone Meeting - Vancouver Public Library

Due to my back being a little out of whack, I have not sat down to type up the post that will motivate all you readers out to the Vancouver Public Library, Monday night, to let the librarians know what the people of Vancouver think of their resentful use of public resources:
Feb 25, 2008
7:30 PM - 9:00 PM

Greg Felton
Library Events - VPL
Location: Vancouver Public Library, Central Branch 350 W. Georgia St., Alma VanDusen and Peter Kaye room
An event held in conjunction with Freedom to Read week. Greg Felton presents his book "The Host and the Parasite: How Israel's Fifth Column Consumed America." A journalist since 1993, Felton has won several awards for investigative reporting and column writing. (Free admission)
Date: Monday Feb 25, 2008
Vancouver Public Library
Contact: Programming Office (604) 331-4044
But hopefully such a post is not necessary. Scroll down the page for our earlier posts on this matter. I will try to have another post up later today. For now, just a note to remind Vancouver area readers that Covenant Zone meets every Thursday, 7-9 pm, in the atrium of the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library, in front of Blenz Coffee. All committed to renewing the covenant by which we can guarantee each other's freedom - all interested in discussing, for example, how we can live in a country where Jews are free from high public officials giving intellectual stamps of approval to loony Judephobic conspiracy posturing posing as serious criticism of Israel, all the while preserving our freedom of speech (without providing public money, space, and time to hate mongers) - are welcome to join us.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

RCMP Goons (in the making)

We discussed a recent ruling, limiting police powers of search and seizure, here.

Now we see the results:
Surrey RCMP made sure they not only knocked and announced their arrival at the million-dollar home of a suspected pot grower this week, but they blared a police siren as well.

The innovative approach to executing a search warrant was in response to a B.C. Supreme Court ruling earlier this month in which police were blasted for not giving enough warning to a pot grower before breaking down his door.

Justice Catherine Bruce dismissed the charges against Van Dung Cao, who was found with 700 pot plants, because police waited just two minutes after knocking before using a battering ram on his side door.

The controversial ruling left police flabberghasted and wondering what more they didn't to do to execute search on suspected drug houses.

So this week, they arrived in a marked police car at another suspected grow op at 85th Ave & 171 St. As they knocked and announced their arrival, they also turned on the police siren before entering and finding 1,600 pot plants.

The double-barrelled warning seemed to alert the residents, RCMP Sgt. Roger Morrow said in a news release.

"The two combined appear to have garnered the attention of the residents, one seen coming to a set of Venetian blinds, seeing police and then quickly retreating back into the confines of the home," Morrow said.

"Once getting through the barricaded front door, police located two further reinforced doors on the upper floor. While clearing the home looking for occupants, police located a rope ladder ready for use at a second floor window. The occupants, two Asian males and one female were subsequently found hiding in the attic having pulled a step ladder up behind them after accessing a hole in the ceiling."

Morrow earlier told The Vancouver Sun that Bruce's ruling did not give appropriate consideration to the fact police could face violence if they give too much warning to suspected drug traffickers.

And Solicitor-General John Les said a longer lag time would essentially give organized criminals time to "lock and load" before police entered.

Morrow said the house entered this week was worth at least a million dollars and that the grow op found inside was "extensive."
We need to keep in mind the larger picture behind all of this. When our legal system consistently tells police officers that they are not to be trusted to use professional judgment in cases like this (or in more serious matters dealing with organized crime, or even terrorism, the two being sometimes linked by the drug trade) and that in order to protect citizens from the potential for a police state, we will throw out cases of clear criminality, just because police have not met requirements for some arbitrarily-defined two minute plus warning, then we are demeaning the members of a profession that is essential to the integrity of a civilized form of society. This is not football.

Police need to be accountable for their actions, but to make them accountable to some peculiar judicial ruling that does not allow for the necessary freedom of responsible professional judgment, as determined by officers on the scene, officers who will be held accountable for their screw ups, is to belittle the policing profession; and this will only likely mean that fewer people with skills and integrity will consider joining the profession. If certain judges are prone to see cops as toxic males with guns, there is no surer way to realize this prophecy than to treat cops accordingly. There once was a time, a couple of generations ago, when police brutality towards presumed criminals was not an uncommon thing, or so my reading of history leads me to believe. There was a good argument then for toughening up the rights of suspects, even throwing out cases where evidence had been gained through police violence, so that cops might know it was fruitless to use heavy-handed methods.

But there is a law of diminishing returns for every revelation and truth about our humanity that we hold dear. And we have surely realized it now in regard to treating police like dangerous thugs who can't be trusted to do their job in the face of an epidemic drug criminal culture in British Columbia. If we let our fears of a police state rule our every consideration about police conduct, we will just be making life easier for organized crime and, possibly, terrorists. Those judges who hold our police in such low regard that they throw out cases against clear criminals, as if that were the only way to insure police are responsibly policing their own members, need to hear that they are not a special elect who know what ordinary police good sense cannot. I hope someone will tell Justice Catherine Bruce that her apparent high regard for our rights as citizens in a free society should not extend to making asses of good cops.

