Front page

Are you afraid of the dark?

(Click to invert colors, weenie.) (Requires JavaScript.)

All email will be assumed to be for publication unless otherwise requested.

What's in the banner?

Thursday, June 26, 2003

Bright Sparks

OK, everyone, get out your pencils and paper, and write this down: "In the modern world, there is no minority group so oppressed, so marginalized, that the creation of an advocacy group cannot worsen their plight."---Me

Hmmm...needs work.

In this case, the marginalized and oppressed are atheists, and Richard Dawkins is swaggering to their aid.

This article reeks of smug. Great waves of smug roll from it and envelope my keyboard. It falls to the floor and wafts over the carpet. Anybody know where I can buy some smug remover? I'm fresh out.

He begins by talking about "consciousness-raising", which I'm sure at one time was a dewy fresh idea, but now it's a multi-billion dollar industry. "Consciousness raised, buffed, and tuned! Show up your friends! Be better than everyone else on your block!"

After touching on Northern Hemisphere chauvinism and male chauvinism, he attacks theist chauvinism, homing in on the tiny, precious baybeez:

My favourite consciousness-raising effort is one I have mentioned many times before (and I make no apology, for consciousness-raising is all about repetition).

Otherwise known as keeping a constant, humorless vigil designed to wear down the unsaved heathen until he gives in and adopts the outward trappings of your faith, just to shut you and your fellow harpies up.

Oops. Did I just use a religious metaphor? Heavens...

A phrase like "Catholic child" or "Muslim child" should clang furious bells of protest in the mind...Children are too young to know their religious opinions. Just as you can't vote until you are 18, you should be free to choose your own cosmology and ethics without society's impertinent presumption that you will automatically inherit your parents'...Occasionally a euphemism is needed, and I suggest "Child of Jewish (etc) parents"...children should hear themselves described not as "Christian children" but as "children of Christian parents". This in itself would raise their consciousness, empower them to make up their own minds...I could well imagine that this linguistically coded freedom to choose might lead children to choose no religion at all.

Ahhh...and that was what this was all about, right? Influencing the little tykes' minds.

Friend, I guarantee you that only those children who have no need of such "consciousness raising" will benefit by it. Only those whose parents are already disposed to admit the possibility of atheism in their own households will crack the linguistic code and wonder if it means anything for them. The others will embrace or reject their parents' faith in the fullness of time, as ever before.

Onward into the modern social Hell, whose path is paved with you-know-what:

Please go out and work at raising people's consciousness over the words they use to describe children. At a dinner party, say, if ever you hear a person speak of a school for Islamic children, or Catholic children...pounce: "How dare you? You would never speak of a Tory child or a New Labour child, so how could you describe a child as Catholic (Islamic, Protestant etc)?" With luck, everybody at the dinner party, next time they hear one of those offensive phrases, will flinch...


I expect they'll be doing plenty of flinching on the spot. Please do feel free to reply, "Why don't you shut your smug yap, you insufferable shrew. Take your post-modern piety and shove it firmly up your preternaturally-tight sphincter. And take off that halo, it's cutting off the blood supply to your brain."

This is precisely like being confronted by the big-haired, tightly-smiling Church Lady who attempts to pry into your marital status or religious inclinations. Perhaps Dawkins is not dismayed by the prospect of turning into what is essentially a narrow-minded small-town scold, but I'll pass, thanks.

We retreat from this vision of the Pit to take in a different one:

A triumph of consciousness-raising has been the homosexual hijacking of the word "gay"...Those of us who subscribe to no religion; those of us whose view of the universe is natural rather than supernatural; those of us who rejoice in the real and scorn the false comfort of the unreal, we need a word of our own, a word like "gay".

Oh, God. No we don't. But we do need a cast. We seem to have broken our arm patting ourselves on the back.

Paul Geisert and Mynga Futrell, of Sacramento, California, have set out to coin a new word, a new "gay"...Like gay, it should be positive, warm, cheerful, bright.

Bright? Yes, bright. Bright is the word, the new noun. I am a bright. You are a bright. She is a bright. We are the brights. Isn't it about time you came out as a bright? Is he a bright? I can't imagine falling for a woman who was not a bright.

