Thursday, February 28, 2008

Made for each other: Bobby and Sharia

Jack 'Imam' Doyle on his way to sharia class. 'I know this secret plan to combat terror will Mecca difference,' he says.

This could well go under Photon Courier's running head "Just Unbelievable":

Bobbies will be taught sharia law and the Koran in 'secret' plan to counter terror at local level
Police will be trained on the importance of sharia law and the Koran to Muslim communities, under new plans to fight extremism.

The lessons in Islamic faith and culture will become part of the formal training of constables working in towns and cities across the country. Chief constables say that, by understanding the community they are policing, officers will build better relationships.
Okay, but does this go far enough? Why not demand that all U.K. coppers convert to Islam? Or at least pay a jizya tax to the Muslim community if they fail to convert? That would help them understand those they are enabling, sorry, I mean policing, right enough.

The Chief Constable in charge of the strategy, West Yorkshire's Norman Bettison, said: "We work closely with communities and the majority of police training at the moment in this area is done in partnership with Muslim organisations.

"We are building on this basis of training and emphasising that a basic principle of policing is that officers work with and should understand the communities they are policing."

Excuse me, Chief Constable Bettison, but may I put to you the suggestion that a bobby's job is to protect lives and property and catch criminals? For that he or she needs an understanding of British law — you recall that term from your days as a young recruit? — not of a Middle Eastern tribal cult. Sociologists may wish to comprehend the traditions of forcing women to undergo mutilation and wearing a black tent, and the rationale for honor killings. Police only need to understand one thing: these practices are not on.

What this "secret" plan — what's secret about it? — is actually about is normalizing sharia, giving it status as an acceptable alternative system.

And thus it goes on, the creeping Islamification of Britain.


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Mobs, Messiahs, and Markets


Bill Bonner has a new book out (see my posting about his previous one), this time with a new co-author, Lila Rajiva. Without intending to diminish the contribution of Ms. Rajiva, I'll refer to him as the author, and it does appear that the book takes its tone from him.

As in his earlier Empire of Debt, he again thrashes what he sees as the United States's financial and imperial follies, but the frame is wider this time, stretching far back into world history. Although he repeatedly uses the expression "public spectacle," it's a somewhat fuzzy metaphor; he seems to mean by it every delusion that has ever suckered large numbers of people. Needless to say, he has plenty of examples to draw on. We get his take on wars, crusades, witch hunts, modern art mania, CEO pay, and other examples of people, often very smart people, being led on a leash by the primitive part of their brain.


This part of Mobs strikes me as largely padding to make a full-length book out of the payload delivered in the final chapters. Most readers, other than perhaps the very young, will have learned elsewhere about "extraordinary popular delusions and the madness of crowds." Bonner does spin it out entertainingly, though.

We can thank him for recounting the only funny quip I have ever seen attributed to Stalin, not a man noted for his sense of humor. In the unbelievably grim conditions of the Soviet fight against the German invasion of 1941, the Soviet soldier who wasn't killed by the Wehrmacht or taken prisoner (as good as a death sentence) also had, behind him, Stalin's "blocking battalions" with orders to shoot him if he took a step back. Comrade Stalin remarked that in his army it took more courage to retreat than to advance.

Probably no book of Bill Bonner's would be complete without a few barbs at New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.
Thomas Friedman's opus [The World Is Flat] claims that information technology and American-style capitalism (to say nothing of the protection racket run by the empire's military forces) have connected the world so much that the Renaissance discovery by Columbus that the world is round has given way to the postmodern discovery by Friedman that it is really flat. Now we all play on the same level field of global commerce. We all wear the same clothes (business suits for adults, Che T-shirts for the young); talk the same language (English); share the same political ideology (humbug democracy); and worship the same God (mammon). …

Friedman is like a geologist who has just noticed the weather: Rain, wind, sun, storm — all of it seems to wash down and wear down the surface of the earth, he notices astutely. Aha, he concludes, the mountains will keep on eroding. Pretty soon, the whole world will be as flat as Kansas.

