Friday, April 29, 2011


I once went to a lecture by the religion scholar Huston Smith, who described his meeting with the Dalai Lama (not the present one). What he found most remarkable about the Dalai Lama, he said, was how unremarkable he was. Here was a man who had been treated literally from the moment of his birth as the supreme leader of Tibetan Buddhism, the latest incarnation of a bodhisattva -- a being who has achieved complete enlightenment but returned to earth life to help others reach enlightenment. What an ego massage! How easily he could have been enraptured by his own persona!

Instead of acting like a spiritual rock star, though, the Dalai Lama behaved with no airs and graces. Quite the role model for a guru. Unfortunately, such self-effacement is rare among the breed.

Guru is a Sanskrit word meaning "one who brings light out of darkness," but it has made its way into English, generally referring to someone who purports to have special wisdom and an inside track on holiness, and who has a group of followers. By that definition, some gurus are downright bad ... or if you prefer, false gurus. See Jones, Jim; Koresh, David.

I've met a few gurus in my time. None were as loathsome as Jones or Koresh, but on the whole I have not been especially impressed with them, and I say that as one who takes the search for God seriously.

In the late '60s in Berkeley, everyone was hunting for a guru -- spiritual, political, or psychedelic, according to the consumer's inclinations. For a time I was in the psychedelic legion, but few gurus were as brilliant as Timothy Leary, including Timothy Leary himself. So I set my sights on finding a spiritual guru. 


Eventually I became involved with a group called Ananda Marga, or Path of Bliss, in more or less the Hindu tradition (the most popular option at that time and place). There was a guru, right enough, who led us in meditation and tried to inspire us. A girlfriend persuaded me to go on a three-day "retreat" in Marin County, the last act of which included my being initiated and given my very own mantra. I have never forgotten it, and never used it.

By that time I was having Doubts. I noticed that the Ananda Marga guru was shod in alligator-leather loafers. What's the odds whether your shoes were once worn by a cow or an alligator? But it just felt "off," somehow. Eventually I dropped out of the group, maybe from boredom as much as anything. Later I heard that the alligator-shoe guru had been recalled from his post by the head office in India at the request of the Berkeley adherents ("an extraordinary step for chelas to take in connection with their guru," one of them remarked; I do not know what caused the rebellion). Maybe the shoes were just a focal point for my own intuition, like a mirror or Tarot cards are for some sensitives.

Also in Berkeley in the fantastic and mad '60s, I was told an anecdote by a member of a different group about his guru. In the counterculture Mecca, most males wore all the hair they could generate. They favored tresses like the women in the Breck shampoo ads. So this guru ordered his male followers to go bald.

Naturally, this was quite a blow to the amour propre of some of the spiritual aspirants. The guru, so I was told, chewed them out. "You want the Supreme Prize, the greatest gift attainable in life, Enlightenment, and you won't even cut your hair when your teacher tells you to? You are not serious about the Path!"

That is one way to look at it. Another is that the guru was on a power trip. If so, he was not the first and will not be the last. 


According to Anthony Storr, in his book Feet of Clay: Saints, Sinners, and Madmen: A Study of Gurus, most people who become gurus or quasi-gurus are isolated in their younger years; go through a spiritual crisis (which in some cases resembles schizophrenia); and receive a kind of  "revelation" or spiritual experience that resolves the crisis. (Storr, by the way, is that rarity: a psychoanalyst with common sense, literary skill, and a healthy skepticism about psychotherapy systems. I've read several of his books with intellectual profit and pleasure.) 

What happens after that is crucial. Some develop their experience along humane and God-centered lines. But a lot of them get trapped in psychological inflation and delusion. Storr writes:
Like other humans, gurus risk becoming corrupted by power. Although a guru may begin his mission in ascetic poverty, success often brings about a revision of values. It is intoxicating to be adored, and it often becomes increasingly difficult for the guru not to concur with the beliefs of his disciples about him. If a man comes to believe that he has special insights, and that he has been selected by God to pass on these insights to others, he is likely to conclude that he is entitled to special privileges. For example, he may feel, along with his followers, that he cannot be expected to carry out his exhausting spiritual mission if he has to worry about money, and that he is therefore entitled to demand and make use of any money which his followers can raise. Gurus sometimes end up living in luxury.
That brings me to the final example I will talk about, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, also known as Osho. I hasten to add that I was not among the sannyasins, his followers at his commune in Oregon, and I was never in his presence. My experience of him is personal but second-hand. After the break-up of the commune in the mid-1980s, quite a few of his disciples started showing up in Santa Fe, where I was at the time.