Ugh. This example would more readily suggest the twees, the smugs, the smarmies, the preciouses (hmmm...), or the insufferables. I could go on---the emetics, the ipecacs, the...

Dawkins then assures us that all the really Smart Set (as exemplified by the membership of the National Academy of Sciences) are atheists.

People reluctant to use the word atheist might be happy to come out as a bright...

It invites the question, "What on earth is a bright?" And then you're away:

"A bright is a person whose world view is free of supernatural and mystical elements. The ethics and actions of a bright are based on a naturalistic world view."

"You mean a bright is an atheist?"

"Well, some brights are happy to call themselves atheists. Some brights call themselves agnostics. Some call themselves humanists, some free thinkers. But all brights have a world view that is free of supernaturalism and mysticism."

"Oh, I get it. It's a bit like 'gay'.

So apparently the acceptance of the term "bright" hinges on whether your audience actually is accepting of atheists. The whole exercise seems a bit moot at that point. Otherwise, the only way you have avoided the terrible stigma of "atheist" is if you have given your hearers a tremendous laugh at your expense. They now think you're too goofy (i.e., stupid) to be any harm. The more humorless Church Lady types, however, now believe that not only are you one of the Godless, you're weird too.

Dawkins concludes his imaginary conversation:

"Oh, I get it. It's a bit like 'gay'. So, what's the opposite of a bright? What would you call a religious person?"

"What would you suggest?"

Uh...DIM?? Dull? Dark? Occluded? Cloudy?

HAW! HAW! HAW! What wit, Professor Dawkins! Well said, sir!

What a jerk. This whole column is embarrassingly childish and simplistic for a man who prides (and I do mean prides) himself on his intellect. You can imagine Maureen Dowd writing much of it.

Thursday, June 19, 2003

Republican Party Nadir

This just in to Yahoo, via Agence France Press:

The man many Democrats blame for Al Gore's achingly narrow defeat by George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential vote, could be a candidate when the next election is held in 2004, he will be 70.


[Ralph] Nader says that if the Greens reject him, he might choose to run as an independent, or possibly even as a Republican, which would pit him against George W. Bush in the primary.


When asked why a campaigner so closely identified with progressive causes would contemplate running for the White House as a candidate from a party on the other end of the political spectrum, Nader answers without missing a beat.

"To give the American people a choice as to the political institutions they desire and the clean elections they deserve," he said. "Isn't that what politics should be all about?"

So. Has Nader gone completely crazy, or what? An election always needs some comic relief---and Nader on a Republican ticket would be nothin' but---but, aside from the laughter of millions, what would Nader get out of it? Does he somehow believe he has become Spoilerman, able to undermine candidacies at will? Or is his grasp of politics not firm?

Perhaps he intends to run on a platform of prayer in the public schools, outlawing abortion under all circumstances, stiffer drug penalties, pornography crackdowns, etc, thereby attracting the rightmost wing of the Republicans (who will, of course, be too stupid to know who he is) and drawing them away from Bush.

Or maybe he's just pulling the reporter's leg.

Note that "progressive causes" is presented to us naked, with no quotes. Also note that the story's titled "Liberal pariah Ralph Nader flirts with new White House run."

Via Hollywood Halfwits.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

The Phantom Empire

Nelson Ascher of EuroPundits brings us word of this Guardian piece by Marxist historian (or "historian", as Ascher would have it) Eric Hobsbawm. Oh, this is rich, ripe fruit.

I found something to object to in nearly every paragraph, and so have had to pare it down considerably, lest I end up reproducing the whole thing, which would be Fair Use, you know.

Sit down (er, which you probably are already), because there are many astonishing assertions here.

The present world situation is unprecedented. The great global empires of the past...bear little comparison with what we see today in the United States empire. A key novelty of the US imperial project is that all other empires knew that they were not the only ones, and none aimed at global domination. None believed themselves invulnerable, even if they believed themselves to be central to the world - as China did, or the Roman empire.

