Saturday, January 28, 2006

White Men Saving Brown Women from Brown Men (With Apologies to Gayatri Spivak)

I never did understand what the rabid misogynist Rush Limbaugh meant by the term "Feminazi." Thanks to the U.S. Army, I'm a little clearer on the concept:

"The U.S. Army in Iraq has at least twice seized and jailed the wives of suspected insurgents in hopes of "leveraging" their husbands into surrender, U.S. military documents show.

In one case, a secretive task force locked up the young mother of a nursing baby, a U.S. intelligence officer reported. In the case of a second detainee, one American colonel suggested to another that they catch her husband by tacking a note to the family's door telling him "to come get his wife."

The issue of female detentions in Iraq has taken on a higher profile since kidnappers seized American journalist Jill Carroll on Jan. 7 and threatened to kill her unless all Iraqi women detainees are freed.

The U.S. military on Thursday freed five of what it said were 11 women among the 14,000 detainees currently held in the 2 1/2-year-old insurgency. All were accused of "aiding terrorists or planting explosives," but an Iraqi government commission found that evidence was lacking.

Iraqi human rights activist Hind al-Salehi contends that U.S. anti-insurgent units, coming up empty-handed in raids on suspects' houses, have at times detained wives to pressure men into turning themselves in.

Iraq's deputy justice minister, Busho Ibrahim Ali, dismissed such claims, saying hostage-holding was a tactic used under the ousted dictatorship, and "we are not Saddam." A U.S. command spokesman in Baghdad, Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, said only Iraqis who pose an "imperative threat" are held in long-term U.S.-run detention facilities.

But documents describing two 2004 episodes tell a different story as far as short-term detentions by local U.S. units. The documents are among hundreds the Pentagon has released periodically under U.S. court order to meet an ACLU request for information on detention practices.

In one memo, a civilian Pentagon intelligence officer described what happened when he took part in a raid on an Iraqi suspect's house in Tarmiya, northwest of Baghdad, on May 9, 2004. The raid involved Task Force (TF) 6-26, a secretive military unit formed to handle high-profile targets.

"During the pre-operation brief it was recommended by TF personnel that if the wife were present, she be detained and held in order to leverage the primary target's surrender," wrote the 14-year veteran officer.

He said he objected, but when they raided the house the team leader, a senior sergeant, seized her anyway.

"The 28-year-old woman had three young children at the house, one being as young as six months and still nursing," the intelligence officer wrote. She was held for two days and was released after he complained, he said.

Like most names in the released documents, the officer's signature is blacked out on this for-the-record memorandum about his complaint.

Of this case, command spokesman Johnson said he could not judge, months later, the factors that led to the woman's detention.

The second episode, in June 2004, is found in sketchy detail in e-mail exchanges among six U.S. Army colonels, discussing an undisclosed number of female detainees held in northern Iraq by the Stryker Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division.

The first message, from a military police colonel, advised staff officers of the U.S. northern command that the Iraqi police would not take control of the jailed women without charges being brought against them.

In a second e-mail, a command staff officer asked an officer of the unit holding the women, "What are you guys doing to try to get the husband — have you tacked a note on the door and challenged him to come get his wife?"

Two days later, the brigade's deputy commander advised the higher command, "As each day goes by, I get more input that these gals have some info and/or will result in getting the husband."

He went on, "These ladies fought back extremely hard during the original detention. They have shown indications of deceit and misinformation."

The command staff colonel wrote in reply, referring to a commanding general, "CG wants the husband."

The released e-mails stop there, and the women's eventual status could not be immediately determined.

Of this episode, Johnson said, "It is clear the unit believed the females detained had substantial knowledge of insurgent activity and warranted being held." (Charles J. Hanley, "Documents Show Army Seized Wives as Tactic," AP, January 27, 2006).

Friday, January 27, 2006

The Folklore of the Future (With Apologies to Antonio Gramsci)

Bob Harris on why we ought to cultivate an optimism of the intellect:

"Only 22 percent think Saddam used WMDs?

By now you've seen the recent poll which finds that a third of Americans mistakenly believe that WMDs were found in Iraq, and about 22 percent think Iraq actually used WMDs during the war.

Sounds bad, right? But let's put these figures in perspective, courtesy a quick visit over to, where I pulled out a few numbers, all from recent major polls, just for fun:

Of American adults, at least 18 years of age...

65% couldn't describe the basic facts about Watergate
56% think in war, the media should support the government over questioning it
48% say the news media acted responsibly during the Clinton Wars
45% characterized Watergate was "just politics"
43% attended religious services in the previous 7 days
40% believe the media was biased in favor of Bill Clinton
35% say the government should not fund stem cell research
34% think Rock and Roll has had an overall negative impact on America
33% believe a wife should "submit herself graciously" to a husband
30% say the Bible is the "actual word of God" to be taken literally
29% think people will be "more likely" to afford college for their kids in 2020
28% disapprove of labor unions on principle
28% say the government should have the right to control news reports
27% believe divorce is "morally wrong"
26% thought various disasters in 1999 might "foreshadow the wrath of God"
26% think grade-school teachers should be allowed to spank their kids
24% describe themselves as interested in what celebrities think
21% told a pollster they'd never met that they had cheated in a relationship
21% say justice was served in the O.J. Simpson case
20% approve of the how the Catholic Church handles pedophilia
20% believe that the killing of civilians in Vietnam was "relatively rare"
15% were upset at Diana Spencer's death like "someone you knew"
12% think the United States should have a British-style royal family
11% stockpiled food and water in advance of Y2K
11% think "Titanic" was the best American movie of the 20th century
11% would like "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman" as their personal physician
10% would eat a rat or an insect on a "reality" TV show
10% think it's advantageous to be a woman in American society
10% believe Oswald acted alone
10% say they are "very likely" to become rich someday
8% could not name a single TV network
8% fear they are "very likely" to be shot or badly hurt by a stranger
7% think Elvis is possibly still alive
6% say Garth Brooks is the best male singer of the 20th century
5% are ?very afraid? of thunder and lightning
5% would be "more likely" to buy food labeled as genetically modified
3% wanted to see the questions on "Millionaire" become less difficult

So... what to make of all this?

1) A measurable percentage of Americans will say pretty much any damn thing you can imagine.

2) Looking at the other opinions floating around 20 percent, I'd say that the extent of lunatic public perception of WMDs is, if anything, surprisingly low, given the constant drumbeat of bullshit coming out of the White House and megaphoned by the press for much of the past year.

3) About the same number of people who think it's an advantage to be a woman in America would eat a rat on live TV. Clearly, we've got some work to do on the whole gender-equality thing.

4) Speaking of social progress, there sure seems to be a remarkably consistent hardcore of about 25-30 percent who seem to be living sometime in the late 19th century at best. Beatings as a form of education? Wives submitting graciously? Vengeful gods screwing with the weather?

Gallup really ought to quiz these people in a little more detail; after all, there's a lot we still don't know the Spanish menace in Cuba, how to handle an acute case of quinsy, and this schoolteacher concocting folderol about our forefathers descending from monkeys.

So one-third of Americans mistakenly think we found WMDs? Great. We can work with that. After looking at these numbers, I'm just relieved 30 percent don't think Saddam's disembodied wraith is looming in a vengeful stormfront, ready to deflower the womenfolk, lead our children into Satan's bosom, and force the men to read science books." (Bob Harris, This Modern World by Tom Tomorrow, posted June 17, 2003).

