Thursday, January 30, 2003

A gentleman of residual taste, at least

You'd be surprised at who's losing patience with the loony left:

The Upchuck Letters, Chapter 1

Saturday, January 25, 2003

Aim High, Shoot Low

Well, I’ve finally taken the plunge into comics-blogging, thanks to its twisted advocacy of LS at Amish Tech Support and others. Here begins my contribution:

Ernie's Situationist Comics

This and the subsequent ‘toons are satirical commentaries on the “praxis” of the Situationist International (SI), a group of semi-Marxist theorists concentrated in France from 1958-72. They followed the “revisionism” of Georg Lukacs seminal tome HISTORY AND CLASS CONSCIOUSNESS, which posited that capitalism had an inherent capacity to re-invent and present itself that transcended its status in orthodox Marxist thought as a mere economic system. Since this came close to the revisionism of Bernstein, Lukacs had to spend the rest of his long life dodging and grovelling before the Stalinists. The Situationists had the luxury of being in Western Europe, and so were able to take pot-shots at the bureaucratic nature of “actually existing socialism“ in Russia and China.

In their analysis, the Situationists argued that capitalism had turned all relationships transactional, and that life had been reduced to a "spectacle". The spectacle is the key concept of their theory. In many ways, they merely reworked Marx's view of alienation, as developed in his early writings. The worker is alienated from his product and from his fellow workers and finds himself living in an alien world: The worker does not produce himself; he produces an independent power. The success of this production, its abundance, returns to the producer as an abundance of dispossession. All the time and space of his world becomes foreign to him with the accumulation of his alienated products....

The increasing division of labor and specialization have transformed work into meaningless drudgery. "It is useless," Vaneigem observes, "to expect even a caricature of creativity from a conveyor belt." What they added to Marx was the recognition that in order to ensure continued economic growth, capitalism has created "pseudo-needs" to increase consumption. Instead of saying that consciousness was determined at the point of production, they said it occurred at the point of consumption. Modern capitalist society is a consumer society, a society of "spectacular" commodity consumption. Having long been treated with the utmost contempt as a producer, the worker is now lavishly courted and seduced as a consumer.

At the same time, while modern technology has ended natural alienation (the struggle for survival against nature), social alienation in the form of a hierarchy of masters and slaves has continued. People are treated like passive objects, not active subjects. After degrading being into having, the society of the spectacle has further transformed having into merely appearing. The result is an appalling contrast between cultural poverty and economic wealth, between what is and what could be. "Who wants a world in which the guarantee that we shall not die of starvation," Vaneigem asks, "entails the risk of dying of boredom?"

In place of the society of the spectacle, the Situationists proposed a communistic society bereft of money, commodity production, wage labor, classes, private property and the State. Pseudo-needs would be replaced by real desires, and the economy of profit become one of pleasure. The division of labor and the antagonism between work and play would be overcome. It would be a society founded on the love of free play, characterized by the refusal to be led, to make sacrifices, and to perform roles. Above all, they insisted that every individual should actively and consciously participate in the reconstruction of every moment of life. They called themselves Situationists precisely because they believed that all individuals should construct the situations of their lives and release their own potential and obtain their own pleasure.
Guy Debord and the Situationists

Their practice of “detournment” or sabotage referred to in my strips is derived from the above position. There are two problems with it. First, the Nietzschian one of becoming the monster that you fight by adopting its methods and practices [which motivated Debord to withdraw all of his films from distribution, for example] and the more subtle one of parasitism. You can “pirate” TERRY AND THE PIRATES all you like, but -someone- still has to draw the dang thing. Why should Milt Caniff draw -anything- if it is not his to express, but can be taken up and used as an ideological “wax nose” with a majority vote by a collective?

Still and all, I can‘t say that they would approve of the stupidity going on now, given their opposition to Maoism in the 60‘s and Debord's subsequent prediction of the decay of the European left. Say what you will about the contradictions in their theory, they at least knew a fascist when they saw one.

To learn more about the SI, check out the following:

Here is a somewhat motley collection of information relating to the Situationist International.

Lexmark: It's All About the Ink

Those who believe that Lexmark offers printers at low prices and makes up the loss by selling expensive ink cartridges are right:
Printer maker Lexmark International Inc. on Thursday reported a higher fourth-quarter profit, powered by growth in sales of replacement ink cartridges for its inkjet and laser printers.
In 1999, I bought a Lexmark for $100 and got a $50 rebate. Excited about having an inkjet printer after years of using a noisy dot matrix, I did no research into the pricing of ink cartridges. I have no one to blame but myself, but Lexmark's bait-and-switch is still obnoxious for a number of reasons.

First, it is almost as cheap to buy a new Lexmark printer (one of the lower end models) as it is to buy a replacement cartridge for it. My model came with a cartridge, so for about $20 more than the price of a cartridge, I could have a new printer for each refill I've bought.

Second, Lexmark could cut out the rebates and price its cartridges lower. I would gladly have paid $100 for the printer for the sake of paying $20 for a refill.

Third, Lexmark does not offer reconditioned cartridges, whereas the other printer makers do.

Finally, the cartridges often cease to work for no discernable reason, even when the ink meter shows ink left.

I won't be buying a Lexmark again. From what I've read, certain Canon models have a low cost per page. Unfortunately, I suckered Ernie into buying the same Lexmark model.

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Whither Hollywood?, or Salma doesn’t ‘Koootchie Koootchie Koo”

One of my political science professors had an unpleasant experience with our local school system. His wife volunteered to help at the school her children attended, only to meet a stonewalling response from the administration, despite the fact that she had at least two earned doctorates. The fact that she was Mexican probably had a little to do with it. They undoubtedly feared that she would traumatize the students by breaking out a flamenco guitar and singing "La Cucaracha." I was reminded about her in relation to the following:

"If Salma were white and male, she'd be bigger than Harvey Weinstein," says Alfred Molina, who played Diego Rivera to Hayek's Frida Kahlo in the Miramax-financed "Frida."

"Salma held her own against everybody," says Weinstein, pairing his star with Julie Taymor, who directed the movie. "I call them the Ballbreaker Twins. I should be the one getting sympathy, having to deal with women that strong. Between the two of them, I didn't know which way my ass was getting kicked."

The pitfalls of looking good

I’m sure that the magical question on everyone’s mind is, “Why -isn’t- she (bigger than ‘Harv,’ that is)?” What is there about making movies that requires a pasty complexion and the “right” secondary sex characteristics? Well, Ms. Hayek has the explanation:

"No one would hire me," (said Hayek in the interview). "I had studio heads say to me, 'You could have been the biggest star in America, but you were born in the wrong country. You can never be a leading lady, because we can't take the risk of you opening your mouth and people thinking of their maids.'"

Entertainment Tonight - Salma Strikes Back

Hmm, let me check out there...

All you moviegoers who employ Hispanic maids, raise your hands...

I thought so.

The hyper-protesting Hollyweird jerks that we’re hearing so much from lately are awfully silent about this. I guess that Viggo, Babs, Sheryl and Co. had to get their pro-fascist “Acid baths are too good for Saddam-hating scum” tee-shirts made up while this was going on. As for "artistes" that should have a stake in this issue, it seems that ‘President -Josiah Bartlett-’ is too busy “passing for WASP” to really concern himself with real-life racism and sexism in his own bloody industry. Martin knows which side his bread is buttered on.

Wait a mo, I just had a brainstorm. Hayek is 1/4 Lebanese, perhaps she’s just not putting her best minority claim forward. Strap a suicide bomb around her lissome waist and throw her an AK-47 and she’d probably be head of production for a major studio right now.

The sad thing is, that’s probably the -only- way she’ll ever be one, given the cowardice of the H-wood “left-behinds.”

Sad, really.

