September 14, 2015

Cash is still king … and we’d be insane to abolish it

Filed under: Business, Economics, Liberty — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the Telegraph last month, Matthew Lynn made the case against eliminating cash:

Trying to get a plumber in France? In the rather unlikely event that you can actually find one who isn’t still on his grandes vacances, gone above his permitted 35 hours a week, or indeed long since relocated himself to South Kensington, then you’ll also have to make sure that you can pay by cheque or bank transfer.

From today, France is banning the use of cash for transactions worth more than €1,000, or slightly more than £700. On one level, that is about combating crime and terrorism. But on another, it is also part of a growing movement among academics and now governments to gradually ban the use of cash completely. It is inefficient, oils the underground economy, and makes it harder for central banks to manage the economy, or so runs the argument.

Much like gold, it is a “barbarous relic”, as some publications loftily dismiss it. The trouble is, cash is also incredibly efficient. And it is a crucial part of a free society. There is no convincing case for abolition.

When it comes to creeping state control, it is no surprise to find the French out in front. In the wake of this year’s attack on the Charlie Hebdo office, the government has clamped down on the use of cash. The maximum permitted transaction has been reduced from €3,000 to €1,000, and any cash withdrawal of more than €10,000 will be automatically flagged up to the police (tourists have a higher limit, but even that is being reduced to €10,000 – just in case you are planning on ordering some very expensive wine on your next trip to Paris).


In reality, cash is far too valuable to be given up lightly. In truth, the benefits of abolition are largely oversold. While terrorists and criminals may well use cash to buy weapons, or deal in drugs, it is very hard to believe that they would not find some other way of financing their operations if it was abolished. Are there really any cases of potential jihadists being foiled because they couldn’t find two utility bills (less than three months old, of course) in a false name to open an account? The web is full of false payment systems and anonymous names.

Nor is clamping down on the black economy such a big deal. Admittedly these things are hard to measure, but according to research by the London School of Economics, the black economy only accounts for 10pc of British GDP, which is the fourth lowest in the EU. Many of the people working in it are below the tax threshold anyway, and certainly below the VAT threshold. So the tax collected even if you clamped down completely is unlikely to amount to more than 1pc of GDP. As for negative interest rates, do we really want those? Or have we concluded that central bankers are doing more harm than good with their attempts to manipulate the economy?

September 10, 2015

Making it easy for governments to monitor texts, emails, and other messages

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Megan McArdle explains that while it’s quite understandable why governments want to maintain their technological ability to read private, personal communications … but that’s not sufficient justification to just give in and allow them the full access they claim that they “need”:

Imagine, if you will, a law that said all doors had to be left unlocked so that the police could get in whenever they needed to. Or at the very least, a law mandating that the government have a master key.

That’s essentially what some in the government want for your technology. As companies like Apple and Google have embraced stronger encryption, they’re making it harder for the government to do the kind of easy instant collection that companies were forced into as the government chased terrorists after 9/11.

And how could you oppose that government access? After all, the government keeps us safe from criminals. Do you really want to make it easier for criminals to evade the law?

The analogy with your home doors suggests the flaw in this thinking: The U.S. government is not the only entity capable of using a master key. Criminals can use them too. If you create an easy way to bypass security, criminals — or other governments — are going to start looking for ways to reproduce the keys.


Law enforcement is going to pursue strategies that maximize the ability to catch criminals or terrorists. These are noble goals. But we have to take care that in the pursuit of these goals, the population they’re trying to protect is not forgotten. Every time we open more doors for our own government, we’re inviting other unwelcome guests to join them inside.

I don’t really blame law enforcement for pushing as hard as possible; rare is the organization in history that has said, “You know, the world would be a better place if I had less power to do my job.” But that makes it more imperative that the rest of us keep an eye on what they’re doing, and force the law to account for tradeoffs, rather than the single-minded pursuit of one goal.

August 29, 2015

The bad news about good news

Filed under: Economics, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At Strategy Page, an explanation for why most people think the world is going to hell, despite the facts pointing in all kinds of positive and hopeful directions:

One of the ironies of the post-Cold War world is that most people get the impression that things are getting worse and worse while for the majority of people on the planet life is getting better. Worldwide poverty and death rates are plummeting while income and reported (via opinion surveys) satisfaction are way up. Many major diseases (like tetanus and polio) have nearly been eliminated and malaria, the disease that has killed more people than any other throughout history, is in decline because of medical advances. War related deaths have been declining since World War II ended in 1945 and that decline continued after the Cold War eliminated most communist governments in 1991. Why do most people think otherwise? You can blame the mass media and their most effective marketing tool; FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt).

