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.
May 2, 2015
March 10, 2015
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
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
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”
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
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
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.”
January 17, 2015
David Warren expresses his surprise at the news of police raids in Europe:
“Two die in Belgian anti-terror raid.” … The headline is from the BBC website, yesterday, but these keywords could be found in breaking-news headlines all across Europe. (I checked.)
Gentle reader must have been wondering, who is it this time? The Buddhists, perhaps? (Mahayana or Theravada?) Jains? Angry rampaging Hindu swamis? Prim Confucians? Taoist anarchists? What about the Zoroastrians, we haven’t heard from them in a while. But it might be the Lutherans, no? Or the Presbyterians? Pentecostals more likely, or Fundamentalist Christians from Allah-bama. Hey wait, Belgium used to be a Catholic country, perhaps they were Latin Mass traditionalists? SSPiXies? Dominican monks? Third Order Franciscans? On the other hand, Secular Humanists would be statistically more likely. Wiccans? Druids? Nudists? Maybe we should bet long-shot on Animists of some sort, from the former Belgian Congo. Or from New Guinea: could be, you never know these days.
Well, the answer caught everyone by surprise. Turned out they were Muslims.
As some wag in Washington recently responded, to another “religion of peace” muttering from on high: “How odd that so many are killing for it.”
A correspondent in Alexandria-by-Egypt reminds of Christians slaughtered and churches trashed in his town not so long ago, after rumours circulated that a Coptic priest had said, “Islam is a violent religion.” Turned out he hadn’t said that. But whatever it was, he won’t be saying it again.
The media have thoughtfully spared us from reports of demonstrations in the Muslim world in support of recent actions in Paris, which involved the “execution” of several French cartoonists who had drawn vile, blasphemous pictures of their Prophet Jesus, and his Mother Mary. Also, of the Prophet Muhammad. The media don’t want to abet prejudice against any particular religious community; and Islam is quite particular.
Published on 15 Jan 2015
The death rattle of a dhimmi society.
January 7, 2015
Claire Berlinski wasn’t working as a journalist earlier today, but she happened to be right in the area of the terrorist attack on the offices of the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo:
If I sound incoherent, it’s because I am shaken. The reasons will be obvious.
I had no intention of reporting on this from the scene of the Charlie-Hebdo massacre. I was walking up Boulevard Richard Lenoir to meet a friend who lives in the neighborhood. But the moment I saw what I did, I knew for sure what had happened. A decade in Turkey teaches you that. That many ambulances, that many cops, that many journalists, and those kinds of faces can mean only one thing: a massive terrorist attack.
I also knew from the location just who’d been attacked: Charlie-Hebdo, the magazine known for many things, but, above all, for its fearlessness in publishing caricatures of Mohamed. They’d been firebombed for this in 2011, but their response — in effect — was the only one free men would ever consider: “As long as we’re alive, you’ll never shut us up.”
They are no longer alive. They managed to shut them up.
The only thing I didn’t immediately know was how many of them had died.
All of them, it seems, or close enough. So did two police officers who had been assigned to protect their offices. Twelve are dead for sure; I assume that number will rise; seven are seriously injured. It was at the time I was there unclear how many were wounded.
And the attackers are still at large.
Given that two police officers are dead, now doesn’t seem the time to say what comes to mind about the fact that the assailants escaped. It will say this much though: if they’re not dead before nightfall, I’ll say exactly what comes to mind, respect for the dead be damned.
This was the Twitter update sent shortly before the attack began:
Meilleurs vœux, au fait. pic.twitter.com/a2JOhqJZJM
— Charlie Hebdo (@Charlie_Hebdo_) January 7, 2015
This was the worst terrorist attack in Europe since the London tube bombings of 2005. If I’m correct — I have not checked carefully — it was also the worst in France since the Nazis were running the place.
I was there only by luck: I had no desire to see this. Luck is probably not the right word. I wish I hadn’t seen it. But lucky, certainly is the right word to use in noting that I was running late, and thus there a few minutes after the fact. Had I not been running late, it’s fairly obvious what might have happened. They weren’t discriminate in their targets.
There wasn’t much for me to do. I didn’t even have a pen on me. I spoke to a cameraman from France 3, to make sure I understood the facts. I didn’t ask if I could quote him, so I won’t use his name. But his comment summed up the sentiment. “This is the kind of thing you expect in Pakistan. And now it’s coming here.”
January 1, 2015
It’s actually rather amazing how powerful the US government can be … and we’re not talking about military power here. US banking laws are being exported to other nations without their consent or consultation, and there’s nothing non-US governments can do about it:
Now here’s a real surprise. The various anti-terror laws, terrorist financing laws, know your customer, illicit money tracking laws which now festoon the financial system have costs. Really, who would have thought it that bureaucratic regulations have real costs out there in the real world? It’s something of an amusement that it’s a rather lefty think tank, Demos, that brings us this news. For, of course, it tends to be those who are rather lefty who tell us that regulation is the cure for all our ills and no, of course not, regulations never have any costs they only do good things. You know, the Elizabeth Warren approach, piles of regulations on finance will be just wonderful, no one will ever lose out.