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Whites Die More Often in War

Do blacks bear the brunt of war by dying disproportionately more than whites? Just the opposite according to this USA Today article:
Blacks, especially in the enlisted ranks, tend to be disproportionately drawn to non-combat fields such as unit administration and communications. They are underrepresented in jobs shooting rifles or dropping bombs.
Whites, on the other hand, go into higher risk jobs, and hence die disproportionately. What's interesting about this is that although it disarms the war-is-racist argument on one ground, it opens the argument up on another. The issue now is not how many blacks die in war, but how many serve as pilots, engineers, and so forth. Naturally, many will claim that this issue demonstrates racism in the armed forces, but the above article concludes:
The reasons for the racial divide are unclear, but several theories have emerged, including lingering racism in some quarters of the military and a tendency among black recruits to choose jobs that help them find work in the civilian sector.
The irony is that if one wants to claim that blacks should be better represented "in jobs shooting rifles or dropping bombs," then one is claiming that blacks should die in higher numbers. To be fair, this is not an absurd position; one could accept that consequence in the name of equality, but I suspect that the race lobby will want to play the issue both ways, i.e., that it is wrong that blacks die disproportionately and wrong that they do not serve in high-risk jobs. The two positions are not compatible, but one can always cite Walt Whitman in defense: "Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself."

Sunday, January 19, 2003

A Blog from Willy Wonka

Saturn in Retrograde is pleased to post the following open letter from none other than candy maker extraordinaire, Willy Wonka. The letter is addressed to certain public health officials in England.

My Dear Good Sirs,

I read in this morning's dispatch that many public health officials are concerned about the growing size of chocolate bars. These officials are rightly concerned with the increase in obesity and its corresponding effect on health. All well and good.

But then comes an accusation that I wouldn't even make against my worst enemy, Mr. Slugworth:

Nutritionists claim that some manufacturers deliberately lure children and low-income families into buying fatty, sugary and high-salt foods by heavily promoting cheaply priced, king-sized products.
My protege, Mr. Charlie Bucket, takes great offense at this. Having once been poor himself, Charlie found that being able to buy a larger candy bar at a reduced price was a boon, not a curse. Why? Because one does not need to eat the entire bar at one sitting. The Oompa Loompas have composed an entire opera on just this point. Moreover, such a bar can be shared with say, Grandpa Joe or Grandma Georgina.

I do hope that public health officials will not take issue with my Everlasting Gobstopper, which is designed for children with very little pocket money. Lest I be blamed for ruining the dental health of poor children, let me remind everyone that just because the Everlasting Gobstopper never gets any smaller is not reason to keep one in your mouth all of the time. The Oompa Loompa song about gum chewing drives this point home.

Equally puzzling is this passage:

Children were the least likely to understand the risks of buying king-sized chocolate bars or soft drinks.
I have some expertise regarding how children understand risk, so my response is: no kidding. Who should understand the risks?--
What do you get when your kid is a brat,
Spoiled and pampered like a Siamese cat?
Blaming the child is a lie and a shame,
You know exactly who's to blame--
The Mother and the Father.
As to obesity:

The same research showed that one king-sized chocolate bar would make up 30 per cent of a nine-year-old's daily fat intake--creating a "substantial problem" of over-eating for children.
Again, I have some expertise here. I once knew a lad who tried to drink my chocolate river and just might have had there not been some slight unpleasantness involving him, a pipe, and Bernoulli's Principle. My point? Obesity is a problem regarding the entirety of one's eating habits, not just the eating of a large candy bar. Augustus Gloop ate everything in sight, candy or not. And that was his downfall (or in this case, his upfall).


Later this month, the Health minister Hazel Blears is expected to open another conference where experts will add to calls for tighter controls of food advertising, particularly targeting young people.
Stop. No. Don't.

Good Day Sirs,
Willy Wonka

Saturday, January 18, 2003

Argumentum Ad Armageddon

When in doubt, try to convince people that your enemies are going to cause Armageddon. That seems to be the reason why anti-war activists have remade the infamous "daisy" ad. It's easy to dismiss the ad as an alarmist scare tactic--because that's what it is--but the ad also implies an argument that many activists readily accept as sound:
  1. If the U.S. goes to war in Iraq, some catastrophic event X will occur.
  2. This X would be the fault of the US.
  3. Therefore, we should not go to war with Iraq.
Let's go through the argument.

1. If the U.S. goes to war in Iraq, some catastrophic event X will occur. There is an ambiguity here: some might interpret the ad as saying that X might happen, and so it is prudent not to go to war. This would mean that the conclusion would follow probably, but not absolutely, from the premise. Fair enough, but this does not change anything in terms of the argument's merit. There still has to be a strong likelihood that event X will follow from another Persian Gulf War (hereafter PGWII) in order to justify the equally strong claim that it would be prudent to avoid PGWII. So for all intents and purposes, let's treat the argument as a deductive one.

So is there anything wrong with (1)? It should be noted that (1) is actually an argument itself, namely, a slippery slope argument alleging that P will lead to Q and Q will lead to R--and in this case ultimately to catastrophic event X. We might call such an argument an argumentum ad Armageddon, i.e., an appeal to Armageddon. The form of the argument is valid--sometimes P will lead to X--so the question here is: how likely is it that PGWII will lead to X?

"Not very" seems to be the reasonable answer. Remember the context of the original daisy ad. It was an ad implying that Barry Goldwater might lead us into a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Of course, Goldwater lost the election to Lyndon Johnson, so we cannot say that ad's claim was falsified. However, we do know that Ronald Reagan's strong anti-Soviet position did not lead to a nuclear war. In fact, whether he was responsible or not, the Soviet Union collapsed. So in this regard, the implied claim that hardline conservative presidents will lead us into Armageddon seems to be false.

But what about an actual war, and not just a hardline stance? Here, too, predictions of Armageddon seem untenable. Neither the Vietnam War nor the Korean War led to X, despite involving two nuclear powers, and even more to the point, neither did the first Persian Gulf War. Moreover, even the predictions of a Vietnam-like "quagmire" in Iraq, Serbia, and Afghanistan did not come true. The point is not that war will never lead to X, but that is has not so far done so, contrary to dire predictions made by activists.

Another problem for (1) is that it does not mesh with certain other assumptions held by anti-war activists. As Christopher Hitchens pointed out on Hardball, the same people supporting the new daisy ad tend to believe that Saddam Hussein does not have nuclear weapons. This does not make the ad's argument false, but it does mean that some activists have an incoherent point of view; and so if they wish to make an argumentum ad Armageddon, they need to admit that Saddam has catastrophic weapons. [I suspect that they won't, because doing so would destroy the case for prolonged weapons inspection.]

2. This X would be the fault of the U.S.. Some might doubt that the ad implies this, but the ad clearly puts the burden for X on the U.S. and nowhere else. It is the U.S., not Iraq, that is supposed to change its ways. So while the U.S. might not be the efficient cause of X (e.g. the one who launches the nuclear strike), it is nonetheless somehow responsible for X. We've seen this same argument in regards to 9/11: Islamic terrorists were the efficient cause of the destruction of the World Trade Center, but the U.S. in some way begged for such an attack.

Of course, questions about who is responsible for what when countries come into conflict are thorny, but we can cut to the chase by looking at what underlies (2); and we might call what underlies it the Sheryl Crow Doctrine. According to the SCD:

The best way to solve problems is to not have enemies.
At first blush, this seems to be naive or even vacuous, but a charitable interpretation of the SCD would be something like this:
Don't provoke people or countries until they become dangerous enemies.
Indeed, there is a kernel of truth in this. If one provokes a snake, one risks getting bit. So its much better to let the snake go on its way and do its snakey things.

Anti-war activists (as well as isolationists on the right) tend to view war and peace (and terrorism) in these terms, and although it has a certain appeal, the snake theory of enemy-making makes for inadequate foreign policy. Iraq and North Korea, to name but two, do not merely pursue their own ends in isolation from the rest of the international community. They threaten, they attack, they oppress their citizens; and they commit human rights violations that would make Mumia Abu-Jamal glad to live in a U.S. prison if he had to suffer them. The upshot is that when countries act in such a way they cannot help but make enemies. It is we who are the provoked snake. It is Iraq and North Korea that need to heed the SCD, not the United States.

3. Therefore, we should not go to war with Iraq. This might be true. But because (1) and (2) are not sound, the daisy ad argument fails to support this conclusion.

Finally, Ernie would chastise me if I did not mention who is responsible for the original 1964 daisy ad: Bill Moyers of PBS fame. Also, I linked above to a pro-Mumia site; here is a site dedicated to Daniel Faulkner, the police officer whom Mumia shot and killed.

