Saturday, February 28, 2009

R.I.P. Paul Harvey

A remarkable storyteller has passed away at the age of 90. Rest in Peace, Paul Harvey:

Paul Harvey was one of the most gifted and beloved broadcasters in our nation's history. As he delivered the news each day with his own unique style and commentary, his voice became a trusted friend in American households. His career in radio spanned more than seven decades, during which time countless millions of listeners were both informed and entertained by his "News & Comment" and "Rest of the Story" features. Even after the passing of his loving wife Angel in May 2008, Paul would not slip quietly into retirement as he continued to take the microphone and reach out to his audience. We will miss our dear friend tremendously and are grateful for the many years we were so fortunate to have known him. Our thoughts and prayers are now with his son Paul Jr. and the rest of the Harvey family.
Jim Robinson
President, ABC Radio Networks

Clues to the nature of transcendence?

[My comments in post REVISED}

Our world may be a giant hologram - space - 15 January 2009 - New Scientist
DRIVING through the countryside south of Hanover, it would be easy to miss the GEO600 experiment. From the outside, it doesn't look much: in the corner of a field stands an assortment of boxy temporary buildings, from which two long trenches emerge, at a right angle to each other, covered with corrugated iron. Underneath the metal sheets, however, lies a detector that stretches for 600 metres.

For the past seven years, this German set-up has been looking for gravitational waves - ripples in space-time thrown off by super-dense astronomical objects such as neutron stars and black holes. GEO600 has not detected any gravitational waves so far, but it might inadvertently have made the most important discovery in physics for half a century.

For many months, the GEO600 team-members had been scratching their heads over inexplicable noise that is plaguing their giant detector. Then, out of the blue, a researcher approached them with an explanation. In fact, he had even predicted the noise before he knew they were detecting it. According to Craig Hogan, a physicist at the Fermilab particle physics lab in Batavia, Illinois, GEO600 has stumbled upon the fundamental limit of space-time - the point where space-time stops behaving like the smooth continuum Einstein described and instead dissolves into "grains", just as a newspaper photograph dissolves into dots as you zoom in. "It looks like GEO600 is being buffeted by the microscopic quantum convulsions of space-time," says Hogan.

If this doesn't blow your socks off, then Hogan, who has just been appointed director of Fermilab's Center for Particle Astrophysics, has an even bigger shock in store: "If the GEO600 result is what I suspect it is, then we are all living in a giant cosmic hologram.
Now I never thought I'd link to a psychic's website, but this is the number one link you get when you Google the title of "science" writer Michael Talbot's popular 1991 book, The Holographic Universe, which begins with a useful synopsis of the work of David Bohm and Karl Pribram and then flows into a lot of fanciful speculation about paranormal psychological phenomena in an attempt to explain all according to the holographic theory of the universe. I think the psychic here has collected a number of commentaries that fairly represent the claims of scientists, but also those who would take them into new age speculations. I'll stick to the former but readers may be interested further in the kinds of things people want to believe about the "holographic" universe:
University of London physicist David Bohm, for example, believes Aspect's findings imply that objective reality does not exist, that despite its apparent solidity the universe is at heart a phantasm, a gigantic and splendidly detailed hologram.

To understand why Bohm makes this startling assertion, one must first understand a little about holograms. A hologram is a three- dimensional photograph made with the aid of a laser.

To make a hologram, the object to be photographed is first bathed in the light of a laser beam. Then a second laser beam is bounced off the reflected light of the first and the resulting interference pattern (the area where the two laser beams commingle) is captured on film.

When the film is developed, it looks like a meaningless swirl of light and dark lines. But as soon as the developed film is illuminated by another laser beam, a three-dimensional image of the original object appears.

The three-dimensionality of such images is not the only remarkable characteristic of holograms. If a hologram of a rose is cut in half and then illuminated by a laser, each half will still be found to contain the entire image of the rose.

Indeed, even if the halves are divided again, each snippet of film will always be found to contain a smaller but intact version of the original image. Unlike normal photographs, every part of a hologram contains all the information possessed by the whole.

The "whole in every part" nature of a hologram provides us with an entirely new way of understanding organization and order. For most of its history, Western science has labored under the bias that the best way to understand a physical phenomenon, whether a frog or an atom, is to dissect it and study its respective parts.

A hologram teaches us that some things in the universe may not lend themselves to this approach. If we try to take apart something constructed holographically, we will not get the pieces of which it is made, we will only get smaller wholes.

This insight suggested to Bohm another way of understanding Aspect's discovery. Bohm believes the reason subatomic particles are able to remain in contact with one another regardless of the distance separating them is not because they are sending some sort of mysterious signal back and forth, but because their separateness is an illusion. He argues that at some deeper level of reality such particles are not individual entities, but are actually extensions of the same fundamental something.
Bohm is not the only researcher who has found evidence that the universe is a hologram. Working independently in the field of brain research, Standford neurophysiologist Karl Pribram has also become persuaded of the holographic nature of reality.

Pribram was drawn to the holographic model by the puzzle of how and where memories are stored in the brain. For decades numerous studies have shown that rather than being confined to a specific location, memories are dispersed throughout the brain.

In a series of landmark experiments in the 1920s, brain scientist Karl Lashley found that no matter what portion of a rat's brain he removed he was unable to eradicate its memory of how to perform complex tasks it had learned prior to surgery. The only problem was that no one was able to come up with a mechanism that might explain this curious "whole in every part" nature of memory storage.

Then in the 1960s Pribram encountered the concept of holography and realized he had found the explanation brain scientists had been looking for. Pribram believes memories are encoded not in neurons, or small groupings of neurons, but in patterns of nerve impulses that crisscross the entire brain in the same way that patterns of laser light interference crisscross the entire area of a piece of film containing a holographic image. In other words, Pribram believes the brain is itself a hologram.

Pribram's theory also explains how the human brain can store so many memories in so little space. It has been estimated that the human brain has the capacity to memorize something on the order of 10 billion bits of information during the average human lifetime (or roughly the same amount of information contained in five sets of the Encyclopaedia Britannica).

Similarly, it has been discovered that in addition to their other capabilities, holograms possess an astounding capacity for information storage--simply by changing the angle at which the two lasers strike a piece of photographic film, it is possible to record many different images on the same surface. It has been demonstrated that one cubic centimeter of film can hold as many as 10 billion bits of information.

Our uncanny ability to quickly retrieve whatever information we need from the enormous store of our memories becomes more understandable if the brain functions according to holographic principles. If a friend asks you to tell him what comes to mind when he says the word "zebra", you do not have to clumsily sort back through ome gigantic and cerebral alphabetic file to arrive at an answer. Instead, associations like "striped", "horselike", and "animal native to Africa" all pop into your head instantly.

Indeed, one of the most amazing things about the human thinking process is that every piece of information seems instantly cross-correlated with every other piece of information--another feature intrinsic to the hologram. Because every portion of a hologram is infinitely interconnected with ever other portion, it is perhaps nature's supreme example of a cross-correlated system.
The storage of memory is not the only neurophysiological puzzle that becomes more tractable in light of Pribram's holographic model of the brain. Another is how the brain is able to translate the avalanche of frequencies it receives via the senses (light frequencies, sound frequencies, and so on) into the concrete world of our perceptions.

Encoding and decoding frequencies is precisely what a hologram does best. Just as a hologram functions as a sort of lens, a translating device able to convert an apparently meaningless blur of frequencies into a coherent image, Pribram believes the brain also comprises a lens and uses holographic principles to mathematically convert the frequencies it receives through he senses into the inner world of our perceptions.

An impressive body of evidence suggests that the brain uses holographic principles to perform its operations. Pribram's theory, in fact, has gained increasing support among neurophysiologists.

Argentinian-Italian researcher Hugo Zucarelli recently extended the holographic model into the world of acoustic phenomena. Puzzled by the fact that humans can locate the source of sounds without moving their heads, even if they only possess hearing in one ear, Zucarelli discovered that holographic principles can explain this ability.

Zucarelli has also developed the technology of holophonic sound, a recording technique able to reproduce acoustic situations with an almost uncanny realism.

Pribram's belief that our brains mathematically construct "hard" reality by relying on input from a frequency domain has also received a good deal of experimental support.

It has been found that each of our senses is sensitive to a much broader range of frequencies than was previously suspected.

Researchers have discovered, for instance, that our visual systems are sensitive to sound frequencies, that our sense of smell is in part dependent on what are now called "cosmic frequencies", and that even the cells in our bodies are sensitive to a broad range of frequencies. Such findings suggest that it is only in the holographic domain of consciousness that such frequencies are sorted out and divided up into conventional perceptions.