Mass media first appeared in the mid-19th century with the development of the steam press, which made cheap-enough-to-reach-a-mass-audience newspapers possible. Editors quickly learned that FUD sells best. Politicians, rebels, and even advertisers found that FUD was a very effective tool to grab attention and change attitudes. Put another way, excitement sells, and the best way to excite readers is to scare them.

Modern terrorism, based on using murderous mass attacks on the public to trigger a flurry of media coverage, came out of this. The 19th century anarchists, followed by the Bolsheviks (communists), several fascist movements (like the Nazis), and many others, all used this media proclivity to jump on terrorist acts in order to scare readers into buying more newspapers, or supporting some extremist cause or another. The terrorists got the publicity and attention they wanted, which sometimes led to acquiring political power as well.

Radio appeared in the 1930s and this made it even easier to reach literate as well as illiterate populations. Combining radio and FUD allowed communism and fascism to spread far and fast in the 1930s. The sad fact is that this situation is not unknown among journalists. Many of them have been complaining about it for over a century. No one has been able to come up with a solution. Good news doesn’t sell. And the pursuit of scary headlines that do has created a race to the bottom.

It’s probably rational for mass media outlets to concentrate on the vivid, shocking bad news … because it grabs the attention and sells more newspapers and encourages more people to watch video reports. Good news? Well, it’s nice to hear, but it’s neither urgent nor compelling (except cat videos on YouTube, of course). You might like to hear it, but it’s not urgent and compelling … you can catch up on that anytime. A flood? An earthquake? A breaking story about a hostage situation? You’ll pay attention whether you want to or not. And that sells newspapers and gets ad revenue for networks.

August 15, 2015

Impersonal forces acting on passive innocents

Filed under: Britain, Media, Middle East, Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

We’ve seen plenty of examples of this kind of “reporting”, where the presentation of the case absolves the actors in advance of any motive or action … they’re always implicit victims of circumstances beyond their control. Theodore Dalrymple points to a recent example:

Sometimes the employment of a single word in common use gives away an entire worldview. There was just such a usage in the headline of a story in the Guardian newspaper late last month: “How the ‘Pompey Lads’ fell into the hands of Isis.”

Pompey is the colloquial name for Portsmouth, the naval town on the south coast of England, and the “lads” of the headline were five young men of Bangladeshi origin who grew up there and later joined Isis in Syria. The article describes how the last of the five has now been killed, three others having been killed before him and one, who returned to Britain, having been sentenced to a four-year prison sentence (in effect two years, with remission for good behavior). The use of the word “lads” is intended to imply to the newspaper’s readers that there was nothing special or different about these five young men, nothing that distinguished them from the other young men of Portsmouth. Its use was a manifestation of wishful or even magical thinking, as if reality itself could be altered in a desired way by the mere employment of language.

But the word that implied a whole worldview was “fell.” According to the headline, the young men “fell” into the hands of Isis as an apple falls passively to the ground by gravitational force. The word suggests that it could have happened to anybody, this going to Syria via Turkey to join a movement that delights in decapitation and other such activities in the name of a religion — their religion. Joining Isis is like multiple sclerosis; it’s something that just happens to people.

The word “fell” denies agency to the young men, as if they had no choice in the matter. They were victims of circumstance by virtue of their membership of a minority, for minorities are by definition victims without agency.

July 20, 2015

Making a terrorist

Filed under: Europe, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Tam at View From The Porch linked to this discussion of how domestic terrorists don’t match the media’s default profile:

Of course, there’s an easy way to make it harder for Da’esh to “recruit Americans,” and that’s to zero out immigration from nations where the common values are inimical to American values. But there are problems with that. Many of the people seeking to immigrate from Da’esh territory to the USA are fleeing that terror and seeking security — and freedom. They have a very high potential to be very solid, freedom-loving Americans. The problem we have seen in the USA (and to a greater extent in some European countries like Sweden and France) is not so much the immigrants, but their children who, exposed to academia that hates the new homeland, regresses to an imagined “golden age” religious extremism.