Thursday, January 16, 2003

This is the city of Billy Beck's nightmares...

and mine, too,,,

1,400 residents

30 book shops

4 million books

The City of Books

The Writer who Came In From Human Decency [warning, long post]

To celebrate The Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler blogger Emperor Misha I’s birthday, I thought that I’d do a Fisking of John “Moral Equivalence Moron” Le Carre in his honor. I’ll forgo Misha’s usual cuss words in favor of reviving some choice old English terms which, although now almost forgotten, really get at the literary idiocy of Mr. Le Carre.
America has entered one of its periods of historical madness, but this is the worst I can remember: worse than McCarthyism, worse than the Bay of Pigs and in the long term potentially more disastrous than the Vietnam War.

Yep, I just saw Justice Hathorne out with Cotton Mather and the local constable rounding up imams to be hung. Distressed by this spectacle, I went in and turned on my TV to find George W. Bush ranting and raving about “109 Zam-Zam drinking Islamists” in the State Department and Afgani kids running down the road with their skin burned off after a napalm attack. It’s introductions like this that let us know about the sophisticated reasoning abilities of European leftist intellectual elites. Warning, his thinking gets more jumentous as we move along.

The reaction to 9/11 is beyond anything Osama bin Laden could have hoped for in his nastiest dreams.

Quite so, you anile old naffin, but not for the reasons (or outcomes) that either you or Osama wanted.

As in McCarthy times, the freedoms that have made America the envy of the world are being systematically eroded. The combination of compliant US media and vested corporate interests is once more ensuring that a debate that should be ringing out in every town square is confined to the loftier columns of the East Coast press.

John Le Carre, meet the Internet. Internet, say hello to noted English badling John Le Carre. Comments about the Official Secrets Act and the EU’s continual attacks on speech freedoms elided because the author was too busy laughing his fundament off.
The imminent war was planned years before bin Laden struck, but it was he who made it possible. Without bin Laden, the Bush junta would still be trying to explain such tricky matters as how it came to be elected in the first place;

It’s a little thing called the Electoral College, one of those teensy features of that scrap of paper called the Constitution, O excerebrose One.


Perhaps the members of the preceding administration could fill you in on that one, along with the government of India, but I fear that you are too intellectually lubbardly to care much, John-Boy.

its shameless favouring of the already-too-rich;

The echolalia of tired old class-envy rhetoric strikes again.

its reckless disregard for the world’s poor,

Yep, the Marquis de St. Evre’monde had nothing on George W. Why, he wouldn’t even extend unemployment benefits to his own jobless. (wait a moment...)

the ecology

Le Carre must be referring to the Kyoto treaty. Well, the upper chamber of our legislature scored that one “98” for the economy, “Nil” for the idiotic and empirically unverified eructations of the environmental racketeers during Clinton‘s administration. The Boy President committed us to following its provisions via Presidential fiat, which one would expect Le Carre to oppose as an act of “unilateral” executive tyranny. (crickets chirping)

and a raft of unilaterally abrogated international treaties.

Just the ABM Treaty, which we gave formal notice for, you pathetic glump.

They might also have to be telling us why they support Israel in its continuing disregard for UN resolutions.

Desticate all you like about 242, the Israelis are fighting for survival against bloodthirsty janiform anti-Semites such as yourself.

But bin Laden conveniently swept all that under the carpet. The Bushies are riding high. Now 88 per cent of Americans want the war, we are told. The US defence budget has been raised by another $60 billion to around $360 billion. A splendid new generation of nuclear weapons is in the pipeline, so we can all breathe easy. Quite what war 88 per cent of Americans think they are supporting is a lot less clear. A war for how long, please? At what cost in American lives? At what cost to the American taxpayer’s pocket? At what cost — because most of those 88 per cent are thoroughly decent and humane people — in Iraqi lives?

Spare us the bathetic idiocy, Johnny. The U.S. military takes pride in minimizing civilian casualties, because it’s not only moral but good war-fighting as well, “the moral is the practical.”

How Bush and his junta succeeded in deflecting America’s anger from bin Laden to Saddam Hussein is one of the great public relations conjuring tricks of history.

Mr. Hussein had a lot to do with that by coming out in favor of the Twin Tower attacks after 9/11/01. To paraphrase Dr. Johnson, “Depend upon it, sir. When a rational man sees 3,000 people incinerated in front of his eyes, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” By applauding such heinous crimes, he put himself squarely in favor of the terror axis in a way that not even the scromboid loser Arafat dared to do.

But they swung it. A recent poll tells us that one in two Americans now believe Saddam was responsible for the attack on the World Trade Centre. But the American public is not merely being misled. It is being browbeaten and kept in a state of ignorance and fear. The carefully orchestrated neurosis should carry Bush and his fellow conspirators nicely into the next election.

“Shake, rattle and roll.” “The American Electorate” that I see as I walk along the street seems serene and rational. Even the street crazies are more poised and subdued than you are, Le Carre. We know that Saddam has been in power too long, and that the Iraqis might actually make a go of it if given half a chance...

Those who are not with Mr Bush are against him. Worse, they are with the enemy. Which is odd, because I’m dead against Bush, but I would love to see Saddam’s downfall — just not on Bush’s terms and not by his methods. And not under the banner of such outrageous hypocrisy.

How, pray tell, are we going to unseat Saddam, if not by Bush’s methods and on Bush’s terms? Bush is the leader of the only country in the world with both the will and the capacity to do something about Hussein. Internal subversion won’t work, it has been tried countless times before. Old age will only eventually put Uday on the top. Perhaps we can call in Richard Gere to lead a worldwide campaign to think nice thoughts about the Marsh Arabs until Hussein’s karma backs up on him and he relents. Orwell’s point about pacifism working to the advantage of fascism is completely appropriate here. It was tremendously hypocritical of Stalin to campaign against Hitler on the grounds of “anti-fascism” when he was a large, if indirect, reason for Hitler coming into power in the first place (by undermining the KPD) and an ally of Adolf for a year and a half (1939-41). I join other Fiskers of this article in noting Le Carre’s silence on that point. It seems that things get very “black and white” when it is lil’ Johnnie’s dubious moral equivalencies that are in question.
The religious cant that will send American troops into battle is perhaps the most sickening aspect of this surreal war-to-be. Bush has an arm-lock on God. And God has very particular political opinions. God appointed America to save the world in any way that suits America. God appointed Israel to be the nexus of America’s Middle Eastern policy, and anyone who wants to mess with that idea is a) anti-Semitic, b) anti-American, c) with the enemy, and d) a terrorist.

Hardly, it’s just that a) Israel is the only functioning democracy in the region aside from Turkey [1/2 the time], b) the Arabs/Palestinians have continually advocated the genocidal destruction of the internationally-recognized and U.N.-created State of Israel in both worlds and deeds from the time of its creation right to the present day, c) those same Arabs idolize fascism and anti-Semitism to the point of dramatizing the PROTOCOLS OF THE ELDERS OF ZION and making Adolf Hitler a best-selling author. Thus ,d) those who support the Arabs over the Israelis deliberately uphold such values (or, equally deliberately, ignore such facts), making them backers of anti-Semitism and fascism if we take the guilt-by-association logic that Le Carre hypocritically denounces here (but employs in the paragraphs immediately below) seriously. If you lie down with mad dogs, you get up with rabies, Le Carre.

God also has pretty scary connections. In America, where all men are equal in His sight, if not in one another’s, the Bush family numbers one President, one ex-President, one ex-head of the CIA, the Governor of Florida and the ex-Governor of Texas.

*Yawn* See the Adams, Harrison, Roosevelt and Kennedy families. Political dynasties are nothing new in America. Your entheomaniac ramblings about God and politics are quite revealing, but we Americans shrug it off as being lip service to the God of the Civil Religion. If you were literate enough in American fiction to make the appropriate reference to Mark Twain’s WAR PRAYER, it might have been impressive. As it is, you’re just a typical klazomaniac enraptured with the sound of his own shouting.