If he had any imagination or curiosity or even had remembered to look down at the ground under his feet, he would have wondered how it was possible that after so many millions of years of leveling, the earth was not flat already. And if he had bothered to look beneath the surface, he would have seen why: There are new volcanoes bubbling up all the time, new mountain ranges welling up, and eruptions waiting to explode.
For all the breezy high spirits of its earlier chapters, Mobs (like Empire of Debt) sometimes sinks from libertarianism to irresponsibility. Bonner can seem totally cynical, unable to comprehend that causes are not invariably attributable to groupthink and fanaticism, or that threats can be real. There is plenty to criticize in our so-called "war on terror," including the principle that we must pretend that terrorism is random and evenly distributed among all groups, or that it's limited to a few "extremists" who've hijacked a benign religion. But that's not Bonner's complaint. He says the whole thing is a storm in a teacup:
The actual risk of being a victim of terrorism is as remote as, say, the risk of being drowned in your bathtub. Even in Israel, a person is four times as likely to die in a traffic accident as in a terrorist attack. Indeed, since the State Department began counting terrorist deaths in the late 1960s, even including the deaths from the attack on the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001, the number of deaths from terrorism has been about the same as the number of people who have died from severe allergic reaction to peanut butter. Yet, since 2001, the U.S. government has spent billions in their effort to protect Americans from terrorism. As far as we know, it has spent none at all to protect us from peanut butter.
Bonner does not strike me as a stupid man, but he can say
things that are dead stupid. Surely he realizes that an enemy that is deliberately trying to cause the deaths of many Americans is a very different kind of problem than accidents. And as usual with complaints about the money spent on national security, he ignores the likelihood that, for all its absurdities, that security effort has helped keep the number of casualties from significantly rising (in the United States). I think our author is happy to forgo critical thought for the sake of a wisecrack. And given the ever-growing nanny state, I wouldn't be surprised if there isn't a federal task force or study funded by a grant devoted to finding a rationale for restricting peanut butter.


Still, despite the fluff and the occasional moral vacuity, Mobs gathers its strength toward the end for one of the best summations I have read of the artificial life support that Greenspan and Bernanke have undertaken to keep the normal business cycle at bay while permitting fantastic bubbles in technology stocks and housing to carry on — until, as we have seen, they become unsustainable.

Bonner's argument isn't, fundamentally, just about economics. He believes that no planners or bureaucrats can possibly adjust public policy to the almost infinite variables that affect our lives. He's a welcome member of the resistance to centralized states that increasingly dominate aspects of personal lives that individuals are best qualified to determine for themselves, whether those states are called Communism, Fascism, or the European Union.
Customs, conventions, and traditions resemble gold, rather than paper — because they can't be manufactured out of nothing. They can only be found in the soil in which they live. They reflect the way people really think and act at any given time, unlike policies and laws so far ahead of — or behind — the times that people resist them or are indifferent to them.

Like gold, traditions reflect real value. They contain more information from the past — from the history of the people among whom they are practiced. And, like the pricing mechanism, traditions are a communication system that lets people signal their desires and expectations faster and better to each other. Government policies reflect only the demands and desires of one generation — the living. Even if they are passed by a democracy, they are not fully democratic at all, or at least, not democratic enough. They consult only living citizens. They forget the dead.
It would be hard to better this as a pithy criticism of our present pseudo-republic, which not only has abandoned but seems no longer even to comprehend the insights of the country's founders, who themselves consulted thinkers going all the way back to antiquity. The very concept of a national government limited to things more local government can't do, like defense (not militarized international social work) and maintenance of a sound currency (the opposite of what our federal government does today) is quickly becoming the language of the dead, not the living. And, as Bonner says, we no longer consult them.

Nevertheless, they are still trying to get our attention. If only they could make themselves heard through the noise of a few hundred million TV sets.


Monday, February 25, 2008

Lone Justice

Another weekend down the tubes, and — bleaagh — here you are, staring into the gaping maw (paw even) of another week without a single leavening holiday, even of the St. Martin Luther King variety. You say you can't get started, your synapses are sputtering like spark plugs after 100,000 miles of duty, your energy is congealed?

Have I got a video for you.
You'll thank me for it. If this doesn't get your metabolism doing the mambo as quick as you like, then call me Ishmael. Here:

Oh. Wow.

An even wilder version, albeit with crummy video quality:

That was Lone Justice, fronted by the adorable Maria McKee, circa 1987.

I'll say this for YouTube. It may permit millions of dolts to stuff the bit plumbing with reprehensible garbage, but you can often find videos there that you never expected to see again.


Friday, February 22, 2008

Children deputized as cops


Primary school children have been enlisted by police in Norwich, England, to give speeding drivers a tongue lashing.
Children are being given the chance to make a difference with drivers pulled over for speeding near schools being offered either a £60 fixed penalty (and three points on their licence) or a dressing down from the pupils. ... PC Leo Blyth said: "Having the children tell the motorists off actually has more of an impact than a police officer doing it."
Poetic justice? Speeders are confronted by the kids whose safety they are putting at risk.

Nevertheless, it's a bad idea.

In effect, children are given the power to intimidate adults. Power goes directly to the head unless it is counterbalanced by a firmly implanted set of principles and restraints, which 10-year-olds do not have. Society should not give its morally unformed offspring a taste for wielding authority they've done nothing to earn, particularly in a country like England, where crime and vandalism by youngsters has reached disastrous levels.

We recoil when we read about totalitarian regimes, like the Soviet Union, where children were encouraged to spy on and report disloyalty by their elders, even their own parents. But by the value system prevailing then and there, the kids were only doing their civic duty in calling attention to people trying to undermine the state, a worse activity -- by Soviet standards -- than driving too fast.