It particularly interests me as I’ve a very vague connection with a charity, Interpal, that has been hit by these sorts of regulations. Not, I hasten to add, that I am actually connected with that charity, only that I was once on a TV program with the head of it discussing their difficulties in gaining access to a bank account. The basic problem was that the Americans thought that they were less than kosher (the charity themselves obviously disagree) and that thus they shouldn’t have access to the banking system. This shouldn’t be all that much of a problem as they’re a UK charity and they were looking for access to the UK banking system. But that isn’t how it all works. If the Americans decide that they don’t think someone should have access to the banking system then they tell the bank that, well, you wouldn’t want us to come looking at your American banking licence if you were to offer an account with your UK licence, would you? And thus there is the leverage required to extend US law to other countries.
It’s not particularly the British government that is causing these problems although they have a part in it, to be sure. It’s the general international rules over who a bank may deal with, what they’ve got to know about them and what they’re doing with the money. Everyone seems quite happy with this as it stops (or hinders at least) drug dealing, money laundering and tax abuse. But it does have costs. Absolutely any set of regulations will affect people who are not the target of said regulations. If you insist that banks make a large effort to understand what their customers are doing then the banks will simply reject some customers as not being worth the candle. If perhaps handling money for some Islamic terrorist means bankers go to jail then bankers won’t handle the money of anyone who might be an Islamic terrorist: nor anyone who wanders around in Huddersfield in Islamic robes and states that they’re raising money to help the poor of Gaza. The manager of, say, Lloyds Bank in Huddersfield doesn’t know what the heck is going on in Gaza, who is linked to Hamas, who is not, who is delivering food and who is doing other less reputable things. And there’s no reason why she should either. So, the laws to prevent the one will lead to the other not gaining access to a bank account. This is really simple, simple, stuff.
This is what happens when people regulate.
Jacob Sullum on the always-hot-button topic of state torture:
In an interview on Sunday, NBC’s Chuck Todd asked former Vice President Dick Cheney if he was “OK” with the fact that a quarter of the suspected terrorists held in secret CIA prisons during the Bush administration “turned out to be innocent.” Todd noted that one of those mistakenly detained men died of hypothermia after being doused with water and left chained to a concrete wall, naked from the waist down, in a cell as cold as a meat locker.
Cheney replied that the end — to “get the guys who did 9/11” and “avoid another attack against the United States” — justified the means. “I have no problem as long as we achieve our objective,” he said.
Charles Fried, a Harvard law professor who served as solicitor general during the Reagan administration, and his son Gregory, a philosophy professor at Suffolk University, offer a bracing alternative to Cheney’s creepy consequentialism in their 2010 book Because It Is Wrong. They argue that torture is wrong not just when it is inflicted on innocents, and not just when it fails to produce lifesaving information, but always and everywhere.
That claim is bolder than it may seem. As the Frieds note, most commentators “make an exception for grave emergencies,” as in “the so-called ticking-bomb scenario,” where torturing a terrorist is the only way to prevent an imminent explosion that will kill many people. “These arguments try to have it both ways,” they write. “Torture is never justified, but then in some cases it might be justified after all.” The contradiction is reconciled “by supposing that the justifying circumstances will never come up.”
December 9, 2014
In his latest Maclean’s article, Colby Cosh talks about the recent “freelance” terror attacks on Canadian soil and points out that no matter what the reporters say, they’re hardly “unprecedented”:
There has been much discussion about how to think of the type of freelance Islamist terrorist that has recently begun to belabour Canada. What labels and metaphors are appropriate for such an unprecedented phenomenon? I possess the secret: It is not unprecedented. This has been kept a secret only through some odd mischance, some failure of attention that is hard to explain.
I discovered the secret through reading about 19th-century history, particularly the years from the 1848 revolutions to the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. The key was Bismarck, the Prussian minister-president who unified Germany. If you want to learn about Bismarck, you will probably pick up a book by some historian of international relations, such as A.J.P. Taylor. That’s the right place to start. But it means you can read a lot about Bismarck before finding out about the time in May 1866 when a guy shot him.
Ferdinand Cohen-Blind, a Badenese student of pan-German sentiments, waylaid Bismarck with a pistol on the Unter den Linden. He fired five rounds. None missed. Three merely grazed his midsection, and two ricocheted off his ribs. He went home and ate a big lunch before letting himself be examined by a doctor.
