Friday, April 30, 2004

Left Behind (oo-er!)

This entry was originally going to be an update to a post below about gay marriage, but I came to conclude it merited its own post. DC-area gay paper The Washington Blade published a column about a week ago, which was linked to by Volokh. The writer, one Bruce Carroll, argues that gay rights groups are responsible for the anti-gay marriage backlash by provoking the religious right.

Since two-thirds of Americans oppose gay marriage, and the same percentage support legal protections for gays in the workplace, then why, I asked, are the radical gay groups forcing marriage down the throats of America at this time? But it wasn’t the “religious right” or President Bush who started this round of the culture war. It was us. The battle was clearly started by gay activists who adopted the tactic of challenging marriage laws across the country....[W]e need to step up and admit that the responsibility of the gay marriage debate, good or bad, is squarely on the shoulders and the consciences of the so-called leaders of the Human Rights Campaign, National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, Log Cabin Republicans and their ilk....[I]nstead of appreciating the feelings of most Americans and undertaking a long-term commitment to educate our nation about who we are, our leaders took the easy way and went to the courts to dictate one version of morality and forced tolerance from the bench. That strategy is faulty and will never work....Gay leaders will scratch their heads and wonder what went wrong, but the fact that they don’t “get it” is proof enough that we need to find a new way and new leadership....The path to gay marriage is not to force Americans to accept a morality they are not prepared to embrace. Instead of radical gay groups spending their precious few dollars, time and resources engaging in court fights and street battles, it’s time to turn our attention to the hearts and minds of mainstream America....Until the leaders of these radical gay groups come to grips that they have wasted precious years on counterproductive strategies, we will continue to face these predictable setbacks to gay marriage and other issues with increasing frequency. Until all of us start reaching out to mainstream Americans, instead of shouting in their faces, we will continue to be responsible for our own failures.
emphases mine
Replace "gay" with "progressive" and Mr. Carroll expresses far more concisely my beef with the liberal-left.

The People have spoken - the Bastards!

The failures of the liberal-left are due less (if at all) to the "institutionalization of power" or somesuch Chomskyite claptrap and more to Machiavellian revolutionary tactics (not that there's anything wrong with Machiavellian tactics, but they sure don't build trust) that resemble a distrust of democracy. There's something deeply hypocritical about using phrases like "Power to the People!" in public and "false consciousness" in private. For all its democratic rhetoric, the liberal-left (really just the left, but liberals who see "no enemies on the left" and therefore don't challenge them are just as responsible) is blind to the fact that democracy means that we don't always get the policy we want if enough people are opposed to it. "What do we want? [Something!] When do we want it? Now!" is an inherently un-democratic attitude.

Michael Moore describes Americans as "progressive-thinking, liberal-leaning, good-hearted people," "[e]ight in ten [of whom] believe that health insurance should be provided equally to everyone in the country. And 52 percent say they would be willing to pay more in taxes or insurance premiums to see that happen." For once - you may want to sit down for this - I believe that Moore is absolutely right. Would the vast majority of Americans really turn down universal health care? F*ck, no! Of course not! So why aren't more liberal initiatives successful? Why don't Americans elect more liberal officials? Mostly because of Michael Moore and people like him. When Michael Moore - or other famous liberals like Tim Robbins or Susan Sarandon - gives a talk at a rally preceded and followed by speakers who are openly contemptuous of the United States, its culture and its people and he fails to challenge them, doesn't it ever occur to him that this might hurt the causes he supports? There are enemies on the left, dammit! And they rob liberals of their credibility.

As with the Christian religion, the worst advertisement for Socialism is its adherents.
- George Orwell, The Road to Wigan

In a post on abortion, I mentioned a pro-life Jewish woman who would consider joining the pro-life movement if she weren't afraid of Christian evangelism. After her concern was relayed to a leader - a Christian - of the protest the Jewish woman was observing, he replied, We just might. Voters fear, with justification or without, that if they hand liberals too much power, they may as well just take up arms and instigate the Revolution themselves. Bill Clinton's Sister Souljah moment and Tony Blair's removal of Clause 4 were shibboleths signalling to the voting public (not least independents, moderates and open-minded center-right voters), Hey, if you elect us, you won't be putting the inmates in charge of the asylum. And they won. Maybe it's not progressivism that voters are afraid of, but rather progressives.

Democracy means that we don't always get what we want when we want it. This doesn't preclude trying again later. It was almost a century from the Declaration of Independence to the Emancipation Proclamation and almost another century again to Brown vs. Board of Ed. The suffering of African-Americans and the justice of abolition and desegregation obscures the fact that the Constitution is designed to be a wrench in the works of revolutionary change, no matter how just the cause. But Bush ran as a moderate and is governing as a reactionary, you might say. The Constitution prevents change, I said, It doesn't halt it altogether. The Constitution has checks and balances like NASA's got redundant backup systems. Mark my words, the Supreme Court will spend the next years knocking down provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act. Besides the USA PATRIOT Act isn't all bad, such measures as those knocking down walls between intelligence and law enforcement were long overdue. The court system will winnow out the egregious measures. The Constitution is like the drain at the bottom of the tub, allowing us to keep the baby but not the bathwater. But we have to remember that drains are inherently slower at getting rid of water. Bypassing public opinion, no matter how just the cause, has its costs. After a Civil War fought by a Republican President, the South was solidly Democratic until a Democratic President signed the Civil Rights Act. Abolition and desegregation were worth that price, but not all causes are. Gay marriage certainly isn't when an almost-as-good-but-far-cheaper substitute is available in the form of domestic partnerships. The revolutionary mindset is eternally blind to fact that, it doesn't matter what cause you're fighting for, public opinion never appreciates being ridden over roughshod. The White House would do well to heed this lesson with regard to the Arab Street. It may not be fair to kill the messenger (except maybe if he shot his way to the throne room), but he'd better know his audience for his own sake.


Anyone-but-Kelly for President

Seen on Volokh

What to do about magicians, who have powers that they acquired without the help of demons, and who can use those powers for good as well as for ill, is a tough call. Likewise with people who have superpowers that they've always had, and that they can't shed.

Imagine we discovered that there were telepaths living among us, people who could undetectably read our minds, in a way that we couldn't block. Or imagine that there were people who could undetectably control into our minds, in a way that we couldn't block. Would we be justified in locking them up, or even killing them?


Thursday, April 29, 2004

Oh, sh*t! Mike Wallace! Run!

Norman Geras has posted an excerpt from an article in the Guardian about "Luton's Muslims['] march for peace".

In recent years the Bedfordshire town of Luton has come to be seen as a hotbed of Islamism, one of the country's chief breeding grounds for terrorists. Yesterday the town's Muslim community tried to puncture the stereotype, using a religious parade to convey the message that the vast majority of its members abhor violence.

More than 500 members of local mosques, including boys and old men, and many teenagers - just the sort the extremists target - took part in the march.

Some carried placards which emphasised that Islam was a peaceful religion and complained at the way they and their faith are portrayed in the media.

Others chanted and recited poetry calling for an end to violence.
I make a point of reciprocating compromise and concession but this march is not so much about repudiating Islamic fundamentalists as it is media depictions of Islamic fundamentalists.
The vibrant Muslim community in Luton, around 25,000 adults, has been organising the annual march for almost 20 years to celebrate the birthday of the prophet Mohammed.

What made this year's celebration different was the growing feeling among Luton's Muslims that their community is being unfairly maligned and their religion misrepresented.

Earlier this month, Luton was one of the areas targeted in police raids aimed at disrupting an alleged Islamist terrorist bomb plot. Media reports pointed out that the radical group al-Muhajiroun often carried out recruitment drives in Luton.

The group's local leader, Sayful Islam, made inflammatory remarks condoning the bomb attacks in Madrid, Bali and elsewhere.

But Akbar Dad Khan, of the community group Building Bridges which promotes racial harmony, said yesterday: "He is one of the people whose views are given prominence. He is seen as a man of importance by outsiders.

"But he represents the views of perhaps half a dozen people in Luton."

Speaking in the packed courtyard of the Central Mosque, from where the march began, Mr Khan, a local businessman, said: "Today we want to say in a very public way that the Muslim community in Luton completely rejects such views. There is not the sort of problem in the town which the media tries to portray."
Muslim advocacy groups all over the West echo this stance, which reminds me of the campaign by Italian-American advocacy groups against movies and television programs that feature Italian gangsters. The Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Order of Sons of Italy in America seem to buy their hammers from the same store. How can I tell? 'Cause even if it's a screw, a nut or a bolt, they keep using the same old hammer on it: cast the unfair media as the villain instead of, oh, I don't know, actual murderers. Those Italian-American advocates who claimed, "There's no such thing as the mafia, it doesn't exist," paved the way for Muslim advocates to say, "Islam has nothing to do with terrorism". Destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas? Change the subject: "Foreigners are more concerned with statues than with starving Afghan children." September 11th? Sophistry: "Islam means 'peace' so obviously Islam cannot possibly have anything to do with violence." And my personal favorite, what, for now, I'll call the argument from incompleteness. I know that name is already taken but maybe readers more deeply versed in philosophy than I will let me know the technical term for this fallacy (please).
Premise: Not all A's are B's.
Conclusion: No A's are B's.
Averroes would be so proud.