Care for a few pointers? George W. Bush, 1978-84: senior executive, Arbusto Energy/Bush Exploration, an oil company; 1986-90: senior executive of the Harken oil company. Dick Cheney, 1995-2000: chief executive of the Halliburton oil company. Condoleezza Rice, 1991-2000: senior executive with the Chevron oil company, which named an oil tanker after her. And so on. But none of these trifling associations affects the integrity of God’s work.

Here’s Le Carre’s guilt-by-association hypocrisy laid bare. Quite the secular Pecksniff, eh?

In 1993, while ex-President George Bush was visiting the ever-democratic Kingdom of Kuwait to receive thanks for liberating them, somebody tried to kill him. The CIA believes that “somebody” was Saddam. Hence Bush Jr’s cry: “That man tried to kill my Daddy.” But it’s still not personal, this war. It’s still necessary. It’s still God’s work. It’s still about bringing freedom and democracy to oppressed Iraqi people. To be a member of the team you must also believe in Absolute Good and Absolute Evil, and Bush, with a lot of help from his friends, family and God, is there to tell us which is which. What Bush won’t tell us is the truth about why we’re going to war. What is at stake is not an Axis of Evil — but oil, money and people’s lives. Saddam’s misfortune is to sit on the second biggest oilfield in the world. Bush wants it, and who helps him get it will receive a piece of the cake. And who doesn’t, won’t. If Saddam didn’t have the oil, he could torture his citizens to his heart’s content. Other leaders do it every day — think Saudi Arabia, think Pakistan, think Turkey, think Syria, think Egypt.

Our resident misologist seems to forget that two of the countries above have their own oil. By his tortured logic, we should invade and subdue Saudi Arabia first.

Baghdad represents no clear and present danger to its neighbours, and none to the US or Britain. Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, if he’s still got them, will be peanuts by comparison with the stuff Israel or America could hurl at him at five minutes’ notice. What is at stake is not an imminent military or terrorist threat, but the economic imperative of US growth. What is at stake is America’s need to demonstrate its military power to all of us — to Europe and Russia and China, and poor mad little North Korea, as well as the Middle East; to show who rules America at home, and who is to be ruled by America abroad.

One would think that a putative writer of espionage thrillers would at least have a minimal understanding of the difference between conventional and unconventional means of warfare. Saddam doesn’t concern anyone now because of his overt military prowess, but because of his known potential as a third-party enabler of terrorism as a wholesaler of tailor-made diseases and poisons, plus being a potential (and if Le Carre had his way, -actual-) nuclear vendor. Notice his patronizing description of North Korea as an Ophelia suitable for Bedlam, when in fact it is the Stalinist -leadership- of the country that is driving it down. Note also that Le Carre thinks that it is preferable for North Koreans to starve on grass rather than be a part of the same political order that fashioned South Korea’s current freedom and prosperity. How rectopathic he is at the prospect for freedom and human dignity when Europeans aren‘t concerned.

The most charitable interpretation of Tony Blair’s part in all this is that he believed that, by riding the tiger, he could steer it. He can’t. Instead, he gave it a phoney legitimacy, and a smooth voice. Now I fear, the same tiger has him penned into a corner, and he can’t get out. It is utterly laughable that, at a time when Blair has talked himself against the ropes, neither of Britain’s opposition leaders can lay a glove on him.

That’s called a “strong party parliamentary democracy,” Johnny-me-boy. Once one has a clear majority, virtually anything goes. The party leader and whips have all the power, and the backbenchers get to play backseat backbiter and contemplate community service. I fail to see why I, a -Yank- of all people, have to give you a civics lesson in the workings of the British Constitution and its political ecology. The rectalgia you give your readers just keeps on increasing, Le Carre.

But that’s Britain’s tragedy, as it is America’s: as our Governments spin, lie and lose their credibility, the electorate simply shrugs and looks the other way. Blair’s best chance of personal survival must be that, at the eleventh hour, world protest and an improbably emboldened UN will force Bush to put his gun back in his holster unfired. But what happens when the world’s greatest cowboy rides back into town without a tyrant’s head to wave at the boys? Blair’s worst chance is that, with or without the UN, he will drag us into a war that, if the will to negotiate energetically had ever been there, could have been avoided; a war that has been no more democratically debated in Britain than it has in America or at the UN. By doing so, Blair will have set back our relations with Europe and the Middle East for decades to come. He will have helped to provoke unforeseeable retaliation, great domestic unrest, and regional chaos in the Middle East. Welcome to the party of the ethical foreign policy. There is a middle way, but it’s a tough one: Bush dives in without UN approval and Blair stays on the bank. Goodbye to the special relationship.
I cringe when I hear my Prime Minister lend his head prefect’s sophistries to this colonialist adventure. His very real anxieties about terror are shared by all sane men. What he can’t explain is how he reconciles a global assault on al-Qaeda with a territorial assault on Iraq. We are in this war, if it takes place, to secure the fig leaf of our special relationship, to grab our share of the oil pot, and because, after all the public hand-holding in Washington and Camp David, Blair has to show up at the altar.

Well, since Mr. Blair has undoubtedly studied British history, he is no doubt reminded of the whining that went on whenever England had to step in and take things in hand over the objections of lesser powers. You know, actions like stopping cult murders and widow-burning in India and other examples of “multicultural” wonderfulness. Aside from the shiny, happy fascism of his domestic policy, Blair knows that Saddam is a menace and one of the legs of support for Arab terrorism. It’s true that his party is fractured behind him, but they, like you, offer no sensible alternative except leftist screeching at the actual thought of opposing fascism.

“But will we win, Daddy?”
“Of course, child. It will all be over while you’re still in bed.”
“Because otherwise Mr Bush’s voters will get terribly impatient and may decide not to vote for him.”
“But will people be killed, Daddy?”
“Nobody you know, darling. Just foreign people.”
“Can I watch it on television?”
“Only if Mr Bush says you can.”
“And afterwards, will everything be normal again? Nobody will do anything horrid any more?”
“Hush child, and go to sleep.”

Once a mammothrept, always a mammothrept, I suppose. Le Carre may need for his political leaders to tell him bedtime stories, but adults can make their own judgments. Let’s see how his view really cashes out in sleepy-time dialogue:

“But why can’t we help them, Daddy?”
“Of course not child, that would be helping America, and that would be wrong.”
“Because they spread things like Western Enlightenment values and stop Uncle Saddam and other freedom-loving men from doing what they want.”
“But doesn’t he kill people?”
“Nobody you know, darling. Just foreign people.”
“Don’t foreign people have rights?”
“Of course not, they’re just sand-crawlers and wogs who think that they have some ridiculous right to human freedom and dignity.”
“Isn’t that racism, Daddy?”
“Hush child, and go to sleep.”

Last Friday a friend of mine in California drove to his local supermarket with a sticker on his car saying: “Peace is also Patriotic”. It was gone by the time he’d finished shopping.

“You know, as the acid bath is slowly dissolving my flesh off of my bones here in an Iraqi dungeon, I can’t help but count my blessings that I don’t live in a country where bumper stickers would be scraped off my automobile by random passers-by. Of course, I never got the chance to actually OWN a car, but it’s the principle of the thing that counts...”

“That’s right, Abdul. As a Coptic Christian formerly living in Egypt, I can proudly state that the bumper stickers on my car proclaiming my religious allegiance, one that predates Islam in my country by six centuries, were never removed from my car without my permission. Instead, my Islamic compatriots voiced their complaints about my theology in a mature and rational manner, namely by burning me to death -inside- my car, but, thank God, they didn’t take the stickers themselves off.”

Perhaps Le Carre can join up with the Poet Laureate of the Garden State for the first epic espionage thriller/poem, “Who scrape off da Bumpa?” It should get enough of the idiotarian trade to catapult them both back onto the bestseller list.

Johnny, call your agent.

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Fanatics Rejoice

According to Vicki Erwin of Scholastic Books Trade Sales, HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF PHOENIX will be published on June 21, 2003 in the U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia.