The point is not that Bismarck was particularly hated, although he was. The point is that this period of European (and American) history was crawling with young, often solitary male terrorists, most of whom showed signs of mental disorder when caught and tried, and most of whom were attached to some prevailing utopian cause. They tended to be anarchists, nationalists or socialists, but the distinctions are not always clear, and were not thought particularly important. The 19th-century mind identified these young men as congenital conspirators. It emphasized what they had in common: social maladjustment, mania, an overwhelming sense of mission and, usually, a prior record of minor crimes.
In my Origins of WW1 series, I quoted from The War That Ended Peace (which I still heartily recommend):
Margaret MacMillan describes the typical members of the Young Bosnians, who were of a type that we probably recognize more readily now than at any time since 1914:
[They] were mostly young Serb and Croat peasant boys who had left the countryside to study and work in the towns and cities of the Dual Monarchy and Serbia. While they had put on suits in place of their traditional dress and condemned the conservatism of their elders, they nevertheless found much in the modern world bewildering and disturbing. It is hard not to compare them to the extreme groups among Islamic fundamentalists such as Al Qaeda a century later. Like those later fanatics, the Young Bosnians were usually fiercely puritanical, despising such things as alcohol and sexual intercourse. They hated Austria-Hungary in part because they blamed it for corrupting its South Slav subjects. Few of the Young Bosnians had regular jobs. Rather they depended on handouts from their families, with whom they had usually quarreled. They shared their few possessions, slept on each other’s floors, and spent hours over a single cup of coffee in cheap cafés arguing about life and politics. They were idealistic, and passionately committed to liberating Bosnia from foreign rule and to building a new and fairer world. Strongly influenced by the great Russian revolutionaries and anarchists, the Young Bosnians believed that they could only achieve their goals through violence and, if necessary, the sacrifice of their own lives.
The “peaceful century” from the defeat of Napoleon to the outbreak of the First World War was far from peaceful — we only see it as such in contrast to the bloodbath of 1914-1918. And terrorists of a type we readily recognize from the front pages of the newspapers today were prefigured exactly by the anarchist revolutionaries of a century ago.
December 2, 2014
At Techdirt, Tim Cushing relives that brief, shining moment when the nation seemed to suddenly notice — and care about — the ongoing militarization of the police:
It’s an idea that almost makes sense, provided you don’t examine it too closely. America’s neverending series of intervention actions and pseudo-wars has created a wealth of military surplus — some outdated, some merely more than what was needed. Rather than simply scrap the merchandise or offload it at cut-rate prices to other countries’ militaries (and face the not-unheard-of possibility that those same weapons/vehicles might be used against us), the US government decided to distribute it to those fighting the war (on drugs, mostly) at home: law enforcement agencies.
What could possibly go wrong?
Well, it quickly became a way to turn police departments into low-rent military operations. Law enforcement officials sold fear and bought assault rifles, tear gas, grenade launchers and armored vehicles. They painted vivid pictures of well-armed drug cabals and terrorists, both domestic and otherwise, steadily encroaching on the everyday lives of the public, outmanning and outgunning the servers and protectors.
It worked. The Department of Homeland Security was so flattered by the parroting of its terrorist/domestic extremist talking points that it handed out generous grants and ignored incongruities, like a town of 23,000 requesting an armored BearCat because its annual Pumpkinfest might be a terrorist target.
Then the Ferguson protests began after Michael Brown’s shooting in August, and the media was suddenly awash in images of camouflage-clad cops riding armored vehicles while pointing weapons at protesters, looking for all the world like martial law had been declared and the military had arrived to quell dissent and maintain control.
This prompted a discussion that actually reached the halls of Congress. For a brief moment, it looked like there might be a unified movement to overhaul the mostly-uncontrolled military equipment re-gifting program. But now that the indictment has been denied and the city of Ferguson is looted and burning, those concerns appear to have been forgotten.
November 2, 2014
The recent fatal attacks on Canadian soldiers on Canadian soil provoked a strong verbal reaction from the PM. Yet the actions of military commanders directly contradict what Mr. Harper said:
After the recent Islamist outrage in Ottawa, Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper said, “let there be no misunderstanding. We will not be intimidated.”
Over in Canada after the latest atrocity, military personnel have been requested “to restrict movement in uniform as much as possible.” That request came from Rear Admiral John Newton, Commander of Maritime Forces Atlantic.
So the Canadian military’s response to Islamist aggression in Canada is to instruct military personnel to take off their uniforms. Is that defending our Western way of life? How is it “not being intimidated” when you are afraid to walk your own streets in your country’s uniform?
If Prime Minister Harper meant what he said about “not being intimidated”, was this not precisely the time to insist that Canadian values be respected by all citizens? As the Canadian journalist Mark Steyn commented:
“If we have to have dress codes on the streets of free societies, I’d rather see more men like Corporal Cirillo (the murdered Canadian soldier) in the uniform of the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders — and fewer women in head-to-toe black body bags. — I’m tired of being told that we have to change to accommodate them.”