Definitions of "extremism," "violence" and "terrorism" are often subjected to semantic contortion and qualification. "It's not terrorist violence; it's a martyrdom operation." I don't claim to be an expert on the history of Imperial-era Rome, but I don't recall Christians taking any lions with them on their way out. I'll be convinced of sincerity and good faith when signs saying "Muslims oppose sharia in non-Muslim countries" become a common sight.

Chris Rock puts all this far more pithily than I.
I see some black people looking at me: "Man, why you got to say that? It ain't us, it's the media. The media has distorted our image to make us look bad." Please, cut the shit, OK? When I go to the money machine at night, I ain't looking over my back for the media. I'm looking for n*ggers!
UPDATE: BBC News also covered the march.

UPDATED to include a link to a Washington Post article about how Muslims in Ontario may now arbitrate certain civil, as opposed to criminal, disputes, e.g. "family disagreements and inheritance, business and divorce issues" in accordance with shari'a under a 1991 law under which Jews and Christians done the same according to their own religious principles.

Those of you under the impression that I'm a raging Islamophobe may be surprised to hear that Ontario allowing shari'a arbitration, in and of itself, does not alarm me. I absolutely believe that experiments in governance are a necessary part of liberalism. I can even see how this development might have positive knock-on effects; Ontarian Muslim tribunals could become the shari'a equivalent of the famously liberal American Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, demonstrating how shari'a can be implemented in accordance with liberty.

I am concerned about that some might attempt to expand its jurisdiction, a la Nigeria. The article does not address jurisdiction over cases between Muslim and non-Muslim parties where the Muslim party would prefer to submit the case to shari'a tribunal and the non-Muslim party would prefer Canadian law. I doubt that such a case would, in the end, be arbitrated by shari'a tribunal, but I'm more curious as to how the Muslim community would react. Would they recognize and respect the voluntary nature of shari'a arbitration in Canada or would they regard it as a violation of their rights?

UPDATE: Even if Akbar Dad Khan is correct and "99.9% of Muslims in Luton oppose terrorism," does that mean that the 0.1% who do should be ignored? The characteristic complaint of Mr. Khan, and community advocates like him - no matter the community, is that the media focuses on the extremist minority rather than the peaceful majority. These advocates, concerned only with the perception of their communities, show little comprehension of the concept of newsworthiness or the responsibilities of the media. The minority of extremists such as Sayful Islam is given prominence because their presence is a matter of concern to the general public. The media is not under any obligation to make any community "look good". It is a waste of the media's effort and resources as well as readers' and viewers' time to report "Everything A-OK" on those days when the extremist or violent minority hasn't done anything newsworthy.

UPDATE: From Randy McDonald's Livejournal
In a letter that I sent to the Toronto Star in limited defense of the French ban on the hijab, someone in the comments made the point that although an often extreme misogyny is present in many Muslim countries, this misogyny isn't intrinsic to Islam. That's a valid point, and I agree with it. What I don't agree with, however, is the poster's statement that this misogyny has nothing to do with Islam....To my mind, it's completely irresponsible for practitioners of any ideology to deny the legitimacy of extremists in their movement. Claiming that the misogynists of the FIS and GIA aren't Muslims, or that the numerous Christians who aide and abet anti-Semitism in its various forms aren't real Christians, or that the Hebron settlers aren't real Zionists, or that Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot aren't real Communists, or that the mobs who massacred thousands of Muslims in Gujarat last year aren't made up of real Hindus--all of these excuses are cheap ways to escape responsibility for your ideology's bad side-effects....If there are many noble and good things in your ideology of choice, though, and if you think that your ideology should be known for these things instead of for horrible crimes, you can't simply ignore your ideology's connection to and responsibility for those crimes, for by so doing you passively collaborate in its bad marketing. And if you deny your ideology's connection outright, then you're either misinformed or lying.
via Gene Expression

Gene Expression has been linked under Esoterica & Eclectica


Pimps up, hoes down

Laban Tall links to a photographs of an Australian school's "pimps'n'hoes"-themed dance. Not that I'm not grateful for the link, but how does Laban find himself on a teenage Asian schoolgirl's blog?

Laban redeems himself by linking to an essay in The New Republic on gay marriage by Shelby Steele. Steele's argument is the strongest I've yet encountered for limiting marriage to heterosexuals; Steele's argument is assisted immensely in this respect by also being the only strong argument against gay marriage I've encountered. But don't hold that against it; Steele's case stands on its own merits. The fact that the words "Christian," "Jesus" and "God" are nowhere to be found in his essay makes his argument credible and relevant to non-Christian and non-religious readers.

Before reading Steele's essay, my personal position on gay marriage was, I fully support domestic partnership rights and think full gay marriage would be nice, but not necessary. Steele has not changed my mind on domestic partnership rights; his inexplicable evasion of this particular issue is a glaring error of omission that is my only grounds for docking points from his essay. However, Steele's views on love and marriage are premises I share and that has me questioning my support for gay marriage.

When [marriage] is defined, as [Andrew] Sullivan says he would have it be, around "the unifying experience of love," it becomes nearly as fickle as love itself--a nasty fight, a single betrayal away from dissolution. Marriage brings "stability" to love by humbling it, by making it often less important than the responsibilities to family and community.

When love and fulfillment are of first importance, marriage weakens as an institution, as the high divorce rates of recent decades illustrate....[A]dult happiness is more the test of marriages today than family stability.
To feel without making a fool of myself. To work when it is not enough to wish. To play at love no more, my queen, and love in truth perhaps.
- John Ney Rieber, The Books of Magic: Summonings


Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Of realism and reason

Social-realism, that is, and "reason" according to [eyes roll] Ayn Rand.

Abiola Lapite dittoes a Libertarian Alliance review of The Passion of Ayn Rand by David Ramsay Steele. (Do they scourge her? 'Cause I'd totally pay ten bucks to see that! I don't think so, but the movie version was direct to Showtime so be ready for homoeroticism. Boy-boy or girl-girl?*)

One question I can easily envision being asked is why I and other subscribers to libertarianism would be so antagonistic to the work of someone who subscribes to largely the same set of values we do - individualism, a healthy respect for self-interest, and a belief in free-markets as the right way to go. I can't say with confidence that my answer will necessarily be typical of that offered by other libertarians, but for me at least, all questions of literary merit aside, I do not believe that my cause is really furthered in the long-run by fallacious and simple-minded arguments; what is more, I find the cultish tendencies of the Randroids extremely disturbing as a believer in individualism. If I were intent on discrediting libertarianism as a body of ideas, I could think of no easier and surer way to do so than to allow it to become associated in the public mind with Objectivism, neo-Confederate "paleolibertarianism", gold-standard fetishism, and other kooky movements that would give pause to any reasonable person who was exposed to them. The more sensible liberals were wise enough to recognize the folly of the notion that there could be "no enemies on the left", and sensible libertarians likewise recognize that there are movements that aren't worth associating with.
From the review itself
Well, there is a lot of talk about reason and individualism, just as among Bolsheviks there is a lot of talk about science. But reason does not consist in shrieking the word 'reason' all the time. It consists in subjecting one's ideas to rational criticism, holding every position tentatively, and being prepared to abandon any position if it is successfully criticised. Reason consists, as Socrates put it, in 'following the argument wherever it leads', especially. of course, if it leads where you don't want to go. There is no evidence that the Randists understood the most elementary requirements of rational discourse. Branden quotes Sidney Hook, from his review of Rand's For the New Intellectual: "Despite the great play with the word 'reason', one is struck by the absence of any serious argument in this unique combination of tautology and extravagant absurdity." (321) That is exactly right. The Objectivists, no less than the devotees of a theistic sect, are engaged in abusing their minds by reiterating articles of faith.
Rand asserts that ethics is entirely based on reason, and that the supreme moral virtue is selfishness. or rational self-interest....This seems clear enough: it is moral to do what is to one's advantage, and immoral to do what is against one's advantage. It follows that it is moral to cheat, murder, and steal, on those occasions where a rational analysis shows this to be to one's advantage. But no such conclusion is drawn by Rand. Respecting other people's lives and property, even when this hurts one's bank balance or survival prospects, is stated to be in one's rational self-interest. From a biological point of view - maximising one's chances of survival, good health, or reproduction - this is obviously not always the case.....[T]here is no clear stipulation of how the nature of man as a rational being, or the values which it is permissible for a rational egoist to cherish. are to be determined. The outcome is that Rand appears to be urging egoism. but is actually urging unselfish sacrifice of one's interests to what she tells us is the life proper to a rational being. All this terrible confusion and double-talk arises because Rand cannot stomach the manifest truth that it can be to a person's advantage to violate the rights of another person. If ethics is to tell us that people's rights may not he violated, it must tell us that we ought sometimes to do things against our own interests.
Abiola approvingly notes the reviewer's reference to Rand's appropriation of social-realist aesthetics. This isn't often brought up, probably as a result of rabid reactions by Rand fanatics at the slightest insinuation that their prophet (pbuh) ripped off a bunch of collectivists. However, Rand formulated her philosophy and organized her "movement" deliberately as a mirror universe version of Marxism.