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

Top Ten Reasons to Switch to Canada

Not wanting to be just a critic of the things I disagree with, I hereby as a public service post my own top ten reasons for switching to Canada. Mind you, these are not great reasons for leaving the USA for Canada, but they're a darned sight better than the reasons given by John Bender, who should feel free to take the following and replace his own list with it:

  1. Many important celebrities are Canadian: William Shatner, Paul Schaffer, and Jim Carrey to name a few.
  2. Canadians are safe from terrorists, who only come to Canada to enter the United States.
  3. In her latest video Up!, Shania Twain proudly displays the Canadian flag.
  4. The beautiful part of Niagara Falls is on the Canadian side.
  5. Canada has mooses, meeses, moosi--whatever is the plural of the species of which Bullwinkle is a member.
  6. If a Canadian gets a paper cut, his wonderful health care system gives him a free Band-Aid!
  7. Canadians pronounce "about" as "aboot" rather than "abowt." Much more civilized.
  8. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police wear those spiffy uniforms.
  9. Klondike Kat always gets his mouse.
  10. Canada gave the world Loverboy. 'Nuff said.

Canada, France, and England, oh My!

I was going to respond to John Bender's Switch to Canada campaign, but Jay Ransom saved me a lot of time by doing an excellent job. However, there is one point I want to mention. Bender writes:
Canada is a bilingual country, speaking English and French. This is because Canada is the country in which two of history's biggest rivals learned to coexist. And that's something to honour, cherish and be proud of. [Boldface Bender's, as well as the British spelling of "honor" as "honour."]
It is something to proud of. Except that it doesn't have the added advantage of being true. First, in 1994, French Quebec nearly seceded from Canada, and native peoples of Canada (e.g. the Inuit) likewise demanded self-determination. Second, the real England and France have been at peace with one another since before the Dominion of Canada was created in 1867, so what is the big deal about English-speaking Canadians living in the same country as French-speaking ones? Especially when the French-speaking ones almost left?

Freedom for the People

Due to a user request, we've taken out hardwired font sizes. Enjoy!

The Great Canadian Switchback

Jay Random, over at Shiny Happy Gulag, takes issue with an expatriate Yank who's become giddy with love and anti-Americanism in the Great Blight North:

SHINY HAPPY GULAG: The Great Canadian Switch

I passed the URL on to Jay after Bill told me about it. Ain't I a stinker?

Jay goes into more detail about Canada's grave national troubles at this URL:

SHINY HAPPY GULAG: Waking Up from the National Dream: A Curtain-Raiser

It is well worth the read.

On a Lighter Note ...

Why doesn't Michael Moore visit Ted Nugent and have a chat with the Motor City Madman about guns, instead of badgering Charlton Heston?

Life and Death in Illinois

I admit to being wishy-washy about the death penalty. Part of me is a bleeding heart (an ever-shrinking part) who thinks that the purpose of punishment is to rehabilitate criminals and to compensate victims. Another part of me is a hang-'em-high, hang-'em-low, just-hang-'em maverick who thinks that death row should move quicker than an Express Checkout line at three in the morning--and it should be open not only for murderers, but for repeat offenders who rape, molest children, or commit armed robbery.

Nonetheless, I have some not so wishy-washy things to say about the arguments of death penalty opponents.

As we all know by now, former Illinois governor George Ryan emptied Illinois death row before leaving office. His reasoning was twofold. First, he is concerned about executing the innocent:

"I am not prepared to take the risk that we may execute an innocent person," he wrote in an overnight letter to the victims' families warning them of his plans.
The problem is that this is the same justification he used for declaring a moratorium on executions in order that each death row case might be reviewed. Presumably he was worried that the moratorium might be lifted, but the incoming governor in fact supports the moratorium. If one is worried that Illinois is executing innocent people, then a moratorium is a rational response to this worry. However, a blanket commutation goes beyond protecting the innocent; it also releases the guilty from their justly-determined sentences. It is unlikely that all or even most of the cases on Illinois death row involve a high risk of executing the innocent, but a blanket commutation is tantamount to making that dubious claim. Ironically, it is only a case-by-case review that would provide evidence for such a claim.

[After writing the above, I saw Ryan on Nightline. There he justified the blanket commutation on the grounds that he had looked at all of the cases on death row and drew the conclusion that the system is broken. However, when pressed on this issue of whether he had in fact seen all of the cases, he backpedaled. If I can get the transcript, I'll look at issue in more detail.]

Second, there is an alleged disparity in who gets the death penalty:

"Our capital system is haunted by the demon of error--error in determining guilt, and error in determining who among the guilty deserves to die," Ryan said. "What effect was race having? What effect was poverty having?"
This has become one of the most common arguments against the death penalty, i.e., that it is racist and unfair to the poor. Not surprisingly, advocates of the death penalty dispute this claim. Suppose, however, that it is true that non-whites receive the death penalty more often than whites; does this justify the abolition of the death penalty?

No, for two reasons. First, the death penalty is not racist, because a penalty in and of itself cannot be racist. Lest one think that I'm picking semantic nits, the point is that the application of a penalty can be racist, but not the penalty itself. Hence, if a penalty is applied unjustly to one group over another, the proper conclusion to draw is not that the penalty should be abolished, but that it should be applied fairly. In other words, the unfair application of a penalty is not a sufficient reason for abolishing the penalty.

Second, the key issue in determining whether someone is guilty of a crime and deserving of the death penalty hinges upon the particular case: did X commit a premeditated murder of a certain heinous character or not? If the prosecution meets that burden, accusations of race-based bias are irrelevant, even if they are true. Why? Let's take as an example two people formerly on Illinois death row, Fedell Caffey and Jacqueline Williams:

Caffey and Williams decided they wanted a baby. So they stabbed to death a pregnant woman, Debra Evans, in her Addison apartment and cut her nearly full-term fetus from her body, according to prosecutors. To eliminate witnesses, they also murdered Evans' 10-year-old daughter, Samantha, and 8-year-old son, Joshua. Another child, Jordan, was spared in the 1995 murder--children under the age of 2 aren't likely to be good witnesses. And the newborn boy also survived. Fortunately, Jordan's grandfather, Sam Evans, says Jordan has no recollection today of the horrors he witnessed.
Caffey and Williams are black, and the Evans family is white. There is no doubt that Caffey and Williams are guilty and that the crime is heinous. So what possible argument can death penalty opponents make here vis-a-vis racism? Should Caffey and Williams not be executed, precisely because they are black and the victims white? Or do we want to make the hypothetical--and untenable--argument that if the race of the killers and the victims were reversed, there would be a different outcome? The problem for death penalty opponents is that the issue of innocence or guilt trumps the issue of race at the level of particular cases.

It's not hard to see what's wrong in general with the abolitionist position: it conflates empirical arguments against the death penalty with philosophical arguments against it. Lest our Objectivist friends cringe at this distinction, let me make it clear. Abolitionists are opposed in principle to the death penalty. For example, many think that the death penalty is nothing more than murder on the part of the State. Not finding this to be a popular philosophical position, abolitionists are now banking on empirical arguments, i.e., arguments about how the death penalty is in fact applied by the State. The two arguments above are examples of this. The problem is that empirical arguments only justify changing how the State applies the death penalty, from carelessly and capriciously to rigorously and fairly. They do not justify the abolition of the death penalty.

Another way to make this point is to take Ryan's "demon of error" rhetoric at face value. What does one do when one's house is haunted by a demon--demolish the house or exorcise the demon? Most of us would first try to exorcise the demon before demolishing the house. Abolitionists simply want to demolish the house even while pointing the finger at the demon.

Sunday, January 12, 2003

Introducing Markham Shaw Pyle, JD

I would like to inaugurate Saturn In Retrograde's new look by pointing you to one of my favorite critics. Markham Shaw Pyle is a former lawyer gone legit. He now specializes in military history and screenwriting and his reviews are both erudite and to the point. Here's a sample from his latest review, on Mary Anne Weaver's new book Pakistan: In the Shadow of Jihad and Afghanistan:

Moreover, she clearly possesses the moral vision to realize, and to convey at once subtly and clearly, that the people – indeed, the peoples – of Pakistan: celebrated for their great traditions and talents: deserve better.