One of them was Surya, with whom I had an ambiguous but fairly close relationship for a while. She was a young English woman, an Oxford graduate yet, who had resigned from ordinary life to sit at the feet (metaphorically) of Rajneesh. She was kind and supportive when I had a broken leg that was healing in a cast for months on end and I was feeling rotten.

She and the other veterans continued to style themselves sannyasins, even in exile, but I wasn't inclined to delve into that aspect of her life. I was content just to let things be, perhaps afraid of rejection at a time when I felt needy. But she wanted to talk about Rajneesh more than not, and eventually I let myself be drawn into discussing him.

That was the first time I understood what was meant by the idea that cult members can be "programmed." Surya seemed rational, but her ideas and values struck me as absolute concerning Rajneesh. She had an immediate answer for every question, a counter-argument for any criticism. Granted, we all do that to some extent about our beliefs, but I came to feel in her case it was automatic, almost hypnotic. I don't recall any serious arguments with her (she was beyond argument, if you get my meaning). But it became uncomfortable for me and in the end something I just didn't want to deal with, although I still say that in a caring way. Later I was very briefly involved with another sannyasin (no, I didn't seek them out), and her fixed ideas about Rajneesh were similar.


I can't end this posting without mentioning that I have met one or two spiritual teachers -- I don't know if they considered themselves"gurus" -- who seemed to me genuine, although they were just passing through and our association was brief. 

I've never found a guru that I wanted to attach myself to. If I had known Paramahansa Yogananda (founder of the Self-Realization Fellowship) personally, it's possible that I would have become a devotee; I attended the SRF meditation group meetings in Tucson. The closest SRF meeting to where I live now is an hour's drive away, and I suppose that if I were truly committed, I wouldn't count the cost in time and effort. But I'm not, and I do.

I think I've become a little more sophisticated about this guru business. We all have helpers on the higher planes who guide us in every effort we make to grow spiritually, as we stumble along the Path. We may never see them with the eyes of the body, but only through a soul connection. Maybe my guru in bodily form will show up tomorrow, maybe not in this life. I'm not that concerned about it anymore, because the important thing is to remember that this world is not my home, that I am at home only in God's presence, and to try to be a better person than my lower self will settle for.

As the ancient saying goes: "When the student is ready, the Master appears."


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A "right liberal" in action

A "right liberal" -- the term was invented by Lawrence Auster, if I'm not mistaken -- is someone who bashes liberalism while accepting the premises of the liberal worldview. Usually this involves claiming that liberal policies actually harm not Americans in general, but the liberals' own pet subcultures.

An example is "professional blogger" (which I suppose means he is a penny-a-line paid writer) John Hawkins at

In a column headed "5 Common Political Beliefs That Simply Aren't True" he says:
The sad truth of the matter is that most Americans don't pay much attention to politics and those that do often just parrot doctrine instead of investigating issues with an open mind. This allows lies, myths, and dubious assertions to live on long after they should have shriveled and died in the light of day. Here are just a few of those diseased assertions that have continued to circulate in the body politic long after they should have been cured.
John, my good man, your metaphors are running wild and need parental discipline. "Shriveled and died in the light of day"? ""Diseased assertions that have continued to circulate in the body politic long after they should have been cured"? Please. 

But to the message. His examples of untrue political beliefs include: "Affirmative Action is a pro-black policy." "Being for illegal immigration is a pro-Hispanic policy." Then a couple that are defensible, although it's dubious that many people actually believe that "the more money we put into education, the better our schools will perform." 

Finally, "Being tough on crime is a racist policy."

In his backhanded way, Hawkins is saying affirmative action is bad not because it's anti-white discrimination but because it's unfair to blacks. Illegal immigration should be opposed because it's not really pro-Hispanic. As for being tough on crime, "If racists really were in charge of our justice system, being soft on crime would be one of the most effective ways that they could hurt black Americans." 

Everything has to be calculated in terms of its benefit to "persons of color" or whatever the current politically correct expression is.

And this Hawkins customer thinks he is "right wing," or so one might gather from the title of his (paid-for?) blog, Right Wing News.

I offer another common political belief that isn't true (John, you or your copyeditor will notice I omitted "simply": intensifiers are usually a crutch used by weak writers; take it from an unprofessional unpaid blogger). That is the belief that the Left owns the mainstream media but the Right has the Web. No. The mainstream media has the left liberals, and the Web -- with some honorable exceptions -- has the right liberals.