Abiola Lapite has been linked under Current Affairs

*Also from Steele's review
[Barbara Branden, the author of The Passion of Ayn Rand] does note that Rand had problems with her own femininity, that when she was young she had a fierce crush on a beautiful female tennis-player, that Rand wore short hair and a cape, chain-smoked. and for a while even carried a cane, that she was always strangely drawn to beautiful women. Naively or wisely, Branden who psychologises a lot on other matters, does not speculate about this.
One imdb user review of the film adaptation entitled "Testimony of a disgruntled former associate" that starts "I didn't rate the film (having not seen it and having only read the book)" and finishes "This is the position of the Barbara Branden book - to suggest Rand's achievements are trivial without demonstrating the capability to challenge them" also complains,
And although I have no basis to comment on casting, it would be a good idea in future film treatment of her character to use a European actress, not an American one, to portray her - as done here. It takes a European to play one, since they have a different educational history than what American public education has afforded its actresses. In other words, most American actresses couldn't handle the literate dialog.
emphasis mine
The reviewer, occupant-1, correctly notes that Ayn Rand was European, specifically Russian. In the film, Rand is played by London native Helen Mirren, born Ilyena Vasilievna Mironova, granddaughter of a Russian aristocrat stranded in Britain by the Bolshevik Revolution.

I normally wouldn't pass judgment on someone on the basis of an imdb user review, but I'm making an exception in this case. Congratulations, occupant-1, not only have you made it onto the Way of the Intercepting Fisk Official List of "Fackin' Eedjits" in record time, but you've managed to debut at Number #1 on your very first try, not unlike a Beatles of the f*ckwit charts.

(Does Helen Mirren get naked in this one? I don't know but, judging from her track record, I'd say your chances of middle-aged-yet-somehow-still-scorchingly-hot Anglo-Russian nudity are pretty good. So there's a possibility of Helen Mirren-Julie Delpy nekkid girl-on-girl action? Sweet.)


It's Big meets The Family Man meets If Only...

13 Going On 30
* * * * * grading on a chick flick curve
* * * 1/2 even if you hate chick flicks

13 Going On 30 plunges its hand into Big's chest, rips out its still-beating heart, and devours it, dripping gore and all. Tom Hanks was first nominated for the Best Actor Oscar all the way back in 1989 for his performance in Big; Jennifer Garner pwns! his ass. It was well-written too. And I hate chick flicks.


Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Take a hike

From BBC News

Moscow has asked the US to pay $9m in back rent for its ambassador's residence, for which Washington pays less than $3 a year.
You pay your parking tickets and we'll pay your rent increase, how 'bout that?


That horse has bolted...

You know, Jesse, there are black Africans in western Sudan being ethnically cleansed who could use a champion in the West to call attention to their plight.

That is, if you aren't too busy shutting that stable door.

...but this one hasn't. Yet.

via Volokh


O would some Power the gift to give us...

The Virginia Postrel definition of liberal

liberals--the non-socialist, non-Marxist people who make up the mainstream of the Democratic Party and, for that matter, American journalism--are...dramatically underrepresented.....[In] the world according to David Horowitz...there are no liberals, only the left and a few token anti-leftists for "balance."
If you're expecting me to tear into Postrel, you're going to be disappointed. I think her distinction between liberal and left is spot-on. And too few American liberals recognize the need to erect a Chinese wall between themselves and the left.

The last peak of influence enjoyed by American liberals took place in the 1960s. If they wish to ever have again the power to make a real difference, American liberals must learn from the subsequent divergence between its fortunes and those of American conservatives. While American liberals were indulging leftist extremism, William F. Buckley was purging the American right of its kooks, planting the seed for the ascendancy of modern American conservatism that bore the fruit of the Reagan Presidency and the Gingrich Congress. The White House returned to the Democrats for the Carter Administration largely due to the Watergate scandal. Otherwise, there was no reversal in the decline in the fortunes of American liberals until 1992, when a Democrat running for office demonstrated his possession of both eyes and testicles by publicly acknowledging and criticizing the racism inherent to Afrocentrism and black nationalism. That candidate, Bill Clinton, went on to win the following two Presidential elections, overseeing an Administration during which the American people enjoyed an unprecedented prosperity.

Liberals have been subjected to a kind of intellectual entryism that conflates Marxism and Marxist-derived ideas with liberal-left sympathies. The liberal-left's compassion for poor people in poor countries finds expression in an anti-capitalism despite the unimaginably successful development of the Asian tigers, formerly poor countries whose citizens now enjoy a developed country quality of life - two of those countries, Taiwan and South Korea, have made peaceful transitions from authoritarianism to democracy - as a result of, yes, capitalism and even investment by hated multinationals. Much environmental activism has developed the same anti-capitalist tic on the assumption that socialism is inherently easier on ecosystems, an assumption that flies in the face of the demonstrated success of pollution credits and the privatization of fish stocks, the empirical example of Chernobyl and our knowledge of Eastern European reliance on highly polluting brown coal during the communist period. A steady march towards legal and political equality for all was overtaken and run down by ideologies perversely empowered by claims of perpetual powerlessness who betray their Marxist pedigree by aspiring to revolutionary transformations of society and fixating on "class" or some proxy thereof, most commonly race and gender.

In his review of Donald Sassoon's One Hundred Years of Socialism, Paul Berman noted that, after defeat in the Cold War discredited communism, socialism has "modestly shriveled into what it always should have been: an ethical orientation, not an economic how-to guide". Any revival of American progressivism lives and dies by its exponents' ability to keep the two distinct and separate. Its compulsion to act on its compassionate urges has always been the liberal-left's greatest virtue; the vice to which it is most susceptible an arrogant certainty in the efficacy of its chosen course of action.

...To see ourselves as others see us


Monday, April 26, 2004

Extreme makeover

Looking good, Fistful of Euros!



See? Talentless, dumb-as-post heiresses can have a sense of irony

[Paris Hilton] sued a Panama- based internet company for $30 million [claiming] the sex-tape was "intended only for personal use".
Oh, it will be, Ms. Hilton.

There's never been any doubt about that.

via imdb

With the most effusive apologies to Mr. Neil Gaiman


Expect light blogging for the next month

I won't be gone; just expect fewer monster essay posts for the next few weeks.

Also, gmail? Rocks.


Mercy Mercy Me

Another nuanced position from Thoughtful ConservativeTM Sebastian Holsclaw, this time on environmentalism.

[H]uman beings alter environments and like many complex systems the effects may not be obvious or direct. Conservatives are aware of this possibility in complex human interactions, and should be willing to extend the train of thought to complex environmental systems....[C]onservatives could come up with an excellent environmental ideology which....would contain elements of social pressure, an awareness of diminishing returns (especially in government action) and a willingness to really balance costs and benefits (as opposed to pretending to balance them while trying to allow a company to do whatever it wants).
The latter was a long overdue acknowledgement from the Right of how conservative environmental policy too often operates. Then again, I've learned to expect nothing less than a frank assessment of reality from Sebastian.

Sebastian's own blog (as opposed to Obsidian Wings, the already-linked group blog to which he contributes) has been linked under Current Affairs


I'm John Galt, bitch!

Aaron McGruder was right! The Republicans are gangsta for real!

Republicans know they can't appeal to youth or African-American* voters on substance so they try to compete on style, not that that's condescending or anything.

Perhaps their efforts would have been better spent consolidating their traditional punk constituency.

via tacitus

*'One Republican official familiar with the White House strategy likened the party's pursuit of what he called the chimera of the Jewish vote to the party's eternal quest for substantial African American support. "If it were true that these voters vote only on Israel, we would already be carrying the Jewish vote," the official said.' The Washington Post, April 15, 2004, "Move Could Help Bush Among Jewish Voters"


Vous mettez votre chocolat dans mon beurre de cacahuetes!

The undeniably Gallic epicure Clotilde@Chocolate & Zucchini writes a paean to the all-American peanut butter cup.

And in the lobby, all screaming orange and blue with our cool 3D logo up on the wall, there was a bucket-sized bowl, filled with mini peanut butter cups. I assumed these were for guests, to nibble on while they waited, but I still picked up a few, from time to time, on my way out. At the first traffic light, I would unwrap the golden foil. At the second, I would start loosening the sides of the small ribbed paper cup, but very gently, so as not to lose too much chocolate into the creases. At the third, I would free the chocolate bite from its casing. And once on highway 82, picking up speed, turning the music on louder, checking the clock to see if carpool time was over, I would gobble up my mini friend, letting it melt on my tongue, sweet milk chocolate, then soft, gooey peanut butter.
I don't think I've ever read anything so sensual written in a second language.

