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Archive for September 2010



Dinesh D’Souza’s poison

Forbes magazine has now “fact-checked” Dinesh D’Souza’s infamous September 27 cover story, “How Obama Thinks,” and has uncovered one “slight” misrepresentation, it says, of an Obama speech on the BP oil spill.  Such a “fact-checking” feint is irrelevant to this travesty of an article; you can’t “fact-check” a fever dream of paranoia and irrationality.  Sickeningly, while “How Obama Thinks” is useless as a guide to the Obama presidency, it is all too representative of the hysteria that now runs through a significant portion of the right-wing media establishment.   The article is worth analyzing at some length as an example of the lunacy that is poisoning much conservative discourse. (more…)

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The Rise of the Orthodox

Via The Economist:

Just 42% of adult Israeli Jews define themselves as secular, according to recent official figures. The rest range from mildly to devoutly religious. And because the most religious seem to have the most children, the secular figure is likely to keep shrinking.

In this demographic and cultural scene, politics is more than ever a matter of finely calibrating a religious-secular balance. The latest effort to tip things the religious way comes from Eli Yishai, leader of the largest Orthodox party, Shas, who is minister of the interior. He wants his ministry’s computers to rest on the Sabbath. Specifically, he wants to prevent people paying their bills online on a Saturday. Predictably, the strongly secular and left-wing Meretz party has tabled a bill requiring all government computers, as opposed to human civil servants, to keep humming 24/7.

The minister in charge of government efficiency, Michael Eitan of the Likud party, which has both religious and secular supporters, suggests that the computers be programmed to receive online requests from citizens on the Sabbath but to respond to them only afterthe Sabbath. What about requests from Muslim or Christian citizens? Mr Eitan has yet to offer an answer.




Dhimmitude and demise done well

Sometimes readers will ask about a good book on the history of religion, and I’m pretty hard-pressed to recommend something without qualification, caveat, or caution. But I can recommend The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia–and How It Died without any riders. I have a long review up at Discover blogs outlining why. In my review I forgot to mention that you can read the first few chapters on HarperCollins’ website.

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The markets are rational?

Sarah Palin: Still Not the Front-Runner:

…But right now, in autumn 2010, at what seems like a moment of maximal populist outrage and anti-establishment fervor, Sarah Palin can’t crack 20 percent in primary polling, and Mitt Romney (for all his manifold weaknesses) still has the most plausible path to the nomination. Which suggests to me that concerns about stability, solidity and electability may play a bigger role in the 2012 Republican campaign than many observers seem to think.

I have expressed skepticism of a Mitt Romney candidacy before in large part because he backed a health care plan in Massachusetts which prefigured much of what we saw in the Democrats’ plan. As this may be the peak of anger about the Democrats’ legislation in the medium term I’m struck by the fact that Romney still has polling traction at all. I do remember being very confused as to why John McCain hadn’t been totally discredited when it came out that he’d seriously mulled switching to the Democrats in the early 2000s.

That being said Romney does seem like a candidate who is good on paper, but can never come through on the national stage. Honestly, I really don’t know what the hell is going on.



Will November be a Pyrrhic victory?

Matt Yglesias explains his recent shift toward liberaltarianism:

It was suggested to me by a number of parties this week that I should give some explicit account of why the blog has turned in what you might call a more “neoliberal” (though I don’t really like the term) direction of late. There’s a couple of reasons. One is simply product differentiation—I don’t think just writing the same posts as Kevin Drum and Ezra Klein and Jon Chait is what the world needs from me, but we obviously all have similar political opinions. The other is the point I’ve made before, namely that with the passage of the Affordable Care Act the long struggle to expand the scope of the welfare state is largely over.

Last spring Jonah Goldberg observed that if the Democrats passed health care reform:




Blasphemy Laws by the Back Door

To describe public burnings of the Koran as uncivil behavior is an understatement, but this piece of news doesn’t say much for the state of free speech in Britain:

Six people have been arrested on suspicion of inciting racial hatred after videos emerged on the internet apparently showing copies of the Koran being burned.

Officers detained two men on September 15 and four more yesterday and all six were bailed pending further inquiries, Northumbria Police said. ‘’The arrests followed the burning of what are believed to have been two Korans in Gateshead on September 11,’’ the spokesman said.”The incident was recorded and a video placed on the internet.’’ In a video still accessible on YouTube, six young men in hooded tops or wearing scarves over their faces can be seen pouring petrol on a book and setting it alight, before burning another. On the video, which appeared to have been filmed behind a pub, they cheer as the first book bursts into flames.

Northumbria Police said the men were not arrested for watching or distributing the video, but on suspicion of burning the Koran.

The actual facts of this particular case (at least as reported) are interesting. The burning appears to have been designed not as some sort of live spectacle, but rather as something to be put out onto the Internet later (the perpetrators are wearing masks, so it’s not unreasonable to assume that they were planning to circulate the footage), but “distributing” the video does not seem to have been what it was that brought the wrath of the law down upon their heads. Rather (and, again, if this has been correctly reported) it was the burning of the Koran itself.