Monday, April 25, 2011

Merchants of Dearth

I can understand why there's a lot of buzz about Inside Job, the "gotcha" documentary about villainous financial titans and their role in the 2008 blow-up. Aside from the obvious fascination with the economic crisis, whose fallout is still with us, the movie benefits from strong production values. It is technically hip in the manner of a feature film.

The thing is shot in hot colors, which adds visual interest to the interviews and background footage. Elliot Spitzer's regimental stripe tie looks like glowing neon; the landscape of bankrupt Iceland is gorgeous. The director or cameraman usually finds striking settings for interviews. (One complaint, though: too many helicopter overhead shots of Manhattan, a cliché.) The sound recording is professional and "movie" music effectively conveys mood.


In addition, computer graphics, especially in the first half, are well designed to help us understand derivatives such as credit default swaps.

Despite all that, I found myself growing increasingly dissatisfied as I watched the DVD. It is obviously targeted at money center bank and regulatory authorities, and persuasively shows their corruption, callousness, and cluelessness in various proportions. But Inside Job is one-sided, a "J'accuse!" that gives too many others a pass.

The film preaches a sort of contemporary version of an idea fashionable in the 1930s -- that the Great War had been caused by armaments manufacturers, war profiteers, "Merchants of Death" like Sir Basil Zaharoff. We are asked to believe that the Great Recession was purely the product of bent financiers, Merchants of (Monetary) Dearth.


Steve Sailer has written about the role of government-promoted diversity in creating the recession and housing debacle. The movie dwells lovingly on the corporate greed and unregulated derivatives that led to millions of home foreclosures, but there was a distinct ideological component to the malfeasance. Both the Stupid Party and the Evil Party, each for their own reasons, were onboard with the flim-flam that enabled hispanics who wouldn't be able to afford their mortgages to "buy" houses with no questions asked.

Even where political correctness wasn't an issue, the housing bubble that grew with the full connivance of the quangos Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac encouraged dementia: serial buying and "flipping" houses to the greater fool purchaser, and draining home equity to support full-tilt boogie materialistic lifestyles. There's a lot of truth in the old saying that you can't cheat an honest man. Plenty of ordinary Americans were just as irresponsible as the Grand Dragons of Goldman Sachs and Countrywide Financial. Inside Job doesn't want to go there. It implies that the buyers were all victims, and we know how much the Left loves victims.


A few words about other recently viewed DVDs


You'd think that it would be impossible to make a dramatically compelling film about Young Mussolini in his Socialist days, the adoring wife he disowned, her years (at least an hour of movie time) in a mental institution, and their son who was taken from her and went mad, punctuated with lots of grainy newsreel footage of a strutting Il Duce.

You'd be right.

The Next Three Days

How about this -- a thriller that actually thrills, and not just with action. A college professor whose wife is falsely (?) convicted of murder is forced to learn the ways of the criminal world to get his wife out of prison and safely away overseas, with the added complication of their young child.

Of course, as with all movies of this sort, there are parts that seem contrived and unbelievable. But at least the story line is comprehensible, which is more than you can say for many films these days. Good acting from Russell Crowe and Elizabeth Banks.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

American moonscape

The second leg of the trip to San Diego was from Houston to San, and I was awarded a window seat. An hour of cloud cover the first hour, then it was clear or small scattered clouds over west Texas, southern New Mexico, southern Arizona, and lower California.

Desert. Mountains. Rocks. Dry riverbeds.

Even having lived in the Southwest for years, I was astonished to see how much of the United States is uninhabited, or nearly so, desert. The picture from 36,000 feet us is a convoluted gray and brown abstraction. Short gullies with desiccated tributaries, like the tracks of a giant bird. Faint streaks of dirt roads from nowhere to nowhere. Now and again the rectangular pattern of irrigated areas in mismatched shades of green set in an overwhelming wasteland. Endless geographical variations: folds, fringes, ridges, spikes, whirls, as irrational as a dream. A moonscape.

And there appeared spaces you couldn't even call flyover country. It was not country, hardly even looked like land, just a featureless void. The Mojave Desert, I think.

At one point, there arose from the tawny inert plain a narrow rise, like a peninsula with beaches on either side. Maybe that is what it had been millions of years ago. Maybe that is what it will be millions of years from now, when there is no one to see it, again.