Well, it's hard to argue that the present world situation is not unprecedented, because it is. So he's right there. But he immediately begins to go off the rails with his implication that the US aims for global domination. And it's pretty clear that the US does not feel itself to be invulnerable, or else it would not have felt threatened enough to invade Iraq and Afghanistan.

A global reach, which became possible after 1492, should not be confused with global domination.

Which, of course, Hobsbawm does throughout this entire article. But he assures you that he sees the quagmire, so you know that he will not step right into it. Pay no attention to that ooze lapping at his collar bone. That's not quicksand, no.

The British empire was the only one that really was global in a sense that it operated across the entire planet. But the differences are stark. The British empire at its peak administered one quarter of the globe's surface.

Whereas the US is "administering" (He makes it sound so nice! I would have thought ruling would be a more appropriate word) much less land than that. Er, in fact, very little at all.

The US has never actually practised colonialism, except briefly at the beginning of the 20th century. It operated instead with dependent and satellite states and developed a policy of armed intervention in these.

And those satellite states would be...? Well, aside from the Phillipines (which was our fling at colonialism), there's...uh... Well, there's Japan and Germany, in which we had "armed intervention", in that we defeated them in a war they started (rumor has it that other countries were involved in defeating them, but I wouldn't know much about that). Then there's South Korea (which would be my vote for sole significant "satellite state"), except that was UN action. And then there's our satellite states Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Haiti, and Vietnam. There is also, of course, a large chunk of Central and South America. I suppose Panama might be our satellite state.

Some empire we are. All these military interventions, and hardly any useful satellite states to show for it. I mean, they aren't nearly as useful to us as the Soviets' satellites were to them. I wonder how Hobsbawm felt about Soviet imperialism, by the way?

In fact the present US policy is more unpopular than the policy of any other US government has ever been, and probably than that of any other great power has ever been.

There's the sort of thing we like to see in our Marxists---complete disconnect from reality. More unpopular than Hitler? Than Stalin? Than Mao? Than---gasp!---Israel?

Here comes another broadside from a parallel universe:

The sudden emergence of a ruthless, antagonistic flaunting of US power is hard to understand, all the more so since it fits neither with long-tested imperial policies nor the interests of the US economy. But patently a public assertion of global supremacy by military force is what is in the minds of the people at present dominating policymaking in Washington.

Hello? September 11th? Remember that? Airplanes, terrorists, thousands dead in Manhattan? Ring any bells at all? Even if he thinks military action in Afghanistan was the wrong response to that; even if he thinks that Iraq is completely unrelated, and so its invasion was ill-advised, illegal, EEEEEvil---surely he has to realize that's what's behind this sudden spurt of "imperialism".To completely ignore these facts is to concede utter irrelevance.

In military terms, the Iraq war was successful. But it neglected the necessities of running the country, maintaining it, as the British did in the classic colonial model of India.

This paragraph is shocking for more than one reason. Firstly, the Iraq war is barely over (having barely begun, of course). I think it's a bit early to decide that the US has "neglected the necessities of running the country"---in essence, lost the peace. This would be an unremarkable bit of disingenuity for a mere pundit---for a Fisk or a Pilger or a Monbiot. But Hobsbawm's supposed to be a historian, and at least a competent one. You'd think a historian would have a better grasp of timescales, and how much time is required to help a country recover from three decades of misrule.

The other, more shocking thing is that apparently Hobsbawm is comparing the British rule of India favorably with the American occupation of Iraq. Presumably Hobsbawm would be happier if we treated Iraq as an outright colony. Behold---a Marxist approves of imperialism, and it's not even Soviet imperialism!
More shocks ahead:

Iraq was a country that had been defeated by the Americans and refused to lie down. It happened to have oil, but the war was really an exercise in showing international power.

Did you see that?! It's NOT all about the oooiiillll. I'm stunned that Hobsbawm rejects this beloved theory, and the only explanation I can see is that he's determined to be unfashionable. If all those third-rate minds are convinced of it, I can hear him thinking, it must be wrong.

But, really, "an exercise in showing international power"? Bush looked around, said, "Hmmm...we have to show our power somehow," and decided to invade Iraq?