They deserve better than to have corrupt regimes in place that govern neither with their consent nor in their interest. They deserve better than to have their neighboring states surround them as in a deathwatch, impatient for a deadly inheritance. They deserve better than to have an intelligence and security service interfering in their lives without law or warrant, especially when it is deeply compromised by ties to radical Islamist movements and answerable to no one. They deserve better than to have no better choice for safety than the Army as their protection against national dissolution and the warlordism of rival claimants to the succession. They deserve better than to have their natural and environmental heritage raped by desert sheiks for a hefty bribe to their own corrupt elites. And they deserve better than to be a dumping ground for the terrorists bred by the corrupt and repressive regimes of the Arab Middle East, and better than to be made into an incubator of still more Islamist terror by having Saudi-funded madrassahs shoved down their throats just so the House of Saud can have a safety valve.

M. Shaw Pyle

By hitting the link, you'll be giving him a half-penny for his thoughts.

Saturday, January 11, 2003

A Knowledge Pusher's Work is Never Done

Many thanks to Billy Beck for his kind introduction to our blog over at Two-Four:


Speaking of which:

I've just put Henry Steele Commager's THE EMPIRE OF REASON: HOW EUROPE IMAGINED AND AMERICA REALIZED THE ENLIGHTENMENT on my "must read" list, especially in light of the rising wave of anti-Americanism that is sweeping the globe. The Times Online editorial below puts it into perspective from a sane British point of view:

The hatred of America is the socialism of fools

... And Thinner and Thinner

Ernie pointed out the cops-kill-family-dog story, but here's a cop-amputates-finger story. The only good news is that the following has changed:
No charges have been filed yet. The officer has been put on desk duty during the investigation.
Jeffrey Feiger has taken her case, and although I'm no fan of the Kevorkian defender, he's the kind of high-powered lawyer she needs. Also, the "officer" in question has been suspended without pay. In a refreshing twist, the Detroit Chief of Police didn't excuse the "officer's" actions, remarking that cutting someone's sleeves with a knife is unheard of.

Friday, January 10, 2003

The Thin Blue Line gets notably thinner...between the ears

For those of you who have been angered beyond measure by the story about the family whose dog was shot by the police in Cookeville, TN, rest assured that law enforcement in that area plays no favorites. They are equal opportunity bullet-spewing idiots, as the following story from the local paper's website illustrates:

News Story-Cookeville Cop shoots brother officer, gets slapped with a wet noodle

BTW, here's the state's reaction, according to WKRN of Nashville:

"The Governor's Press Secretary, Kriste Goad, fielded calls and responded to e mails most of the day on Thursday. She says it's an issue they and the Governor feel strongly about, "He was very moved also and he called the Smoak family and had a personal conversation with them. In that conversation he did express his condolences for their loss and for everything they've been through." They also add that the shooting investigation is being handled in Cookeville. The state has already found that their officers responded properly given what they thought was a felony traffic stop."

Governor weeps but could really care less

Well, in light of the first story, I think we can all sleep easier knowing that the crack lawmen of Cookeville are still on the case. I only hope that the Smoaks hire superb lawyers with a grudge against the local power structure for their proposed civil fight.

Apologies to Billy Beck

Yes, I know, self-effacing perfectionism and blogging don't go together.

You know that you're always welcome over here, just watch for loose HTML where you step.


"They Say the Devil is a Charming Man..."

This is a little reminder for everyone out there as to who the -real- heros of the Palestinian leadership cadres are. In fact, the gentleman on the right in the second picture is quite the bestselling author in the PA, and don't you forget it.

Never Forget

Thursday, January 09, 2003

There'll Always Be an England, hopefully

While paging though the NRO archives, I came across this little movie gem:

----- TWO MEN WENT TO WAR - Long Synopsis

Set in 1942 against the backdrop of World War II, this eccentric but true tale (based on the book 'Amateur Commandos' by Raymond Foxall) begins in England at a backwater barracks, where Sergeant Peter King and Private Leslie Cuthbertson, our two protagonists, practice the art of dentistry. King, a Sergeant in the Army Dental Corps, has received one rejection too many of his request for frontline duty, and is fed-up with being a passive participant in the war. Similarly, Private Cuthbertson, a trainee dental mechanic, is bored by classes on dental hygiene and desperate to see action. This is a story about two men trapped in dead-end jobs, desperate to live out their dreams.

Cuthbertson comes to King’s attention when he finds him playing with a grenade in the Armoury. Later that night after yet another rejection, Sergeant King wakes Cuthbertson and the two set off, on what Cuthbertson believes is a routine army exercise. It is only when King asks for his paybook to enclose with a letter to Churchill that Cuthbertson begins to understand King’s plan. Cuthbertson has been enlisted by King to travel to France and fight the Germans. They are going to see some action and reek havoc. But first, they must travel to a small fishing port in Cornwall, steal a boat and sail across the Channel to France.

After a train and bus journey the men, laden with a rucksack full of grenades and dentistry equipment, eventually arrive at a small fishing port and are met by the local darling Emma Fraser. Smitten by Cuthbertson she persuades the men to stay overnight at her mother’s pub. Reluctantly King accepts the offer, but is really only interested in getting a boat to cross the Channel and becomes annoyed at the flirtation between the young people. Cuthbertson reveals to Emma that he is on a secret mission.

A few failed attempts later, the men finally set sail. After a long and difficult journey they arrive on land, but quickly come to believe that they are back in Cornwall, when they hear two women chatting in English about cookery. But it turns out to be a radio transmission being monitored by a German Signals Officer. Although relived that they have actually arrived in France, the two men soon become disappointed at the lack of action and Cuthbertson is quick to criticise King and his promise of finding adventure. Nonetheless, King is on a mission and with Cuthbertson in tow proceeds with his haphazard plan. Eventually they come across a railway track and on King’s instruction they follow the track. When they reach an empty station signal box, King enters, leaving Cuthbertson on guard. A German Signalman manages to slip past Cuthbertson and into the box, where King is forced to hit him over the head. Before they can work out what to do next, a train full of German soldiers approaches. They only just manage to operate the signals to let the train pass through the station without alerting suspicion. Relieved and exhausted the two men once again set off in search of some action, neither one of them knowing what the future holds.

King, desperate to maintain his hard exterior and rank, constantly belittles Cuthbertson until the young man retaliates and the pair come to verbal blows. Gradually, both men begin to soften and we begin to understand why Cuthbertson looks up to King and why King is so insecure.

When the men finally come across a German radar base King produces a plan, which has Cuthbertson standing guard, while King goes under the fence to plant the grenades. Unhappy with his passive role, Cuthbertson challenges King, saying that he hasn’t come all this way to watch someone else’s action. King’s response is that he believes that whoever goes in there will die. Cuthbertson eventually persuades King to involve him in the blowing up of what they believe is the main Operations Room. They set the bombs and soon the base erupts with gunfire and explosions, much more than either expected from their supply of weapons. For a moment King thinks that Cuthbertson has been caught in the gunfire but within minutes Cuthbertson appears on a motorcycle with sidecar and they make a rapid and narrow escape back to the coast.

The men eventually locate their boat and prepare to set sail once again. But their journey back to England is not destined to be easy. The boat is out of fuel and they have to start rowing. After losing an argument with a stray mine in the Channel, the two men are picked up at sea and taken back to England where they are interrogated as spies. Their identity is eventually established and they are labelled as deserters and taken to Aldershot Barracks to be court martialed.

----- Two Men Went To War : Kenneth Cranham : Leo Bill : Derek Jacobi : James Fleet

I'll leave off right here, in case you want to see it how it turns out if the movie comes to America. Unfortunately, it only opened in 6 out of 3,100 UK theaters, but this one looks to be a real keeper. This story illustrates, I think, why Britain is the one ally that has been generally reliable for us. As long as individuals of King and Cuthbertson's stripe are still with us, we can deal with the Jack Straws.

Wednesday, January 08, 2003

Oxford Sells its soul for Rock and Roll?

According to the Times Online: TimesOnline looks like Oxford is considering Bill Clinton for the chancellor's office. Well, there's nothing like showing the proper face to the world, especially if you want the dough and don't care how you get it.

Tuesday, January 07, 2003

There Once was a Ruthless Dictator from Iraq ...