* * *

Greetings from San Diego. I will not have a break like this again, so it's cheerio till next weekend.


Saturday, April 16, 2011

Most predictable story of the year

Few blacks attend Civil War anniversary events
CHARLESTON, S.C. – As cannons thudded around Charleston Harbor this week in commemoration of the start of the war that extinguished slavery, the audiences for the 150th-anniversary events were nearly all-white. Even black scholars lecturing about black Union troops and the roots of slavery gazed out mostly on white faces.
Well, that settles it. Not enough blacks in attendance, so the celebration is illegitimate. American history must be wiped out when it falls into the category of Stuff Black People Don't Like.
* * * 
I am sorry that postings have been sparse this week. The press of business and that. There will probably be no postings next week. I'm heading back to California, two months after the last visit, but this time it's work (and in San Diego rather than LA). Experience tells me it will be a very busy time and I will probably be out of touch with events. Look for the blog to resume after Friday the 22nd.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The sacrifice

Republican representative Paul Ryan says getting the national debt under control is a "moral obligation." And how does he propose to fulfill that obligation? By watering down Medicare and Medicaid.

Another Ryan, Ryan Streeter, gives him thumbs up:
Whenever we have to forego something important that we expected to receive, we tend to call it a “sacrifice.” It’s not inappropriate to say that Ryan’s budget pushes us in the direction of “sacrifice” – even “shared sacrifice,” an expression entitlement reformers are loathe [he means loath] to use. Selling Medicare reform is hard enough as it is. Making it sound painful is even worse. But changing our expectations, and preparing for a different future, is what we have to require of ourselves. ...

If we are going to achieve the kinds of spending reductions needed to balance our books in the future, we all have to be prepared to give up what our parents and grandparents expected as a given. The only way we're going to keep our country great is by committing to sacrifice -- for the sake of our country. We've seen the sacrifices made by "The Greatest Generation." They came in the last century. Now, this is our generation’s greatest calling.
Such pious twaddle reminds me of the account in  "gonzo" "journalist" Hunter Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas about being in a motel room in Vegas, high on a combination of extracurricular brain chemicals, while a speech by Richard Nixon was being broadcast on the TV. The volume was low, Thompson wrote, and the only words he could make out from the president were, "Sacrifice ... sacrifice ... sacrifice ... ."


Now, make no mistake, the American economy is in a graveyard spiral, and radical spending reductions are beyond urgent.

But for once, I have to agree with a frequent Democratic Party talking point: why should the "sacrifices" be made by the old and the ill?

Notice what Ryan doesn't talk about sacrificing. Not a word about military adventurism in the Middle East. Nothing about useless federal bureaucracies, student loans that mainly benefit for-profit Internet "colleges," automobile company and bank bailouts, affirmative action programs and enforcers that discriminate against whites, "alternative energy" subsidy scams, and all the other ways the government taxes its subjects to distribute the money to its favorites.


We are in this devastating condition primarily because our politicians have lost any sane notion of the legitimate purposes, and especially limits, of government. It is just too easy to buy votes through spending that pleases lobbying groups and ethnic grievance organizations. Instead of allowing a painful but relatively short period of economic self-correction, the government steps in with money raised by borrowing, taxing, and "quantitative easing" to postpone the day of reckoning.

All that has become such standard operating procedure that it seems normal to the political class; it can't imagine any other way of doing business. Insofar as sit recognizes any financial debacle, the only solution it can conceive is telling the productive class, or those who were productive in their younger days, to suck it in.


We can expect a lot more pseudo-populist, "we're all in this together, but especially you" tosh. Particularly when it appears that it's aimed at the filthy rich. As Streeter puts it:
Multi-millionaires shouldn’t receive Social Security checks or have their knee replacements paid by Medicare. Scaling benefits to income is called means-testing, and we should all embrace it for entitlement programs. Ryan’s budget introduces means-testing into Medicare, which is a great start.
No, it is a bad start. If (as appears possible) hyper-inflation gets into gear, there are going to be a lot more multi-millionaires, as there are in Zimbabwe. They'll have millions of five-cent dollars. And, of course, once the government runs out of multi-millionaires, then it can means-test millionaires, then the rich, then People Who Have More Than They Deserve, and finally People Who Have More Than Others.

But there is a more important, and moral, objection to this proposal. Everyone who has received a paycheck or run a business has paid into the Medicare program. Medicare, like Social Security, isn't a gift. It's a return on money extracted via a forced loan from working Americans.