Using kids as surrogate cops turns the proper relationship between adults and children upside down. Adults are supposed to protect kids. What does it tell the kids when the police say, in effect, "Sorry, we can't stop drivers from speeding around your school, they don't give a rat's bum what we do. Here, would you mind stepping in and doing our job for us?"

Not to mention that, ideally, schoolchildren should be in class learning things, not practicing to be traffic wardens.


And, while the nominally grown-up drivers who are clocked for speeding in a school zone deserve to be penalized, it is doubly humiliating not only to receive their punishment from a child, but lose self-respect by "choosing" it so as to avoid a fine and a bite off their driving license. A civilized country keeps a sense of proportion about wrongdoing. Even dangerous drivers have a right to be dealt justice by their peers, other adults. (Actually, police are supposed to be public servants, but to judge from news stories and letters to the editor, that is no longer the case in the U.K. People complain that coppers spend the little time they're not doing paperwork on catching otherwise law-abiding people for speeding and other minor infractions that provide revenue from fines, while muggings and burglaries carry on at a prodigious rate.)

I don't know if sparing the rod is spoiling the child, but I'm pretty sure it's a rotten idea to give the child a rod with instructions to use it.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Another 12-step program — to "financial disaster"

Professor Nouriel Roubini of New York University’s Stern School of Business says the U.S. economy is heading for a curl-your-hair catastrophe, as reported in the Financial Times. (Reading it requires free registration.)
Recently, Professor Roubini’s scenarios have been dire enough to make the flesh creep. But his thinking deserves to be taken seriously. He first predicted a US recession in July 2006. At that time, his view was extremely controversial. It is so no longer. Now he states that there is “a rising probability of a ‘catastrophic’ financial and economic outcome". The characteristics of this scenario are, he argues: “A vicious circle where a deep recession makes the financial losses more severe and where, in turn, large and growing financial losses and a financial meltdown make the recession even more severe.”
Roubini sees the economy collapsing in 12 steps, beginning with "the worst housing recession in U.S. history" and an end stage of "a vicious circle of losses, capital reduction, credit contraction, forced liquidation and fire sales of assets at below fundamental prices.”


I don't know whether his prediction will turn out to be right, partly right, or wrong, any more than he does. Still, whatever your own views and strategy, it's not a bad idea to think about the worst-case scenario.

Before you fall into a decline or commit pre-emptive suicide, remember that scare stories always draw
better readership than agnostic ones. Not to minimize what seems to me a dangerous situation for the economy, but the stock market, at least, proverbially "climbs a wall of worry." That is, at any time, including a bull market with the afterburners on, all kinds of threats loom on the horizon. The institutional investors (mutual funds, hedge funds, money managers, etc.), who collectively set the direction of the market, are used to constant viewing-with-alarm and normally discount it, just as they normally regard a bear market as an opportunity to buy names they like at lower prices.

But what Roubini is talking about here is something more than a normal correction. He's describing the economy as a smoking hole. Even steel-nerved money managers can panic in that kind of situation. Equally important, such a disaster would hardly be limited to the stock market. It would frap everybody who has savings, and even many of those who just prefer to sleep with a roof over their heads.

[I am not a financial professional. Nothing here should be construed as financial advice.]


If something like Roubini's nuclear winter scenario comes to pass, there would be plenty of social and political fallout, depend on it.

Some bloggers suggest a silver lining to economic Armageddon: potential immigrants will discover the joys of home, immigrants will un-immigrate, and the American public, cured of their Candide-like optimism and in no mood for still greater job competition, will demand serious border control.

It's an ill wind that blows no good and all that, but if millions of people find themselves out of work and their savings binned, the silver will be lining a very dark cloud. Given today's ethnic, gender, and racial jockeying, I can see an even more intense blame game — perhaps most of it directed against the usual scapegoats, white males. That could be interesting: people struggling to keep body and soul together, being told for the millionth time that they are privileged oppressors. Maybe even the thickest of them will finally learn to add two and two, and stop making excuses for reverse discrimination.


And while one would hope that Americans, individually or in voluntary groups, would use their initiative and creativity to survive, it's more likely that 70 years of
federal government programs supposedly answering every need have deeply embedded a belief that the government is mother, daddy, rich uncle, and psychotherapist. Think millions marching on Washington for more welfare. Except … if Roubini's End Times scenario comes true, the government won't have any largesse to give. There will be little left to tax for revenue, except the very rich, who can be safely assumed to make sure that doesn't happen; nobody to buy U.S. bonds, so the government won't get out of it by borrowing; and no use printing a storm of debased currency.

Perhaps the World Bank will consider grants in aid to the United States, predicated on U.S. pledges to reform itself.


Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Leopard on film


A few postings ago I wrote about Giuseppe di Lampedusa's brilliant novel, The Leopard. I remarked in passing on the 1963 film version, which I damned with faint praise ("
a big-budget movie, diverting in its way but superficial compared to its source").