I once got into a heated debate with a Frenchwoman about her prejudice - for that, dear reader, is the only appropriate word - against American cuisine, which she viewed as irredeemably ersatz and artificial. I could understand how someone accustomed to French coffee - she took pride in her abstinence from Starbucks - would have trouble getting used to American coffee. (I made the mistake of calling Dunkin' Donuts the quintessentially American cup of coffee as if it were a good thing.) I could not, however, for the life of me understand her aversion to peanut butter (neither she nor a family member was allergic) which she defiantly pronounced that she would never allow her children to touch, including the natural organic kind (you know, the sort that separates because there are no emulsifiers). Even the mere act of grinding was too much processing, too much adulteration, too much Americanization for her.

Clotilde, I salute your excellent taste, your sensual prose and your openness to the best of America. For my part, I never cease to be amazed at the care that the French are capable of devoting even to the most quotidian plat du jour or that what they humbly call vin du table others would call nectar.

Chocolate & Zucchini has been linked under Esoterica & Eclectica


Never mind

Ohhhh, Japan's race queens.


The nature of reality or, Are those real?

I have argued before that the distinction between disapproval and prohibition is too often lost in our activist age.

I'd like to take her to the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss if you know what I mean



 Buddhists have taken offense to the garment depicted at left.* In a free society, Victoria's Secret has the right to manufacture such a garment and market forces give commercial organizations sufficient incentive to avoid offense. Indeed, Victoria's Secret stopped selling the bathing suit under pressure from Buddhist groups. That said, I would be extremely alarmed if a religious group - of any faith - were as successful in blocking the publication or sale of a book it found offensive e.g. The Satanic Verses, Shivaji: A Hindu King in Islamic India or Ganesha: Lord of Obstacles, Lord of Beginnings. Do I hold books and bikinis to different standards? Guilty as charged. (My eyes prefer books that are substantial and bikinis that are not.)
Ryan Overbey aka sanskritboy credits the offense Buddhists took to Buddhist misogyny, which only holds water if the Buddhists who took offense at this garment would not also take offense at, for example, condoms or mens' underwear decorated with the Buddha's image.

Buddha images are created all the time. On tapestries, handkerchiefs, and so forth. I've seen westerners use them as cool decorations, as sarongs, as floormats [which violates the etiquette for the handling of Buddha images] for the inside of tents . My interest in the Victoria's Secret situation is that the response to what is perfectly normal Western treatment of Buddha images is suddenly amplified- and I think the key is that it is specifically a product for a female body, and the female body in its sexual aspect is regarded as disgusting, taboo, dangerous....[W]hat Buddhist principles distinguish a bikini from a statue or a tapestry?
Though a women's swimsuit may well be just a material object with all the impermanence thereof, it is nonetheless intended to incite lust by underlining the sexuality of the female body (not that I'm complaining, mind you). Which begs the response, "The intent to inspire lust is not inherent to the Tankini, which is nothing more than a 'selfless aggregate of forms' with no intrinsic purpose. Responsibility for lust, or offense for that matter, ultimately lies with the individual experiencing it."
So the merit associated with the production of a Buddha image flows not automatically from the creation of the image, but from a conjunction of action and intention? Interesting.
The relationship between merit, intent and consequence is one of the oldest, most profound and most central issues in ethics. Neither a sophistic - though characteristically Buddhist - denial of essentialism nor an individual's ultimately absolute responsibility for his own emotions renders irrelevant the provocative intent behind the revealing design of the Asian Floral Tankini. That intent runs directly counter to Gautama Buddha's admonitions against allowing one passions to be aroused. Though depicting the Buddha on Marisa Miller's - Marisa Miller? Are you sure that's not Gisele Bundchen? Please examine this close-up of the Buddha image, if you don't mind.
Uh, no, I don't mind.                               
Heavenly MountainThe attributes with which Ms. Miller is blessed are more generous than the comparatively modest - though undeniable - gifts of Ms. Bundchen. That this depiction of the Buddha is so, ah, chubby is a strong indication that these are indeed Ms. Miller's talents are at work.
*ahem*As I was saying, though depicting the Buddha on Marisa Miller's indisputably tantalizing form (I'm concentrating on the image of the Buddha, I swear!) makes for an interesting test of equanimity, the intent to titillate contradicts the Buddhist abnegation of lust, thereby rendering the depiction of the Buddha on a swimsuit highly inappropriate.

Ryan is particularly amused at the reaction of one Phien Dinh Nguyen of Vancouver, Canada.
I saw what had happened to the Talibans in Afghanistan. They ignored advice from many people and organizations around the world and took on the task of destroying the two most ancient statutes of Buddha. Where are they now? Buddhist teachings encourage moderate views. That does not mean you can insult millions of Buddhists with such a degrading act.
Wow. The Taliban weren't destroyed because they harbored Al Qaeda. They were destroyed because they did a number on the Buddhist statues at Bamiyan! And a similar fate awaits those who desecrate icons!
I'm no scholar of Buddhism (nor do I consider myself fully a Buddhist any longer) but that characterization of events is entirely consistent with the theory of karma.
My question is whether people are [uncritically conflating their] individual cultural prejudices with "Buddhism" writ large.
That's an important question which I myself have wrestled with in the past. For example, it's been noted by many beside me how Western followers of Buddhism, who tend to political progressivism, are either unaware of the differences between Buddhist doctrine and their political stances or tacitly allow the latter to supersede the former.

Ryan shares with radical feminists a fixation with the shadows of an encroaching patriarchy that is just as parochial to university-educated Westerners as the misogyny he's trying to raise awareness of in the Buddhist world. Somehow I don't see the irrational unfounded cultural prejudice against onions, garlic, leek, chives and shallots grafted onto Buddhism provoking the same ire in Ryan. Besides, don't women in developing countries have more immediate problems than not being allowed direct physical contact with monks?
[W]e can study Buddhist philosophical systems and deep thinkers out the wazoo, but it really doesn't mean much when dealing with the real world.
That's because ideals of any religion are notoriously difficult to live up to perfectly in the "real world"; Buddhism, with its emphasis on emotional states, perhaps more so than other religions. Humans are creatures of hunger, thirst and horniness; we are mortal beings who come into this world literally attached to other mortal beings. Can any parent honestly say that he is free from attachment to his children, that his compassion for each and every living thing is no less than his love for his own flesh and blood? Does any parent who could say those things really deserve to be called a parent? That the moon is beyond our grasp should not keep us from pointing to it so long as we never confuse the finger for the moon.

*If you think that this post is a merely an excuse to link that photo, you'd only be partially right.

Images via the wily filipino and the Buddhist News Network, respectively

Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien


Sunday, April 25, 2004

No means no

What happens to a "coalition of the willing" when its members find themselves not quite so willing as they used to be?


Saturday, April 24, 2004

Rachel Carson kills poor, brown-skinned children

I share Virginia Postrel's outrage that prejudice against DDT by environmentalists in (malaria-free, thanks to DDT) Western countries keeps it out of the hands of malaria-stricken developing countries, though I can't help but wonder if she works up the same outrage at how pharmaceutical companies' sanctification of their patents keeps affordable AIDS drugs out of the hands of many of the same people.


Flip books

So I was admiring the visuals of Superman: Birthright and noticed that the names of the art team were Leinil Francis Yu (pencils) and Gerry Alanguilan (inks). I'm going to hazard a guess that Messrs. Yu and Alanguilan are Filipino, an ethnicity pretty well represented among comic artists. There's a pretty long list of names but only Whilce Portacio and Ernie Chua immediately come to mind.

This got me thinking about what is technically called "niche labor". Condemnations of images of the Chinese restaurateur/launderer or the South Asian convenience store owner as "perpetration of racist stereotyping" at best fails to acknowledge the role these economic footholds played in the establishment of immigrant communities. At worst, it effectively imputes shame to how hardworking people choose to support their families, though these groups would never admit it. Such an attitude is the inevitable corollary to the belief that subdivisions of society should reflect the proportional representation of society as a whole.