For the government to decide now that it doesn't need to repay the loan to those who have "means" is larceny. It's no different from an individual borrowing money from someone -- and it's usually the well-off who lend money -- and then refusing to repay it on the grounds that the lender is doing pretty well.

We may be willing to sacrifice. We shouldn't agree to be sacrificed.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Le Doulos


Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Doulos, in a typically excellent DVD transfer from Criterion, was a pleasant surprise. I've seen Melville's most celebrated films -- Bob le Flambeur, Le Samourai, Army of Shadows, Le Cercle Rouge, Un Flic -- and they usually left me wavering between admiration and inattention. Both responses were largely for the same reason: the director's fondness for weary nihilism.

Melville (a nom du cinema, which he adopted out of enthusiasm for Herman Melville) was usually strong on atmosphere and visual composition. His generation of French filmmakers went slightly bonkers on the auteur theory -- the idea that the director is the "author" of a film based on the personal style he imposed on the material. They claimed to have derived the notion from junk Hollywood movies (mainly gangster and suspense films) they believed were transformed into a kind of art by the director's touch.

Of the three directors most identified with the auteur theory -- Melville, Godard, and Truffaut -- only Melville strikes me as being a genuine author, and the most talented of the triumvirate. There's no doubt that he had a vision of what he wanted his movies to look and feel like, with the technique to realize it.

But that vision could carry his work only so far. Bleak, yes, sometimes to the point of being icy. Injections of Existential Dread. And a certain distance plus emotional sterility, partly due to his casting the marginally alive Alain Delon in several of the films. (Dwight Macdonald described Delon, I think in The Leopard, as "a decorative hole in the middle of the picture.")

Le Doulos, released in 1962, has Melville's signature neo-'40s look carried -- almost -- to a comical extreme. But for once, the drama isn't smothered under a pictorialist blanket. The thing has external, not just internal, drive. It moves.

Part of what distinguishes Le Doulos from Melville's other crime films is the casting. Instead of Delon's talking-statue routine, we have Jean-Paul Belmondo, a year after he created a sensation in Godard's Breathless, and he's equally commanding here. He may not have been a great technical actor, but he owned one of those proverbial faces the camera loves, and could project a fascinating mixture of cruelty, sensuality, and feline grace.

The luxury casting also includes Serge Reggiani, in a striking performance as a crook who spent years in jail after being set up by -- well, that's for you to figure out. Reggiani plays a soulful, haunted killer, but energy spills from him; he's no watery mope. The other standout in the cast is Jean Desailly as a police commissaire. He interrogates Belmondo in what I have since learned from reading is a much-admired scene among film buffs. So it should be. It punches through the screen: two utterly self-confident personalities on opposite sides trying to get the better of one another.

(The critics I've read all seem to think the scene's greatness lies in being a single take eight minutes long. Do they view movies with a stop-watch? Do they notice acting? Screen presence? The shot could have been eight minutes of tedium with another director and other actors.)

Why the kinetic vitality that Melville's other films mostly lack? I suspect it's down to the actors, who weren't the sort to be turned into bloodless symbols, if that's what Melville had in mind. Maybe when Melville saw the gifts that Belmondo, Reggiani, and Desailly were lavishing on his concept, he got into the spirit and let them run with it.

As to the plot, forget it. You can play the game of who did what to whom, but you'll probably be frustrated. It's maddeningly confusing. By the end, I sort of knew the what, but not the why or how. That would require seeing Le Doulos another time or two. I wouldn't mind.


Thursday, April 07, 2011

DARE to keep government off drugs

DARE (the cute abbreviation for Drug Abuse Resistance Education) is one of hundreds of federal tax-supported -- no, make that borrowing-supported -- federal programs that should be sent to the recycle bin pronto.

Joseph McBrennan, an editor at the Taipan Publishing Group, notes that this well-meaning scheme is so worthless that even federal agencies can't find anything to say for it. (Taipan Publishing Group sells investment advice; I am not endorsing it, although its free content, like that of Bill Bonner and the gang at The Daily Reckoning, is often entertaining if you have a taste for black humor about the U.S. economic train wreck.)

McBrennan recounts what led him to declare war against DARE:
My fight started innocently enough when my daughter, attending a private Catholic elementary school, came home and announced that my wife and I were "drug addicts."