But the most mind-boggling aspect of Pribram's holographic model of the brain is what happens when it is put together with Bohm's theory. For if the concreteness of the world is but a secondary reality and what is "there" is actually a holographic blur of frequencies, and if the brain is also a hologram and only selects some of the frequencies out of this blur and mathematically transforms them into sensory perceptions, what becomes of objective reality?

Put quite simply, it ceases to exist. As the religions of the East have long upheld, the material world is Maya, an illusion, and although we may think we are physical beings moving through a physical world, this too is an illusion.

We are really "receivers" floating through a kaleidoscopic sea of frequency, and what we extract from this sea and transmogrify into physical reality is but one channel from many extracted out of the superhologram.

This striking new picture of reality, the synthesis of Bohm and Pribram's views, has come to be called the Holographic Paradigm, and although many scientists have greeted it with skepticism, it has galvanized others. A small but growing group of researchers believe it may be the most accurate model of reality science has arrived at thus far.

More than that, some believe it may solve some mysteries that have never before been explainable by science and even establish the paranormal as a part of nature. Numerous researchers, including Bohm and Pribram, have noted that many para-psychological phenomena become much more understandable in terms of the holographic paradigm.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Obama pulls out of hate fest after dipping toes in the water

What is postmodern man?

In the previous post, I offered a rough explanation:
The central facet of postmodern man is her recognition that every action and every thought entails a process of figuring a centre of sacred attention and hence a marginalized or alienated periphery of the sacred. Since every thought and statement creates a margin, only actions and thoughts that are "correct" can be contemplated by people obsessed with redeeming alleged victimhood. The centre is always under suspicion and one is not focussed on upholding the norms of those centres that, notwithstanding their limits in building Utopia, nevertheless allow for a maximum freedom of exchange on the periphery.
Here's another illustration of what I'm talking about, from Bill Clinton pollster and consultant Dick Morris:
In addressing this panic, the president of the United States must truly be the leader of the world — showing the way back to confidence.

Instead, Obama has been instrumental in purveying fear and spreading doubt. It is his pronouncements, reinforced by the developments they kindle and catalyze, that are destroying good businesses, bankrupting responsible people and wiping out even conservative financial institutions. Every time he speaks, he sends the markets down and stocks crashing. He doesn’t seem to realize that the rest of the world takes its cue from him. He forgets that he stands at the epicenter of power, not on the fringes campaigning for office. This ain’t Iowa.

Why does Obama preach gloom and doom? Because he is so anxious to cram through every last spending bill, tax increase on the so-called rich, new government regulation, and expansion of healthcare entitlement that he must preserve the atmosphere of crisis as a political necessity. Only by keeping us in a state of panic can he induce us to vote for trillion-dollar deficits and spending packages that send our national debt soaring.

And then there is the matter of blame. The deeper the mess goes — and the further down his rhetoric drives it — the more imperative it becomes to lay off the blame on Bush. He must perpetually “discover” — to his shock — how deep the crisis that he inherited runs, stoking global fears in the process.

So, having inherited a recession, his words are creating a depression. He entered office amid a disaster and he is transforming it into a catastrophe, all to pass every last bit of government spending and move us a bit further to the left before his political capital dwindles.

But the jig will be up soon. The crash of the stock market in the days since he took power (indeed, from the moment he won the election) can increasingly be attributed to his own failure to lead us in the right direction, his failed policies in addressing the recession and his own spreading of panic and fear. The market collapse makes it evident that it is Obama who is the problem, where he should, instead, be the solution.

Bazaar man trades in politically-correct apartheid

Update to our last post. Mike reports that York [University] President Shoukri releases a long overdue public statement.

As Mike notes, there is a lot wrong with this statement. For starters, it is not enough to make statements decrying your school's antisemitic riot without making clear indications of how you will take actions to protect Jewish students and insure all students can freely express their support for unfashionable but nonetheless intelligent and ethical causes like that which holds Israel as a model nation for the economic and social development of the Middle East.

Shoukri writes, in between comments on the woeful economic news:
We have just endured the longest university strike in the history of English-speaking Canada. Our students have returned to class and to examinations, only to be faced with a barrage of disruption, hostility and even intimidation from their fellow students. This state of affairs is unacceptable to me, and it should be unacceptable to you. Intimidation, bullying, and discrimination will not be tolerated here, and we are taking action to protect the rights and the safety of all students and staff.
at a time when our community should be pulling together, we turn on each other instead — academic disruption, intimidation, sit-ins, name-calling, shouting people down, banging on the doors and windows of Senate or the Board of Governors or student clubs. Then we run to the media and tell anyone who will listen how bad York is.

Is it any wonder our own students are disconnected? Or that turnout at our student elections is so low? Or that our students and their families are voting with their feet? Our public face is not demonstrating the core values a university should stand for:

* Freedom of speech – especially for those with whom we disagree
* Mutual Respect
* Reason
* Discourse
* Objectivity
* Being able to teach — and learn — without disruption
* Being open to other ideas and other people.
* And yes, social justice.

But we cannot demand social justice only for ourselves and for those who think like us. Social justice is for everyone, or it is for no one. York has a history of social activism, but the events of the past weeks — intimidation and shouting each other down — have nothing to do with social activism.

That is why I am asking you today, as Senators and key representatives of the academy, to make your voices heard and say, “enough is enough.”

I want to give a couple of examples of how the academy can contribute to open dialogue on tough issues. At other universities in this province, faculty members participate as guest speakers at lecture series organized by student clubs. These events tackle the very same issues we are struggling with:

* Islamophobia
* Anti-Semitism
* Racial profiling
* Overcoming stereotypes

The goal is not agreement or endorsement of each others’ ideas, it is to create safe spaces where people can come together to articulate their views — without fear and without being shouted down.

I’ll give you another example happening right here at York. Next week, the York Centre for International and Security Studies is hosting an event that will examine the idea of academic boycotts. Speakers will explore the topic in a reasoned way in an academic forum. These two examples share one common element: faculty involvement.

Our faculty needs to become more involved in leading these conversations. Students look up to their professors. They look to you for direction. You are in a position to mentor and guide them and to teach them how to talk with passion about things that anger us, but without anger, without hate, without fear. I am asking you to help us fix our community, because this truly is our problem.

We talk a lot about diversity here at York, but somehow we have allowed that diversity to divide us. We need to focus now on unity, on our common values and on what makes us a community. We must identify the challenges and work as a community to address them.
"But somehow we have allowed that diversity to divide us"? Of course it is a bit jarring to see academics invest in the Utopian lie that humanity can ever exist without conflicts and divisions that need to be mediated intelligently, but not denied. Does he mean to suggest that his idea of "diversity" is one where everyone signs off on some code of politically-correct thought where nothing can really be advanced that is not in the name of some already-sanctioned terms of peace, with due recognition of the officially-sanctioned victim groups? He probably does. The central facet of postmodern man is her recognition that every action and every thought entails a process of figuring a centre of sacred attention and hence a marginalized or alienated periphery of the sacred. Since every thought and statement creates a margin, only actions and thoughts that are "correct" can be contemplated by people obsessed with redeeming alleged victimhood. The centre is always under suspicion and one is not focussed on upholding the norms of those centres that, notwithstanding their limits in building Utopia, nevertheless allow for a maximum freedom of exchange on the periphery.