(Cross-posted over at the Corner)

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“Wisdom” from Facebook

Here’s something I saw on a Facebook discussion which caught my attention:

… The idiots who threatened violence over South Park are no more representative of Islam than the idiot threatening to burn Qur’ans is representative of Christianity.

Let’s grant validity of the assertion of statistical unrepresentativeness. It still seems informative that the two actions, threatening violence against those who offend, and offending in a very blasphemous manner, are juxtaposed as if they exhibit some equivalence. They do, once you implicitly agree that there is a qualitative difference between Islam and Christianity.

Second, those American and Canadian Muslims who are defending Molly Norris, Matt Stone, Trey Parker’s rights to free speech are to be commended. The unfortunate problem is that this does not change the dynamic between Molly Norris and the crazy Muslims who have threatened her.



Republican Kitsch

I heard some of the news conference introducing House Republican’s “A Pledge to America” today.  While some of the individual proposals—such as ending government control of Fannie Mae and repealing the health care law (good luck)–actually have some concrete meaning, much of the boilerplate strikes me as almost kitsch in its bland familiarity:

Promising to “honor the Constitution as constructed by its framers,” the Republicans added: “We pledge to advance policies that promote greater liberty, wider opportunity, a robust defense and national economic prosperity. We pledge to honor families, traditional marriage, life and the private and faith-based organizations that form the core of our American values.”

The Republicans had eight years in the White House without shrinking government one iota; to the contrary, they expanded it greatly with Bush’s radically unconservative Freedom Agenda wars, prescription drug entitlement, ongoing farm subsidies, Pentagon bloat, etc.  Why should anyone believe them now?  The Republican call for change is exactly as meaningless as the Obama call for change. 

And do Republicans fail to reduce government because they get captured by Washington special interests or because in fact when it comes right down to it, there is no popular stomach for program cuts, despite the angry rhetoric to the contrary?

The Obama Administration has announced the latest desperate twist in the country’s nearly half-century-long evasion regarding the central truth of inner-city dysfunction.  Twenty-one social service organizations, schools, and universities have received $10 million to draw up plans for a cradle-to-grave social service network intended to close the achievement, crime, and civility gap between perpetually impoverished communities and the rest of the country.  This cradle-to-grave concept is modeled on the Harlem Children’s Zone, a $77 million-a-year enterprise in a 97-block zone in Harlem that tries to surround black children with an inescapable web of social services and educational support that will accompany them all the way into college. 

The press release from the U.S. Department of Education announcing the so-called Promise Neighborhoods awards is full of the usual boilerplate about “collaboration among agencies” and “investments in children”: 

“As shown in Promise Neighborhoods and HUD’s Choice Neighborhoods Initiative, transforming distressed neighborhoods into communities of opportunity means connecting housing and development resources to education and access to economic opportunity,” said Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan.

“Strong communities start with healthy children who have safe places to live and play and high quality educational opportunities that put them on the road to success,” added Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. “Creating these strong communities requires everyone, including the federal government, to work together.”

“Well-coordinated investments and actions at the local level can generate significant change and positively impact opportunities for children,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a written statement. “To build communities of opportunity, residents must feel safe to live, learn and go about their business. We look forward to continuing working with our partners in support of this innovative initiative.

Promise Neighborhoods . . . is closely linked to the White House Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, which seeks to align federal housing, education, justice, and health programs with the overarching goal of transforming neighborhoods of concentrated poverty into neighborhoods of opportunity.

Blah, blah, blah.  Nowhere in the various documents surrounding these initiatives is there a single mention of the only thing that will turn these communities around: marriage.  (more…)




Enslaved on Hajj

Some readers are generally confused as to why I discount to a large extent the influence of official ideology, text, or received tradition, over the long-term course of a religious society. The main reason is that the exceptions to the rule are so common, and religious people are so ingenious at getting around proscribed practices if there’s a will, that the idea that texts could bind humans seem kind of ludicrous to me (though I accept the effect on the margin).

I just stumbled onto a new instance of ingenuity in the face of the commandments of the Almighty. I had known that one of the “problems” Muslims had with obtaining slaves over the past few centuries is that in Islam one could not enslave a Muslim. When most of what became the Muslim world was non-Muslim this was not a major issue, but eventually Muslims had to reach further and further into black Africa and the Slavic world. With the Islamicization of the Sahel and the rise of a Christian Europe which could resist slaving a conundrum of supply loomed. The demand was insatiable. Despite the role of black slaves in primary production in Iraq early in the history of Islam, by the early modern period slaves were a luxury item, a status symbol. And the demand for status never ends.

One way the demand was met was to declare black Muslims non-Muslims. So a Muslim king for whom slaving was a great revenue source would enforce a rate of taxation which his subjects simply could not satisfy. The potentate would then obtain a declaration from a cleric that to disobey the commands of one’s monarch was apostasy, and so the strictures of the law were met. The slaves exported to the Arab world and Ottoman lands were now apostates from Islam, pagans who could be placed into bondage (interestingly, the Muslim religious laws which compelled apostates to return to Islam, or be executed, were not enforced). One might also add that there’s a fair amount of evidence that many non-elite Muslims outside of the core Muslim world were only nominally Islamicized in the pre-modern period as well.


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