Anti-racists often forget that people from certain ethnic groups end up in certain professions more as the result of network effects than racism. Besides, it doesn't look like they've updated the Official List of Forbidden Occupational Ethnic Stereotypes in decades. The standing of Filipinos in the rarefied world of comic artists accompanies the prominence of Filipinas among nurses - to which I want to devote a post of its own in future. (Filipinos are also represented in the performing arts out of proportion to their number, especially when compared to other Asian immigrant groups. Most of the bar bands in Hong Kong, Vietnam and other Southeast Asian locales seem to be comprised of Filipinos - and they're good.) Korean greengrocers selling top-quality fruits and vegetables from humble storefronts serve as New York City's first line of defense against scurvy. The Senegalese Mouride sect of Islam dominates street commerce in New York (and, I am told, Paris). Some niches are only possible in economic and cultural hothouses like New York. In 1991, Cantonese immigrant Zheng De-Shi decided to open his own restaurant. Having learnt Mexican cuisine from his work in other restaurants, he decided to open a Mexican restaurant rather than a Chinese one. The original Fresco Tortilla - on Lexington Avenue between 23rd and 24th Streets - was successful and nothing succeeds like success, especially among the Chinese (see: Chinatown express) resulting in a wave of restaurants where Chinese people cook Mexican food. A similar dynamic lies behind the phenomenon of Thai bagel makers. Thai immigrants learned the bagel-making trade at bakeries like Bagel Nosh (Feh!), Zaro's (Feh!) and Ess-a-Bagel (Yay! But still no H&H, or Columbia for that matter) and later opened their own bagelries, such as Sam Thongkrieng's Absolute Bagels. (Not as crusty as bagels from nearby Columbia, which threaten to lacerate your mouth if toasted so, for discerning Morningside Heights residents unwilling to make the schlep to H&H, the choice between Columbia and Absolute depends on how crusty they like their bagels.)

One shouldn't discuss niche labor without addressing the elephant in the room: Jews. Due to their long history of persecution, Jews often go to lengths to downplay Jewish niche labor phenomena. However, not only does it look disingenuous (a la "There's no such thing as the mafia" or "Terrorism has nothing to do with Islam"), but it obscures a history Jews would be proud of if they didn't have to fear others twisting it into a a weapon against them. Like other immigrant ethnicities, Jewish parents steered their children into careers with the security of steady demand, such as medicine. However, Jewish-Americans' perceived affinity for occupations such as law has as much to do with being shut out of "white shoe" professions and firms as with any preference on the Jews' part. Jewish involvement in the foundation of the American film industry was not the first step in a calculated conspiracy to control the media; at the time Hollywood was a highly risky start-up industry the extent of whose success few, if any, predicted.

Asian-American identity groups welcomed the arrival of Bend It Like Beckham's Parminder Nagra as ER's first regular South Asian cast member as an overdue acknowledgement of South Asian prominence in medicine. Of course, they welcomed Bruce Lee's leading man status too only to criticize him posthumously for perpetrating the stereotype of the "Asian martial artist"; later they complained about the "model minority" stereotype. Expect to see "Indian doctor" added to the Official List of Forbidden Stereotypes soon. "We're underrepresented in the media," "That portrayal perpetuates stereotypes," "That portrayal is deracinated." Sometimes you can't win for trying. (Of course, one never hears a peep out of these groups against affirmative action in university admissions. Asian admissions at Berkeley rose from 35 to 38 percent in the first year after Proposition 209 abolished race-based admissions in the California state university system, a move that groups claiming to represent the interests of Asian-Americans resisted all the way.)

During the IT bubble Asian-American identity groups perceived racism in the prominence of Indians and Chinese among engineers but their absence from managerial ranks. Though linguistic and cultural barriers undoubtedly played a part, one Taiwanese computer engineer who repeatedly turned down offers of managerial positions told me, Why don't I become a manager? Because when the company has to lay people off, they go for the managers first and leave the engineers 'til last!


Friday, April 23, 2004

It's like I'm always saying...

...Europeans really need to come over here and check things out for themselves before they can call their opinions informed.

Suck it, von Trier.


Funny, you don't look Korean

Rubens' 'Korean Man'In keeping with the recent theme of early East-West contact, I present for your consideration Rubens' "Korean Man" (1617). The model is said to be one "Antonio Corea,"* captured by the Japanese during the Second Imjin War and sold as a slave to a merchant named Francesco Carleti who imported him to Italy. What's more, Corea's had children and his line survives to this day. Some of his descendants were even invited back by the South Korean government several years ago.

*Taking his home country as his family name on the almost certainly correct assumption that there wouldn't be other "Coreanos" around to confuse him with.


Funny, you don't look Afghan

Those are some white-ass kids. Not "white" as in maybe-there's-some-white-on-his-pappy's-side "white". Those are some white-ass kids. Not just Caucasoid or Caucasian, but white.

Oh, come on, Jeet. Matthew Leeming didn't take those photos in Afghanistan. He probably just rounded up a bunch of the neighborhood kids, slapped some kurta pyjama on them and made them pose in a quarry, "Doctor Who"-style.

Laban Tall followed up on his comment about the Afghan descendants of Alexander the Great's armies with a link to Matthew Leeming's Spectator-sponsored Alexander in Afghanistan Expedition. Leeming, to his credit, fully acknowledges the possibility that "European" features among Afghans may not necessarily be the legacy of Alexander's armies, though the only alternative hypothesis he seriously entertains is descent from an indigenous Indo-European population. Leeming notes that
[Alexander] founded between eight and twelve [cities] in Afghanistan [that] formed the backbone of one of the least known civilisations in the ancient world: the Greek kingdom of Bactria that flourished between 300 and 148 BC....until it fell to nomad invaders from Central Asia.
C. 176-160 BCE, the Xiongnu1 vanquished the Yuezhi, expelling them from Gansu. The Yuezhi fled west, settling in the valley of the Ili River near the Ysyk Kul, displacing the Scythians there in turn.

The Huns were also causing trouble for the Han Emperor Wudi who, seeking allies against them, naturally thought of the Yuezhi. In 139 BCE, a diplomatic delegation led by courtier Zhang Qian set forth to establish an alliance with the Yuezhi against the Huns.

Unfortunately for Zhang Qian, before he could reach the Yuezhi, they were attacked by the Wusun, then a Hun tributary, who ejected the Yuezhi from their new home. The Yuezhi fled further west along the Fergana Valley through the realm of Dayuan into the realm of Kangju crossing southwards over the Oxus River.

By the time Zhang Qian reached the Yuezhi in 129 BCE, they had settled in quite comfortably and lost all interest in avenging themselves on the Xiongnu.2 Also called "Tocharians," the Yuezhi spoke an Indo-European language. The land the Yuezhi had just conquered for their own was called "Bactria" by its former rulers who, by coincidence, also had Indo-European origins, the legacy of a Greco-Macedonian conquest of the region almost two centuries before.

So there is a third possibility that Leeming does not consider: an Indo-European invasion subsequent to Alexander's conquest. Or, for that matter, a fourth, more recent one: the loneliness of Western colonials on those cold, cold mountain nights.

1Identified with the Huns though the association has not been conclusively proven
2Readers who recognize the name Zhang Qian will know that, as tortuous as the course of his mission is depicted here, his entire ordeal was actually much, much worse.


Thursday, April 22, 2004

Talkin' bout my generation

Another match of the always entertaining generation game breaks out.

In the left corner, wearing the blue-state trunks, Matthew "The Judeo-Cuban Juggernaut" Yglesias! And in the right corner, wearing the red-state trunks, Ben "The Dominator" Domenech!


The Dominator comes out swinging and swinging hard! But the Juggernaut bobs, weaves and dances and the Dominator's blows just glance off him. The Juggernaut takes advantage of the Dominator's overextension with some jabs and crosses. That only seems to infuriate the Dominator, who comes right back at the Juggernaut! But the Juggernaut keeps well-covered and the Dominator spends himself on nothing but glove and forearm. Wow, the Dominator is really going after a knockout! If he's not too careful, he'll exhaust himself early. And it looks like that's exactly what's happening! The Dominator is having trouble keeping his gloves up and the Juggernaut uses a jab to open that window right up, following up with a combination! It looks like the Juggernaut opened a cut over the Dominator's eye...


The fight is over! The fight is over! The decision goes to...The Juggernaut on points! The Juggernaut wins on points!

Every sentence of Yglesias' initial post but one notes support for Kerry among the young, which Domenech doesn't address at all. Domenech's post smacks of the conservative victimhood narrative that somehow managed to outlast the Reagan Administration.1 (Conservatives who bitch about their ostracism at the hands of a predominantly liberal society are the last people who should be complaining about others being "stuck in the 60s". And they certainly shouldn't be trying to rehabilitate Joe McCarthy's reputation.) Domenech holds tight to any possible indications of conservatism among "millennials" as signs of his imminent deliverance from this libertine purgatory.

Though putatively on Domenech's side, Goldberg (no, not that Goldberg) pulls a classic Clinton triangulation.
Matt Yglesias draws much comfort from some data showing that college kids lean Democratic. That's fine. But he erects something of a strawman by saying that "There's been a campaign under way for several years now to convince the world that young people in general, and college students in particular, are a bunch of Bush-loving rightwingers." I'm sure some folks have been involved in what Yglesias calls "myth-making" but on the whole I think he misses the real effort and the real argument. The twofold argument I've been hearing from conservatives in recent years (inlcuding from me) is that the left's generations-long myth making about the inherently progressive nature of "the youth" is a bunch of bunk. And Yglesias' preferred numbers demonstrate that ably. Kerry leads Bush among college kids by 48-38 and does even better among likely voters. Okay. But more than a third of college kids don't like Kerry. And, I'll not only bet you those numbers will improve in Bush's favor as they are "soft" but I'll also bet that most of these numbers are personality driven rather than ideology driven.