More recently I saw the movie in its latest incarnation, one of
the Criterion Collection's typically superb DVD transfers. Criterion did their usual high-tech processing of the best available archival sources (sorry, I didn't watch the "extra" about the restoration of the film, so I don't know the details). They worked with the original cinematographer to recreate his intended colors and tones, and the result is far more striking and atmospheric than the previous DVD version I saw. It's in the original aspect ratio, of course, about 2.20: 1, with subtitles which I presume you can switch off if you can follow the dialogue without them.


So am I now completely won over, and here to recant my previous words? Not entirely. The Leopard (film) is superficial compared to its source. Lampedusa's novel is a remarkable fusion of external events and inner experience, primarily that of Don Fabrizio, Prince of Salina, around the time when Garibaldi's army was fighting in Sicily and Italy. By their nature, films tend to emphasize events; relatively few convey psychology in any depth. I have to give the director, Luchino Visconti, a tip of the hat: he tries to do the impossible, find the cinematic equivalent of the soul of the novel, and almost pulls it off. Almost.


Visconti (Rocco and His Brothers, The Damned,
Death in Venice) was a hit-or-miss director with an excellent feeling for atmosphere and laudable ambition. All his films I've seen are memorable in parts, but I know of none that quite hang together into something greater than their bits -- except, possibly, this one.

The Leopard may be his best. He and his designers took exquisite care with the sets (the interiors filmed in real palazzi in Sicily), the costumes, the characters' manners. Unlike so many period movies today, there is no effort to give the dialogue (a lot of which is directly from the book) a contemporary "edge." Anyone who is fascinated by how people lived in other times and places will enjoy this window on Sicily, circa 1860.


The biggest surprise for me, on seeing Burt Lancaster again as Don Fabrizio, is that he is ... I have to say it ... good in the role. He has never impressed me in anything else, but he must have had talent that no Hollywood director ever asked him for. He conveys the aristocrat's pride and gravity, and even gives you shadings and details that are worth watching. About the only things missing from the performance are the Prince's yearning for the eternal, which he can vaguely sense only through his telescope, his world weariness, and his consciousness of the lengthening shadow of mortality. But only an absolutely top-class actor could have conveyed those qualities between the lines (if only Olivier could have been cast! But even if he'd wanted the part, he was busy running the National Theatre at the time).

Lancaster appears to have spoken his lines in Italian. The voice was post-synchronized by (I assume) an Italian actor, but still, to make it look even fairly realistic (which it does), he couldn't just read the lines in English. Bravo, Mr. Lancaster. (Oddly, all the dialogue, even by Italian actors, seems to have been looped. Was the on-set sound recording that bad?)


Unfortunately, the rest of the cast is at best serviceable, at worst mediocre. Don Fabrizio's nephew Tancredi is played by Alain Delon, of whom Dwight Macdonald once said (about another role) that he was "a decorative hole in the middle of the picture." He's dull here. Claudia Cardinale is certainly attractive enough, but doesn't leave much of an impression. The only other performer previously known to me, Serge Reggiani, is more famous now as a singer in France; his career change from actor to vocalist was a smart move.

The movie makes disappointingly little of one of the novel's most "cinematic" passages, where Tancredi and Angelina explore long-forgotten rooms in the huge old palace at Donnafugata. There is also an interminable battle scene in the streets of Palermo. Visconti seems to have had no skill as an action director.


But while there are dead spots, and some of the cuts made when the film was originally released (the American version was especially shortened) might have been justified, The Leopard is a genuine work of art. Few films integrate characters and their social and cultural background as vividly as this, and more often than not, Lancaster gives a convincing portrait of an unusual man, proud, cynical, uncomfortable as paterfamilias, but also subtle and humane.


Saturday, February 16, 2008

Affirmative action for Saudi millionaires' sons

The United States government is trying very hard to turn me into a conspiracy theorist. I'm not there yet, but one of these days ...

Are you ready for this?

More students from Islamic nations allowed in U.S.
The State Department has been steadily increasing the number of visas granted to students and visitors from three Islamic nations -nations with connections to the Sept. 11 attacks and to al-Qaida, according to an NBC News survey of U.S. visa data. ... NBC examined temporary and student visas granted to citizens of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan from 2000 through 2007. Saudi Arabia is Osama Bin Laden’s home country, while Egypt is the home country of his deputy, Ayman al Zawahiri. Both men are now believed to be hiding inside Pakistan. Saudis also made up 15 of the 19 hijackers on Sept. 11.

Overall, the three countries received 134,015 visas in 2000, before dipping to 34,781 in 2003, the lowest year in recent memory. Since then, the numbers have risen dramatically, to 109,878 last year, the first year of 100,000 or more visas since 2001. Those numbers represent an 18 percent drop from the peak year of 2000, but a near tripling since 2003.

The rationale -- or maybe excuse is the better word, since our lords and masters inside the Beltway seem determined to inject as much of the world as possible into the U.S. -- is that "it’s better we take the calculated risk to encourage the elite in these countries to come here,” said Bob Grenier, former head of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center. “There is a ripple effect in reaching those people we want to reach in those countries.”