The drug she was referring to was beer. She had learned from the DARE officer that alcohol was considered a drug, and anyone that consumed more than two beers an evening was addicted. Being a three-pint man, it was clear I was guilty as charged.
This isn't too surprising. Drug "education" has been a growth industry, having defined addiction down to the point that almost anything you do because you like it shows you're an addict, and likely soon to be a derelict, sleeping in a cardboard box and holding a tin cup asking for spare beer, spare chocolate, spare sex, or whatever you fancy.
Not wanting to appear rash before calling the school, I thought I had better do some research. It wasn't hard. Google provided more than 63 million hits. The research has shown, time and time again, that DARE is an ineffective government program (sorry, that's redundant). Yet it is currently being taught to 36 million children annually, and is now in 54 countries other than the United States.
Government program cancer is among the hardest forms of the disease to cure. No do-good effort can ever be acknowledged to have failed; at worst, it needs more funding to reach its goals. The programs are "for the children" or childlike adults. No one says it out loud, but they hire the otherwise unemployable and give members of the low-IQ underclass something to do with their hands (completing forms and entering meaningless data) and with their mouths (meetings).
Even the United States General Accounting Office said the program had "no statistically significant long-term effect on preventing youth illicit drug use."

It is always nice to have the accountants in your corner, but when even a government agency that literally has mastered the craft of wasteful spending turn its nose up at this program, you've really accomplished something. My best source comes from none other than the U.S. Department of Education.
The U.S. DOE refuses to allow any federal education funds to be spent on the DARE program because the program is completely ineffective in curbing alcohol or drug abuse.
Until the bills came due for years of government deficit spending, nobody much was bothered about DARE and the hundreds of similar boondoggles. We the People were flipping houses, the market was going up, and DARE was just part of the cost of living.

Now that the U.S. economic system depends on Fed-created vapormoney and millions of formerly productive people are on the beach, the anesthesia is wearing off.

But public employees have unions and lobbyists. Congresscreatures know they have a lot to lose and, personally, very little to gain by pruning back useless agencies and task forces. Plus -- again unspoken, but at the back of every economist's mind -- is a scary question: if we disband these government playpens, how are their employees to find other jobs? It's no secret that the private sector is deeply reluctant, usually with good reason, to hire ex-government workers except high-level ones who can transition to lobbying.

But we can no longer afford (if we ever could) to keep the federal government supplied with its drug of choice, namely, creating public sector jobs as dole money by another name and Democratic vote plantations. If there is economic pain, as there surely is, let it at least be shared while we try desperately to rebuild a prosperous economy.

Government has a valid role to play. It made possible the railroads that tied together the country in the 19th century and the highway system that did so in the 20th. It has sponsored a good deal of research and development that has been turned to beneficial and profitable purposes. Where public health and safety are concerned, there must be some institution powerful enough to stand up to corporations when the need arises. My guess is, all that could be accomplished with about 10 percent of our present non-military government workforce. Let's DARE to try it.


Tuesday, April 05, 2011

A fossil find in Boston

After the outrage following the September 11 terrorist attacks had subsided somewhat, a jihadi fellow traveler corps stepped forward to assure us we had earned what we got. We were insensitive to the Muslim world. Bullies and Bigots 'R' Us.

The party line has notably changed since then. Events like the Afghan Head Chopper Ball this weekend make the good guys (them) vs. bad guys (us) paradigm a tough sell. So, the Left and the neo-cons have put aside their petty differences to make common cause. Anybody gets too fractious in the Middle East, we'll flip Tomahawk missiles and bombs at them till they plead for Democracy.

Muslim apologetics in their purest form are thin on the ground these days, which is why I welcome a column by James Carroll at Only a paleontologist finding a half-billion-year-old insect preserved in amber knows the joy of finding such a specimen.

James Carroll writes:
There is evidence that Muslims in the United States are disproportionately discriminated against (according to Justice Department figures, 14 percent of religious discrimination cases involve Muslim institutions, while Muslims make up 1 percent of the US population). But pervasive negative attitudes toward Islam go far deeper into the American psyche even than these manifestations suggest, for contempt toward the religion of Mohammed is a foundational pillar of Western civilization.
Yes, the ancient Greeks and Romans looked into the future, read the omens and saw the sweep of Araby across the desert sands. Cato the Elder was famous for saying in the Senate, again and again, "Mecca must be destroyed." Doubtless Carroll is correct that the Justice Department has a surplus of religious discrimination "cases" involving Muslims. Since a case is the automatic result of a complaint, clearly Muslims claim more discrimination than anyone else.