So, in practise what does this mean? It means, for example, that postmodern ideologues pay respect to the idea of "Islamophobia" without allowing serious discussion (maximum exchange) on the reasons "the kafir" might fear Islam. It means a university president who thinks he can calm tensions on campus by pointing to some professorial pretension to be having a serious academic discussion on the "Boycott Divest Sanctions" movement vis a vis Israel. Mike points us to this little write up of the coming event, whose only listed speaker is the Palestinian activist Omar Barghouti. This does not look like it's going to be a balanced or sober discussion. The write up makes the ridiculous comparison of Israel to South African apartheid and ends:
Is this a sustainable movement that can build on the successes of the similarly inspired movement against South African apartheid or is it engaging in counter-productive actions that threaten to undermine delicate peace efforts in the region as its critics claim? Furthermore, how are those who reside in Canada, seemingly removed from this conflict, most constructively able contribute to the establishment of a lasting peace in the region?
So, for example, anyone with the idea that it is the entire value system that is behind the BDS movement that is the greatest source of violence in the Middle East cannot, one imagines, seriously engage in the "reciprocity" this event pretends to advance. In other words, because the "Palestinians" are the duly sanctioned, unquestionable, victim group, the most realistic ideas about how to maximize reciprocity in the Middle East cannot be mentioned. There can be no mention of the real Apartheid states: the Islamic ones that have effectively cleansed themselves of all non-Muslims; the Arab states that want nothing to do with adopting the Arab "Palestinian" refugees other than to leave them as a festering wound and to point the finger at an American-Jew scapegoat, so as to re-focus their own oppressive societies' many internal resentments; the Muslim countries in which a class of dhimmis still exist as a lower caste relegated to jobs like garbage collecting and recycling. There can be no mention of Jordanian or Syrian or Lebanese massacres of Palestinians, a death toll far greater than that suffered in the Israel-Palestine conflict. There can be no mention of the fact that it is only in Israel that Jews and Arabs may or may not choose to live side by side in the same neighborhoods, as they variously do. There can be no discussion of the fact that only in Israel do Arabs freely make their own politics and elect their own representatives, even including parties that call for an end to the Israeli state. There can be no discussion of why Islam cannot recognize the existence of any kind of Jewish politics in lands it claims for Islam. There can be no discussion that maybe it is the failure of Palestinian politics that threatens to "undermine delicate peace efforts". There can be no discussion of what to do with the Hamas cult of martyrdom that actively promotes the deaths of Palestinians that they may be used as victims to throw before the antisemitic world's attention to fuel more insane hatred of Israel, a state that has been under attack and defending itself from Arabs since before it even came into existence. There can be no discussion of the Hamas butchery of Fatah opponents. There can be no discussion of the international left's role in fostering and encouraging the unproductive Palestinian cult of victimhood. There can be no discussion of those who would protect an unfree society because it is romantically traditional, and hence bound in by all kinds of socioreligious limits, rather than call for a universal modernity bound by constitutional democracies interacting a global free market. In short, the idea that "social justice" is not at all what is on offer in the diatribes privileged by the politically-correct at York cannot be seriously questioned. Nope, instead "Israeli Apartheid" Week will go on as planned, antisemitic riots be ignored.

Respect for reality at York University is at best optional. In President Shoukri's bazaar you can hope to trade peacefully only in that which the cult of "diversity" recognizes as legitimate goods. It will be interesting to see what happens to the Teaching Assistant who unilaterally declared to a student that he is banned from wearing his IDF t-shirt.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

York University's moral and intellectual death spiral continues...

UPDATE: Mike has the text of the letter sent out to the York Jewish students mentioned below. The university administration is apparently trying to look balanced by also disciplining the "anti-Israel-apartheid" students, but as Mike points out it was they who started the disturbance the university wishes to sanction.

We previously reported on the antisemitic riot at Toronto's York University, an event which has grabbed national attention.

Blazing Cat Fur now reports Jewish Students Attacked at York University now face Charges!
For demonstrating without a permit!

From a source: Prof. Ed Morgan is filing a defence motion for the Hasbarah fellows at York University. You are not going to believe this. The Hasbarah fellows are being charged with demonstrating without a permit, and three Jewish students fined $500 each. The Muslim mob did not have a permit either. The thing is, this is the most critical week because if the Hasbara fellows get banned (even temporarily as is being suggested) then they can't be present on campus to do their planned counter-activism against Israel Apartheid Week.
If this report is accurate, any and every Canadian who values a free society must send York University messages like this one (also via Cat Fur)
Dear Dr. Shoukri,
(President and Vice Chancellor, York University)

I am Shalom Lappin Professor of Computational Linguistics at King's College, London, and I am currently a visiting professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Toronto, where I am on sabbatical for the semester.

I was recently invited to give a talk on my research on computational modeling of grammar induction in the Colloquium of the Cognitive Science Program of the Philosophy Department at York, on March 25. I accepted the invitation with great pleasure. I received my BA in Philosophy from York in May 1970, and I welcomed this opportunity to return to my first academic home. It is therefore with considerable regret that I must now withdraw from this engagement in light of the York administration's handling of the attack on Jewish students that took place on the afternoon of February 11.

The reports of this attack that I have read in both the Canadian and the foreign press (confirmed by eyewitness accounts that I have received) converge on a disturbing sequence of events. A group of approximately 100 students supporting the York Student Federation broke up a press conference organized by other students campaigning to impeach the YSF. This group then pursued approximately 40 of the students from the press conference, most of them Jewish,
to the offices of the campus Hillel, where the latter locked themselves in for fear of physical assault. The YSF supporters banged on the door and the windows of the offices, shouting threatening comments at the students trapped inside. The students in the Hillel headquarters appealed to campus security for assistance but received none. They then called the Toronto Police, who eventually arrived to escort them out of the offices, through lines of hostile YSF supporters chanting angry slogans and hurling insults at them.

To date I have seen no public statement by any University official on this incident, beyond the expressionon of an intention to investigate it. I called your office on Monday, February 23 to seek clarification of the administration's view of the attack. A member of your staff called me back today and graciously listened to my concerns. However, she was unable to do more than
reiterate the University's official position that the matter is still under investigation. Given that the incident took place two weeks ago, I find it odd that the administration has been unable to come to any conclusions on what took place. It is particularly remarkable that it felt no need to
release at least a general statement specifying that violence and abuse of any kind will not be tolerated on campus, and confirming that all students have the right to express their views without fear of intimidation.

The fact that the University has not taken up this assault with the students who launched it, nor acted to reassure the students who they targeted indicates a severe failure on the part of the administration to fulfill its reponsibility to sustain a campus free of physical violence and harrassment. Several of the Jewish students at York claim that the assault was not an aberration, but part of a general atmosphere of extreme hostility that they have been forced to contend with over an extended period of time. I am in no position to evaluate this assertion. But it seems to me that the administration is obliged to address the grievances of students who feel that they are being victimized, particularly in light of a significant incident which lends some credence to their charge.

I do not regard the ethnic identities or the political views of any of the participants in this event as of relevant concern. All sides to a controversial question have an equal right to be heard in a civil environment of tolerance and mutual respect. Nor do I see criticism of Israel as the problem here. I have frequently spoken out publicly against the policies of the Israeli government, most recently in a joint letter and comments critical of Israel's operation in Gaza, published in the Observer in January.

If one group of students is permitted to engage in violent harrassment of another without the decisive intervention of the University's administration, then the conditions for a free and unfettered exchange of ideas are completely undermined, and the primary purpose of university life is betrayed.

When I was an undergraduate at York in the late 1960s the University was home to lively political activity on a variety of issues. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict was one of these, and discussion was intense, occasionally heated. However, at no time did this discussion degenerate into systematic bullying, intimidation, or expressions of bigotry. Nor would the administration of that period have allowed it to do so. It is a source of great sadness to me that the current administration is either incapable or unwilling to insure the existence of a basic culture of decency, civility, and free speech on its campus. This culture is a necessary feature of any serious institution of higher learning.


Shalom Lappin
Professor of Computational Linguistics
King's College, London
It would seem that Dr. Shoukri & Co. need to be reminded that Jews who stand up to organized, systemic racism, encouraged by many an unthinking professor, cannot be treated like dhimmis.

For those interested, a truly scholarly and ethical discussion of the latest trends in antisemitism can be found here.

What is a Muslim, continued, continued... Imams unable to grasp needs of Western Muslims: report
Imams are out of touch with the needs of Western Muslims, and divorced from the struggles their congregants face in secular society, according to a new report from a leading Canadian scholar.

Many religious leaders don't offer constructive advice about how to reconcile traditional beliefs with the challenges of integration in Western societies, concludes the study, which is based on focus groups with 60 lay Muslims in Ottawa, Washington and Britain.

"My ultimate fantasy would be to find an imam who gives a sermon in a Friday mosque, who happens to be someone who goes out to work from 9 to 5, takes the bus, is dealing with his kid who is picking up a marijuana joint at the age of 13," one interviewee said, "and not speaking to me about the battles that we won 1,200 years ago."

Karim Karim, director of Carleton University's School of Journalism and Communication, is the author of the report to be published today by the Montreal-based Institute for Research on Public Policy.

"We need to acknowledge the soul searching in the Muslim world," he said, "and the diversity of voices, and not let the process be hijacked by the groups or individuals who claim to speak for 'the Muslim community.' "

Some Muslims in the survey complained about "the cultural illiteracy" of imported imams. Others expressed the desire for a more elevated discourse in the mosque and a critical approach to dogma.

"What I am looking for is an intellectual Islam that examines where we are today and how we move forward," a participant noted.

Others took issue with conservatism in the mosque, including dress codes for women, and imams who insist women fast when they are pregnant or menstruating.