And who are these people we want to reach?

Officials in the three countries are particularly sensitive about the educational visas. The reason: The elite in each of those countries-usually the most pro-American segment of society-want their children educated in U.S. colleges and universities. “The elite in Pakistan all want their children to go to Harvard or Stanford,” said a Pakistani official. “And if they don’t get into Harvard or Stanford, they get upset with America.”

Let Abdul who is the son of Labib who is the son of Muhammed who is the son of Mansur into Harvard or they'll get bothered with us. And elite families like the bin Ladens really know how to get bothered.

Obviously, most of these students and "visitors" are not security risks. How many are can't be known until they act so as to remove any doubt, but let's be charitable and say that no more than 5 percent might be people we need to worry about. That's a mere 5,494 out of 109,878 admitted. Last year.


There are other issues, however, suggested Grenier, that have to be dealt with if the U.S. is going to win friends and influence people in those nations.

Yes, let's convert terrorists with the Dale Carnegie method. Ask their advice. Help them feel good about themselves. Invite them to join the Rotary and the Toastmasters. Put them up for membership in your country club.

You would think, would you not, that the CIA and the State Department, in their zeal to protect the American people, might just err on the side of caution when it comes to recruiting the sons (probably not daughters) of privileged and well-connected Muslim families in states rife with terrorism? In your dreams. Or nightmares.


Thursday, February 14, 2008

The United States as Brazil

An important discussion, under the heading "The Western Crisis," is going on at Lawrence Auster's View From the Right.

It's prompted by the sense of shock and Angst that most traditional conservatives are feeling as they are forced to admit that they have been, not simply eclipsed or beaten in a skirmish, but defeated. Marginalized. Both prospective candidates for the presidency are left-liberals. The great majority of senators and congressmen are as well.
And there is every evidence that the population as a whole, inundated with leftist propaganda from the media, academia, and government, is on board.

Even most so-called conservatives, or what Auster calls "right-liberals," accept the basic premises of modern liberalism: ever-increasing state control, de facto open borders, a revived welfare state, and permanent legal and extra-legal preferences for all "minorities" — that is, everyone except white, non-Hispanic males.


Some of the commenters are seriously discussing civil war. And although I can't imagine how a civil war could accomplish anything but kill off many of the remaining partisans of liberty, I understand the frustration that entices some to apocalyptic thoughts. The transformation of the United States into a quasi-Marxist closed society based on an ethnic spoils system, with heavy-handed suppression of non-politically correct speech, is gathering speed. It has already very nearly come to pass in Britain, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Norway.

Commenter Dan McCulloch writes:
Our end will be like ... Brazil. We are undergoing the Brazilification of America. After which, there will be factions, group identity politics, terrorism, oppression, little race-based enclaves, multi-culti polyglot cities, no-go areas, bribery, corruption, poverty, Marxism, and pot-holes. (And lots of pot-holes.) But life will go on. It just won't be very much to our liking. Whites are going to have to learn to function as an ethno-centric minority within the larger population, in much the way Jews have done for the last 1500 years.
A commenter named Hannon writes:

What modern liberals have done so deftly is to suffuse national life with their version of morality and at the same time not threaten the economic basis of our existence. At least some of them recognize that their own ideological success would be impossible without the underlying material success of previous generations of thinkers, workers and investors. Their politics has avoided the effective promotion of collective bargaining (rather it has declined), nationalization of linchpin industries and similar oppressions.
That's bang on, I think. Today's quasi-Marxists, whether out of careful strategizing or just instinct, have learned from the failure of Communism. They know that overt social class war and nationalizing big business won't play with today's masses or even intellectuals. What they have contrived to do is insert their repressive values — what some call "cultural Marxism" —into the fabric of society, while leaving intact "private enterprise" (albeit with lots of ideological ballast like affirmative action). On top of that, instead of urging the lumpenproletariat to rise up and smite their masters, they've seen to it that the economy is artificially pumped up with E-Z credit so the plebs can knock themselves out with video games, 200-channel cable TV, SUVs, pygmy mansions, and all the rest of the entertainment and material high-tech opiates.


Who cares if you must censor yourself every time you speak in public, lest you be anathematized as a "racist," "sexist," "Islamophobe"? Or if you must openly or tacitly agree to have your country invaded by the millions? The fact is, most people would rather have what they consider prosperity than liberty. Even if an immigrant takes your job for half the pay, even if your own race is destined to become a minority, even if everyone except whites is encouraged to celebrate their ethnicity — the Liberal Establishment has convinced you that that's just the way it is, no sense fighting, it's inevitable. Anyway, you've got ESPN and the Comedy Channel, so what's your beef?