More Harris:

"Dick Cheney [in an opinion poll] has a 19 percent approval rating.

19 percent.

That's two points less popular than cheating on your spouse and seven points behind corporal punishment in schools (scroll down).

That's down in what can be politely called lunatic territory. As I've been pointing out for years, twenty or thirty percent of Americans believe any insane thing you can imagine.

Dick Cheney is now 18 points behind the number of people who believe alien beings have secretly contacted the U.S. government.

Bush, similarly, now trails the number of people who think astrology is scientific by five points." (Bob Harris, BobHarris.Com, November 3, 2005).


Lenin on America's culture of life:

"What is much more interesting is that, in between the bookends of life, all kinds of murder and mayhem will be mandated by God. In fact, isn't the irony of this that the cult of life is elevating its gloriole in a society whose cultural output makes a fetish of death? From Bonnie & Clyde to Natural Born Killers, the open secret of American (and by extension, global) fantasy life is that death is a beautiful and erotic thing. Teen horror flicks pitch an extreme negative fascination with the body and its inners with a sensuous devotion to its sensory surfaces - or to put it more bluntly, sex and violence.

Curtis White makes an apt point in his hilarious book about The Middle Mind, regarding the Spielberg schlock Saving Private Ryan. Spielberg's "conscience" movies are always suffused with platitudinous drivel, purporting to be idealism, or compassion or some other appropriately undemanding reaction to the world's evils. This one in particular makes use of the flag, which flaps majestically at the beginning and end of the film, wrapping its contours in a comforting Stars n Stripes diaper. One knows that it is not going to offend 'patriotic' sensibilities, just as the use of softie Tom Hanks to play the heroic Captain Miller deflects embarrassing memories of tough guy John Wayne posturing a la The Green Berets. Yet what is the central "lesson" of the movie? As White has it, it is to be found in the connected scenes in which the intellectual multi-lingual Upham persuades Captain Miller to issue a command not to kill a German prisoner. The German is pathetically attempting to recite the Star Spangled Banner. Here is a human life, a PoW with rights under international law. One does not simply kill one's prisoners, unless already among the savage, and that is downright unAmerican. What does the German do? He comes back, guns blazing, and takes out Captain Miller with obvious satisfaction. Upham learns his lesson and does what we all know he should have done in the first place: pops a bullet in the evil Kraut's head. The lesson, therefore, is:

[A]lways choose death, for if you do not, death will come anyway, later, multiplied.

These intellectuals with their Hamlet-like procrastination, their sensitivity and cowardice, will get us all killed. Back in the present day, the old soldier named Ryan weeps over Miller's grave and wonders once again if he has led a good life. The flag returns, translucent, radiant. But a resonance of death this time, the flag bears a slight similarity to the eery deathliness of Warhol's 'Diamond Dust Shoes' .

Of course, there are all sorts of cheap shit movies that do a lesser courtesy to the same job. I was watching Commando with Arnold Schwarzenegger in it last night, for instance. (Plot: murderous ex-dictator of anonymous Latin American country, recently deposed by Arnie, wants him to assassinate the new 'nice guy' President the Americans have assisted to power. Stop laughing. To this end, they kidnap Arnie's sweet, doe-eyed little daughter in her dungarees and pink sweater, and threaten to kill her if he doesn't do what they say. Naturally, being evil, they're going to kill her anyway, hur hur hur. Arnie busts the fuck out of there, kidnaps, shoots, beats and conflagrates his way to that tropical nation, because "awl that mattas to me now is my dawta". But why fabulate? The videos taken by soldiers in Iraq of dead Ay-rab bodies, their hilarious titles ("Ramadi madness", "sneaky little bastards", "Another Day, Another Scumbag"), the slick professionalism and the overlaying of aggressive heavy metal music, easily match Tawhid wal-Jihad's sicker productions for morbidity and cruel fascination with humiliated flesh. The 'rape footage' from Guantanamo, if it is ever released, will doubtless provide similarly revolting scenes implicating the viewer in sadistic pleasure at the torture and humiliation of others. It isn't even necessary to go abroad for one's kicks, however. America is a violent society, more so than most other advanced capitalist states. The combustible fusion of imperialism abroad, fear-mongering at home, and ready access to firearms has ensured this." (Lenin's Tomb, "Terri Schiavo and the American Cult of Death," March 21, 2005).


Our Judaeo-Christian Heritage:

"From the later Middle Ages until the eighteenth century, certain peoples in Europe held the anthropomorphic notion that animals could commit crime. Indeed, those animals that were officially suspected of so doing were prosecuted for their misdeeds in secular courts and, if convicted, were subject to a variety of punishments, including public execution. It is very likely that this medieval belief in animal criminality originated in Judaeo-Christian biblical dictates deeply imbricated in both legal practice and popular culture. In medieval times, secular and ecclesiastical authorities interpreted literally the Hebrew injunction in Exodus that goring oxen should be stoned to death. Additional biblical support for the prosecution of offending animals was found to lie in the prescription in Genesis (ix, 5) that animals are accountable for the shedding of human blood, in the cursing of the serpent in the Garden of Eden ( Genesis , iii, 14-15), in David's cursing of the rocks and mountains of Gilboa (2 Samuel , i, 21), and elsewhere in the treatment of other recalcitrant inanimate objects (see Hyde 1916, p. 700, n. 17).

The overriding ontological context of animal trials in early medieval Europe stemmed from the belief that the cosmological universe was based on a rigid hierarchical chain of being. At the summit of this hierarchy was the male God of Judaeo-Christendom, followed by His earthly representatives and interpreters (Church and State), then by the multitiered social strata of feudalism, all of which in their respective positions in the human hierarchy sat atop the nonhuman animal kingdom in theirs ­ primates, quadrupeds, the "lower" animals and vermin, and vegetative and plant life. At the core of this religious tradition was the belief that, alone among all the animals, humans were made in the image and likeness of God, possessed free will, could be forgiven for their sins, and had the opportunity to join their Maker in the next world.

As the medieval period progressed from its early to its later stages, attempts were made squarely to confront the issue of the moral and legal responsibility of animals for their actions, though there is no solid evidence of a general belief that the volition and intent of animals was of the same order as those of humans. 3 The first prominent medieval theologian to examine the grounds on which animals might be prosecuted and punished for their misdeeds was the Italian scholar Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) (Evans, 1906, pp. 53-55). He reasoned that if the lower animals are God's creatures and they are employed by Him for His purposes, then it would be blasphemy to curse them. If they are regarded merely as brutes, then a malediction (or legal curse) would be odious, vain, and unlawful. The only possible justification for trying and punishing animals, Aquinas argued, was that the guilty ones must be agents of Satan. The disposition of such cases, therefore, should not be seen as ending in the punishment of animals but in the hurling of them at the Devil, who makes use of irrational creatures to our detriment. While jurists did not believe that animals could, like humans, form the necessary legal intent to kill, it was held that the principle of the goring ox entailed that the absence of legal intent did not absolve animals from liability for having caused a wrongful death. Thus, in 1666 an ecclesiastical court in Berne held that "an ox is created for man's sake, and can therefore be killed for his sake; and in doing this there is no question of right or wrong as regards the ox" (quoted in Finkelstein, 1981, p. 70). Goring oxen were not to be executed because they were morally guilty but because, as lower animals who had killed higher animals, they threatened to turn upside down the divinely-ordained hierarchy of God's creation.