The conventional wisdom on the left and in the press (but we repeat ourselves) that terrorists are made by poverty and oppression is, frankly, silly. Like the communist terrorists of the 1970s, the mohammedan terrorists of today are a product of wealthy-kid ennui and self-loathing. Well-known terrorist cases range from solidly middle-class (Tsarnaevs) to professional class (Ayman al-Zawahiri) to stankin’ wealthy (bin Laden); it is rare to find one without some university education. Certainly part of the problem is that the moral component of a university education today includes an unhealthy dose and burden of contempt and blame for the host society. That’s beyond the scope of what this report, centered as it is on the nuts and bolts of what ISIS is and how it means to attack our homeland, covers; but if it is not addressed there is another terrorist cause on the far side of this one, and so on endlessly like a land of rolling hills.

July 11, 2015

Reason.tv – The TSA’s 12 Signs You Might Be a Terrorist

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Humour, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 9 Jul 2015

Traveling this summer? Avoid these officially terrorist-y behaviors—or you might get detained.

May 12, 2015

Jeffrey Taylor says the left has Islam all wrong

Filed under: Politics, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

An interesting article in Salon:

Whatever her views on other matters are, Pamela Geller is right about one thing: last week’s Islamist assault on the “Draw Muhammad” cartoon contest she hosted in Texas proves the jihad against freedom of expression has opened a front in the United States. “There is,” she said, “a war on free speech and this violent attack is a harbinger of things to come.” Apparently undaunted, Geller promises to continue with such “freedom of speech” events. ISIS is now threatening to assassinate her. She and her cohorts came close to becoming victims, yet some in the media on the right and the center-right have essentially blamed her for the gunmen’s attack, just as far too many, last January, surreptitiously pardoned the Kouachi brothers and, with consummate perfidy to human decency, inculpated the satirical cartoonists they slaughtered, saying “Charlie Hebdo asked for it.”



One must, though, call out New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof for backing up Affleck on the same show, and, later, in an editorial. Kristof, after all, should know better. He trades in words and ideas, and his acceptance of the fraudulent term “Islamophobia” contributes to the generalized befuddlement on the left about the faith in question and whether negative talk about it constitutes some sort of racism, or proxy for it. It patently does not. Unlike skin color, faith is not inherited and is susceptible to change. As with any other ideology, it should be subject to unfettered discussion, which may include satire, ridicule and even derision. The First Amendment protects both our right to practice the religion of our choosing (or no religion at all) as well as our right to speak freely, even offensively, about it.

One must, however, recoil in stupefaction and disgust at the consortium of prominent writers who just signaled de facto capitulation to the Enforcers of Shariah. I’m referring, of course, to the recent decision of 204 authors to sign a letter dissociating themselves from PEN’s granting the Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award to the brave, talented surviving artists of Charlie Hebdo. (Disclosure: I have friends among Charlie Hebdo’s staff.) The authors objecting did so out of concern, according to their statement, for “the section of the French population” – its Muslims – “that is already marginalized, embattled, and victimized, a population that is shaped by the legacy of France’s various colonial enterprises.” A “large percentage” of these Muslims are “devout,” contend the writers, and should thus be spared the “humiliation and suffering” Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons allegedly caused them.

Europe’s colonial past and the United States’ current (endless) military campaigns in the Islamic world, as well as prejudice against nonwhites in Europe, have predisposed many to see, with some justification, Muslims as victims. But apart from the blundering wrongheadedness of the PEN writers’ dissent (Charlie Hebdo’s undeniable courage won them the award, not their artwork) and putting aside the question of whether France’s Muslims are necessarily “devout” (French law prohibits religion-based polling, so who could know?), or uniformly “humiliated” by Charlie Hebdo, or necessarily “embattled,” one thing transpires with arresting clarity from the authors’ declaration: Among the left, the confusion surrounding Islam and how we should relate to it imperils the free speech rights without which no secular republic can survive. We have to clear this up, and fast.

There is no legitimate controversy over why the Kouachi brothers targeted Charlie Hebdo. They murdered not to redress the social grievances or right the historical wrongs the PEN authors named. They explicitly told us why they murdered — for Islam, to avenge the Prophet Muhammad. Progressives who think otherwise need to face that reality. Put another way, the Kouachi brothers may have suffered racial discrimination and even “marginalization,” yet had they not been Muslims, they would not have attacked Charlie Hebdo. They would have had no motive.