Second, the trend conservatives have been noting is that the students are to the right of the professors -- which I think is undoubtedly true. I would also bet that they are even further to the right of the administrators. The fact that support for Nader is declining among college students further illustrates that the liberal babyboomers' solopsistic B.S. about college kids being inherently radical is so much wishful thinking.

I'd also add that college kids are increasingly libertarian these days. Whether that holds over time remains to be seen since collegiate libertarianism is often (but not always) based in a desire to be cool and rebellious against the right and the left. But, it's certainly true that a libertarian, principled or otherwise, could go either way between Bush and Kerry2

Look, I have a long track-record of disdain for "youth" oriented politics of all kinds, but if Yglesias is basically putting a cheery spin on both a trend and a revelation that does not help the left. Sure, it's a myth that college kids are all Burkeans today. But I don't know anyone who ever said they were. I do know lots of people who've said and believe that being young is synonymous with being liberal, or "progressive". And that's bunk, and largely always has been.
Like Domenech, Goldberg makes a lot of hay (or should that be "straw"?) out of Yglesias' opening sentence, but at least acknowledges Yglesias' case, if still failing to refute it.

Goldberg is correct to note that students are to the right of the professors - which Yglesias himself notes - but how difficult is that, really? Goldberg disputes the "the inherently progressive nature of 'the youth;'" I would like to distinguish that from youth's inherently rebellious nature, which I believe still holds.

What are they rebelling against?, you might ask.

Whaddya got?

What they got, as I've argued before, is a generation of teachers and parents who exercised largely progressive attitudes. Any Marxist (or other Hegelian) worth his salt will tell you that every thesis has its antithesis.

1The conservative victimhood narrative survives for the same reason that all victimhood narratives survive. Though one's victim status may be only temporary, the usefulness of victim status lasts forever. Persecution arrogates to victims the unquestioned moral authority to disparage enemies with impunity. This is so valuable that people take advantage of it even if the only person one has convinced of one's victimhood is oneself (see: Coulter, Ann). Moreover, when your enemies call attention to your own record of persecuting others, you can dismiss those accusations safe in the knowledge that they are yet another example of your ongoing victimization (see: Israeli treatment of Palestinians, Hindu treatment of Muslims, Muslim treatment of Hindus, Muslim treatment of Zoroastrians, Muslim treatment of animists...

2All this talk about South Park libertarians on the one hand and millennial authoritarians on the other really brings to the forefront the differences between libertarians and social conservatives. Can the American Right keep the two stitched together, at least among the young? If I were a libertarian in this era of GOP spending hikes, steel tariffs, opposition to gay marriage, the FCC going after nipples and swearing and the USA PATRIOT Act, I'd feel a more than little taken-for-granted.

UPDATE: Yglesias refines his position from, There's been a campaign under way for several years now to convince the world that young people in general, and college students in particular, are a bunch of Bush-loving rightwingers to, There's a kind of myth out there that the young people nowadays are libertarian, apparently in response to Jonah Goldberg. Young people have grown up with a generation of progressive hegemony in education, but they also went through the no less ideological Reagan Administration. I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that "millennials" will rebel against the constraints of both those legacies.

UPDATE: The Dominator has brought to my attention that there is no link to this Juggernaut post key to the debate. And you don't contradict guys nicknamed Dominator. Well, maybe if you gave them that nickname in the first place...


Back up in your ass with the resurrection

[T]he success of the DVD is altering priorities and the balance of power in the making of popular culture....DVD has resuscitated canceled or nearly canceled television series like "The Family Guy" and "24," and has helped small art movies like "Donnie Darko" win rerelease in theaters. It is also beginning to affect the kinds of movies being made, as DVD revenues figure heavily in green-light decisions and are used as a perk to woo craft-conscious movie directors.
I have argued before that the profit to be made from DVD sales aligns the incentives of the entertainment industry more closely with those of audiences. It is my fervent hope that this will directly result in fewer market failures, i.e. really terrible movies and TV shows. Reliance on box office (as opposed to DVD and other home video sales) gave the film industry an incentive to heavily market bad movies in the hope that they could grab as much of the filmgoing audience's money as possible before the spread of bad word-of-mouth or poor reviews. DVD's are typically released months after movies appear in theatres and, therefore, well after the information asymmetry between buyer and seller has been largely eliminated. The only way to recreate both the misalignment of short-term incentives and the information asymmetry would be simultaneous DVD and theatrical releases that would undercut each other. I therefore predict that the entertainment industry's increasing reliance on DVD profits will result in better movies and TV shows.

There are, of course, exceptions that test every rule.


Wednesday, April 21, 2004


You can't make this sh*t up

"When the vice president and I are alone, it's Colin and Dick," [Powell] said.

But Woodward insisted his characterization of the friction between the two men is correct.
via FARK


Tuesday, April 20, 2004


Ed@Gnostical Turpitude has designated "fakelore" its cool word of the day (well, yesterday), quoting the following definition (which doesn't fit Ed's own sense of what it means), "the representation of materials written by professional authors as reproductions of the oral traditions of historical and ethnic communities". I'm linking to it because of how it relates to my recent posts touching on neo-Pagan pretensions to antiquity and attempts to establish legendary ancestries for the Kalash, Lemba and Zhelaizhai populations.

Ed 's interest in the word is piqued by its use in a Village Voice review of Kill Bill: Vol. 2. I haven't seen the movie yet, but I suspect that the reviews' reference to fakelore has something to do with movie's use of the Chinese folklore figure Pai Mei1 ("Bai Mei" in pinyin romanization, "Bak Mei" in Cantonese, literally "White Eyebrow". Watch any movie that features him as a character and you'll see why). During the late Qing Dynasty, much popular Chinese "pulp" (for lack of a better word) literature was based on the Qing Emperor's destruction of the southern Shaolin temple in Fujian (as opposed to the original northern temple in Henan, though few if any writers bothered to make this distinction). Widespread illiteracy meant that most people received these stories orally, leading to the acceptance of the novels' accounts as historical fact, which may or may not be the case. Whether the novels were accurate or not, many of them fingered Bak Mei as a traitor who betrayed Shaolin, joining the Emperor to wipe out the Shaolin disciples and their teachings. (A classic persecution narrative yes, but at least one that isn't being abused for political ends in academia. Different versions of the story feature different traitors; some feature no traitor at all.) This has actually led to conflict between the practitioners of Bak Mei's namesake style2 and the supposed heirs of those whom Bak Mei was said to have betrayed, most notably practitioners of Hung Gar ("Hong Jia" in pinyin-romanized Mandarin, literally "Hong family"). Some Bak Mei practitioners gladly accept their ancestor's betrayal, interpreting his subsequent extermination of Shaolin disciples as a sign of the superiority of their style. Others claim that the Taoist Bak Mei is accused of treason because he refused to join the Buddhist Shaolin in their struggle against the ethnic Manchurian Qing Dynasty, hewing instead to a strict neutrality.

One of the few attempts to extensively apply the techniques of literary criticism to Chinese martial arts legend is "Complete Wing Chun: The Definitive Guide to Wing Chun's History and Traditions" by Robert Chu, Rene Ritchie and Y. Wu. If you decide to purchase it, I strongly encourage you to order it through the Amazon Associates link on the authors' website. (Full Disclosure: A student of Robert Chu's used to teach me Wing Chun. In fact, I was referred to him by Rene Ritchie.)

1Bak Mei is not one of the Eight Taoist Immortals and would therefore not likely be around today to teach Uma Thurman. Perhaps this is what J. Hoberman meant in his review when he referred to "fakelore".

2Bak Mei is often described as a Taoist style, most probably because stories frequently describe Bak Mei as a Taoist monk. However, Bak Mei bears more resemblance to Fujian "Shaolin" styles than to the styles commonly accepted as Taoist: Tai Chi Chuan, Xing Yi Chuan and Ba Gua Zhang. The term "Shaolin" is often (ab)used to describe most styles not of the Taoist "Big Three" rather than applied exclusively to styles with origins in the (original northern) temple. Ironically, the original northern temple appears to be the source for many of the techniques of Tai Chi Chuan, the Yin Fu-style of Ba Gua Zhang and possibly even Xing Yi Chuan. Bak Mei fits nicely into the Fujian family of styles that includes Wing Chun, Fujian White Crane, Five Elders style, Dragon style and Southern Praying Mantis, all of which are categorized by relatively high, narrow stances with both elbows and knees pulled in. A link between these styles and Xing Yi Chuan, which is similar but northern, has been speculated but with very little corroboration.