Knowledge of medieval animal trials was first secured for an English-language audience by the labors of the American author Edward Payson Evans (1831-1917), a member of that extinct Victorian species whose scholarly interests were seemingly encyclopedic and which, in his case, encompassed intellectual history, the study of languages, German literature, oriental studies, animal psychology and, surprisingly, animal rights, a subject which will require attention later.

In The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals , Evans convincingly documents that the medieval belief in the criminal liability of animals was held both by secular and religious authorities, whose sometimes colliding worldviews nevertheless agreed on the need to prosecute certain animals in the medieval courtroom and, in deserving cases, to pronounce sentence upon them. Evans and we are ultimately indebted to Bartholomé Chassenée, a distinguished French jurist whose records of animal trials were published in 1531 and first popularised by Evans (1884a, 1884b, 1906; and see von Amira, 1891; Ives, 1914 pp. 247-266) in the late nineteenth century. Evans relates that Chassenée made his own reputation at the French bar as counsel for an unspecified number of rats, which were prosecuted in the ecclesiastical court of Autun for having feloniously eaten and wantonly destroyed local barley.

On complaint formally presented by the magistracy, the official or bishop's vicar, who exercised jurisdiction in such cases, cited the culprits to appear on a certain day and appointed Chassenée to defend them. In view of the bad repute and notorious guilt of his clients, Chassenée was forced to employ all sorts of legal shifts and chicane, dilatory pleas and other technical objections, hoping thereby to find some loophole in the meshes of the law through which the accused might escape, or at least to defer and mitigate the sentence of the judge. He urged ... that inasmuch as the defendants were dispersed over a large tract of country and dwelt in numerous villages, a single summons was insufficient to notify them all; he succeeded, therefore, in obtaining a second citation, to be published from the pulpits of all the parishes inhabited by the said rats. (Evans, 1906, pp. 18-19)

In this case, it is no joke that neither the judge's sentence nor whether the accused were put to the rack to extort a confession were recorded, although Chassenée's legal acumen and the eloquence of his plea established his fame as a criminal lawyer.

According to Evans, the sentencing of guilty animals rigidly adhered to contemporary legal precedent and established procedures. These latter included a reprimanding knock on the head, the curse of an anathema, excommunication or even, in the case of the larger quadrupeds such as pigs and bulls, capital punishment. Evans describes in great detail certain cases of the lex talionis (the law of retaliation) in which capital punishment was exercised by secular and ecclesiastical courts, among which a notorious example is provided by the public execution in 1386 of an infanticidal sow in the French city of Falaise. Having been duly tried in a court of law, presided over by a judge with counsel attending, the sow was dressed in human clothes, mutilated in the head and hind legs, and executed in the public square by an official hangman (" maître des hautes oeuvres ") on whom had been bestowed a pair of new gloves befitting the solemnity of the occasion (p. 140). Sometimes the condemned were even offered pardons or clemency. Evans (pp. 153-154; and see Westermarck, 1906, 1, p. 257) mentions how youth could be grounds for acquittal, as was so in the prosecution of a sow and her six piglets for having murdered and partly devoured a child. Here, the sow was sentenced to death, but the piglets were acquitted on account of their youth and their mother's bad example.

Evans records that in various parts of Europe between the ninth and the nineteenth centuries the prosecution of animals encompassed a great variety of major and minor crimes committed both by domestic and wild animals, and by insects and other "vermin." The original Notices of Indictment ­ some displayed by Evans ­ refer to crimes such as homicide committed by bees, bulls, horses and snakes; fraud by field-mice disguised as heretical clerics; infanticide by pigs; and theft by foxes. Moreover, Evans shows that judicial proceedings were instituted against a veritable Noah's Ark of creatures, including horseflies, Spanish flies and gadflies, beetles, grasshoppers, locusts, caterpillars, termites, weevils, bloodsuckers, snails, worms, rats, mice, moles, cows, 'bitches and she-asses,' horses, mules, bulls, pigs, oxen, goats, cocks, cockchafers, dogs, wolves, snakes, eels, dolphins and turtledoves.

Evans thus provided quite straightforward and detailed information about the range of crimes committed by animals and the precise species which were formally accused of them. However, from different parts of his book one can also reconstruct information about the periodicity of animal trials and their location.

Let us turn first, to the question of periodicity. Evans lists a total of 191 animal trials, each trial in his list containing brief entries about "sources of information", "types of animal", "places" and "dates" (1906, pp. 265-286). From the last of these entries it can be deduced that animal trials were concentrated in the 15th (36), 16th (57) and 17th (56) centuries. Without exception, the earliest cases involved the excommunication or exorcism of wild animals and, indeed, until the 13th century all cases cited by Evans refer to "vermin" like moles, locusts, serpents, flies, field-mice, caterpillars and eels. The year of the first trial listed by Evans is 824, when moles were excommunicated in the Valley of Aosta. Strictly speaking, this case was not an animal trial but part of an entirely different process that resulted in pronouncements of excommunication by an ecclesiastical court. 4 This said, the earliest authentic case of an animal trial cited by Evans is that of a pig in Fontenay-aux-Roses near Paris in 1266 (Finkelstein 1981, p. 67). Until the end of the sixteenth century, moreover, when for some reason such creatures fell out of vogue, pigs vastly outnumbered all other species of animal subjected to prosecution. The last case of an animal trial cited by Evans was in 1906 when, as reported in the New York Herald, a dog was tried in Délémont in Switzerland.


Moreover, Evans illustrates how the European practice of taking legal proceedings against vermin was exported to the New World by the ecclesiastical courts. In a case of 1662 originally reported by Cotton Mather, in New Haven, Connecticut, animal trials intersected with accusations of bestiality. Here a pious wretch named Potter, aged about 60, was executed for "damnable Bestialities" with a cow, two heifers, three sheep and two sows, which were killed at the gallows before his eyes (Evans 1906, pp. 148-149). In another case, in the Brazilian province of Piedade no Maranhao , some Franciscan friars brought an action in 1713 against the ants "of the said territory, because the said ants did feloniously burrow beneath the foundation of the monastery and undermine the cellars of the said Bretheren, thereby weakening the walls of the said monastery and threatening its total ruin" (pp. 123-124; and see Frazer 1923, p. 410-411). Counsel were named for both plaintiffs and defense and, after learned arguments were provided by both sides, the judge, in a mood of wise conciliation, ruled that the Bretheren should appoint a neighborhood field suitable for habitation by the ants and that the latter "should shift their quarters to the new abode on pain of suffering the major excommunication" ( ibid .). But interesting as these cases are, we still do not know how extensive animal trials were in the New World." (Piers Beirne (1993). Inventing criminology: The rise of 'homo criminalis' . Albany, New York: SUNY Press).