Carroll again:
From early on, Western civilization understood itself positively against the negative foil of Islam, a polarity that was institutionalized during the decisive centuries of the Crusades. That Christendom failed to liberate the Holy Land from infidel control only made permanent the fear and hatred of Islam.
A sliver of truth resides here among the glittering generalities. The Crusades were not Western civilization's finest hour. No honor, no glory. Furthermore, almost everything about the various Crusades was as badly planned and executed as the Iraq occupation that has been our occupation for nigh eight years.
Taking the movement’s impressively rapid spread into Asia, across Africa, to Iberia as the result only of violence (jihad, which in Arabic means spiritual effort, was misunderstood), Christians entirely missed the key factor that generated the religion’s astonishing appeal. ...

Mohammed’s insistence on the immateriality of God, against prevailing tribal cults built around material representations of deities (idols), was the heart of that revolution. God’s immateriality is the precondition of a felt intimacy with God, universally available to every believer. The "oneness" of God that defined Mohammed’s revelation, also known as monotheism, enabled individual human participation in that oneness. Each one in communion with one God.
Carroll appears not to have heard of Judaism or Christianity, both of which twigged monotheism centuries before Islam. Even Mohammed gave his predecessors credit.
Ignorant Western assumptions about Islam’s inherent slant toward violence still undergird the prejudice that defined preoccupations in Congress last month. But more than civil rights violations are at issue. After all, America’s war on terrorism was launched, protests to the contrary notwithstanding, with a generic Muslim all but explicitly identified as this nation’s enemy.
Nonsense. The war on terrorism was spectacularly bungled in large part because it could never define the enemy as having anything to do with Islam. We were assured with the regularity of rain in Scotland that Islam was a religion of peace. Islam was waiting for democracy; we just had to clear out a few extremists who sullied its name, turn our armed forces into Peace Corps volunteers digging wells and building schools, and the Muslim world would rise up as one into the sunshine of Democracy, the universal solvent.

"Ignorant Western assumptions about Islam’s inherent slant toward violence ... ." Ignorant indeed. How could anyone possibly have such a biased assumption? If you want to see how ridiculous our prejudice about Muslim violence is, this site should set you straight.
Many Americans have since learned to be self-critical about the visceral Islamophobia that followed upon 9/11. But for every Senator Durbin there is a Representative King. That we must decry the bigotry means it lives. Acknowledging that this ancient current runs silent and deep below the ocean of our history is the start of getting free of it.
As I noted, James Carroll has given us a reminder of the good old days on the Left when everything was simple, and people like him knew what was what and were happy to share their knowledge with us. Only one thing mars the complacent perfection of that paragraph. How does a current run "silent and deep" below an ocean?

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Civilized people share no "common humanity" with this mob


So, let's look at the scoreboard. One Koran burning vs. two UN staff (presumably in Afghanistan on a "peacekeeping" or humanitarian mission) beheaded; possibly six others killed; followed a day later by gunmen attacking a U.S. military installation.

Ladies and gentlemen! It's time to play "You Bet Your Life," followed by an episode of "Moral Equivalence." Imam Obama speaks:
The desecration of any holy text, including the Koran, is an act of extreme intolerance and bigotry. However, to attack and kill innocent people in response is outrageous, and an affront to human decency and dignity. No religion tolerates the slaughter and beheading of innocent people, and there is no justification for such a dishonorable and deplorable act.

Now is a time to draw upon the common humanity that we share, and that was so exemplified by the U.N. workers who lost their lives trying to help the people of Afghanistan.
Leaving aside the redundancy of "common" and "share" -- uh-oh, I guess I didn't leave it aside -- in one statement, Obama encapsulates the absurdity of America's and the West's intervention-is-forever stance toward militant Islam. Ten years stuck on the Afghan flypaper, and we're still trying to build a nation from tribes with not much in common except hatred of the Great Satan, i.e., the United States. 

Afghanistan has created a commonality -- not between us and the Afghans, but between Obama and the neo-cons. They are agreed: whatever the cost in lives, military resources, and our overdrawn international goodwill account, it's worth it because some century soon, we will bring the blessings of democracy to the Muslim world. Meanwhile, we have to put up with little misunderstandings like Friday's slaughter-the-Infidel party.

If we in fact have have a common humanity with these savages, it's time to tender our resignation from the human race.