Apparently so:

In real terms they mean that the US can invade anybody small enough and where they can win quickly enough. The consequences of this for the US are going to be very dangerous.

I've seen this in any number of punditry venues, and I always wonder how literally the authors take it. The US "can invade anybody small enough and where they can win quickly enough". Well, it can, but will it? Will it invade Belize? Burma? Bolivia? Burkina Faso? Does Hobsbawm fret that the US might invade Saudi Arabia or Indonesia? France? Canada? What would be the point?

Domestically, the real danger for a country that aims at world control is militarisation.

No, domestically the real danger is that the public will get sick and tired of paying for war and the upkeep of conquered countries, and elect someone new to office.

Internationally, the danger is the destabilising of the world. The Middle East is far more unstable now than it was five years ago. US policy weakens all the alternative arrangements, formal and informal, for keeping order.

Hobsbawm must belong to that new political party, Revolutionaries for the Status Quo.

In Europe it has wrecked Nato - not much of a loss, but trying to turn it into a world military police force for the US is a travesty. It has deliberately sabotaged the EU, and also aims at ruining another of the great world achievements since 1945: prosperous democratic social welfare states. The crisis over the United Nations is less of a drama than it appears since the UN has never been able to do more than operate marginally because of its dependence on the security council and the US veto.

Wrecked NATO---if I recall, the major (or sole) objections to NATO involvement were the French, who did not want to do so much as protect Turkey. I don't think that NATO should have been involved in Iraq (or Bosnia or Kosovo), but protection of Turkey is clearly within NATO's avowed purpose. Seems to me the French have wrecked NATO, if it is wrecked.

Sabotaged the EU---Er, how? By asking Eastern European countries for help directly rather than going through the Fr---I mean, Brussels?

Ruining "prosperous democratic social welfare states"---er, huh? Maybe we're ruining them by taking on their burden of defense, thereby allowing them to grow ever more bloated. Unless he just means the Soviet Union.

And apparently the UN was never hampered by a British, French, Chinese, or Soviet veto---only an American one.

How is the world to confront - contain - the US? Some people, believing that they have not the power to confront the US, prefer to join it. More dangerous are those who hate the ideology behind the Pentagon...

...which is...what? We are not to know.

...but support the US project on the grounds that it will eliminate some local and regional injustices. This may be called an imperialism of human rights...There is a genuine case to be made that there are governments so bad that their disappearance will be a net gain for the world.

Be sure and read Oliver Kamm's response to that. Snork.

But this can never justify the danger of creating a world power that is not interested in a world it does not understand, but is capable of intervening decisively with armed force whenever anybody does anything that Washington does not like.

First, to say that the US does not "understand" the world would be to suggest that somebody, somewhere, does.

Secondly, think of all the countries which have done "anything" Washington didn't like. Think of how many of them remain unbombed (by us) since Bush became President. Maybe it'd be easier to make a list of those we have bombed.

How long the present superiority of the Americans lasts is impossible to say. The only thing of which we can be absolutely certain is that historically it will be a temporary phenomenon, as all other empires have been.

In the interests of fairness, I'll note he's correct about this.

The weakness of the US economy is such that at some stage both the US government and electors will decide that it is much more important to concentrate on the economy than to carry on with foreign military adventures.

Indeed, as I mentioned above. However this would be true whatever the state of the economy. I don't believe the economy is particularly weak by historical standards, but only by the standards of the tech bubble of a few years back---another thing a historian might've known.

And Bush's existing international policy is not a particularly rational one for US imperial interests - and certainly not for the interests of US capitalism. Hence the divisions of opinion within the US government.

Ah, yes---the famous squabbling of the Bush administration.

But the major preoccupation is that of - if not containing - educating or re-educating the US. There was a time when the US empire recognised limitations, or at least the desirability of behaving as though it had limitations. This was largely because the US was afraid of somebody else: the Soviet Union. In the absence of this kind of fear, enlightened self-interest and education have to take over.

That first sentence is not only not a sentence, but it doesn't tell us for whom this is "the major preoccupation". For Hobsbawm, presumably. However, having failed to note (or notice) any reason for this recent American "imperialism", he also must fail at demonstrating what sort of "education" is now lacking.