May 10, 2015

Boozing “properly” during the Great War

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

At War on the Rocks, Jake Hall talks about the pervasive inflence of intoxication during the First World War:

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand is often regarded as the proverbial match in the tinderbox where World War I is concerned. The imperial-nationalist tensions surrounding Austria-Hungary’s waning empire, tensions which inspired the assassination and ensuing conflict, were frankly unwarranted, considering the swill these regions were, and still are, trying to pass off as potable spirits. Then again, what’s a tragic war of global scope without tragically misguided motivations at the start? One contributing factor to the war-primed Europe of 1914 sounds oddly familiar. Disenfranchised youth of marginalized states resorting to suicidal violence. It’s easy to see how the seven agents of Ferdinand’s assassination could be lining up to enlist in ISIS today. Youthful, “angsty,” and driven by an unhinged sense of importance and righteousness, it was a 19 year old, Gavrilo Princip, who carried out the clumsy assassination on the streets of Sarajevo. After a failed bombing attempt, failed suicide attempt, and a major security lapse by Ferdinand’s guards, the conspirators succeeded in gunning down the Archduke and Duchess almost by chance. With that act the Serbian nationalists, on a quest for south Slavic unification, killed a couple that were by many accounts lovely people, and started the July Crisis that led to the Great War.

The conflict that followed became the then-largest mobilization of military force ever, until the rematch 21 years later. HG Wells was the first to declare WWI the “war to end war,” and though that designation had contemporary critics, it quickly became a motto for the hostilities. A war to end war seems like an occasion for a drink, no? If it doesn’t, you’ve either never had a drink or you’ve never had a soul. In any case, what follows is an account of which powers were most benevolent during the war, measured chiefly by the alcohol rations secured and distributed to their soldiers. It presumes that the men fighting in the trenches on all sides had drawn short straws in life, and the side most willing to allow a little buzz on the front line exhibited a little humanity.


So how does all this play out in the end? France occupied the role of major supplier to all sides drinking needs. The Germans made large gains at the start of the war, and enabled rear-echelon troops to frequent taverns in their newly conquered territories. Couple that privilege with their substantial liquor rations, and the German rank-and-file were well situated for some time. Ultimately, the British naval blockade started affecting German supplies, which directly cut into their drinking. When the Allies reversed Germany’s advances and ended the war, they virtually ensured the Germans would only be drinking regret and resentment for nearly two decades. The French military was also generous with its rations where allies were concerned, attempting in a small way to soften the hard line the British and American citizens and leadership held with regard to their troops’ drinking. Russia incurred the mother of all hangovers when it finally stopped drowning itself in vodka for a minute, and basically played the role of your friend who passes out at the bar. Final outcome? À votre santé, France.

May 2, 2015

QotD: The nihilism of modern art

Filed under: Media, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

One of my earliest blog essays (Terror Becomes Bad Art) was about Luke Helder, the pipe-bombing “artist” who created a brief scare back in 2002. Arguably more disturbing than Helder’s “art” was the fact that he genuinely thought it was art, because none of the supposed artists or arts educators he was in contact with had ever taught him any better and his own talent was not sufficient to carry him beyond their limits.

I am not the first to observe that something deeply sick and dysfunctional happened to the relationship between art, popular culture, and technology during the crazy century we’ve just exited. Tom Wolfe made the point in The Painted Word and expanded on it in From Bauhaus To Our House. Frederick Turner expanded the indictment in a Wilson Quarterly essay on neoclassicism which, alas, seems not to be available on line.

If we judge by what the critical establishment promotes as “great art”, most of today’s artists are bad jokes. The road from Andy Warhol’s soup cans to Damien Hirst’s cows in formaldehyde has been neither pretty nor edifying. Most of “fine art” has become a moral, intellectual, and esthetic wasteland in which whatever was originally healthy in the early-modern impulse to break the boundaries of received forms has degraded into a kind of numbed-out nihilism.


To see these craft objects, unashamedly made for money (that’ll be $40 extra for molecular-surface etching, thank you), is to have your nose rubbed in the desperate poverty of most modern art, to be reminded of the vacuum at its core and the pathetic Luke Helders that the vacuum spawns. It’s a poverty of meaning, a parochialism that insists that the only interesting things in the universe are the artist’s own psychological and political quirks.

Bathsheba Grossman’s art reminds us that exploration of the narrow confines of an artist’s head is a poor substitute for artistic exploration of the universe. It reminds us that what the artist owes his audience is beauty and discovery and a sense of connection, not alienation and ugliness and neurosis and political ax-grinding.