The comments (as well as Auster's own postings) at VFR show that there are intelligent people who resist the country's slide into a balkanized, hyper-egalitarian, thought-controlled nanny state. As smart and articulate as they are, though, few can offer with any confidence a way to induce their fellow citizens to choose freedom over comfortable serfdom, as the night advances, as sleep overcomes us.


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Welcome to Malaiseia

Today's Telegraph has one of the more bizarre headlines I've encountered in a while, even in these mad times:

Mosquito 'infringes rights of teen gangs'

As if the country didn't already have enough on its plate. Other headlines in the same issue include:

Students win terror propaganda appeal
Teen binge drinking 'causing misery'
One in five children grow up on benefits
Roadside sex attack ignored by drivers
Government migration stance 'illiterate'
Elderly care blunders cost NHS £180m
Council pays
£60 for exorcism

It turns out that this mosquito is neither an out-of-control mutant nor the latest improvised weapon ("Terrorists breed teen-devouring mosquitoes" — The Sun). It's a cutting-edge marketing tool, an instrument that drives people away. Well, some people.
An ultrasonic device that deters congregating teenagers with its high-pitched whine should be banned because it infringes their rights, the Children's Commissioner has said. The Mosquito, which produces a penetrating tone that only under-25s can hear, has proved popular with shop owners and councils who want to banish groups of youths engaged in anti-social behaviour.
I want one. Especially the mobile unit, for the next time, if ever, I'm in the U.K.

Anyway, if this thing is banned because it "produces a penetrating tone that only under-25s can hear," shouldn't 95 percent of pop music be banned?

Malaise at the heart of British society.

But it's a civil rights issue, according to the usual busybodies.
The Children's Commissioner has launched a campaign to rid the country of Mosquitos with the human rights group Liberty. He said: "These devices are indiscriminate and target all children and young people, including babies, regardless of whether they are behaving or misbehaving."

Their use "demonised" youngsters, he claimed. "I think it is a powerful symptom of what I call the malaise at the heart of our society." He told BBC Radio 4: "I'm very concerned about what I see to be an emerging gap between the young and the old, the fears, the intolerance, even the hatred, of the older generation towards the young."
Perhaps Britain's shopkeepers could take a hint from the town council of Peterlee, Durham, and pay for their premises to be exorcised.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Playing the assassination card

"Any criticism of Obama, no matter how objective and impersonal, would be tied to race and bigotry, and honest debate and healthy scrutiny of him as a candidate or as a President would be muted, if not stifled altogether," writes Vanishing American.

Well, you knew that, didn't you? A vote for Barack Obama is a vote for skin tone. "Obama — The Melanin of the Hour." "He's the Man Who Puts 'Race' Into the Presidential Race!"


Still not feeling guilty enough to cast your ballot for him? Well then, listen to these two political philsophers:

Doris Lessing, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature last year — that should tell you something about her head space — says "she believes Barack Obama would be assassinated if he were elected president. … He would probably not last long, a black man in the position of president. They would kill him."

World champion boxer Bernard Hopkins has said he would "never lose to a white boy" — white boy? Imagine a white boxer saying he would never lose to a black "boy." Anyway, Hopkins is quoted as saying that Obama would be assassinated "within months" if he became U.S. president in November.

"I don't think America is ready for an African-American in the White House. If he gets the nomination they won't let him become president, but if they do, it will be for a short time, maybe less than a month or two. His life would be in jeopardy.

"People may say it is time for change but when it comes down to it, I don't think America is ready for that type of heat."

So, the United States of America can't even wash itself clean of its sins by electing a blackish president. It is cursed unto the last generation. Obama could sweep every state in the Union, but the sick soul of the land of cotton will rise up and take its vengeance. "Vote for Obama — He'll Make a Change Before He Meets His Maker." "Mark Your Bullets, er, Ballots for Obama."

This would seem to present the good left-liberal with a dilemma. Will electing the man who carries the pigment be sentencing him to capital punishment? If he is indeed a marked man, then the liberal who pulls the lever will be morally equivalent to the one who pulls the trigger.


The only solution that I can see is to abolish the practice of electing actual people as president. You could make the case that we've already done that anyway, since no candidate has any meaningful policies, just symbolism by the carload and promises of glorious outcomes. A candidate could be represented by a large balloon tethered to each podium on the campaign trail. The balloon could carry all the symbolism through its color, male or female shape or, perhaps, words printed on it. If the winning balloon were popped by a Lee Harvey Oswald franchisee, an identical one could be inflated immediately, an emblem of the Republic's continuance.

Democracy. Often imitated, never duplicated.


Thursday, February 07, 2008

Classical beauty

Hélène Grimaud

I don't want to write today about the United States or Britain going down in a graveyard spiral. Which is to say I don't want to get so cheerful that I look for a cell to hang myself in.

Let us turn to something much pleasanter: feminine beauty, in this instance beautiful women who are stars of classical music.