In fact, a lot of Muslim scholars are "reopening the gates of reasoning," said Prof. Karim, and engaging more with contemporary society. "Religious law's governance of the minutiae of daily life under religious law is contentious not only for Western Muslims but also for Muslims living in majority-Muslim countries," he notes.

To counter the power of conservative imams, some Muslim institutions in Britain and the United States are training imams to develop a more critical approach to traditional religious issues. The report also recommends that Canadian policy-makers target "Islamophobia" through anti-discrimination programs and by supporting cross-cultural initiatives, such as the twinning of mosques and synagogues.
As Ernest Gellner argued, the growth of the modern state in the Islamic countries, in response to the Western-led transformation of the traditional world, transforms the practise of Islam. The old Islamic world was divided. On the one hand there were the many clans and tribes who practised significantly local cults, with their local shrines paying homage to local saints/protectors and practising local rituals. On the other hand, a numerically small, literate, book-bound Ulema preached a "pure" Islam to the urban elite. The multiethnic, multi-tribal, residually polytheistic, and local nature of culture in the pre-modern world mitigated against the book-bound elite ever dominating the culture of Islam. However, the modern world, with its need for a large bureaucratic state, provides much opportunity for growth in the puritanical Islam of the book, for the modern state needs some kind of unifying trans-local culture, and preferably one that can be streamlined without too many embarrassing religious eccentricities that would clash with the cognitive needs of urban life in a now global economy and politics.

Gellner's writing is now more or less a generation old and we might ask to what extent was Gellner right that the puritanical Islam of the book would prevail over the local cult in adapting to modernity. On the one hand, we can of course see very much evidence for it around the world where all kinds of middle-class young people feel compelled to take up study of the Koran and other Islamic texts in a search for identity, many also signing on to the Islamist and terrorist political projects that are conducted in the name of the book (all asides to Israel, the Great Satan, etc., being somewhat secondary).

However, on the other hand, as the above article suggests, there is also a kind of modern educated Muslim who looks at the book-bound Imam as something locked in the past, unable to preach a religion that makes sense in a country like Canada today. It was my impression, or best guess, that such people provided much of the audience in Vancouver for Tariq Ramadan. And yet, I also inferred from the tone of the questions asked Ramadan that such people know, that despite his liberal talk, that Ramadan, with his Muslim Brotherhood roots, is also ultimately somewhat in debt to the puritanical readers of the book, and his questioners were less than convinced by what appears to many to be his double talk where on the one hand he professes to respect the book absolutely while on the other he promises some reformed reading thereof (he wants to reform the reader, not change the book; but to do this he has to allude mysteriously to some heretofore ignored or misunderstood "real meaning" of the Koran and the historical context of its revelation).

This is not surprising when, as is common in Vancouver, the "Muslim" is a refugee from a country like Iran where the victory of the book-bound at the political level has now resulted in a country with a massive heroin addiction problem, middle-class women selling themselves as prostitutes, among other social ills, as Spengler reports. One area in which Islamic law clearly lets the people down is on the question of how to adapt to the global economy. When oil wealth arrives in quantity, not as a result of the productive re-organization of Muslims to exploit the mineral, but as rental income from foreign companies, there is a huge question of how to distribute this wealth. It becomes a source of much corruption in what Spengler not unreasonably calls a "potlatch" culture.

The general rule, as I understand it, is that if one is to adapt successfully to the modern free market and liberal society, one may well be served by some kind of highly-disciplined faith and ritual, if this is strictly a private religion. But any attempts to make such a religion be the guiding hand of economic life, civil society, or of the state, ends in disasters like the present state of Iran.

I am suspicious of liberal religion as an answer to personal needs in modern society: the lessons of Christianity in liberal society is that it is not the liberal, but the more conservative, churches that succeed best in guaranteeing the individual's survival and success in the anonymous marketplace, or as a creative leader in politics. Yet the equation may well be different with Islam. For all we know, Gellner's observations of an Islamic world where modernity means the men of the book gain the upper hand over the local cults will in time evolve further to a world where local cults of, say, pot-smoking Muslims, or feminist hijab burners, or jet-setting traders, protected by liberal states, and needing to mediate the reality of a clearly triumphant free market economic system that the foundational Islamic books have no way (as yet revealed) to understand or recognize, will demand the Mullahs preach some new kind of Islam that allows them to live as something other than puritanical zealots.

But if that is to happen, we may all have to do a better job, in good faith, of talking to Muslims and others about the fundamental anthropological nature of the antisemitism and the more generalized fear of the "kaffir", or unbeliever, that is integral not simply to the Koran, but to the inevitable resentments thrown up by a globalized, free-market, modernity.

US Senators Making Up Their Own Reality To Justify CPSIA?

Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) interviewed on KSMU radio about the impending economic devastation unleashed through the enactment of the disastrous CPSIA (Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act):

We’ve had a number of children die in our country last year because of lead on products that had been imported primarily from China. So, there was a new attempt to look at lead testing and in the process of trying to address the dangers of lead content in some products in this country, we inadvertently caught thrift store in this net,” McCaskill said.
Valerie from The Bookroom did some thorough fact-checking of the Senator's statements, to see just how bad the problem of lead poisoning has been. Her discovery:

There is no report of any child poisoned by children’s products in 2008...
[...W]as Senator McCaskill talking about 2007? No again. There is no report of any child poisoned by children’s products in 2007. In fact, lead poisoning from children’s toys, clothing, and books is unknown. It simply doesn’t happen...
Meanwhile this misbegotten legal steamroller continues to flatten the very kind of initiative that we all need right now more than ever, the optimistic spirit of "can-do" enterprise that does so much to define American exceptionalism, our neighbors' admirable trait of choosing hope in the face of despair. One by one, the lights are going out, from Hawaii....:

In Kailua, little Raven Mollison holds what's left of her mom's at-home business. "It's the last doll that my mom made so she gave it to me," she said.

Her mom Denise, ran a doll shop to pay for Raven's medical supplies. The eight-year-old has Russell Silver Syndrome, which stunts her growth.

"I'm very sad that she's shut it down out of business," said Raven.

But Denise says she has no choice. A new anti-lead law calls for safety tests she can't afford. "Parents and consumers are hesitant to purchase my products and truthfully I don't blame them. If I could provide the certification then everything would be fine but my hands are tied," said Mollison.

In response to critics who call the law a job-killer, CPSC [Consumer Product Safety Commission]has issued a stay of enforcement which puts testing requirements on hold for a year until it can work out a compromise. But business owners must still abide by the new lead limits.

"The snag here is they're saying 'don't test but follow the guidelines'. You can't be sure you're following the guidelines unless you test so it's a catch 22," said Mollison.

A Kidd's Dream, located at Oak and Court streets, will close on Feb. 9, the day before the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act goes into effect. Brenda Kidd and daughter Gayla Wade opened the business, a children's consignment shop, in February 2007.
Kidd said, "We will be held criminally and civilly responsible for anything sold that does not meet the new requirements."
Taunya Kidd, another daughter of Brenda Kidd, was helping her mother and sister last week at the store's going-out-of-business sale.
"The only ones it's not going to affect are the ones who were importing from China in the first place," she said. "Mattel can easily afford to test one (toy) from each lot. We kept waiting for them to make an exemption or an exception, but all they did was say 'you're not our primary target, but you still have to follow the law.'"
She added, "This is the first thing you see when you come downtown. I hate that it's going to be sitting empty."

Local Goodwill stores will no longer sell many children's clothes, toys and other items, citing liability concerns over new federal safety regulations that take effect today.
Painted toys and clothing with metal clasps or fasteners -- including blue jeans, coats and hooded jackets for children 12 and younger -- were pulled from store shelves Monday night, said Gayle Goetz, vice president of development for Goodwill Industries Easter Seals of Kansas.
Goodwill officials worry that fewer products will mean fewer sales, which will mean less money raised for people with disabilities and others the nonprofit group helps.
Right now, though, shoppers -- including many who see thrift stores as a way to stretch their dollars during hard economic times -- are likely to feel the most effect.
"There's a lot of people whose income has dropped, but their children keep growing," Goetz said. "So, 'Now I need another size of blue jeans, and I can't get them at Goodwill.' It's unfortunate."
Where does it end?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Mark Steyn On CPSIA: "Government By Insanity"

Mark Steyn was interviewed in the first hour of today's Hugh Hewitt radio show, primarily to get Mark's reaction to this week's political news. Hugh has been covering the legislated carnage courtesy of the Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), and he raised the subject with the Columnist To The World:

MS: [...T]his safety thing has made every children's book printed before 1985 apparently a lethal weapon!

HH: Yes.