Forgetting this value rotted the core out of the fine arts and literary fiction of the 20th century. We can hope, though, that artists like her and Arthur Ganson will show the way forward to remembering it. Only in that way will the unhealthy chasm between popular and fine art be healed, and fine art be restored to a healthy and organic relationship with culture as a whole.

Eric S. Raymond, “The Art of Science”, Armed and Dangerous, 2004-09-21.

March 10, 2015

Method to their vandalistic madness

Filed under: History, Middle East, Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

David Warren on the ongoing organized vandalism of antiquities in areas under the control of ISIS:

Their opponents complain that, “Daesh terrorist gangs continue to defy the will of the world and the feelings of humanity.” I am quoting Iraq’s minister of tourism, who uses the Arabic acronym for the group that has apparently bulldozed the archaeological remains of Nimrud, on top of its other accomplishments. I’m sure the presidents of the United States and France, the prime ministers of England, Italy, and Japan, the chancellor of Germany and many other world leaders would agree with this sentiment. And let me add that these gangs have hurt my feelings, too.


The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III — thank God, removed to the British Museum more than a century ago — was found at Nimrud. It depicts, among foreign tributaries, Jehu, the ancient King of Israel, and is thus a direct transcription onto dated Assyrian limestone of what is also reported in our Bible. That was 841 BC: one of innumerable physical proofs of the historical veracity of what our children are taught to sneer at as “fairy tales,” in today’s jackboot-secular schools.

For more than a generation, now, the barbaric savages who teach in our post-Christian universities have been filling their heads with e.g. the malicious lies of the late Edward Said. They are drilled by these Pavlovs to drool, promptly, upon hearing the word “Orientalism,” and then woof, yap, and bay at “Western Imperialism,” like little attack poodles. This also hurts my feelings.

The bas-reliefs, the ivories, the sculptures — the colossal, winged, man-headed lions that once guarded palace entrances and were found in such a wonderful state of preservation — are, so far as they remained on site, or were retained in the Mosul Museum, now being smashed to bits on camera; or ground to gravel by heavy machinery beyond the local competence to manufacture or design. The “irony” here is that much of this sophisticated equipment, and probably even the mallets, were paid for by the profits from other archaeological objects which these Muslim fanatics, and their “moderate” enablers, have been selling in the international black market for art and antiquities.

Indeed: these videos of gratuitous destruction, which our media so generously promote, are probably designed to drive the prices up on the gems they have for sale; as, too, the beheading videos are intended to increase prices, and guarantee payment, on the heads of such other hostages as they may capture, from time to time. (I have noticed that many of the objects we see being smashed are actually plaster copies, of originals exported in the good old days. One must be familiar with practices in the bazaars of the Middle East to follow the many angles, in a culture that exalts low cunning.)

March 9, 2015

The Anarchist Cookbook

Filed under: Liberty, Media, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

I first found a copy of this book at a friend’s place in Toronto in the late 1970s and wondered a) how it had managed to get published in the first place and b) how it had found its way into Canada (of all places). In Harper’s Magazine, Gabriel Thompson talks about the author’s attempts to get the book out of circulation:

Written by nineteen-year-old William Powell, The Anarchist Cookbook included sections such as “Converting a shotgun into a grenade launcher” and “How to make TNT.” The book’s message wasn’t subtle. In the forward, Powell expressed “a sincere hope that it may stir some stagnant brain cells into action.” The final sentence reads: “Freedom is based on respect, and respect must be earned by the spilling of blood.” When it was published, in January 1971, Powell was young and angry in a country where the young and angry had started to blow things up. But by the time the bomb detonated in the Bronx — marking the first of many connections between the book and real-world carnage — Powell had become a father and converted to Christianity and was having reservations about what promised to be his life’s most enduring legacy.

Powell is now a sixty-five-year-old grandfather. He still speaks with a slight English accent from a young childhood spent in London and has the professorial habit, before answering a question, of raising his eyeglasses to his forehead and pausing a beat to think. In 1979, he left the United States and has made his home in outposts throughout the world: Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; Jakarta, Indonesia; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He has become a respected leader within the field of international schooling, heading several schools before launching an organization called Education Across Frontiers, which seeks to support international students with special needs. A recent book of Powell’s is entitled Becoming an Emotionally Intelligent Teacher. Much of his work has been funded by the U.S. Department of State.