In a particularly nauseating article about an Iraqi poet who writes love poems to Saddam, I came across this coffee-out-the-nose passage:
The Iraqi president has been called many things. To some U.S. politicians, he's a modern-day Adolf Hitler, a liar, a ruthless dictator. In Iraq's official newspapers, he is the Great Leader.
I naively thought that at least one point of agreement between doves and hawks is that Saddam is a ruthless dictator, but apparently only some U.S. politicians think so. Gee, I wonder what the people who have been gassed, tortured, and killed by the Great Leader think of him. Do you think they might a few choice "poems" for his Swellness?
But inside the library of Abdul Razzaq Abdul Wahid, Iraq's most famous poet, Saddam is the muse.
And what does the Suck-up Laureate have to say about those who don't like his patron: "I feel proud that people can hate him so much."
Saddam, who has his own literary ambition, has sought Wahid's advice on writing.... In private, Iraqis discount the leader's talent.
Hmm, a failed artist who became a ruthless dictator ...
Wahid receives $250 a month from Iraq's Ministry of Culture, several times more than a physician earns. A nurse earns just $84 a year. Iraqi painters and sculptors who make their names creating Saddam's likeness also are well paid by the government.
Glad to see that U.S. sanctions haven't hurt Iraqi artists.
In the early 1980s, the president asked Wahid to choose a stretch of riverfront on which to build a house.... Sweeping his arms around his large library with its ornate wooden shelves, Wahid says: "I live like a poet."
Ah, how sweet it is to reap the rewards of being a poet--or is it to reap the rewards of being a bootlicking toady?
He senses his 20-year idyll is coming to a close. Wahid expects a U.S.-led war will end this good life.
How sad for him. Millions of others will be released from the nightmare of totalitarian evil, but how sad for him. Don't worry, though, Wahid can always move to Cuba and sing the praises of Fidel. There's no shortage of thugs and dictators.

Why I Borrow Such Excellent Titles

It should be made clear from the start that the title of this blog is ironic and in no way reflects a belief in the efficacy of astrology in any way or form by Bill Ramey or myself:

I got the idea from Chris Benedict's website, MONSTERS FROM THE ID:

"Welcome to my ultra-elaborate, pop-culture jubilee of a web-site. Eventually, my mad dream is to make this a multi-media extravaganza, a deranged amalgam of the visual and literary arts that will set forth to conquer the world. But for now, we have this. The Name of this page is taken from Forbidden Planet, for those of you who don't get the reference. It was either that or Saturn in Retrograde (I'll let that cultural reference remain cryptic)."

Monsters from the Id

Chris helpfully decrypts the reference in his review of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: "Things start out bad for our group of young people. Pam (Teri McMinn) is into astrology: at the begining of the movie, she notes that Saturn is in retrograde. Saturn is an evil planet and retrogradation makes its influence stronger than normal."

Monsters from the Id-Texas Chainsaw Massacre Review

In classical astrology, Saturn in Retrograde stands for subtle degeneration in social structures and rationally-attainable goals. It is also a sign of skepticism towards authority and of a need for re-examination and defense of basic ideals. I can't think of a better purpose for this blog than an examination of said decline in the spirit of defending rationality and right living. Finally, and amusingly, I didn't know it until after I titled the blog, but Saturn -is- in retrograde right now, and will be so until February 22, 2003.

I'm Here

Just checking in with this practice post. I've got a couple of items I want to blog about shortly. In the meantime, how about a blog about why you chose Saturn in Retrograde as the title of your blog site.

Monday, January 06, 2003

"A verra verra dangerous girl!"

On a happier note, I am pleased to recommend VAMP: THE RISE AND FALL OF THEDA BARA by Eve Golden, which has just come back into print (Vestal Press Ltd. ISBN: 1879511320, $19.95 pb). Golden's book is wickedly witty, just like her subject, and a wonderful story of how a nice Jewish girl from Cincinnati can become the world's sexiest woman, marry a reserved English film director and live happily ever after. For a "try before you buy" excerpt, see the article below at Classic Images Magazine's website: Classic Images - Vol. 250 - April 1996 Issue

Abandon all hope, man of Straw

When I consider the stupid and craven nature of apologists for evil, such as the aptly named Jack Straw:

Yahoo! News - Palestinian Suicide Blasts Draw Israeli Punishment

I am reminded of one of my favorite passages from Dante's INFERNO:


Through me the way is to the city dolent;
Through me the way is to eternal dole;
Through me the way among the people lost.

Justice incited my sublime Creator;
Created me divine Omnipotence,
The highest Wisdom and the primal Love.

Before me there were no created things,
Only eterne, and I eternal last.
All hope abandon, ye who enter in!"

These words in sombre colour I beheld
Written upon the summit of a gate;
Whence I: "Their sense is, Master, hard to me!"

And he to me, as one experienced:
"Here all suspicion needs must be abandoned,
All cowardice must needs be here extinct.

We to the place have come, where I have told thee
Thou shalt behold the people dolorous
Who have foregone the good of intellect."

And after he had laid his hand on mine
With joyful mien, whence I was comforted,
He led me in among the secret things.

There sighs, complaints, and ululations loud
Resounded through the air without a star,
Whence I, at the beginning, wept thereat.

Languages diverse, horrible dialects,
Accents of anger, words of agony,
And voices high and hoarse, with sound of hands,

Made up a tumult that goes whirling on
For ever in that air for ever black,
Even as the sand doth, when the whirlwind breathes.

And I, who had my head with horror bound,
Said:"Master, what is this which now I hear?
What folk is this, which seems by pain so vanquished?"

And he to me:"This miserable mode
Maintain the melancholy souls of those
Who lived withouten infamy or praise.

Commingled are they with that caitiff choir
Of Angels, who have not rebellious been,
Nor faithful were to God, but were for self.

The heavens expelled them, not to be less fair;
Nor them the nethermore abyss receives,
For glory none the damned would have from them."

And I: "O Master, what so grievous is
To these, that maketh them lament so sore?"
He answered: " I will tell thee very briefly.

These have no longer any hope of death;
And this blind life of theirs is so debased,
They envious are of every other fate.

No fame of them the world permits to be;
Misericord and Justice both disdain them.
Let us not speak of them, but look, and pass."
(trans. Longfellow)

Dante's Inferno

A fitting epitaph for an aptly-named self-debaser.

Waiting for Blogot

I hope to be joined shortly by an old friend of mine, who's just itching to blog. (g)

Sunday, January 05, 2003

Angry Dog Misha

Emperor Misha I over at The Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler has expressed an unfortunately apt sentiment. It appears that nothing short of the genocidal destruction of the Israelis will satisfy Palestinian bloodlust.

I have a little list

As soon as I get oriented here, I'll add linkage.

Article 48

This is an old essay of mine, slightly revised for topicality:

Article 48

An experiment in "philosophical detection"

I begin with a pertinent quote from anti-totalitarian philosopher Jacques Maritain:

The problem of truth and human fellowship is important for democratic societies; it seems to me to be particularly important for this country (the USA-E.B.), where men and women coming from a great diversity of national stocks and religious or philosophical creeds have to live together. If each one of them endeavored to impose his own convictions and the truth in which he believes on all his co-citizens, would not living together become impossible? That is obviously right. Well, it is easy, too easy, to go a step further, and to ask: if each one sticks to his own convictions, will not each one endeavor to impose his own convictions on all others? So that, as a result, living together will become impossible if any citizen whatever sticks to his own convictions and believes in a given truth?

Thus it is not unusual to meet people who think that NOT TO BELIEVE IN ANY TRUTH, or NOT TO ADHERE FIRMLY TO ANY ASSERTION AS UNSHAKABLY TRUE IN ITSELF (Maritain's emphasis), is a primary condition required of democratic citizens in order to be tolerant of one another and to live in peace with one another. May I say that these people are in fact the most intolerant people, for if perchance they were to believe in something as unshakably true, they would feel compelled, by the same stroke, to impose by force and coercion their own belief on their co-citizens. The only remedy they have found to get rid of their abiding tendency to fanaticism is to cut themselves off from truth. That is a suicidal method. It is a suicidal conception of democracy: not only would a democratic society which lived on universal skepticism condemn itself to death by starvation; but it would also enter a process of self-annihilation, from the very fact that no democratic society can live without a common practical belief in those truths which are freedom, justice, law, and the other tenets of democracy; and that any belief in these things as objectively and unshakably true, as well as in any other kind of truth, would be brought to naught by the presumed law of universal skepticism. (Maritain, p. 17-18)

Wheeeuu! Although Prof. Maritain is not summing up against our own idiotarians (since the former has been dead for some 25 years) in the above passage, he is attacking the "know-nothing{?}" skepticism that is at the base of the fallacious appeal to relativism that lies at the heart of the moral equivalency idiots.