We may yet return to a violent time when it is up to us, and no one else, to do something about the drug dealers next door. Such was the world before the rise of professional police, in the nineteenth century, that great and much maligned institution of modern civilization.

Sudden Suicides Continue In Bridgend

"We just don't understand what is going on in Bridgen", says a relative of a young lady who was found hanging in her bathroom.

20-year old Kelly Stephenson was one of three more young people that have killed themselves in the small Welsh town of Bridgend, a nightmare story continuing from our earlier post in January of this year.

Two cousins hung themselves last week. A 16-year old girl hung herself Tuesday.

The London Times talks to "A senior social worker who knows the area well", but no answers seem forthcoming:

"These deaths come out of the blue, without any explanation. It could be a sort of copycat thing, and the net is a likely target. From the cases I’ve been involved with it seems that young people are killing themselves as an extreme reaction to everyday things. They’re not being bullied, they’re not in high-achieving families where they feel they’ve failed. It’s as though they do it without expecting any consequences, and that’s hard to understand."

The UK paper The Mirror talked to many residents of the area who personally knew the kids who hung themselves:

A friend of Kelly's named Rosie said: "It's going crazy in Bridgend and it's not going to stop. No one can understand what is going on."I know seven of the people who killed themselves. People are saying it's got something to do with the internet but I don't believe that. But then I can't explain it either.
"Everyone is talking about Kelly's death. It's awful. I saw her a month ago and she was fine, smiling and laughing."

Yahoo news has some details on this week’s horrible hanging:
Police identified Jenna Parry, 16, as the latest victim. Her body was found hanging from a tree in the woods by a passer-by walking his dog in the village of Cefn Cribwr, five miles from Bridgend.

The papers have quotes from many friends and relatives, many acquaintances and co-workers of the youth that committed suicide. The kids who hung themselves were often even
friends with each other. So it seems safe to presume they did not kill themselves from loneliness.

I read the unnamed social worker's insights with great, overwhelming sadness. Is a generation being raised to view the precious gift of life as such a trivial blessing that they could toss it away with such impunity..? Do they find no treasure in having a family that loves them? Don't they realize how few people can boast of having wealth of that value? What do they understand of "friendship" that having so many friends fuels no sense of obligation, no sense of service, and so little sense of gratitude, towards those friends? Don't they know how many teens are scraping by without any friends at all, and how delighted they would probably be to have half as many as these kids reaching for their hangman's noose?

If someone grows up without family, without friends, they can still live a meaningful life, so long as they live with faith, the belief that life itself is worth living. From that affirming, positive belief you can attract and find friends, you can create and enlarge a family, you can build everything that is truly of lasting value. When cynicism and nihilism exhale their poisons, belching worse pollution than anything that ever came out of a Welsh mining town, you get the bitter fruit from that tree of "knowledge": the conviction that the nullity of death should be the "life" most worth "living".

Godspeed to those left behind, may this be the last of these terrible stories to come out of Bridgend.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Conformity Hippies Trash Gay Porn Star

Robert Spencer at Jihad Watch posted this piece on Saturday. It's going to last for a long time yet. There is going to be over the coming years a tragic split in our culture between conformists who grip the norm and will not let go for anything, totalitarians at heart, those who cannot, and those who will refuse to, think critically or imaginatively or openly about things such as Human freedom or even ambiguity in Human affairs, those preferring rigid ideological group-think that will give them the confidence and security of a ready-made set of ideas and cliches to speak from to give the impression to the gullible that the ideologue is a sophisticate or an intellectual, a constant safe script to speak from, a conformity of mind and character that will offer protection from the hard realities of living, and a safety that will place the ideologue in an imaginary position of moralistic superiority in his own mind, that will shield him from all criticism, give him strength in times of doubt, and an identity on which to hang an empty personality; and on the other side will be the revolutionary free-thinkers, and those too who are just commonly sensible, those who just don't buy bullshit because it's popular with their friends, those who are, in short, individualists. There will be a division, and it will make some stranger bedfellows of many of us. Take the average middle-class Protestant middle-aged cranky guy and the homosexual porn star. Not exactly on the face of it a marriage made in Heaven. But, that's the nature of thinkings, as Thales put it. Thinks happen one would not have guessed from the start. And that's very cool. Not of course for the conformity hippies. They have to torture themselves to maintain impossible poses. Yeah, I kind of like that too. If Michael Lucas were to make a film of such.... No, I think I'd pass. Otherwise, lunch would be excellent. Coffee? I'm up for it. In some ways he's definitely my kind of man.