Even nowadays in our demotic age, there are stuffy people in the classical audience who would object to this as heresy. They would say connecting the performing tradition with the world of glamour publicity photos is vulgar. I say pooh to that. Why shouldn't musical artists be admired for their looks? Tell me one performing art where looks don't count. Seen any 200-pound ballet dancers lately? Oh, you say, but he or she couldn't dance well carrying that much weight. All right, how about film stars? (In leading roles, not character parts.) Notice how, questions of personal taste aside, they're all rather good looking? The actor who has a 30-second scene might be just as talented — maybe more talented — than the one whose name appears above the title. The difference is down to physical attractiveness.

Beauty is additive. A lovely woman (yes, ladies, or a good-looking man) enhances the aural pleasure of the music, on the same principle that a multi-hued sunset seen through a picture window can make a recording of a symphonic performance seem more rarefied. Nobody, of course, is suggesting that glamour is a substitute for ability, or that plain artists aren't worth listening to. Just that when you get both physical allure and musical talent in the same package, it's extra-special. So, on to our gallery.

Leading off, above, is pianist
Hélène Grimaud. I have only heard one or two recordings of her and have no opinion as to her playing, except that she is obviously technically accomplished.

Hilary Hahn

I'll admit to being a Hilary Hahn groupie (metaphorically, naturally; I've never even been to hear her in a concert, alas). Her artistry needs no endorsement from me, as she's widely acknowledged to be one of today's finest violinists, and I can understand why. But I also love her looks: long wavy hair, Mona Lisa smile, a kind of vulnerable or hurt aura. (I know people aren't necessarily anything like how their publicity photos make them appear, and maybe she's really a fire-breathing dragon; in all the examples in this gallery, I'm just commenting on what I can see.)

Did I mention I like Hilary Hahn?

They don't come much cuter than the English pianist Margaret Fingerhut. She excels in late romantic repertory.


Margaret Fingerhut (above and below)


You'd never guess, just to look at her, that Seta Tanyel is quite the romantic, would you? The Turkish pianist also goes in for late romanticism, and has helped revive the works of nearly forgotten composers such as Scharwenka and Moszkowski.

Seta Tanyel

Although she's a Canadian raised in Southern California, violinist Leila Josephowicz looks every bit the sophisticated, worldly, European femme fatale in this glam shot. I have her recording of the Prokofiev concertos, in which she plays with such a smoky, unearthly line and amazing tone colors that it's practically psychedelic. Too bad the recording engineers let her down; her string tone so dominates the orchestra that they're barely in the frame.

Leila Josephowicz

Czech mezzo Magdalena Kožená sounds fabulous singing Handel, and I don't much even like Handel.
Magdalena Kožená

By the way, the classical artist as glowing object isn't entirely a product of modern hype. Elisabeth Schwartzkopf, the German soprano, was a prototype. My wife, who is more into opera than I am, told me that Schwartzkopf was the first famous singer to replace the "fat lady" stereotype with a normally proportioned and visually attractive stage presence. I looked on Google Images trying to find the famous movie-star-ish photo of her from the 1940s, but the only incarnation that came up was on a book cover:


It doesn't seem fair, does it, that these women should have both the looks and the big time talent? Maybe it is their payoff for karma earned in past lives. In any case, beauty is as beauty does: none of them attained their stardom by a "gift." They worked very hard to nurture their skills.

I don't know about you, but just putting together this set of photos has convinced me that life is worth the bother, even with civilizational debacle looming.


How could I have forgotten Martha Argerich? Pastorius (see comments) has reminded me about the Argentine (?) virtuosa. The album cover below is probably from the mid-'60s.



Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Bury. Head. Sand.

Doctor, I have a problem. I keep hallucinating. No, not all the time; it happens mainly when I read articles in the British media. I bring up a news site to see what's happening in the U.K. and I go mental. These bizarre fantasies take the stage. And they're so real looking, as though they're actual news stores.

No, I'm not on drugs, Doctor. Other than the ones you've prescribed.

You want an example? Right then, how about this:

The Government has drawn up a controversial phrasebook on the language of terrorism and is insisting civil servants no longer blame fanatical extremism on Islam, for fear of upsetting the Muslim community.

The new counter-terrorism guidelines suggest that phrases such as "Islamic terrorist" and "jihadi fundamentalism" are too inflammatory and imply that all Muslims explicitly are responsible for extremism.


You see what I mean? I've got to be barking mad to hallucinate such an absurdity. I know that Britain stands for common sense and civility, courage -- you know, Winston Churchill, "Britain can take it" in the middle of the Blitz. But I also seemed to see this:

It also claims that the use of concepts like "the struggle for values" or "a battle of ideas" plays into the hands of those who wish to frame the issue in terms of a clash of civilisations between Islam and the West. A more productive approach is to stress the idea of shared values, it suggests. ... The guidelines make up part of a £45 million plan to tackle violent extremism in local communities and win the "hearts and minds" of Muslims.
"Hearts and minds." I've heard that somewhere before. Am I confusing past and present?