When I first contacted Powell, he didn’t sound interested in revisiting the past. “The AC story is old and I’m not sure I can add much to it,” he wrote. This wasn’t surprising — he rarely speaks to the media. But as we continued to exchange emails and then talk over Skype, I learned that he had recently been working on a memoir. He later shared the manuscript, much of which deals with the circumstances that led him to his writing the book, along with his inability to fully get out from beneath its shadow. “The book has hovered like an awkward question on the rim of my consciousness for years,” he wrote, “and has the annoying habit of popping into mind every time I am about to be absolutely certain about something.”


Powell’s politics were vaguely left but sharply antiauthoritarian. He considered the older Hancock, a dedicated anarchist, “a trail guide” to the chaos of the times, where people were taking to the streets, marching and publicly burning draft cards, with some promising to “bring the war home.” Hancock was a member of the Industrial Workers of the World, and told Powell about a plan the group once discussed to post recipes as broadsides throughout the city, instructing passersby on how to make everything from Molotov cocktails to LSD. Nothing came of it, but Powell filed the idea away in his head, intrigued by the possibility. Together, they attended a number of antiwar protests. At Grand Central Station, they watched police attack people with clubs. During the melee, officers shoved a Village Voice reporter into a glass door, bloodying his face. Hancock went out and purchased two motorcycle helmets for future demonstrations. The scene was turning heavy.

Dropping out of school meant that Powell was eligible for Vietnam, and he met three times with the Draft Board’s psychiatrist. While he’d been granted extensions — he showed up drunk and on speed and mouthed off during interviews — by 1969 he felt the walls closing in. “Get your ass prepared for Vietnam” is how he remembers the last interview had concluded. He didn’t believe in the war, didn’t want to move to Canada, and certainly didn’t want to spend time in prison. His personal life was slowly stabilizing: he had a girlfriend and, after a long struggle, finally kicked his speed habit. He purchased a used typewriter for twenty-five dollars and dreamed of becoming a writer. Yet the government seemed intent on tearing everything away by sending him across the globe to an early grave. (His fears were, in fact, unfounded: the government eventually classified him as 4-F, or unacceptable for military service, for reasons he never discovered.) On a return trip from a demonstration in Washington, D.C., Powell concluded that peaceful protest was too easily ignored to be effective; he decided instead to write a book that expanded on the broadside idea he’d heard from Hancock, teaching ordinary people how to blow things up.

February 24, 2015

QotD: A form of pattern recognition

Filed under: Quotations, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Islam draws attention in our era not because its adherents tend to be brown-skinned or because it is easier to fear those who live abroad than those who live down the street, but because it is used so frequently as the justification for attacks around the world that its critics have begun to notice a pattern. In most cases, it is reasonable to acknowledge simultaneously that representatives of every philosophy will occasionally do something evil — maybe in the name of their philosophy; maybe not — and to contend that it is silly to blame that philosophy for the individual’s behavior. As far as we know, there is no more evidence that today’s killer is representative of atheism per se than that the man who opened fire at the Family Research Council was representative of the Southern Poverty Law Center or that Scott Roeder was representative of the pro-life cause. Further, there are no evident superstructures within atheism or the SPLC or the right-to-life movement that routinely condone mass murder, and nor are there many friends of those groups who would be willing to justify or to indulge the maniacs they have attracted. It seems reasonably clear that any lunatic can appropriate a cause or provide a name as his inspiration, and that, when he does, we should neither regard that lunatic’s behavior as indicative of the whole nor worry too much about repeat attacks. As I have written before — in defense of Right and Left — words do not pull triggers.

This instinct, however, has its limitations, for it is one thing to acknowledge that one swallow does not make a summer, and quite another to insist that it is not summer when the whole flock is overhead. Individual acts should be taken as such, of course. But when the same names pop up over and over and over again it is fair for us to connect the dots. To wonder why conservatives worry about Islam specifically — and not, say, about atheism or progressivism or the Tea Party or the Westboro Baptist Church — is to ignore that Islam is so often deployed to rationalize violence around the world that it makes sense for them to ask more questions. An inquiry into the violent tendencies of contemporary atheists is likely to reach a dead end. An inquiry into modern Islam, by contrast, is not. Can anybody say with a straight face that it is irrational to wonder whether there is something inherent in present-day Islam that, at best, is attracting the crazy and the disenfranchised, and, at worst, actually requires savagery? I think not.