Monday, April 19, 2004

Cautious optimism

Daniel Gross@Slate predicts big-business support for universal health care. I support universal health care, so I hope Gross is correct, but one detail of his analysis raises an important point.

[O]ld-line industrial firms with unionized workforces and large numbers of retirees are seeing their balance sheets undermined by the health-care crisis.
In other words, aging populations may both drive universal health care (e.g. in the United States) yet threaten it (e.g. in Europe) at the same time. Like any major undertaking (the invasion, reconstruction and democratization of a developing country, for example), we must be under no illusions about the cost of universal healthcare, no matter how badly we want it, and we must make sure it is properly and sufficiently funded.


Attn: Herbert blogskin users

Has anyone else found that blogs using the Blogger-provided "Herbert" skin (e.g. this one, Laban Tall's UK Commentators, Ceteris Paribus) sometimes load improperly or that their archives and permalinks sometimes don't load at all? Given that I've only encountered this so far with "Herbert"-skinned blogs, I know that the obvious solution would be to change skins. But I don't want to! This one's pretty! So pretty! Also, typepad doesn't offer free service.

UPDATE: I use the Firefox browser; could that be it?

UPDATE: I just noticed the same thing on this Wal-Mart blog using the Sand Dollar skin.

UPDATE: And now it's happened with Public Interest, which I believe sports a custom skin.


Jeet agrees, but still hasn't seen "Titanic"

From The New York Times

If something is truly loved by millions of people, it has touched those people, has tapped into some stream of universality that indicates a life force attenuated in more elitist art....This country's great gift to world culture has been its popular arts. Partly because such art offers this kind of bonding experience — corporately distributed popular culture as intimations of community — and partly because the art at its best is so good, on the strictest elitist criteria.


"On crime, I'm conservative. On prostitution, I'm liberal."

There are those (especially libertarians) who might wonder, Jeet, if you disagree with "right on" left-wing party line on so many issues, why aren't you a Republican?

Matt Yglesias' mea culpa on Iraq shines light on why.

Neither the policies being advocated by Bush nor the policies being advocated by the anti-war movement (even at its most mainstream) were the correct ones. What I wanted to see happen wasn't going to happen. I had to throw in with one side or another. I threw in with the wrong side. The bad consequences of the bad policy I got behind are significantly worse than the consequences of the bad policy advocated by the other side would have been.
Do I agree with everything in the Democratic platform? No. Do I think that the likely bad consequences of the Republican policy platform are worse than the likely bad consequences of the Democratic policy platform? Yeah, and that's why I vote as I do. In 2000, before the Republican Party nominated George W. Bush, I remember looking forward to a Gore-McCain race because, despite how badly I wanted a President with Gore's positions on the environment and free trade, I wouldn't have minded a McCain Administration because, If a Republican's gotta be the President, I thought, we could do a hell of a lot worse than John McCain. Like George W. Bush, for example. *grumble*grumble*

If I were ever eligible to vote in a race where I thought that the Republican candidate was really, really great (and pretty damn moderate) or the Democratic candidate really, really awful, I might just vote Republican. But that hasn't happened yet.

QUALIFICATION: I don't rule out voting for a third party candidate, but he had better be one of the top two contenders or I had better find both mainstream candidates absolutely beyond the pale.



...the sequel.

I wish I had delayed that post about normblog so that I could include this.


Sunday, April 18, 2004

Quando in Seres

Laban Tall left the following comment in response to "Dead men tell their tales".

The Spectator magazine had an appeal a couple of years back to help sponsor an expedition of geneticists and ethnologists to the top right corner of Afghanistan, where the people, fair haired and blue eyed, claim to be descended from Alexander the Great's soldiery.

I wonder what happened to it ?
I don't know about Afghanistan but there's a people in Pakistan called the Kalasha who claim such ancestry. However, the genetic evidence1 disputes that claim and as for the cultural case, well...let's just say it shares much in common with such widely held ideas as Afrocentrism and a prehistoric universal goddess cult, namely that its adoption is driven by factors other than a frank evaluation of its soundness. This reminded me of two other stories about far-flung peoples surviving to the present day: the Lemba of southern Africa and the inhabitants of a village in Gansu province, northwestern China.

The Lemba of southern Africa have been fingered as one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel because they observe male circumcision, ritual slaughter (only by a circumcised male), and quasi-kosher dietary laws; however, some of these practices could be attributed to outside influence. Muslim influence is evident in the use of the phrase "bismillah" in the ritual slaughter practices of some Lemba.2 The Lemba readily incorporated the colonial European attribution of Great Zimbabwe to Jewish builders (as well as European Jewish influences as the Star of David) into their own traditions, claiming credit for the construction of the city, and asserted a connection to the Beta Israel (aka Falasha) of Ethiopia, whom they learned of from the Europeans and whose claims of Jewish heritage have long been conventionally accepted. Despite the clearly recent provenance of some Jewish/Semitic customs among the Lemba, Y chromosome studies corroborate their claims of Jewish ancestry as confirmed by the presence of a genetic signature characteristic of the Cohanim Jewish hereditary priestly caste. Though this could be explained by colonial period genetic admixture from one or a few prodigiously procreatively prolific Jews, Occam's Razor suggests greater antiquity for the Jewish pedigree of the Lemba. Ironically, the Beta Israel show little sign of this genetic signature at all though this is easily explained by intermarriage, which among the Lemba is subject to stringent restrictions. (These restrictions, in addition to explaining the strength of the Cohanim genetic signature among the Lemba, provide another example of their practice of a Jewish custom.) Following up on Lemba oral traditions about their origins, Judaism historian Tudor Parfitt has made a strong case for Lemba descent from Yemeni Jews which, like Lemba kinship claims with the general Jewish population, has been supported by genetic evidence. Though the Lemba are clearly a "lost tribe of Israel," Parfitt's hypothesis challenges the claim that they are one of the Lost Tribes of Israel (i.e. refugees from the 8th century BCE Assyrian conquest), suggesting their ancestors migrated to Africa as refugees from a Yemeni agricultural disaster that dates back only to the 10th or 11th century CE.3

Comparable genetic analysis of the population of Zhelaizhai village, for whom claims of descent from Roman legionnaires have been made, has not been as conclusive. The American Oxford Sinologist Homer Hasenpflug Dubs noticed in a Han Dynasty census a municipality named "Lijian," the Chinese name for the Greco-Roman world. Only two other cities from that census were similarly named after foreign realms - Kucha and Wenxiu, both central Asian kingdoms of the period - and this because they were populated by immigrants from those places.4 Dubs concluded that Lijian must likewise have been populated by Romans. The question is, of course, How?

In 53 BCE, Parthian forces routed the Roman army under Marcus Licinius Crassus at the Battle of Carrhae (Harran in modern-day Turkey). The Parthians shipped the 10,000 legionnaires captured at Carrhae to the eastern frontier of their empire. Over 30 years later, the Romans and the Parthians signed a peace treaty, one of the conditions of which was the return of any Roman prisoners of war. The Parthians sought out the surviving legionnaires to return them home. Some of them were indeed returned to the Roman Empire, some who had built lives and started families in captivity stayed behind and some could not be accounted for.

Not long after the Parthians separated Crassus' head from his body, a Xiongnu5 leader named Zhizhi subjected a group of Chinese diplomatic envoys to similar treatment. Before the Chinese had a chance to retaliate, Zhizhi fled west to the realm of the Kangju, which welcomed an alliance with Zhizhi against the Chinese-allied Wusun.

On the other side of the Oxus (Amu Darya) River lay the Parthian holding of Margiana in present-day Turkmenistan, which had recently seen a wave of 10,000 immigrants. From remote Margiana, those who desired to escape the Parthian Empire needed only traverse northeast across the Oxus into the Kangju-controlled territory of Sogdia in present-day Uzbekistan. Moreover, men with military experience could easily find work in a kingdom that felt vulnerable to external threats.

In 36 BCE, the Chinese decided to rid themselves of the troublesome Zhizhi. By this time, Zhizhi had established a stronghold on the present-day site of Taraz (Dzhambul) in Kazakhstan on the Kyrgyzstan border. ("Zhizhi" could well be a Chinese rendering of "Kyrgyz".) The Chinese found Zhizhi's citadel protected by a double palisade - a characteristically Roman fortification. During the battle itself, Zhizhi's troops astonished the Chinese, who had been expecting a barbarian lack of discipline, by employing what is described in the Houhanshu ("Book of the Eastern Han Dynasty") as a "fish-scale formation," which Dubs associates with the Roman testudo. Despite their surprise, the Chinese defeated Zhizhi's forces anyway, making any of Crassus' legions prisoners of war twice over. Dubs further speculates that the Chinese found the same use for the legionnaires as the Parthians did - as a buffer on the outermost frontier of the empire - and so settled them in Gansu.