The Articulation of Our Time

Michael J. Kirkhorn's essay, "The Virtuous Journalist," published way back in 1982, remains one of the most brilliant meditations on journalism that I have ever read:

"There are journalists who contribute to our education and fortify our convictions. They participate, as John Grierson said of the documentary filmmakers he inspired, to the "articulation of our time." They reveal to us something which seems truthful, and quite often the act of revealing requires that, among other intervening deceptions, they must sweep aside a clutter of inferior and obscuring journalism, and resist the journalistic stereotyping which compounds falsification. They must practice a counter-journalism, detect and avoid the processes through which the assumption of chaos (Iranians acting incomprehensibly) is reduced to the presumption of understanding (the incomprehensibility of Iranians certified by western reporters). The reporting and interpreting offered by such journalists is unsparing -- neither we nor they are spared; their understanding is hard-won -- won from the facts and not confined to them, and clarified by rigorous and sometimes painful and discouraging reflection." (Michael J. Kirkhorn, "The Virtuous Journalist: An Exploratory Essay," The Quill, February 1982).

Saturday, January 21, 2006

What Is It Like to Be A Bat?

George B. N. Ayittey is an economist from Ghana who teaches at American University in Washington. He is one of those morally grotesque and numbingly mediocre figures that the American Right has the uncanny talent for digging up. Every full moon he is unleashed from the dank caves of the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation his rancid mouth awash with the latest racist pronouncement on Africa. I ran across the transcript below of an interview that PBS conducted with Ayittey right after the 2002 Al Qaeda attack on Mombasa:

RAY SUAREZ: For more [on Thursday's terrorist attacks], we go to Bruce Hoffman, the editor-in- chief of the scholarly journal "Studies in Conflict and Terrorism" and director of the Washington office of RAND, a research corporation; and George Ayittey, professor of economics at American University here in Washington. He is from Ghana.


RAY SUAREZ: Professor Ayittey, why, in your view, was Kenya an easy place to do this?

George AyitteyGEORGE AYITTEY: Well, Ray, let me say that this is the third time such an attack has occurred in Kenya. The first one was in November 1979 when the Norfolk Hotel was blown up by Islamic fundamentalist groups in retaliation against Kenya for allowing the Israelis to use Kenya as a staging area to rescue hostages in Entebbe, Uganda.

And the second was as Bruce mentioned, August 1998 when the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were blown up, and this particular occurrence, but you see, what it says is that the level of security in Kenya has been very, very lax, and it has been a lot easier for terrorist organizations to penetrate.

As a matter of fact, this is very, very disturbing and it is very dangerous because we are talking about the penetration of very highly sophisticated shoulder-launched, heat-seeking missiles in an African country and it has the potential to destabilize the East African region. The reason why I'm saying this is because Kenya is a country which has been a bastion of stability in that particular region, it's surrounded by countries which have been torn by civil war; Sudan, for example, and also Somalia and we also have Rwanda and Burundi.

So it is a development and also strictly from the African point of view, it constitutes a rape of African hospitality, because see we are talking about some kind of religious imperialism in that particular region, because lest people forget, a good percentage in Islam are not indigenous to Africa, and there has been a clash between the Israelis and Arabs. A lot of Africans are very enraged and outraged by this particular incident because--

RAY SUAREZ: But in the particular case of Kenya, hadn't there been an indigenous Islamic presence for centuries along the coast?

GEORGE AYITTEY: Oh, yes, there have been.

RAY SUAREZ: Haven't Christians and Muslims lived side by side in Kenya?

Ayittey and SuarezGEORGE AYITTEY: Oh, yes, they have lived side by side, but at the same time, many Africans recognize that both Christianity and Islam are foreign religions and it is not something which should be imposed upon Africans by force, as has been happening and as is happening in Sudan, in Mauritania, in fact, where blacks are still being enslaved by Arabs.

So the way most Africans look at this is slightly different from the western perspective. And that is why I use the term abuse of African hospitality because Africans have always welcomed Arabs in the eastern part of East Africa, whereas, the Arabs, as far as black Africans are concerned, are no different from the Europeans. Both were colonizers; both were enslavers; whereas, the Europeans were running the West African slave trade, the Arabs were running the East African slave trade. More than two million -- twenty million Africans were shipped out of East Africa to Arabia.

And also let me point out that in August of 1998, after the bombing, twin bombings of the U.S. Embassies, there was no Arab aid to Kenya, for example, though the U.S. aid that was provided was somewhat criticized as being inadequate - no other Arab country condemned that attack or even provided humanitarian assistance to the victims.

(A Newshour with Jim Lehrer transcript, "Terrorist Attacks in Kenya," Nov. 29, 2002).

Newspaper of Record

All the news that's fit to print: The New York Times reviewed Mein Kampf with characteristic "objectivity.":

"Hitler is doing much for Germany, his unification of the Germans, his destruction of communism, his training of the young, his creation of a Spartan State animated by patriotism, his curbing of parliamentary government, so unsuited to the German character; his protection of the right of private property are all good; and, after all, what the Germans do in their own territory is their own business, except for one thing -- the persecution and practical expulsion of the Jews."

(By James W. Gerard From Books of the Century: A Hundred Years of Authors, Ideas and Literature From the New York Times Edited by Charles McGrath and the staff of the New York Times Book Review Page 105)

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Heart of Whiteness

Courtesy of the inimitable Teju Cole, an excerpt from a letter Italo Calvino sent to his publishers in 1960:

Montgomery, Alabama, 6 March

This is a day I will never forget as long as I live. I have seen what racism is, mass racism, accepted as one of society’s fundamental rules. I was present at one of the first episodes of mass struggle by the Southern blacks: it ended in defeat. I don’t know if you are aware that after decades of total immobility black protests began right here, in the worst segregationist State in the country: some were even successful, under the leadership of Martin Luther King, a Baptist minister, advocate of non-violent protest. That is why I came here to Montgomery, the day before yesterday, but I did not expect to find myself right in the middle of these crucial days of struggle.


The Capitol was already ringed by policemen with truncheons and Highway Police in their cowboy hats, turquoise jerkins and khaki trousers. The pavements are swarming with whites, mostly poor whites who are the worst racists, ready to use their fists, young hooligans working in teams (their organization, which is only barely clandestine, is the Ku Klux Klan), but also comfortable middle-class people, families with children, all there to watch and shout slogans and obscenities against the blacks locked inside the church, plus of course dozens of amateur photographers taking shots of such unusual Sunday events. The crowd’s attitude varied between derision, as though they were watching monkeys asking for civil rights (genuine derision, from people who never thought the blacks could get such ideas in their heads), to hatred, cries of provocation, crow-like sounds made by the young thugs. Here and there, along the pavement, there are also a few small groups of blacks, standing aside, men and women, dressed in their best clothes, watching silently and still, in an attitude of composure. The waiting becomes more and more unbearable, the blacks must by now have finished their service and must be ready to come out; the Capitol steps are blocked by the police, all the pavements are blocked by the crowd of whites who are now angry and shouting “Come out niggers!” The blacks start to appear on the steps of their church and begin singing a hymn; the whites begin to make a racket, howling and insulting them. The fire-fighters arrive with their hoses and position themselves all around.


Then begins the most painful part to watch: the blacks come out of the church a few at a time, some head down a side street that I cannot see, but which I think the police have cleared of whites, but others go down Dexter Avenue in small groups along the pavements where the white thugs have gathered, walking away silently with their heads held high amid choruses of threatening and obscene sneers, insults and gestures. At every insult or witticism made by a white, the other whites, men and women, burst out laughing, sometimes with almost hysterical insistence, but sometimes also just like that, affably, and these people, as far as I’m concerned, are the most awful, this all-out racism combined with affability.