MS: It's illegal... if I happen to have a 1982 edition of Tom Sawyer lying around, it's illegal for me to sell that at my local rummage sale, because it'll kill the kid who reads it. This is rubbish! None of this stuff is needed... All of that gets in the way of the dynamic and productive part of the American economy.

HH: You know, Mark, it sideswiped the entire all-terrain vehicle industry, destroying a huge market segment where they would sell these vehicles to 12 and under, they can't do it now because of lead in the machines. It was not intended to do that, it just did it!

MS: Let me tell you something, I'm not going to pay any attention to that. In my little corner of New Hampshire, every 12-year old boy loves taking an ATV, loves riding it around up in the hills. And the idea that the lead in it is going to cause that kid to keel over, is preposterous. This is government by insanity...

How many businesses is this law crippling? Hugh posts an email he received as a result of the hour he devoted to CPSIA on his Monday program:

...I am a franchisee of a quick service hamburger chain sitting on $30,000 in obsolete inventory as a result of this act due to the phthalate content of our kids meal toys, which by the way had been deemed safe for years but have suddenly (first week of Feb 2009) and with no notice been determined to immediately be hazardous and non saleable. It’s a terrible blow to discard this inventory as I struggle to pay my bills in the middle of this recession.

After the Mark Steyn interview, Hugh took some listener calls, and heard from a pen manufacturer; the retailers that he sells to have apparently canceled all their fall back-to-school orders, because they are waiting to see what the long-term results of CPSIA will be. Unlike all-terrain vehicles, children may actually put pens (highlighter and otherwise) in their mouths...
How many small entrepreneurs is this law crushing? Can an outfit like Bugbitesplayfood afford to pay $10,000 for testing whether or not every component used in their hand-stitched ham sandwich is in compliance with CPSIA? What will be left of the handcraft industry if the law is left to stand? How many work-at-home mothers might have to find another way to earn an income... outside of the home, away from their kids?

If there's a silver lining to this legal monstrosity, it's the revelation of just how amazingly industrious a nation the United States has become. How many of us, for instance, were aware of the existence of an Irish Step Dance Apparel Industry?

[Hat tip to Overlawyered for the latest news of how CPSIA hurts the children's garment industry]

CPSIA Crashes Into Minibike Industry

Last August an economic time bomb called the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA) was tossed into the struggling US economy, with little consideration for its eventual consequences. Legitimate concern about little children being poisoned by the made-in-China toys they put in their mouths has led to a law that threatens more businesses than you could imagine... certainly more than Congress, evidently, could imagine.

It's humbling to realize how unconnected we can all remain in this age of unprecedented communication and interaction; had you ever heard of this story, this legislation, before this week? I hadn't. As shocked as I was to read about the unforeseen damage it is doing to libraries, where books published before 1985 are now deemed "poisonous" due to the lead they contain in their ink, it seems that libraries and bookstores may be getting off easy compared to other businesses, such as the off-road vehicle industry:

The sport of off-highway recreation is seriously threatened by recent legislation that imposes strict lead content guidelines on children's everyday toys. The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA) has effectively banned the sale of youth off-highway vehicles (OHVs). The AMA is calling for action now to help reverse the potentially devastating effect this could have on the sport of OHV recreation.

"The unavailability of youth OHVs will devastate family OHV recreation and cripple amateur competition, creating a domino effect across all aspects of motorized recreation," said AMA Vice President for Government Relations Ed Moreland.

A Rapid City, South Dakota newspaper interviewed baffled retailers who have to adapt to well-meaning Congressional legislation that threatens to destroy their livelihoods. The road to hell is paved with legislation like the CPSIA..:

The Safety Improvement Act prohibits children's products from having more than 600 parts per million of lead. The new regulations affect the sales of children's toys, cribs and even clothing, but dealers just recently learned that it also affects dirt bikes.

The American Motorcycle Association reports that engines, brakes, suspensions, batteries and other mechanical parts in such vehicles often contain small amounts of lead. Combined, however, the level reaches the restricted amount.

The regulations affect bikes up to 85cc in size, most designed for children younger than 12. An estimated 100,000 such bikes were sold last year. People who own such bikes will be allowed to keep them, but lead-free parts needed for future repair may be hard to come by, said Pete terHorst, a spokesman for the AMA.

TerHorst calls the restrictions on off-road vehicles for children "ridiculous," saying it's difficult to imagine how a child would ingest the lead found in the internal parts of a dirt bike.

He said the AMA also is bothered by the short notice given to manufacturers and dealers. "There was no practical time to react to this."

[Dick Schieffer, owner of Sturgis Yamaha, BMW, Suzuki] said he learned about 30 days ago that the law would affect his business. Last week, he removed at least 20 vehicles from his showroom. Schieffer said he isn't even sure where the lead is on the vehicles he removed. "I wish I could tell you," he said.


Wade Rice, general manager of Rice Honda in Rapid City, was forced to remove $60,000 in merchandise from his store. He also had only a month's notice.

"It's totally ridiculous," he said of the regulation. "A 12-year-old is not going to chew on a bike, ... and toddlers are not going to ride a bike."

[hat tip to Overlawyered]

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Geert Wilders Interviewed On American TV

Geert Wilders was interviewed on Fox News Monday night, first on Glenn Becks' show...

...and then he almost got to say a few things on Bill O'Reilly's program:

I think Glenn Beck, by far, offered the better opportunity for Wilders to make his case. From the transcript:

Wilders: [..If] I would have been allowed to enter the United Kingdom and I would have gone to the House of Lords, I would have reminded them to one of the giants of America who spoke there in 1982, this was President Reagan, and President Reagan in the House of Lords while warning for communism said that if history teaches us anything, it teaches us that self-delusion in the face of unpleasant facts is folly.

And, of course, he was talking about communism, but what he meant is that we cannot escape — we cannot escape from totalitarian ideologies that want to destroy us.

... They had people shouting "Hamas, Hamas" and all the Jews have to be guests in the center of London. [Note: the Fox transcript is in error here; Wilders actually recounted the crowd's chant as "Hamas, Hamas and all the Jews to the gas" (thanks to BakedLays in the comments for pointing out the discrepancy)] They have Al Qaeda affiliates as guests from Lord Ahmed in the House of Lords a few years ago. They had pop music bands in December last year who are shouting music that gays should be killed. They have the most terrible things.

And one guy, like myself, is standing up and saying, this is wrong. We have to defend freedom of speech and warn against the totalitarian ideology of the Islam and I am being banned. I'm here today, Glenn, this week in the United States and to really learn from you.

What I want to propose is a European kind of "First Amendment." I want all the hate speech laws that are only used against us to be to be abolished in Europe. And let us come with a first — European first kind of amendments and learn from the freedom of speech that you Americans have.

Tariq Ramadan casts his spell on Vancouver: Says we must re-interpret the Koran and other Islamic texts in terms of a better understanding of their deep roots in a revelatory historical event, and of the modern social context

A CZ friend and I attended last night's public talk in Vancouver by the well-known Muslim public intellectual, Tariq Ramadan, on "The Scope and Limits of Reforming Islam". Our friend went in, after having read what the likes of Caroline Fourest and Jihad Watch have to say about Ramadan, in a bit of a rage. I counseled the usefulness of having a calm listen. Our friend was not outraged by the talk like he thought he would be, but I came out unimpressed by the "intellectual" game being played. I was not immediately inspired to blog about it because I did not feel Ramadan dwelled on any of his points long enough to open up any kind of serious discussion of his ideas and the contradictions they would run into if pursued. And having never read his books, I can only offer some general impressions. The Vancouver Sun's terminally-liberal religion reporter, Douglas Todd, had a pre-talk interview and seems to have been happy to take the easy way out of reporting on this controversial figure: accenting Ramadan's communion in the popular hate-George-Bush cult (the Sun website is presently down and I don't have the link).

For those wanting a little more on Ramadan's game, first have a look at Robert Jago's report (with video) An evening with Tariq Ramadan « A dime a dozen political blog and also his backgrounder. As I commented at Robert's blog:
while charming and ingratiating, I didn’t think [Ramadan] said much with a lot of intellectual honesty that one can readily grapple with in the way of a serious discussion. He jumped around quickly trying to touch on a lot of themes in ways that would be appealing to an audience with Muslim and liberal sympathies but he did not develop his points to the extent of revealing how he would tackle difficult contradictions and roadblocks that any argument will face when seriously pursued; he was not honest about the various practical and political problems and conflicts his ideas will face if ever taken up. It’s fine to say, for example, that Islamic scholars must accept the guidance of all the other sciences and sit on the same level with them in developing ethics. But, in practise, how can all sciences always be given the same respect and sit as equals when it comes to developing the ethics of a free society? What does the Koran have to say about a global corporation’s human resources strategies? How can that be balanced equally with all the other sources of knowledge? I have no idea.