"Speaking of racism in relation to religion, not to a race, is a big disservice to language and to intelligence"

Michael Lucas is described at the end of this piece in this way: "Gay pornographic actor and activist Michael Lucas is the CEO and founder of Lucas Entertainment, a New York-based gay adult film company." Unlike most gay activists, he seems to have realized that there is a big difference between Osama bin Laden and Pat Robertson -- and has accordingly been charged with being "racist" and "intolerant" by the thoroughly propagandized students at Stanford University. Here is his defense:

"Op-Ed: Racism and intolerance: disappointing at a liberal university," by Mike Lucas in the Stanford Daily (thanks to Paul):

Let me first address the "racism" remarks and the accusation of me being "racist" ["Adult film star's remarks spark debate," Feb. 14]. I was disappointed (but not very surprised) by the reaction that I got from some of the students at Stanford (as I've been wrongly accused of racism before).

Speaking of racism in relation to religion, not to a race, is a big disservice to language and to intelligence. I never in my life said or wrote a bad word about Arabs — go read any of my articles. My criticism was always addressed towards the religion and ideology of Islam. So I would like to ask Stanford students not to exploit the word 'racism' at their own convenience. It's shocking to me that some students do not know what that term means but handle it with such wanton impudence. Maybe such a hole in the education should be brought to the attention of the teaching faculty of your university.

In fact, some of my role models are Arabs for whom I have tremendous admiration. I'm talking about the likes of Wafa Sultan, who has confronted and condemned Islam on many occasions and for whose lectures I will travel across the country, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whose book "Infidel" also helped me to shape my opinions. Both of these women secularized, as Islam in their opinion is the ideology of backwardness and hate. They rightly point out that Islam hasn't changed, or evolved, for 1,400 years; it has always suppressed every progressive thought. Needless to say, these women were forced to live in exile in the United States and live with hired security 24 hours a day. As I hope you know, Islam does not forgive. It forbids any criticism. Think Salman Rushdie. Think Theo Van Gogh, for his portrayal of the misery of women in Muslim countries. Think of the Danish cartoonists who are hiding in safe houses. The list is long.

What fostered my distain for Islam? The contempt that Muslim men vomit on women, treating them with less respect than camels. That includes the infibulation — female circumcision — of young girls; the imposition of chadors and burqas; the decapitation of adulterous wives (but never adulterous husbands); the fact that, in most Muslim countries, women cannot go to school, see a doctor or even leave their own houses without a male escort; the approval of polygamy; the arranged marriages that involve girls as young as 9; the barring of women from taking part in public life or in any receptions, even those of their own weddings; the death penalty for drinkers of alcohol; the mutilation penalty for thieves; the public killings of homosexuals. Doesn't all of this originate from the Koran? Have you ever thought that, instead of protesting me, you should protest against those atrocities, maybe organizing some short demonstration in front of Muslim embassies? Why instead are you unleashing your hate against one who speaks against those crimes? Why are you denying my right to compare the Koran, the text in which these facts originate, to Hitler's "Mein Kampf?" The Koran, that for 1,400 years has tormented humanity more than the Bible, the Gospels and the Torah combined? Do not suppress or boycott someone who has a different opinion, even if you disagree with this opinion. Debate it. Argue it. In a civilized manner. Otherwise, what is the difference between you and Islam?

I do very well realize where this reaction is coming from. Stanford is a liberal university, and I very much hope that the good word "liberalism" is not degraded in your institution as it has been degraded by the likes of Michael Moore, Rosie O'Donnell, Ward Churchill, Noam Chomsky and many others. I hope the word "liberal" in the mind of Stanford students still means "progressive" and "broad-minded." The left symbolizes progress. At least, it has done so in the past. It has always stood for women's rights, for gay rights, for the rights of African-Americans. The reaction which I see today at Stanford demonstrates to me that there are changes in the left and that these changes are for the worst. What I read today in The Stanford Daily is nothing more than intellectual terrorism. A dogmatism that I can only compare to one of religion. (If-you-don't-think-what-I-think,-you-are-an-idiot-and-a-delinquent.) It's difficult for me to understand how the progressive left can defend the most backwards and reactionary ideology on earth, the ideology of Islam.

Posted by Robert at February 16, 2008 12:13 PM

Why do I go on about Death Hippies and Presbyterians and Left dhimmi fascists of all kinds? Well, they are those who would help, if only by cheer-leading and apologizing, those who would murder people such as Michael Lucas. He and I might both be cineastes, and we might both drink coffee, but beyond that, not much is going on between us. That and the fact that we're both democrats who value individuals over ideology. It is that commitment to freedom of thought and action of individuals and individualists that will make some strange bedfellows and that will split the world in strange ways, leaving the Death Hippies to side with the Muslims fascists and each other while I make common cause with gay porno guys and Christian fundamentalists and Hindu nationalists and just about anyone who cares at all about preserving our beautiful Modernity. The conformity hippies will sink in a stew of their own idiocy, taking down too many primitive reactionaries with them simply because the comformity hippies are afraid of ambiguity, afraid of freedom, afraid of being alone against the crowd of their fellows, fellows who will turn on them anyway if and when it's convenient. And in the end I'll be -- ah, shoulder to shoulder with men like Michael Lucas. Free men and free women.