Charles C.W. Cooke, “Why We Worry about Islamist Violence and Not Progressive Atheist Violence”, National Review, 2015-02-11.

February 6, 2015

Western politicians on terrorism – “I am appalled by the evidence that they actually believe what they are saying”

Filed under: Middle East, Politics, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

David Warren on the fecklessness of western politicians and the utter seriousness of the terror organizations and their backers:

The response to it in the West, and particularly from the United States government, is incompetent on a scale so breathtaking that I sometimes miss my slot as a daily news pundit. (And by inviting Netanyahu to address the U.S. Congress, Boehner proved himself as dumb as Obama.) What distresses me is not that characters like Obama and Kerry say “terrorism” has nothing to do with Islam. They are politicians: of course they spout drivel. Rather, I am appalled by the evidence that they actually believe what they are saying.

This goes beyond noticing that the terrorists cry Allahu Akbar! after every strike. To understand current events one must notice the war being fought within Islam. And this is not as hard as it might seem. It is a war between not one, but two radical factions: Shia fanatics, and Sunni fanatics.

“Al-Qaeda,” “the Caliphate,” “Hamas,” and some other groupings, though rivals for the leadership, are united in their aspirations for the Sunni side. Revolutionary Iran and its proxy Hezbollah provide the united leadership for the Shia side. Every formerly Western-allied government in the region, including that of the Wahabi sheikhs in Saudi Arabia, fears both sides; but they fear Iran more. And after Iran, they probably fear Turkey, which has the potential of becoming patron to the fanatic Sunnis on the analogy of Iran.

We could get into blaming Islam itself for the mess, but that won’t be necessary for today’s purpose. It is only necessary insofar as we must understand that the words Allahu Akbar are not uttered lightly, and are not insincere.

While both sides look forward to murdering us next, their attention is first focused on murdering each other. Attacks on Western targets must be understood in this context: for neither party is so naive as to think they can out-gun us, or even out-gun Israel. Moreover, many of their stunts (including video beheadings) are designed to manipulate Western public opinion — against themselves, in order to win allies within the region. The “Je suis Charlie” demonstrations in France, for instance, were a godsend to the Sunni fanatics: they triggered massive anti-Western demonstrations among less fanatic Muslims across the Middle East, and thereby magnified their claim to represent Islam.

January 20, 2015


Filed under: Politics, Religion — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In last week’s Goldberg File, Jonah Goldberg explained why the media as a whole are much more concerned about an anti-Muslim backlash than they are about any terror attack:

Dear Reader (including my Twitter followers who are just scanning this for the hidden glottal stops),

So Charlie Hebdo is selling like hot cakes, giving new meaning to the Profit Mohammed. And, just as I suspected, the images are pissing off lots of Muslims who aren’t terrorists. And, again just as I suspected, the New York Times et al. can’t help but make that the real story. No doubt millions of people hashtagging “Je Suis Charlie” were sincere — or thought they were — but the real reason that slogan spread into nearly every ideological quarter is that sympathizing, empathizing, and leeching off the moral status of victims is the only thing that unites Western societies these days. Celebrating winners is divisive. How long did it take for the Sharptonians to leap on the Oscar nominations?

What is remarkable is how short the half-life of solidarity for Charlie Hebdo was. The moment it dawned on people that there must be consequences to the Hebdo attack, not just group hugs and hashtags, the divisions, gripes, and handwring re-emerged.

Simply put, victimology is the language and currency of our politics. Fighting for victims is a calling and minting new victims and grievances is a trillion-dollar industry. Heroism, fidelity, courage, duty, temperance: Their stock value may be volatile but the long-term trends have been bad for a while. But guilt and resentment are the gold and silver of our realm, a perfect hedge against the civilizational recession.

And so before the street-sweepers even put a dent in the discarded “Je Suis Charlie” signs, the media was already on the prowl for signs of Western overreaction. The New York Times editors warned that “perhaps the greatest danger in the wake of the attacks” was a backlash against Muslim immigrants.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want an anti-Muslim backlash, but in all of this talk of Islamophobia, it seems the most acute and relevant phobia is the fear our elites have of their own people. The rabble can’t be trusted to keep things in perspective. While the story was still unfolding in Paris, Steven Erlanger, the New York Times’s London bureau chief, was invited on Shep Smith’s show for a “phoner.” Erlanger couldn’t resist starting the interview by warning Fox about how “careful” it needs to be covering the story. The Eloi must be ever vigilant not to arouse the Morlocks, don’t you know. It was this sentiment that no doubt motivated the Times to edit its own reporting on the attack, removing any reference to the fact that one of the Charlie Hebdo attackers spared a woman’s life — and advised her she needed to convert to Islam. You can almost hear the editors saying, “Look, if we leave that in, the little people might get the impression this had something to do with Islam. We know it does, but we can handle that truth. The flyover people might miss the nuances.”