As for the question on apostasy - the “right answer” was like everything else he said a very politically-finessed answer: it is wrong to kill the apostate. But as you note, there is much more he might have said. He said nothing about how you should treat the apostate: is he still a member of the family, can he inherit wealth, can he speak to mother, is he now a non-person in the life of the community, dead in anything but a physical sense?

Ramadan’s game is a tentative one, a bit of a tease. Does that make him the trojan horse for Islamization of the West that some of his more fierce critics fear? I have no idea and suspect we can’t really know how this sort of conversation will play out. Conservative Muslims will likely see him as a possible trojan horse too. The conservative-looking Pakistani man sitting next to me listened and watched with a face of intense puzzlement, surprise, even a little shock.
Reflecting a little more, what Ramadan represents but does not seriously discuss is the assumption that Islam has a large role to play in the development of ethics in a modern society. Implying that we all recognize that Western modernity owes a lot, even in its secular trappings, to the Christian tradition (which of course it does), he asks that Islam be given equal respect as a tradition "as complex as Christianity", as we develop in future the ethics of our modern society.

Now I have no doubt that Islam will evolve to continue playing a key role in disciplining Muslims to live their lives in the modern world. One of the facts of modern civil society is that participation is not necessarily hampered, but quite possibly strengthened, by private investments in group cultures that owe much to traditional, old-world ritualism, sometimes some of it even rather violent in nature: the Hells Angels, for better or worse, are a successful adaption to modernity, as are complex religious-ritual movements like those of the Mormons. But, of course, we don't look to such organizations to take a lead in defining a shared conversation that goes on across civil society as a whole. I don't mean to score low blows here. I am not comparing the lives most Muslims live to those of Hells Angels, or Mormons. But if Ramadan wants to argue that the radical violent Jihadists he deplores for constituting a scared and intellectually impoverished reaction to modernity, for being people who are lost and alienated in the modern world, he might take on the task of seriously arguing that the more violent or ritually strict responses to modernity are not in fact the more likely to lead the way to some kind of successful adaptation to modernity (no less if in eternal opposition to it). Modernity, with all its difficult demands on the individual, does require successful individuals to have demanding disciplines. In this light, what to make of Ramadan's vague promises of a new, reformed, intellectually sophisticated Islam capable of taking a lead in modernity's ethical discourse across disciplines? Liberalism, in the Christian world, has not proved to lead to many successful churches over the long run. Why should a liberal Islam succeed?

Here now below are some of my notes paraphrasing Ramadan's talk, which Simon Fraser University President, Michael Stevenson, kicked off with introductory remarks proclaiming that no issue is more important to discuss today than the role of Islam in the West.

Prof. Derryl Maclean then characterized Ramadan as Europe's most influential Islamic reformer, concerned with a foundational Islamic hermeneutics that can participate in the West while remaining faithful to Islam, moving discussion of Islam beyond that of a closed system necessarily in opposition to the West.

Ramadan then began his cagey remarks by mentioning his was not an easy topic, things are very sensitive when talking about Islamic Reform and its Limits.

He called on Muslims for reconciliation with their own tradition, while he called on Westerners to respect Islam as a tradition as complex as Christianity. Whatever that could possibly mean, he did not seriously discuss. This pointing but not seriously discussing was the general nature of the talk.

He said he is representing a Reformist trend but Reform is Islamic so don't be, he addressed Muslims, "doubly alienated" by thinking you have to address your alienation within modernity by then standing outside of Islam in order to reform it.

He represented himself as a scholar of Islamic legal systems and said he is interested in reinterpreting the fundamental sources of the legal system to allow a dialectical process to evolve between texts and (modern) context. He noted that the law is not the primary agent of a creative process, but its end result. So reform must be interested in more than law.

He made some comments on the importance of better translating key Islamic terms. "Islam" he assured us does not mean to the Muslim or Arabic mind quite what the term "submission" evokes in the psychology of the English speaker.

He declared he is not going to change the Islamic texts, only the interpretations. His goal is to reform the minds of Muslims. The Muslim mind that is not evolving is not being faithful to Islam he declared. The problem is not the book but the readers.

However there are limits to "reform". Some Koranic verses are universal and immutable: for example, one can't question the "oneness of God", the ritual for performing the prayers, or for fasting.

But certain verses dealing with social ethics are changeable in light of changing contexts.

However, the Koran has to be read by the knowledgeable. Everyone can read but must be guided by those who truly understand it.

Reform means transforming the world for the better. Jihad, "holy war" really means effort and resistance, a struggle to overcome our violent desires for worldly power and wealth. Jihad is about transforming oneself to love the other. This requires knowledge of the principle of Islam and knowledge of oneself.

Why has reform failed for centuries? We want to transform without knowledge of self and world. And today we have a problem with the human and natural sciences because they have become too huge. No one individual can integrate a knowledge of the sciences with a knowledge of Islam. Nonetheless, we must put Islamic sciences on the same level as all the other science when developing our ethics.

Islamic communities are passive and blame scholars for their inabilities in coming to terms with modernity. But then Muslims are only asking their scholars superficial questions and thus, not surprisingly, getting superficial answers.

There needs to be a shift in the centre of gravity of authority in Islam towards a shared authority of Islamic textual science with all the other sciences. We must recognize that Islamic scholars don't have answers to many questions of modern life.

Ramadan then made the dangerous (to my mind) suggestion that the laws, the Sharia, must be re-read in light of the properly understood ends of Islam (e.g. in bringing peace to the world). Again, the texts must be integrated with the modern context. We have to protect all life. We have to protect peace. At this point, he even made a nod to Michel Serres' call on us to reinterpret our inter-personal struggles by recognizing a third party in our disputes: nature.

We may need a fatwa saying some questions don't need fatwas.

Discrimination against women is not intrinsic to Islam. There has been too much literal reading of the texts with no respect for changing contexts. And there has been a confusion of retrograde cultural contexts where women are brutalized with the religion itself.

Islam can only be protected by confidence. We are scared; creativity is part of our religion.

Halal really calls on us to respect the dignity of animals.

Take wisdom from wherever you find it. If an atheist economist is wise, take wisdom from him.

That's the extent of my not-entirely-complete notes; we then came to the question period which Robert Jago aptly summarized.

Ramadan ended the evening, noting that the audience was about half Muslim, half non-Muslim, with a call on Canadians to recognize the rich potential that Muslims bring and to recognize a new "we", to overcome the old confrontations of "us" and "them". I think this kind of vague appeal to a popular Utopianism typified the evening. First, while most Canadians are willing to recognize that Muslims, as individuals, have a lot to offer, this says nothing about fears many hold that Islam does more to hinder than to advance that contribution. Second, the idea that we can somehow transcend the need to think and politic in terms of "us" and "them" is a dangerous lie. Not only is it a lie in the sense that the Koran is profoundly a book that divides the world into "us" and "them", but there is no book that can ever be written that does not rely on binary oppositions. The fundamental model of all culture is the original scene of human culture, one that must have made an internal opposition between a sacred centre of attention and an alienated periphery. And as soon as the first human scene gave way to another, there developed a necessary opposition between one sacred centre of attention and another.

Binary oppositions are part and parcel of the human condition and no amount of postmodern deconstruction and Utopianism can do away with them. Responsible people will thus recognize this political fact and not call on us to share in a dangerous desire to overcome othering, but to engage in a responsible conversation of how we find the least violent ways to mediate our inevitable and necessary human conflicts. Ramadan offered no serious explanation of how Islam is compatible with modernity. He made clear he does not think Islam should become a private religion occupying one plot of land in civil society. He implied it should be a central part of a conversation going on across a modern civil society. But he did not really explain how what has traditionally been a closed ritual circle, a "total way of life" can become open-ended in the modern liberal spirit. He merely insisted that it must happen. Now maybe my criticism is too much to ask: the future is inherently unpredictable and unknowable. Ramadan's talk was full of wishful thinking, that Islam and the West must come together in an open-minded and respectful spirit. What we will really do with the inevitable conflicts that we now face and will develop in future, ones that force real choices on us having to do with, say, competing calls for individual rights and group claims, no one yet knows. Is Ramadan encouraging us in something that can only end badly? Or is he a positive force, an alternative to the more dogmatic pronouncements on what Islam is and must be? Time will tell, but my very first impression is that Ramadan has yet to show that his ideas will be of more than passing interest. I look for further articulation to better judge their plausibility.