In 1999, DNA tests were performed to scientifically complement the visual evidence of, compared to the general Chinese population, light eyes and curly, light hair. The tests suggest a genetic connection to Europeans but fall short of conclusive proof of descent from the remnants of Crassus' legions. European genetic admixture from Silk Road traders seems a far more likely explanation. (I don't suppose anyone remembers the ONE white guy in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"? He was trading with the bandits who raided Zhang Ziyi's caravan when she catches up to them. He looks like Peter Jackson and sticks out like, well, like Peter Jackson in a crowd of Chinamen. Hey, I'm Chinese so I'm exempted under the "Black people get to say n*gger" clause. I saw the new Chris Rock special last night. Can you tell?)

There is yet another explanation for the European genetic admixture and appearance of the Zhelaizhai population that has nothing to do with Rome. The European-featured, Indo-European-speaking Tocharians are said to be originally from Gansu.6 European features among the Uighurs and Tajiks are attributed to them, so why not European features among the Chinese now found at the site of the Tocharians' ancestral home? This does not refute the Roman hypothesis but it certainly provides a strong alternative explanation for relatively European features found among Zhelaizhai's inhabitants.

As with the Kalash, government assertions have more to do with tourism than history. An article by one Cui Bian in Beijing Review, which has no pretensions of being anything other than an official mouthpiece of Beijing, bears all the hallmarks of Marxist reporting. A log inlaid with wooden clubs was, archeologists agree, most probably an instrument used by the Romans to build the city wall. Why? Cui Bian never says. Alternative points of view aren't even noted, let alone disputed. Which is why the following came as such a surprise.
There are also some unique customs in the area. The most interesting is the locals' worship of the ox. Many families like to make ox-head shaped bread from leavened flour, which they call "ox nose", as a sacrificial offering. The locals have also built Ox God Temples in village shrines and at major crossroads, and erected ox heads as symbols. Before the Beginning of Spring (first solar term), villagers dredge soil from the rivers and mold a "spring ox" in the temple. On the day they carry the "spring ox" out of the temple and smash it as a prayer for future prosperity and a good harvest.

"Ox butting" is a favorite sports with the locals. During this activity, the villagers drive the herds to a slaughterhouse so that the oxen will work themselves into a frenzy as they smell blood and butt each other to death. Experts say that has come from the custom of bullfighting pop-ular with the ancient Romans.
Judging from the rest of the article, Cui Bian is going to strain a muscle overstating the case for a Roman connection so, assuming this information is correct, the lack of any attempt to spin a Roman connection out of this is either reverse-psychology or a sign that the reporter isn't familiar enough with Western antiquity to do so. The sacrificial offering of an ox-head shaped bread reminded me of this.
The bread is flesh of the bull in whose death there was life.
That quote is from an article about the cult of Mithras. (If it sounds eerily familiar - fundamentalist Christians should leave the room now - the following should ring a few more bells: Mithras was born of a virgin, died and was resurrected and his followers celebrated his birthday on December 25.), who was referred to with epithet as Mithras Tauroctonos or "Mithras the Bull-Slayer". What's more, the cult of Mithras was identified closely with Roman legionnaires, whose deployment brought the faith to every corner of the empire. Conservative estimates date the Roman cult of Mithras only to the late 1st century CE; however, Plutarch dates the introduction of the cult of Mithras to the Roman Empire to 67 BCE with Pompey's capture of Mithras-worshipping Cilician pirates. It is of course possible that these Mithraic customs were transmitted to Gansu some other way. However, it is important to note that the bull-centered practices characteristic of the Roman cult of Mithras but absent from the Persian veneration of him. The characteristically Roman Mithraic practices found in Zhelaizhai if that is indeed what they are, the supposed settlement of Lijian by Roman legionnaires and the close association of the cult of Mithras with Rome's armies makes for a surprisingly robust circumstantial case but still falls short of conclusiveness.

Maybe I'm paranoid, but maybe the Mithraic practices were planted in that article and described in as matter-of-fact a fashion as possible (in contrast to Fox News-like editorializing in the rest of the article) for the sole purpose of lulling reflexively wary skeptics into a false sense of security. Given the stakes, that's implausibly duplicitous and troublesome even for the Chinese Communist Party. And this is all of course assuming the accuracy of the information given. After weighing all the evidence, I would conclude that the circumstantial case is very strong but falls short of conclusive proof.

1Both Pakistani genetic studies were conducted by the Biomedical and Genetic Engineering Division of Dr. A.Q. Khan Research Laboratories, the same Khan Laboratories who handed nuclear secrets over to North Korea, Iran and Libya.
2Parfitt, Tudor. Journey To The Vanished City.
3Arabian Sea shipping traffic was key to the origins of both the Lemba and the Bene Israel of India.
4It's not that weird. "New York," anyone? Or "Chinatown"? Taipei forms a "map" of China by arranging street names geographically to correspond to the relative locations of their namesakes on the mainland.
5Identified with the Huns though the association has not been conclusively proven
6UPDATE: A discussion of the antiquity of the Tocharian presence in Gansu can be found in these notes to a translation of the Houhanshu.

Laban Tall's blog has been linked under Current Affairs
Laban has excellent taste in blog skins.


Saturday, April 17, 2004

Come aboard, we're expecting you

JFD: [reading Crooked Timber] No way!
[to LIL] Come over here and check this out!

LIL: What, dude?

JFD: The Jews have got their own Love Boat!

LIL: No f*cking way! [Rushes to the monitor] Dude! The Jews have got their own Love Boat!

JFD: I know!

LIL: That's so f*cked up!

JFD: I know! The Jews really are the Chinese of the West!


Friday, April 16, 2004

Moderate Muslims: Like Snuffleupagus

The frequency with which you're told they exist seems to be inversely proportional to the likelihood of sighting one.

But exist they do. And here's where they all seem to have been hiding. (via Crooked Timber)

It's a (surprisingly successful) attempt at an Islamic Onion, with headlines like "Man Blames Everything on Jews" and fake articles such as the one satirizing the likely impotence of a Muslim electoral bloc, assuming one should emerge. (There's a genuine effort. Good luck to them, in all sincerity. Having to pander to Muslim voters might at least partially offset the electoral incentives for both Republicans and Democrats to pander to Israel supporters.)

"Sometimes you have individuals who support homosexual values, abortion, and marijuana legalization, but at the same time take an anti-Israel stance. BOOM! The lesser of two evils," Harris says enthusiastically.
I shouldn't have to make this disclaimer, but it says a lot about our day and age that I feel that I have to. I don't hate Muslims. [irony]Some of my best friends are Muslims.[/irony] Whatever Islamophobia you perceive here is because this blog serves as an outlet for all the things I would really like to say to my Muslim friends' faces but don't feel I can. What infuriates me is the sanctimonious harshness with which Muslims and their postcolonialist allies castigate Western imperialism, reserving an extra serving of bile for the United States, which never even had a Muslim colony (until now). However, when confronted with their own record of colonialism, genocide, persecution and slavery, they retaliate with charges of racism, Islamophobia and "neo-colonialism." What's the problem with that?, you might ask, Most 'advocacy groups' are inexhaustible fountains of self-serving cant. Well, thanks to postcolonialism, the same Western Left that claims to stand in solidarity with the persecuted around the world displays abject indifference to the most egregious violence if it's perpetrated by Muslims, whether it's the 8th century expulsion of the Parsees from their ancestral home of Iran or the hacking to death of three Buddhist monks in southern Thailand, one of whom was only thirteen, just this past January (Though I parted ways with "the Left" a long time ago, its complete silence and indifference to the murder in the most horrific fashion of a non-white 13-year-old under vows of poverty and pacifism can still provoke the most angry, sorrowful and profound disappointment. Even after all this time, "the Left" can still break my heart. Isn't taking up arms, both literal and intellectual, against exactly this what "the Left" is for? Is solidarity with the Saidists worth letting them debase your integrity like this? Or did you give it up eagerly and willingly? Because from where I'm standing, I'm not the one who abandoned my principles and started whoring myself out.); right-wing critics are tarred with the broad brush of racism (and some of them deserve it). Only V.S. Naipaul, whose Hindu (by way of Trinidad) background perhaps makes him sensitive to the otherwise unchallenged Muslim assumption of blamelessness as well as, in the words of Edward Said, "ascrib[ing] to him the credentials of a man who can serve as witness for the third world," has had the courage to apply the postcolonial critique to the colonialism of Muslims, evoking from "the Left" little but scorn.

What I would like to tell the Muslims in my life is this, If you are going to excoriate the West for its colonial transgressions, your response to charges of Islamic colonialism had better be repentant rather than retaliatory. Or, if you want to gloss over Islam's imperial sins, you had better be prepared to extend the same absolution to others, not least the West. I leave the choice entirely up to you. But anything less is the most obscene, blatant, self-serving hypocrisy.

Islamica News has been linked under It's Funny Because It's True and Dhimmi under Fighting the Good Fight