The first battle was the one about buses, last year. The boycotting of the buses following an incident (the arrest of a black girl who had wanted to sit on a seat reserved for whites) was the first mass protest by the blacks and it was successful. Then they tried to mount a legal action to have the whites’ park open to blacks, but the town council ordered all parks to be closed, and so the city was for the whole summer, and still today, without a public park, a swimming pool, etc. These protests were organized by this young black political activist, Luther King (who like all the others is officially a Baptist Church minister), who has no particular social or political program except equal rights for blacks.


Last week, the whole city went into a state of tension like in a civil war, the KKK put bombs in several houses (I visited some of the people who had been bombed) and a few days ago they clubbed a black woman over the head with a baseball bat and the judge did not find the KKK person accused guilty despite witnesses, photographs, etc. The thing that is difficult for a European to understand is how these things can happen in a nation which is 75 per cent non-segregationist, and how they can take place without the involvement of the rest of the country. But the autonomy of the individual states is such that here they are even more outside Washington’s jurisdiction or New York public opinion, than if they were, say, in the Middle East. And there is no possibility (or perhaps they lack the ability?) for the black movement here to find allies, neither for King nor for the more left-wing activists who maintain (correctly) that the crucial point is that of being allowed to vote. King now has allies in the colonial peoples’ movement, but they can only provide moral support; he was recently in Ghana, Egypt, and India; he was also invited to Russia but refused because otherwise, etc.

So the minute I arrived in Montgomery, into the hottest part of this situation, I learnt that King was in town and I got them to take me to him. He is a very stout and capable person, physically resembling Bourghiba a bit, with a little mustache: the fact that he is a pastor has nothing to do with his physical appearance (his second-in-command and successor, Abernathy, a young rather fat man who also has a small moustache, looks like a jazz-player), these are politicians whose only weapon is the pulpit and even their non-violence does not really have a mystical aura about it: it is the only form of struggle possible and they use it with controlled political skill which the extreme harshness of their conditions has taught them. These black leaders- I’ve approached several of them in the last few days, of different tendencies- are lucid, decisive people, totally devoid of black self-pity, not terribly kind (though of course I was an unknown foreigner who had turned up to nose around in days which were very eventful for them). The race question is a damnable thing: for a century a huge country like the South has not spoken or thought about anything else, just this problem, whether they are progressives or reactionaries.

So I arrive escorted by blacks in the sacristy of Abernathy’s church and King is there along with another black minister who is also a leader, and I am present at a council-of-war meeting where they decide on this Sunday’s course of action which I have just described to you; then we go to another church where the students have gathered, in order to give them this instruction, and then I stay for this dramatic moving meeting, I the sole white among three thousand black students, perhaps the first white to do so in the whole history of the South.


I have ten minutes of peace to calm down after all the emotion, then a high-society lady comes to collect me and shows me, as we drive along, their factory of gherkins in vinegar, and hints vaguely at the day’s “troubles” caused by that agitator Luther King. This famous Southern aristocracy gives me the impression of being uniquely stupid in its continual harking back to the glories of the Confederacy; this Confederate patriotism which survives intact after a century, as though they were talking about things from their youth, in the tone of someone who is confident you share their emotions, is something which is more unbearable than ridiculous. (Italo Calvino, letter published in the autobiographical book A Hermit in Paris. Teju Cole posted this on his blog, Teju Cole, January 16, 2006).

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Radical Chic (Or Catachresis)

Some subversive performances that Judith Butler would approve:

1) To signal the end of a conversation, clamp your hands over your ears and Grimace.

2) When someone hands you a piece of paper, finger it, and whisper huskily, "Mmmmmmm, that feels soooooo good!"

3) While riding in an elevator, gasp dramatically every time the doors open.


1) Say to your boss, "I like your style" and shoot him with double-barreled fingers.

2) Babble incoherently at a fellow employee then ask, "Did you get all that, I don't want to have to repeat it."

3) Page yourself over the intercom (do not disguise your voice).

4) Kneel in front of the water cooler and drink directly from the nozzle there must be a 'non-player within sight).

5) Shout random numbers while someone is counting.


1) At the end of a meeting, suggest that, for once, it would be nice to conclude with the singing of the national anthem (extra points if you actually launch into it yourself).

2) While in conversation to them, refer to each one of your board members as "Bob".

3) After every sentence, say 'Mon' in a really bad Jamaican accent. As

in "The report's on your desk, Mon". Keep this up for one hour.

4) In a meeting or crowded situation, slap your forehead repeatedly and mutter, "Shut up, damn it, all of you just shut up!".

5 At lunchtime, get down on your knees and announce, "As God as my witness, I'll never go hungry again."

6) In a coworker's pal pilot, write in 10am: "See how I look in tights." (One extra point if it is a male, five extra points if he is your boss)

7) Carry your keyboard over to your colleague and ask, "You wanna trade?".

8) Repeat the following conversation 10 times to the same person: "Do you hear that?" "What?" "Never mind, it's gone now."

9) Come to work in army fatigues and when asked why, say, "I can't talk about it".

10) Posing as a maitre d', call a coworker and tell him he's won a lunch for four at a local restaurant. Let him go.

11) Speak with an accent (French, German, Porky Pig, etc) during a very important conference call.

12) Find the vacuum and start vacuuming around your desk.

13) Hang a two-foot long piece of toilet roll from the back of your pants and act genuinely surprised when someone points it out.

14) Present meeting attendees with a cup of coffee and cookie, smashing each cookie with your fist.

15) During the course of a meeting, slowly edge your chair towards the door.

16) Arrange toy figures on the table to represent each meeting attendee, move them according to the movements of their real-life counterparts.


1) At lunchtime, sit in your parked car with sunglasses on and point a hair dryer at passing cars. See if they slow down.

2) Tell your children over dinner. "Due to the economy, we are going to have to let one of you go."

3) Every time someone asks you to do something, ask if they want fries with that.

4) Put your rubbish bin on your desk and label it IN."

5) Put decaf in the coffee maker for 3 weeks. Once everyone has gotten over his or her caffeine addictions, switch to espresso.

6) Finish all your sentences with "In accordance with the prophecy."

7) Dont use any punctuation

8) Use, too...much; punctuation!

9) As often as possible, skip rather than walk.

10) Ask people what sex they are. Laugh hysterically after they answer.

11) Specify that your drive-through order is "to go."

12) Sing along at the opera.

13) Go to a poetry recital and ask why the poems don't rhyme.

14) Put mosquito netting around your work area. Play a tape of jungle sounds all day.

15) Five days in advance, tell your friends you can't attend their party because you're not in the mood.

16) Have your co-workers address you by your wrestling name, Rock Hard.

17) When the money comes out of the ATM, scream "I Won! I Won! 3rd time this week!!!"

18) When leaving the zoo, start running towards the parking lot yelling, "Run for your lives, they're loose!"

(Stale forwards don't die; they just get blogged).

Weeping May Endure for a Day, But Joy Comes in the Evening

Emily Dickinson:

Presentiment -- is that long shadow -- on the lawn --
Indicative that Suns go down --

The notice to the startled Grass --
That darkness -- is about to pass --

The Ideology of the Aesthetic

From J. M. Coetzee's memoir, Youth:

"He has a horror of spilling mere emotion on to the page. Once it has begun to spill out he would not know how to stop it. It would be like severing an artery and watching one's lifeblood gush out. Prose, fortunately, does not demand emotion: there is that to be said for it. Prose is like a flat, tranquil sheet of water on which one can tack about at one's leisure, making patterns on the surface." (J. M. Coetzee, Youth).