More specifically, he is arguing gainst (in this selection) the philosophical/political skepticism of one Hans Kelsen (1881-1973), sometime professor of the philosophy of law at Vienna (1911-30), Cologne (1930-33), Prague (1933-8) and UCAL-Berkely.

Kelsen's argument, briefly put, is that belief in absolute values logically leads one to an anti-democratic totalitarianism in which there exists one supreme authority which dictates perfectly-understood and comprehended (by the solitary advocate of such values alone) value claims to the necessarily subordinate masses. Kelsen claims that the "...metaphysics (of ethical absolutism-E.B.) shows an irresistible tendency towards monotheistic religion; whereas philosophical relativism, as anti-metaphysical empiricism insists upon the unintelligibility of the absolute as a sphere beyond experience, and consequently has an outspoken inclination to skepticism." (Kelsen, p. 907)

Kelsen continues:

The parallelism which exists between philosophical and political absolutism is evident. The relationship between the object of knowledge, the absolute, and the subject of knowledge, the individual human being, is quite similar to that between an absolute government and its subjects. Just as the unlimited power of this government is beyond any influence on the part of its subjects, who are bound to obey laws without participating in their creation (note the idiotarian "Create-a-world" theme in action 50+ years ago-E.B.), the absolute is beyond our experience, and the object of knowledge-in the theory of political absolutism independent of the subject of knowledge, totally determined in his cognition by heteronomous laws. Philosophical absolutism may very well be characterized as epistemological totalitarianism. According to this view, the constitution of the universe has certainly not a democratic character. (Kelsen, p. 909)

I'm sure that Kelsen, like Alfonso of Spain, would have some very sapient suggestions for the Big Bang on the improvement of various initial conditions which have their outworking in our modern cosmos, and when the Milky Way sets up its World-Wide Website ( to take votes on our future as galactic citizens, Fisk and Co. will be leading the way foreword. Or not, considering their inconsistent skepticism...

Kelsen's premises are a virtual hedge thicket of bad philosophical assumptions. First, he equates philosophical objectivism with absolutism, then claims that his skepticism is "epistemological," and not "metaphysical," thus linking his legal positivism with logical positivism with disastrous results for the former. Although his role call of freedom loving heros contains the Sophists [p. 911] (couldn't ya guess?), the Founding Fathers as believers in ethical and political absolutes are conspicuous by their absence. Furthermore, if we really -don't- know that freedom and democracy are political goods, then their very existence becomes contingent. In a bland fog of skepticism, all the choices, like all the cats, are grey.

But, the question may arise, why are you pounding this poor, hapless academic? Keekok Lee (Dep. of Philosophy, University of Manchester) provides some excellent reasons why:

But, according to Kelsen, influenced by neo-Kantianism and at one with the Weberian perspective, moral norms are irrational (or in the idiotarian locution "unscientific"-E.B.) and arbitrary. There are no objective, rational principles or guidelines for determining their correctness or otherwise. Even should a consensus exist, it would be entirely a contingent matter. Given that in principle there are as many conceptions of a good or just law as there may be individual citizens, the notion of 'good' or 'bad,' 'just' or 'unjust' laws is an empty one. The only non-empty notion is that of legal validity; it constitutes the sole ground for civil obedience. This means that moral disapproval of a law is not a justification for disobeying it.

That is why Kelsen's account of legal positivism has been charged with providing the philosophical foundation for law during the Nazi regime in Germany. Paradoxically, Kelsen's attempt to banish political and ideological commitments from his so-called pure theory of law has led to the very allegation of lending (unwitting) intellectual support to Nazi law itself in spite of his own personal total opposition to it. (Ring a bell with "the Persian Gulf war" and "Serbia" anyone?-E.B.) Kelsen thought that, by making the law ideologically neutral, he would make the law safe for liberal values; but, ironically, he made it possible for it to serve the ideology of those in power. (Lee, p. 123)

Does Lee think that the charge is merited? Read on:

In other words, Kelsen's political and jurisprudential thoughts may be said to follow from his meta-ethical stance, each reinforcing the other. Democracy as simple majoritarian rule is an attempt to enforce political or social order, just as legal validity as the sole grounds for civil obedience is an attempt to secure order in a context of value irrationalism. While anarchy is considered by all forms of legal positivism to be the greatest social evil and order the greatest social good, the Kelsenian variety alone focuses on procuring order, not good or just order, as goodness and justice are ultimately empty of content-what is good or just is whatever is deemed to be good or just by the individual.

All forms of legal positivism uphold the tenet that law and the physical sanction go together. But in the Kelsenian variety, law and order come into focus in a much harsher light. The fear of violating valid legislation and the fear of the physical sanction entailed by such violation coalesce. It is ironic then that Kelsenian legal theory should turn out to be more Hobbesian in character than Hobbes's own variety of legal positivistic thought. (Lee, ibid)

After all, Kelsen's example of skeptical democracy in action is Pontius Pilate asking, "What is truth?" (Kelsen, p. 914)

So we see that in addition to all the other disabilities that Weimar suffered under, its philosophical basis (i.e. the legal positivism of Kelsen's school) provided a foundation of sand. This is the real meaning of "Article 48," the section of the Weimar Constitution that allowed the president to rule by decree and abrogate civil liberties in times of "crises." Devised as a way of preserving the state by treating individual rights as government privileges, to be revoked when the state itself is threatened, it proved in the end to be the death of the Weimar state when the revolutionaries took office by legal means and used its powers to dissolve the Republic. This is the fate the Idiotarians, with their opposition to the fundamental right of self-defense detailed in the 2nd amendment, to say nothing of their "Constitution as living document" nonsense, advocate for our Constitution, whether they will it or not.

I think the following sums up the truth of the matter:

Be it a question of science, metaphysics, or religion, the man who says: "What is truth?" as Pilate did, is not a tolerant man, but a betrayer of the human race. There is real and genuine tolerance only when a man is firmly and absolutely convinced of a truth, or of what he holds to be a truth, and when he at the same time recognizes the right of those who deny this truth to exist, and to contradict him, and to speak their own mind, not because they are free from truth but because they seek truth in their own way, and because he respects in them human nature and human dignity and those very resources and living springs of the intellect and of conscience which make them potentially capable of attaining the truth he loves, if someday they happen to see it. (Maritain, p.24)

That is the only solution that offers true, classical liberal, dignity.

E. Brown

Works Cited:

Kelsen, Hans. "Absolutism and Relativism in Philosophy and Politics." THE

CENTURY POLITICAL THINKERS. 2nd ed. eds Robert Benewick and Philip
Green (London & New York: Routledge) 1998. p. 122-23.

Maritain, Jacques. "Truth and Human Fellowship." in ON THE USE OF
PHILOSOPHY: THREE ESSAYS. (New York: Atheneum) 1965, pp. 16-43.

A One Paragraph Blogfesto

In light of the insanity prevailing in the world, especially in light of the terrorist actions today, the following seems truly appropriate to inaugurate this blog and serve as a manifesto:

“The human person possesses rights because of the very fact that it is a person, a whole, master of itself and of its acts, and which consequently is not merely a means to an end, but an end, an end which must be treated as such. The dignity of the human person? This expression means nothing if it does not signify that by virtue of natural law, the human person has the right to be respected, is the subject of rights, possesses rights. There are things which are owed to man because of the very fact that he is man.” (Jacques Maritain, THE RIGHTS OF MAN AND NATURAL LAW, p. 65, cited in Charles A. Fecher’s THE PHILOSOPHY OF JACQUES MARITAIN, New York: Greenwood Press, Publishers. 1953, 207-7)

Thanks to Chris Benedict and his website Monsters from the Id for the idea for my blogtitle.