Why are you giving me a blank prescription form? Oh, excellent symbolism, got it. You want me to just ignore my disordered senses. Let my mind go empty, like I'm in one of those transcontinental meditation ashrooms or whatever you call 'em.

Or skip the U.K. news and focus on the American presidential campaign? Wait till I tell you what I'm hallucinating about that ...


Tuesday, February 05, 2008

A thought for super primary day

Probably the best line in any campaign flyer that will appear in 2008, from one on behalf of Ron Paul:

"Lobbyists don't bother to visit him in Congress. Why? Because he never supports any bill that violates the Constitution or gives handouts to their bosses, no matter who they are."


Monday, February 04, 2008

Equivocational training

Mark Steyn is one of two prominent journalists in hot water with some of Canada's Muslims, who have filed a complaint against him with the British Columbian Human Rights Tribunal and the Canadian Human Rights Commission for published excerpts from his book America Alone. Steyn has linked to an odd article by Lee Harris about the flap.

Harris begins with some historical notes intended to show that the idea of nearly unlimited freedom of speech is actually fairly new in British and American law, and was possible only after religious factions finally got polite enough not to rip one another's insides out. He then goes on to suggest that we are again back in a situation where the government may need to recognize limits on free speech for the original reason: because if it inflames a portion of the population, it puts the rest of the population at risk.
Today, because of Islam, the furor theologicus that we in the West thought we had put behind us is reemerging and can flare up in any part of the world. A cartoon or a film documentary that Muslims find offensive can set off a chain of reactions that lead to riots, bloodshed, the murder of innocents, and international crises. To continue to maintain, in the light of these troubling facts, that the state has no business watching what its citizens say is to indulge in a wistful anachronism. Even the most dedicated libertarian must surely realize that at some point the other members of his society may not be willing to pay the social costs of his freedom of expression. One may of course wish for a society to stand firmly behind those who have the courage to speak their minds; but it is simply naive to expect the general population to support them beyond a certain point.
Does Harris actually believe this — that one group should have the power, through threat of violence, to set certain kinds of criticism out of bounds? He says, "If speaking of Islam runs genuine risks of inciting violence, we cannot just pretend that it isn't so. We can be indignant about this and declaim loudly against it--but what good does such an approach really do? If criticizing Islam promotes bloodshed, then criticizing even more hardly seems like an attractive solution."


What to do? His answer, while superficially clever, is ultimately evasive.
Let offended Muslims file complaints to their heart's content. Make outraged imams fill out tedious forms. Require self-appointed mullahs, representing imaginary counsels and committees, to provide documentation of their grievances. Encourage them to vent through the intrinsically stifling bureaucratic channels provided by panels like the Alberta Human Rights Commission. Show them, nanny-like, that you care about their injured feelings. Patiently and silently listen to their indignant complaints, and let them, ideally, get it all out of their systems. Humoring, let us remember, is not appeasement, but often a clever way to coax troublesome children of all ages into behaving like civilized human beings.
If he isn't just showing off his sense of humor, then he is hoist by his own what-do-you-call-it. People can sometimes smile and shrug off criticism or even outright insults, but will never forgive being patronized.

Harris actually seems to realize how shallow his prescription is, and that the stakes are too high to be swept off the board with a little good natured clowning. He acknowledges that
it is the nature of the nanny state to bring up citizens who have been trained not to rock the boat. Under a nanny regime, the good citizen is one who is reluctant to speak his mind merely out of fear of what other people might think. For people already this cowed, even the threat of a minor bureaucratic hassle would be a powerful argument for keeping one's mouth shut, and for standing by while our hard-won liberty of discussion is steadily eroded.
Just as he seems to be about to take a stand for free speech and letting the chips fall where they may, he decides to go for the equivocation discreet.
Either we must clamp down on critics of Islam, mandating a uniform code of political correctness, or else we must let the critics say what they wish, regardless of the consequences, and in full knowledge that these consequences may include the death of innocents. This is not a choice that the West has had to face since the end of our own furor theologicus several centuries ago, but, like it or not, it is the choice that we are facing again today.
Well, Lee mon vieux, which is it to be? He comfortably dodges answering and leaves it up to us.


You will notice, if you read his whole essay, that he assumes it is impossible for a society to return, if that is what it takes, to the condition in which there is enough common ground that no one has to live in fear of violence or legal sanctions for speaking his mind. The diversity hook is in his gill. Harris can't imagine that Muslims could be separated from the rest of the world, so the rest of the world could get on with its business without endlessly worrying about being "sensitive" and inoffensive.

Since Harris won't make his own choice, I guess I have to. We should face reality and acknowledge that Muslims and the West have completely different assumptions about the purpose of society and how life is to be lived, and that it's futile and dangerous to keep trying to pretend otherwise. Only stopping and reversing Muslim incursion into the West can preserve both freedom and safety.

Harris must have put a lot of time and work into writing that article. Too bad he had to leave it to me to finish it for him.