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Butcher of Beirut (Or Philosophy after Auschwitz)

The patron saint of Zionist irredentism, Ariel Sharon, expounded at length on his philosophy in the wake of his mass murders in 1982:

"You can call me anything you like. Call me a monster
or a murderer. Just note that I don't hate Arabs. On
the contrary. Personally, I am much more at east with
them, and especially with the Bedouin, than with Jews.
Those Arabs we haven't yet spoilt are proud people,
they are irrational, cruel and generous. It's the Yids
that are all twisted. In order to straighten them out
you have to first bend them sharply the other way.
That, in brief, is my whole ideology.
"Call Israel by any name you like, call it a
Judeo-Nazi state as does Leibowitz. Why not? Better a
live Judeo-Nazi than a dead saint. I don't care
whether I am like Ghadafi. I am not after the
admiration of the gentiles. I don't need their love. I
don't need to be loved by jews like you either. I have
to live, and I intend to ensure that my children will
live as well. With or without the blessing of the Pope
and the other religious leaders from the New York
Times. I will destroy anyone who will raise a hand
against my children, I will destroy him and his
children, with or without our famous purity of arms. I
don't care if he is Christian, Muslim, Jewish or
pagan. History teaches us that he who won't kill will
be killed by others. That is an iron law.

"Even if you'll prove to me by mathematical means that
the present war in Lebanon is a dirty immoral war, I
don't care. Moreover, even if you will prove to me
that we have not achieved and will not achieve any of
our aims in Lebanon, that we will neither create a
friendly regime in Lebanon nor destroy the Syrians or
even the PLO, even then I don't care. it was still
worth it. Even if Galilee is shelled again by
Katyushas in a year's time, I don't really care. We
shall start another war, kill and destroy more and
more, until they will have had enough. And do you know
why it is all worth it? Because it seems that this
war has made us more unpopular among the so-called
civilized world.

"We'll hear no more of that nonsense about the unique
Jewish morality, the moral lessons of the holocaust or
about the Jews who were supposed to have emerged from
the gas chambers pure and virtuous. No more of that.
The destruction of Eyn Hilwe (and it's a pity we did
not wipe out that hornet's nest completely!), the
healthy bombardment of Beirut and that tiny massacre
(can you call 500 Arabs a massacre?) in their camps
which we should have committed with our own delicate
hands rather than let the Phalangists do it, all these
good deeds finally killed the bullshit talk about a
unique people and of being a light upon the nations.
No more uniqueness and no more sweetness and light.
Good riddance."

"I personally don't want to be any better than
Khomeini or Brezhnev or Ghadafi or Assad or Mrs.
Thatcher, or even Harry Truman who killed half a
million Japanese with two fine bombs. I only want to
be smarter than they are, quicker and more efficient,
not better or more beautiful than they are. Tell me,
do the baddies of this world have a bad time? If
anyone tries to touch them, the evil men cut his hands
and legs off. They hunt and catch whatever they feel
like eating. They don't suffer from indigestion and
are not punished by Heaven. I want Israel to join that
club. Maybe the world will then at last begin to fear
me instead of feeling sorry for me. Maybe they will
start to tremble, to fear my madness
instead of admiring my nobility. Thank god for that.
Let them tremble, let them call us a mad state. Let
them understand that we are a wild country, dangerous
to our surroundings, not normal, that we might go
crazy if one of our children is murdered just one!
That we might go wild and burn all the oil fields in
the Middle East! If anything would happen to your
child, god forbid, you would talk like I do. Let them
be aware inWashington, Moscow, Damascus and China that
if one of our ambassadors is shot, or even a consul or
the most junior embassy official, we might start World
War Three just like that!"

"Let me tell me [sic] what is the most important
thing, the sweetest fruit of the war in Lebanon: It is
that now they don't just hate Israel. Thanks to us,
they now also hate all those Feinschmecker Jews in
Paris, London, New York, Frankfurt and Montreal, in
all their holes. At last they hate all these nice
Yids, who say they are different from us, that they
are not Israeli thugs, that they are different Jews,
clean and decent. Just like the assimilated Jew in
Vienna and Berlin begged the anti-Semite not to
confuse him with the screaming, stinking Ostjude, who
had smuggled himself into that cultural environment
out of the dirty ghettos of Ukraine and Poland. It
won't help them, those clean Yids, just as it did not
help them in Vienna and Berlin. Let them shout that
they condemn Israel, that they are all right, that
they did not want and don't want to hurt a fly, that
they always prefer being slaughtered to fighting, that they have
taken it upon themselves to teach the gentiles how to
be good Christians by always turning the other cheek.
It won't do them any good. Now they are getting it
there because of us, and I am telling you, it is a
pleasure to watch.

"They are the same Yids who persuaded the gentiles to
capitulate to the bastards in Vietnam, to give it in
to Khomeini, to Brezhnev, to feel sorry hr Sheikh
Yamani because of his tough childhood, to make love
not war. Or rather, to do neither, and instead write a
thesis on love and war. We are through with all that.
The Yid has been rejected, not only did he crucify
Jesus, but he also crucified Arafat in Sabra and
Shatila. They are being identified with us and that's
a good thing! their cemeteries are being desecrated,
their synagogues are set on fire, all their old
nicknames are being revived, they are being expelled
tom the best clubs, people shoot into their ethnic
restaurants murdering small children, forcing them to
remove any sign showing them to be Jews, forcing them
to move and change their profession. "Soon their
palaces will be smeared with the slogan: Yids, go to
Palestine! And you know what? They will go to
Palestine because they will have no other choice! All
this is a bonus we received from the Lebanese war.
Tell me, wasn't it worth it?

"Soon we will hit on good times.
The Jews will start arriving, the Israelis will stop
emigrating and those who already emigrated will
return. Those who had chosen assimilation will finally
understand that it wont help them to try and be the
conscience of the world. The 'conscience of the world'
will have to understand through its arse what it could
not get into its head. The gentiles have always felt
sick of the Yids and their conscience, and now the
Yids will have only one option: to come home, all of
them, fast, to install thick steel doors, to build a
strong fence, to have submachine guns positioned at
every comer of their fence here and to fight like
devils against anyone who dares to make a sound in
this region. And if anyone even raises his hand
against us we'll take away half his land and burn the
other half, including the oil. We might use nuclear
arms. We'll go on until he no longer feels like it...

"...You probably want to know whether I am not afraid
of the masses of Yids coming here to escape
anti-semitism smearing us with their olive oil until
we go all soft like them. Listen, history is funny in
that way, there is a dialectic here, irony. Who was it
who expanded the state of Israel almost up the
boundaries of the kingdom of King David? Who expanded
the state until it covered the area from Mount Hermon
to Raz Muhammad? Lei Eshkol. Of all people, it
was that follower of Gordon, that softie, that old
woman. Who, on the other hand, is about to push us
back into the walls of the ghetto? Who gave up all of
Sinai in order to retain a civilised image? Beitar's
governor in Poland, that proud man Menahem Begin. So
you can never tell. I only know one thing for sure: as
long as you are fighting for your life all is
permitted, even to drive out all the Arabs from the
West Bank, everything.