This next bit tells all:

This is an extract of an article edited by Victoria Brittain and published in Le Monde diplomatique's June English language edition.

I must say that this is very much in keeping with the flavor of other Le Monde articles I've read, whether translated into English by other bloggers, or (with great difficulty and heavy assist from Babelfish) in French. They tend to be densely constructed on a foundation of air, propped up here and there by cryptic (often irrelevant) assertions, and decorated with hyperbole. How they manage to keep from crashing under the weight of their absurdities, right there on the page, is a mystery to me.

Truly, it concerns me that this represents the best of our supposed intellectual and cultural betters.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Happy Blogday to Me

Today is this blog's first birthday. I started it a year ago today, which seems like a hundred million years ago (and not because of the blog). I didn't let it go public until the end of July, though, if I recall correctly.

I've been in sort of a writing quagmire recently. I write stuff and don't post it, and then I feel the moment's passed. Or I write something long and halfway through it I figure no one gives a damn, not even me. Still, though, as long as there are idiots to smack, I'll keep it up.

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

BBC Bashing favorite sport. We ought to form leagues, and have a big year-end competition.

Today's tidbit is from Silent Running, which unearths this smug Guardian (but I repeat myself) editorial on the rapacious Rupert Murdoch and how he seeks to infest Britain's clean green shores with Fox News-style corruption.

Mr Murdoch's news network used Oliver North, a former US colonel and neo-conservative firebrand, as an embedded reporter in Iraq.

Ah, good. We now see that "neo-conservative" is being used as shorthand for "icky warmonger". I'm sure that North is a Republican, but I don't think I've ever heard him explain his politics carefully enough to be labelled "neo-conservative", as opposed to paleo-conservative, or meso-conservative, or whatever. He doesn't strike me as the kind of guy who's interested in political subtleties. "Republicans good, Democrats bad" is probably about as subtle as it gets for him. (As you might've guessed, I do not have a great deal of use for Mr. North.)

The network referred to "our troops" and to anti-war protesters as the "great unwashed".

The entire network, as policy, not just one commentator. Actually, I'm pretty sure most of the anchors did refer to---horror!---"our troops", as in "Our troops were fired upon by..."; but I don't remember them regularly referring to protestors as "the great unwashed", as in "Today in San Francisco, the great unwashed held a 'puke-in' to protest..."

As for this:

When Baghdad fell, the news anchors addressed those who opposed the "liberation" with the words: "You were sickening then, you are sickening now."

That was Neil Cavuto, speaking on his "Common Sense" spot. Whatever one might think of Cavuto, he's an opinionator, and that spot is for his opinions. It's not meant to be straight news.

(The only thing Google turned up on for "great unwashed" was in these letters.)

In fact, I'll point out that most of the "worst" examples of Fox bias one reads of come from their analysis shows (which is practically all their shows, as far as I can see). You know, when you watch them, that you're watching someone's opinion rather than straight fact.

As opposed to the BBC, where they slip the opinion into straight news. For example, in August or early September of 2001, their environmental series "Earth Report" (if I recall correctly) ran a spot on global warming and Kyoto which contained the phrase, "Even when global warming hit George Bush's home state..." (he still didn't sign the Kyoto treaty). Under the voice-over they ran footage of the (then) recent floods in Houston due to Tropical Storm Allison. It's a hard fact of geography and meteorology that here on the Gulf Coast there are hurricanes and tropical storms, and the place floods easily. It's not like the region was tundra until the 1880s. Global warming had nuttin' to do with it.

The ads for Earth Report on BBC World used to say things like, "As environmental concerns ravage our homes...[something I've forgotten]. So we all live well today...who's looking out for tomorrow?"

And that's not editorializing?? (Not to mention poor grammar---I'm quite sure that their sentence broke down to the assertion that it was the "concerns" that were ravaging our homes---perhaps a truer statement than they intended.)

British viewers have confidence in television news because it is delivered free of rants or bias.

How nice for the British people that they have all these laws dictating that you can slant the news anyway you like, as long as you're pretending not to.