Thought you understood the Green Revolution?

Update to our boycott bud post: here's an amusing quote from a letter in today's Vancouver Sun, in respone to the boycott suggestion:
Cannabis and alcohol are not simply pick-me-ups; they are relaxants essential to our health. A cannabis boycott will only result in a stressed, depressed, fatigued, uninspired, obedient population entirely lacking in dignity.
Now what does one make of such confident insights from a pot head (and well-known local activist)? Thanks David Malmo-Levine, who also claims coffee is more toxic than "herbs".

Monday, February 23, 2009

America Soon To Be Banning All Children's Books Published Before 1985..?

Are old children's books soon to become the latest black market item in the United States?
"I just came back from my local thrift store with tears in my eyes! I watched as boxes and boxes of children’s books were thrown into the garbage!..."
Yesterday I downloaded the latest PJM Political Podcast from Pajamas Media, as has become my habit, to listen to during my weekly Sunday hike through mountain trails. The show contained a stunning interview that stopped me in my forest tracks, I just couldn't believe what I was hearing.

Ed Driscoll was talking to Walter Olson about some unforeseen consequences to the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008, and the upcoming destruction of millions (or is it billions?) of dollars of inventories that the new law requires... proving once again that good intentions are no guarantee of just results.

[To be clear: the above quote is not from the podcast, it is from a shocked observer of the results of the legislation, as related in Olson's article, "The New Book Banning" .]

In the first hour of his radio show today, Hugh Hewitt interviewed guest Gary Wolensky on this unintended war on thrift shops and libraries... will download and listen to that tomorrow.

UPDATE: From the Boston Pheonix, how the CPSIA will inadvertently affect libraries:
The CPSIA, intended to keep lead out of toys, may well also keep books out of libraries, says Emily Sheketoff, associate executive director of the American Library Association.

“We are very busy trying to come up with a way to make it not apply to libraries,” said Sheketoff. But unless she succeeds in lobbying Capitol Hill for an exemption, she believes libraries have two choices under the CPSIA: “Either they take all the children’s books off the shelves,” she says, “or they ban children from the library.”

When Love Is Blind

To update an observation first made by veteran war correspondent Quentin Reynolds about General Douglas MacArthur, President Barack Obama seems to need more protection from his friends than from his enemies.

Case in point: ABC journalist Terry Moran was interviewed last week about his experiences reporting on President Obama, and the ongoing media coverage in general. If you missed the 15-minute conversation, you can listen to it here, (transcript here) but meanwhile here's the highlight:

"I like to say that, in some ways, Barack Obama is the first President since George Washington to be taking a step down into the Oval Office. I mean, from visionary leader of a giant movement, now he's got an executive position that he has to perform in, in a way, and I think the coverage reflects that."

True faith embraces doubt, it doesn't reject it, just as true love needs an embrace that can grow large enough to somehow include both the bad and the good parts of the soul it reaches for... it doesn't pretend that the bad does not, cannot, exist, in that which it admires.

What kind of love is that?

So Obama doesn't have much experience; why not just admit the truth, why is it necessary to concoct this preposterous fable of historical equivalency? Moran's fantasy world does Obama no favors, for how could uncritical praise, buttressed with wishful thinking rather than rueful reality, be of more service to Obama than attempts to help him see the error of his ways when he inevitably makes his mistakes. When a lover sees the bad as well as the good within the other soul it embraces, it opens up an opportunity for one of the greatest gifts that love can offer: forgiveness.

For all their professed adoration of the man, this is the one treasure his followers have so far denied him, because they can't bring themselves to admit he's not the mighty man with the perfect resume they insist that he must be. A soul that never makes mistakes, never gets to be shown mercy. So far, Obama's fan base gives him excuses, not mercy.

There's a difference between forgiveness and making excuses. We may forgive someone for their willful acts, but excuses seek to deny the free will that souls surely have, no matter their experiences. If right and wrong, good and bad, better and worse, are to mean anything, then excuses are no excuse.

Can those smitten by this love affair with Obama be motivated by feeling an inability to forgive themselves their own faults? Are The One's followers continually elevating their image of Obama upon ever higher pedestals so that eventually he will be placed at Olympian heights of such distance that his adoring public would no longer be able to perceive who they are looking at..? Is Obama cursed to be forever placed outside of the reach of a merciful embrace, so that those who love him can keep themselves from having to admit they've made an error of judgment?

If that's the case, is Obama truly the leader of a movement, as Moran says, or has he become instead, its prisoner...?

Currie nails Ahenakew

The Criminal Standard | Jay Currie
Revolting as Ahenakew’s comments were I am inclined to think that the Criminal Code provisions have worked as intended. Essentially, hate speech charges under the Code are reserved for truly egregious speech intended to directly promote hatred. That Ahenakew said ignorant, anti-Semitic, things is not in issue; what was in issues, as it should be in any hate speech matter, is the intent. Not liking Jews – repellent as that is – and saying so should certainly make a person an outcast and can and should be contradicted. But it does not and should not result in a criminal conviction.

The Lying Jackal view of the world requires us to outlaw speech we find repellent; my view is that we should only criminalize speech in the narrowest of circumstances and with the requirement that the Crown prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. My view will allow all sorts of speech with which I disagree. And, by setting a high burden on those who want to prosecute speech, it will avoid the chilling which the absurdly low HRC standards create.

If we are to abridge a Charter guaranteed fundamental right we should make such abridgment very, very difficult. Abolishing the HRC’s jurisdiction over speech and leaving really nasty cases to the criminal process will accomplish this.
As Ezra noted last year, there is also a downside to making a fuss about angry old men like Ahenakew:
David Ahenakew is a former somebody, who is now a nobody, who has views that are distasteful.

If a reporter hadn't been at the conference, none of us would know about it.

A reporter was there, and the resultant publicity marginalized Ahenakew even more in life, including stripping him of his Order of Canada. He was denounced nationally. He became a pariah.

And that's how it should be.

And it should have ended there, in 2002.

But it's 2008 now, and Ahenakew is still front-page news. And his nutty views, which should be in obscurity along with him, are in the news again, too. He's praising Hitler again, and hating Jews -- and the national (and even international) media are eating it up. Google News says there are 453 stories about him in recent days.

If you're in the PR business, you know that getting 453 different news stories in a week is an astounding achievement. That's a multi-million dollar advertising buy -- except that news stories carry much greater credibility with readers than do ads. Ahenakew could never have received such an audience for his views on his own.

Six years after the fact, and Ahenakew is facing his second trial for saying those bad words (his first conviction was overturned on appeal, and a new trial was ordered). I have no idea how many millions of dollars that has cost the justice system, but it's a lot. And all to persecute a man's foul words -- a man whose deeds of military service and educational reform were extraordinary. Ahenakew has never hurt a fly. But he's been charged with the crime of saying bad things.

He's being tried in criminal court, under the criminal code prohibition against hate speech. That's the only reason why he was acquitted -- because he's in the real court system. Had he been charged before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, he would have lost -- they have a 100% conviction rate.
Ahenakew himself is obviously unrepentant. To the contrary -- he's surely now convinced, more than ever, of a Jewish conspiracy to silence him.

But that's not even the real achievement here.

The real achievement here is that a broken-down nobody is a media superstar, and that his odious views are receiving massive attention. No doubt, some Aboriginal youth look up to him as having stood up to the White Man, and stood his ground. He's a role model for defiance who made the white government blink at least once.

There is a glamour attached to him and his views that just wasn't there when he was a rambling old fool at a conference. Now, he's such a danger to the state -- his ideas must be so powerful! -- that the government has to silence him, using the brute force of the law.

It was the Official Jews who pushed for the creation of hate speech laws, both in the criminal code and in human rights commissions.

And what have those Official Jews achieved in this case?

They have turned a bigoted nobody into a bigoted somebody.

They have turned racist comments muttered to a hundred snoozing conference-goers into racist comments read with interest by hundreds of thousands of Canadians.

They have turned a baseless whiner into someone with a basis for his whining -- six years of prosecutions by the state being his basis.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Radio Memories: Hope For The Future

"I may not know the right decisions, but I know many of the wrong ones."

Sometimes that seems the most honest statement we can make when we attempt to learn from experience...

Every Sunday we take a break from more serious blogging and look back to the days when radio offered more than music or news... the days when the airwaves were filled with radio drama, creating a theater for the imagination.

This week's entry comes from a radio show I dearly loved when I first heard them as a teenager, the science fiction series Dimension X. Science fiction and the storytelling medium of radio drama were a natural match, yet it wasn't until the late 1940s and early 50s that radio began to take science fiction seriously, especially with the debut of this NBC series in April of 1950. Dimension X often turned to published high profile science fiction authors like Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury for their story material, adapting short stories like Heinlein's "The Roads Must Roll" and Bradbury's "Martian Chronicles".