"Leibowitz is right, we are Judeo-Nazis, and why not?
Listen, a people that gave itself up to be
slaughtered, a people that let soap to be made of its
children and lamp shades from the skin of its women is
a worse criminal than its murderers. Worse than the
Nazis...if your nice civilized parents had come here
in time instead of writing books about the love for
humanity and singing Hear O Israel on the way to the
gas chambers, now don't be shocked, if they instead
had killed six million Arabs here or even one million,
what would have happened? Sure, two or three nasty
pages would have been written in the history books, we
would have been called all sorts of names, but we
could be here today as a people of 25 million!

"Even today I am willing to volunteer to do the dirty
work for Israel, to kill as many Arabs as necessary,
to deport them, to expel and burn them, to have
everyone hate us, to pull the rug from underneath the
feet of the Diaspora Jews, so that they will be forced
to run to us crying. Even if it means blowing up one
or two synagogues here and there, I don't care. And I
don't mind if after the job is done you put me in
front of a Nuremberg Trial and then jail me for life.
Hang me if you want, as a war criminal. Then you can
spruce up your Jewish conscience and enter the
respectable club of civilized nations, nations that
are large and healthy. What you lot don't understand
is that the dirty work of Zionism is not finished yet,
far from it. True, it could have been finished in
1948, but you interfered, you stopped it. And all this because of
the Jewishness in your souls, because of your Diaspora
mentality. For the Jews don't grasp things quickly. If
you open your eyes and look around the world you will
see that darkness is falling again. And we know what
happens to a Jew who stays out in the dark. So I am
glad that this small war in Lebanon frightened the
Yids. Let them be afraid, let them suffer. They should
hurry home before it gets really dark. So l am an
anti-Semite? Fine. So don't quote me, quote Lilienblum
instead [an early Russian Zionist - ed.]. There is no
need to quote an anti-Semite. Quote Lilienblum, and he
is definitely not an anti-Semite, there is even a
street in Tel Aviv named after him. (C. quotes from a
small notebook that was lying on his table when I
arrived) 'Is all that is happening not a clear sign
that our forefathers and ourselves...wented and still
want to be disgraced? That we enjoy living like
gypsies.' That's Lilienblum. Not me. Believe me. I
went through the Zionist literature, I can prove what
I say. "And you can write that I am disgrace to
humanity, I don't mind, on the contrary. Let's make a
deal: I will do all I can to expel the Arabs from
here, I will do all I can to increase anti-semitism, and you will write
poems and essays about the misery of the Arabs and be
prepared to absorb the Yids I will force to flee to
this country and teach them to be a light unto the
gentiles. How about it?"

(Interview of Ariel Sharon by Amos Oz, Israeli author, published in the Israeli daily Davar DEC 17, 1982)

The Cunning of History

I do not know what to make of this. Below, you will find the ravings of one Alec Rawls.

Alec Rawls is a right winger.

Alec Rawls believes in evolutionary psychology.

Alec Rawls is a PhD candidate in economics at Stanford.

Alec Rawls is the son of John Rawls, father of post-World War II political liberalism.

He says:

"Islamic terrorists planted 12 backpack bombs and the Spanish people surrendered. They immediately switched from supporting a Spanish government that had backed the war on terror to electing a socialist enemy of the war on terror. We now have a scientific measure of Spanish instincts. They can be described in one word: female.

Faced with the choice of whether to fight against a violent invasion or surrender to it, men and women face very different, sometimes opposite, biological imperatives. Throughout mankind’s evolutionary history, if a man fought against an invader he risked death in proportion to the strength of his foe, while if he surrendered, he faced almost certain death, at least in the biological sense. At best he would be enslaved and denied further access to females. Thus the reproductively more successful strategy for a man would almost always be to fight invaders, and this is how we should expect the male instincts to be programmed, according to the precepts of evolutionary psychology.

For a woman, fighting against an invader also risks death, but surrender offers much better reproductive prospects for women than for men. A woman’s reproductive capacity is part of the booty, often the primary booty, that invaders have always been after. Thus a fertile woman could almost be guaranteed that, with surrender, her reproductive capacity would not be wasted. This difference in biological incentives will have left women with stronger instincts to surrender.

The disparity between male and female instincts is watered down by the biological incentives that men and women have in common. Both have incentive to save their existing children from being killed or enslaved, especially their boys. (Enslaved girls will still reproduce.) But the disparity still remains. Women with children should have a marginally stronger instinct to surrender than men do, while young childless women should have a much stronger instinct to surrender.

The poll watching group Public Opinion Watch has commented on what it calls the “interesting paradox” that “women are substantially more worried about being victims of a terrorist attack than men, yet appear to be substantially less supportive of the Bush administration’s Iraq policy, ostensibly designed to protect American citizens from terror.” This “paradox” can be taken as a measure of the greater female instinct to assume a submissive posture.

Demographers have also found that America’s appeasement party—still officially called the Democrat party—is the party of single women, while the Republicans are the party of married women. In this case, however, the statistical gap probably overstates the female lay down effect, due to entanglement with other factors. Many single mothers effectively marry the government by going on welfare, and since the Democrats created welfare, they see the Democrats as the husband figure in this relationship. Some of these women might well want to fight to protect their children, but still go with the party of appeasement because they are married in.

or a modern nation to surrender to a band of primitives over twelve backpack bombs is insane. You can always submit later, senoritas, after Spain has been defeated. There is no immediate need to get down on your backs. That is just your sex talking: the terrified Yanomamo girls inside, hoping to survive. The personal must not be political, not the female personal, not when the nation is under attack.

Unfortunately, everything is personal for women, including politics, at least at the level of biological disposition. Women, throughout our evolutionary history, have lived their lives under the power of men. While men have looked outward, engaging the world outside the home in order to provide for the home, women have looked inward, managing the household and establishing their status in it through their emotional relationship with the resident political authority, the man. Men and women both have the same open ended faculties to discover and pursue value, but the difference in our instinctive natures is large.

Faced with an invader, the combination of woman’s instinct to submit, and the tendency for her political thinking to revolve around the personal, can be a disastrous pairing for a nation that allows women to vote. The problem is even worse in Europe because European society has become thoroughly feminized. The European man no longer thinks like a man.

How is it possible for male instinct to be occluded? Very simple: instinct is shaped by calculations of reproductive benefit, crunched numerically by natural selection. Our open ended faculties of intelligence grasp and reinforce these calculations. By changing the conditions in which boys are raised, the risk-reward calculations they face can be shaped so as to set their rational faculties against their instincts, causing instinct to be suppressed.

Consider the impact of European civilian disarmament. Every Spanish man, from the time he was a boy, has been deprived of the means to defend himself and others. Faced with any serious violent threat, from as little as a knife or a piece of pipe, he has always been at a total disadvantage. His open ended faculties of intelligence have always understood clearly that his only rational course is to flee.

The normal male biological calculation— that it makes sense to fight in defense of self and others—is conditioned (in our evolutionary number crunching) on a man having done what he can to be prepared to fight. Our ancestors did not disarm themselves! Europe, by not allowing its boys ever to be prepared to fight, sets their rational faculties to overcome their biological nature. Instead of coming to grips with the moral use of force, European male character formation all occurs in conditions that push males to the female calculation: that it is better to submit.