By the way, how much have you heard about the anti-Muslim backlash over the last decade and a half? Well, here’s a fun fact. In every year since 9/11 the number of anti-Jewish hate crimes in the U.S. has dwarfed anti-Muslim hate crimes.

In 2001 — you know, the year when the World Trade Center was knocked down by Islamist terrorists — there were still twice as many anti-Jewish incidents as there were anti-Muslim ones reported to the FBI. By 2002, things got back to “normal” and anti-Jewish outstripped anti-Muslim hate crimes by roughly a factor of five – and it’s stayed that way ever since. In 2013, nearly 60 percent of anti-religious hate crimes were against Jews. Just over 14 percent were against Muslims. Now, I’m not saying America is anti-Semitic, far from it. It’s easily the most philo-Semitic country in the world, save for Israel (and if you spent time listening to Israelis criticize themselves, you’d consider that a debatable proposition). But when was the last time you heard a reporter from the New York Times fret over the need to be careful lest we encourage an anti-Semitic backlash?

January 19, 2015

Jewish life in Europe

Filed under: Europe, Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Back in 2012, Mark Steyn wrote about the plight of individual Jews in Europe, as the various national governments seemed unable to prevent violent attacks on Jewish businesses, schools, synagogues and individual Jews. He’s reposted the original column, as it’s even more relevant today than it was then:

If the flow of information is really controlled by Jews, as the Reverend Jeremiah Wright assured his students at the Chicago Theological Seminary a year or two back, you’d think they’d be a little better at making their media minions aware of one of the bleakest stories of the early 21st century: the extinguishing of what’s left of Jewish life in Europe. It would seem to me that the first reaction, upon hearing of a Jewish school shooting, would be to put it in the context of the other targeted schools, synagogues, community centers, and cemeteries. And yet liberal American Jews seem barely aware of this grim roll call. Even if you put to one side the public school in Denmark that says it can no longer take Jewish children because of the security situation, and the five children of the chief rabbi of Amsterdam who’ve decided to emigrate, and the Swedish Jews fleeing the most famously tolerant nation in Europe because of its pervasive anti-Semitism; even if you put all that to the side and consider only the situation in France… No, wait, forget the Villiers-le-Bel schoolgirl brutally beaten by a gang jeering, “Jews must die”; and the Paris disc-jockey who had his throat slit, his eyes gouged out, and his face ripped off by a neighbor who crowed, “I have killed my Jew”; and the young Frenchman tortured to death over three weeks, while his family listened via phone to his howls of agony as his captors chanted from the Koran… No, put all that to one side, too, and consider only the city of Toulouse. In recent years, in this one city, a synagogue has been firebombed, another set alight when two burning cars were driven into it, a third burgled and “Dirty Jews” scrawled on the ark housing the Torah, a kosher butcher’s strafed with gunfire, a Jewish sports association attacked with Molotov cocktails…

Here’s Toulouse rabbi Jonathan Guez speaking to the Jewish news agency JTA in 2009: “Guez said Jews would now be ‘more discreet’ about displaying their religion publicly and careful about avoiding troubled neighborhoods. … The synagogue will be heavily secured with cameras and patrol units for the first time.”

This is what it means to be a Jew living in one of the most beautiful parts of France in the 21st century.

Well, you say, why are those Jewish kids going to a Jewish school? Why don’t they go to the regular French school like normal French kids? Because, as the education ministry’s admirably straightforward 2004 Obin Report explained, “En France les enfants juifs — et ils sont les seuls dans ce cas — ne peuvent plus de nos jours être scolarisés dans n’importe quel établissement“: “In France, Jewish children, uniquely, cannot nowadays be provided with an education at any institution.” At some schools, they’re separated from the rest of the class. At others, only the principal is informed of their Jewishness, and he assures parents he will be discreet and vigilant. But, as the report’s authors note, “le patronyme des élèves ne le permet pas toujours“: “The pupil’s surname does not always allow” for such “discretion.”

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