Pursuing a strategy that requires a science fiction writer's imagination to understand, NBC almost guaranteed the show's short-lived one-year run by constantly shifting its time slot, even keeping it off the air entirely for twenty weeks throughout the first half of 1951.

The particular episode that we have on offer this week comes from this latter half of Dimension X's run. Entitled "Time And Time Again", it was originally broadcast on Thursday July 12th, 1951. A little light on the science side of its fiction this time out, the episode is nevertheless a fun reminder of the challenging mix of humility and confidence necessary to live in hope...

Previous Radio Memories posts:

An American In England: Women Of Britain

Cavalcade Of America: Bob Hope Reports

The March Of Time: Feb 10 1938 broadcast

Hear It Now: Coming Home From The Korean War

Escape: Vanishing Lady

Rogers Of The Gazette: Rewinding The Town Clock

Durban II: yet more proof that antisemitism and the UN is incompatible with constitutional rule, or the freedom of ordinary people to covenant and rule themselves

Anne Bayefsky, The Obama Administration Sacrifices Israel -
The Obama administration's decision to join the planning of the U.N.'s Durban II "anti-racism" conference has just taken a new twist: cover-up. On Friday, State Department officials and a member of the American Durban II delegation claimed the United States had worked actively to oppose efforts to brand Israel as racist in the committee drafting a Durban II declaration. The trouble is that they didn't.

The Feb. 20 State Department press release says the U.S. delegation in Geneva "outline[d] our concerns with the current outcome document" and in particular "our strong reservations about the direction of the conference, as the draft document singles out Israel for criticism." One member of the delegation told The Washington Post: "The administration is pushing back against efforts to brand Israel as racist in this conference." In fact, tucked away in a Geneva hall with few observers, the U.S. had done just the opposite. The U.S. delegates had made no objection to a new proposal to nail Israel in an anti-racism manifesto that makes no other country-specific claims.
The reality, however, was nothing of the sort. Instead, Obama's Durban II team slipped easily into the U.N.'s anti-Israel and anti-Jewish environs, taking the approach that "fitting in" was best accomplished by staying silent.

On Tuesday, the Palestinian delegation proposed inserting a new paragraph under the heading "Identification of further concrete measures and initiatives ... for combating and eliminating all manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance..." with the subtitle "General provisions on victims ... of discrimination." The paragraph includes: "Calls for ... the international protection of the Palestinian people throughout the occupied Palestinian territory." In other words, it claims that the Palestinian people are victims of Israeli racism and demands that all U.N. states provide protection from the affronts of the racist Jewish state.

Furthermore, the new Palestinian provision "Calls for ... implementation of international legal obligations, including the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the wall..." This is a dramatic attempt to change an "advisory opinion" into a "legal obligation"--a status which attaches to no advisory opinion. The ICJ decision, which advises that the Israeli security fence is illegal, has always been rejected by the United States--hitherto. And with good reason. The Egyptian judge had voiced his opinion on the result before the case was even heard, in his capacity as a leading Egyptian diplomat. The terms of reference from the General Assembly who asked for the decision, and the documents they laid before the Court, predetermined the outcome. And as the strong dissent by the American judge and Holocaust survivor Tom Buergenthal pointed out, the Court came to its preposterous conclusion that "the right of legitimate or inherent self-defense is not applicable in the present case" without considering "the deadly terrorist attacks to which Israel is being subjected."

But when the Palestinian delegation laid their new proposal before the drafting committee, what did Obama's team do? Nothing, absolutely nothing. They made no objection at all.

It is impossible to argue that their silence was unintended. Over the course of the week's negotiations the American delegation had objected to a number of specific proposals. They had no trouble declaring "we share reservations on this paragraph," in the context of a demand to criminalize profiling. They "called for the deletion" of provisions undermining free speech like the suggestion to "take firm action against negative stereotyping of religions and defamation of religious personalities, holy books, scriptures and symbols."

Their silence when it came to Israel was, therefore, deafening. It also had the very concrete result of not placing the Palestinian paragraph in dispute, and the diplomatic rule of thumb is that paragraphs that have not been flagged as controversial cannot be reopened for discussion, as negotiations finalize an end product.

The Obama team was not only silent on the new "Israel is racist" language, it also said nothing when faced with Holocaust denial. Negotiators from the European Union suggested on Wednesday a new provision to "condemn without reservation any denial of the Holocaust and urges all states to reject denial of the Holocaust as an historical event, either in full, or in part, or any activities to this end." Iran--whose president is a Holocaust-denier--immediately objected and insisted that the proposal be "bracketed" or put in dispute. The move blocked the adoption of the proposal and ensured another battle over the reality of the Holocaust in April--at these supposedly "anti-racism" meetings. After Iran objected, the chair looked around the room, expecting a response. He said: "Is there any delegation wishing to comment on this new proposal by the European Union? It doesn't seem the case. We move on." U.S. delegates said nothing, even after the prompt.
Evidently, a U.S. team bent on legitimizing Durban II believed it would be counter-productive to object vigorously to sections most likely to be noticed by Americans skeptical about participation in the conference. They must have figured that no objection would mean no controversy, which in turn would mean there would be no cause for complaint from U.S. observers. That's one way to buy favors on the international stage, but it sure doesn't forward a stated intention of changing the Conference direction. Nor does it promote the ultimate need to change the anti-Semitic and anti-democratic direction of global human rights policy.
The fact that "the Palestinians" have been granted an honorific sovereignty by the manipulators of the UN, that they have a delegation taking a lead in this anti-Israel conference, even though "the Palestinians" have never had a government willing to act like a responsible state, negotiating honestly with the fact of its neighbour's existence as a powerful military and economic and demographic reality, is the greatest irresponsibility. It guarantees the ability of Palestinians to forever encourage their own martyrdom to what cannot be acknowledged, i.e. of avoiding serious recognition of and negotiation with Israel, all the while confident the UN will take on the task the Palestinians cannot achieve in the real world with diplomatic, military or economic means: penalizing Israel, throwing its existence into doubt. The Palestinians don't want to negotiate like a responsible state, accepting its neighbor's existence; they want Mommy UN to impose "justice" on the recalcitrant. This is just another form of taxing and killing the successful to indulge the resentments of a failed ideology or religion. In the long run, this can only lead to a more totalitarian world order, one that erodes the ability of constitutional democracies to allow ordinary human realities to represent themselves and take a full part in governing themselves. Instead of talking seriously about the ordinary economic, social, and political needs of the Palestinians, nothing much can be said other than nothing can be said until Israel is dealt with. This is how an unrepresentative elite commands the stage, as high priests in a drama of human sacrifice. As Wretchard at Belmont Club aptly summarizes:
I think the real issue here is the extent to which self-appointed organizations can create either law or compelling persuasion without any sort of democratic grounding. NGOs and regimes like Syria or Iran for example, are of dubious legitimacy. Yet they are participants, even the ringleaders, in an international attempt to “legislate” the behavior of third parties. Where did they get this power? This issue isn’t confined to racism or reparations. That is only its most egregious form. Whether on climate or social mores, organization like this have created an lawmaking process that is unaccountable. Moreover, they are imputing to themselves the power to tax. Suppose “reparations” became a Human Right, where does it end? Can Filipinos sold to slavery to the Moluccas apply? Can Europeans who were captured as slaves apply? Can Robert Mugabe’s population apply to regimes like his for recompense? Can the people of Darfur apply to the UN for compensation for the suffering occasioned by UN inaction?

No. Because they’re not represented directly at places like Durban.

Although this issue has been represented as an anti-semitic enterprise, it goes deeper than that. This is an irregular proceeding that is taking place outside the constitutional structures of states. Outside the control of voters, except at so many removes that there is barely a connection. I know it will be argued that the states have to “agree” but in the nature of things, these international bullying sessions are an exercise in shakedowns and blackmail.

The solution here is to reform the UN and to put a stop all these nonsensical conferences on climate, racism, human rights, etc which impose huge costs on the taxpayers of the world and are run, moreover, by the worst violators in the issues they purport to care so much about. If the UN really wants to do something it should host a conference calling for the stop to shakedowns like Durban. It’s a waste of money and an abomination.

Today it is Israel. Tomorrow it will be some other cause. And that next imposition will be all the more legitimate because of precedent. Where does Durban II gets its legitimacy? From previous conferences. It’s not Durban II people should be concerned about. It’s Durban III.