The result is a vagina monologue. European males and females both see the world in the instinctive female way, as the Spanish displayed last month. By choosing not to fight for their survival, the Spanish are, at the biological level, seeking to survive by making babies for the invader. Here in America, our women (or at least our Republican women), grow up thinking of themselves and their men as armed. Thus their rational faculties grasp that it makes sense to fight. Faced with an attacker, it is the female instinct that gets overruled.

Such good girls, even helping out behind the lines while our boys methodically stuff the Jihadis into the meat grinder. There is a long way to go, but women, don’t worry. We will never let the vermin take you. You can go to them if you want, the flakes amongst you. We allow you your weakness. What we love is your strength." (Alec Rawls, "Spain's Vagina Monologue: Feminization," Stanford Review, April 15, 2004).

Friday, January 06, 2006

Civility and Its Discontents

Professor PZ Myers' interview on Daily Kos is a virtuoso performance on the art of the incisive answer:

DS [Interviewer]: I think it's fair to note you're also pretty liberal, and that academics such as yourself are often criticized for being 'too liberal'. How do you respond to that charge? What would you say to your more conservative scientific colleagues regarding the current political dynamic?

PZ: .......................

As far as the charge of being too liberal -- no one can be too liberal. We can only be not liberal enough. Being liberal means one is for civil liberties, equality, social justice, fairness. We work to improve the world, not maintain the status quo, and especially not to enrich those who already have too much. How can someone be too liberal?

DS: You're also unabashedly skeptical of super natural claims or the value of such ideas, be it Wahhibism or the more homegrown Neo-Christian right-wing variety. Is there room for compromise between religion and science in your view?

PZ: Sure. When religious superstition dissipates and wafts away before reason like a fog in the noonday sun, then we will have achieved an appropriate balance.

DS: Holy smokes, I can already see the angry e-mails coming in on this one ... You serious?

PZ: Seriously, that's the compromise. Religion is a clumsy farrago of myths and wishful thinking and old traditions which is irrelevant to our understanding of reality, and in fact often impedes our understanding. We lose nothing if it goes away. As people recognize its lack of utility, something that often (but not necessarily) happens as we learn more about science, it fades away. It's like Santa Claus -- as we learned more about how the real world works and how our parents fulfill all the roles of the fat old myth, we don't mind seeing it go away.

Creationists know this, and that is why they're afraid of science. I don't need to preach atheism -- all I need to do is point out the palpable structure of reality in the growing detail science provides for us, and those who are awake and aware will notice the disparity between the world around them and the clumsy, sterile, ludicrous fantasies of religion, and they'll eventually abandon faith. Or, at least, they'll throw away dogma and retire faith to a smaller, private part of their lives.

The Universe: it's the Anti-Religion.

DS: You have a Ph.D. in a life science, many creationists such as Jonathan Wells or Michael Behe have a Ph.D. in the same thing. What makes your point of view any more credible than theirs?

PZ: Nothing. I hope no one believes me because of some work I finished in 1985 that earned me a piece of paper. This is not about dueling credentials; it's about our relative accuracy in describing how the world works. My ideas are representative of those of the majority of scientists, which provide an excellent working framework for understanding a vast body of information, observation, and experiment, and are also productive in guiding new research. Wells' and Behe's ideas are just the latest excrescence of a 200+ year old primitive theology, are compatible with one old book of mythology, are a dead end for research. By their fruits ye shall know them, and their fruits are scabby, withered, and nasty. It really doesn't matter how many degrees we each have on our side.

DS: One of the criticism you and others level at Intelligent Design Creationism is that it's not science, or that there is no published work in peer professional journal. Why is it not science? Didn't Stephen Meyer get a piece in a peer reviewed journal though? What was that all about?

PZ: Well, first of all, sometimes real crap gets published in peer- reviewed journals, and sometimes really great stuff has to struggle to get the approval of other scientists. It's not an absolute sine qua non of good research -- it's more of a stochastic thing, where what counts more is what kind of work snowballs into a lot of research. As a lesser example, my grad work was as one of the first few people doing research on this new model system, the zebrafish I would go to meetings and people would complain that no one needs new models, fish are weird, we don't know everything about fruit flies so why are you going off in this other direction, yadda yadda yadda. What won them over was not one paper, but a growing body of work that caught the interests of many others, revealed some novelties in vertebrate development that weren't present in flies, and promised some useful and simple techniques to address specific problems of interest. Now there are thousands of people working on this one little animal, and it's become an important model system in the field.

That's what it takes for an idea to take off. The IDists have no research program and no data, so they're trying to cheat. Meyer got a piss-poor review paper (no original research in it at all) published in a small journal with the collusion of a cooperative editor; it would have had no impact on science at all. What made it something of a cause celebre, though, was that the DI wanted to use this for propaganda purposes. Normally, we'd let this kind of debris slide and sink without a trace, but the fact that there was a PR machine that was going to exploit it to push bad science on schoolkids and politicians meant we had to push back hard.

It really was a poor paper, too. I took apart one paragraph here--the scholarship was appalling, and it typically misrepresented the work that it cited. I think a lot of the people who objected to it were horrified that such a wretched piece of work could be used to damage the reputation of a respectable journal like the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington.

The whole shoddy affair illustrates why Intelligent Design creationism isn't science. They are scrabbling to put up a facade, but science isn't about words in a journal or a collection of degrees: it is a process. It's science if it is being continually tested, if there is research being done to critically evaluate the components of the theory. There is no research being done on intelligent design, nor can there be--there aren't any testable hypotheses in their proposal.

DS: One of the big claims made by IDCists involves a concept called Irreducible Complexity which means, as I understand it, that there are structures at many levels in living organisms in which each component is critical. Remove any component and the entire system fails catastrophically. And so, the claim goes that such a system could not develop in a step by step fashion required by natural selection because the transitory stages would have either have no adaptive value or result in the death of the owner. What's wrong with that?

PZ: This is the same logic that would say it is impossible to build an arch, because removing one piece would cause the whole thing to tumble down. Yet arches are built every day -- bridges must be miracles!

The answer, of course, is that arches are supported by a scaffold during their assembly, and similarly, "irreducibly complex" pathways were supported by duplications and redundancy during their evolution. I've explained this in a little detail here. Simply put, there are two broad explanations for how IC systems could evolve. One is that intermediate steps can be added by gene duplication that do not interfere and can even enhance the effectiveness of the pathway, and subsequent loss of redundancy makes them essential and unremovable. The other explanation is that it is a mistake to assume loss of a piece would cause failure; it may not function for the role you think it should, but it may function in some other capacity. Biological systems tend to be highly multifunctional and rich with redundancies, so none of this is surprising.

You asked earlier why people should think me more credible than Behe. One reason is that he has rested his career on this untenable nonsense of "irreducible complexity", which is so trivially false that it implies a deep misunderstanding of basic concepts of molecular evolution (DarkSyde, "Science Friday: Interview with a Mad Scientist," Daily Kos blog, Friday January 6, 2006).

Wednesday, January 04, 2006


From the blurb of Edward W. Said's scintillating memoir, Out of Place:

"Said writes with great passion and wit about his family and his friends from his birthplace in Jerusalem, schools in Cairo, and summers in the mountains above Beirut, to boarding schools and college in the United States, revealing an unimaginably rich world of colorful characters and exotic eastern landscapes." (Edward Said, Out of Place, emphasis mine).

To update Marx, history repeats itself, the first time as contradiction, the second time as irony.