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The Oil Cringe of the West: The Collected Essays and Reviews of J.B. Kelly Vol. 2
edited by S.B. Kelly
The Impact of Islam
by Emmet Scott
Sir Walter Scott's Crusades and Other Fantasies
by Ibn Warraq
Fighting the Retreat from Arabia and the Gulf: The Collected Essays and Reviews of J.B. Kelly. Vol. 1
edited by S.B. Kelly
The Literary Culture of France
by J. E. G. Dixon
Hamlet Made Simple and Other Essays
by David P. Gontar
Farewell Fear
by Theodore Dalrymple
The Eagle and The Bible: Lessons in Liberty from Holy Writ
by Kenneth Hanson
The West Speaks
interviews by Jerry Gordon
Mohammed and Charlemagne Revisited: The History of a Controversy
Emmet Scott
Why the West is Best: A Muslim Apostate's Defense of Liberal Democracy
Ibn Warraq
Anything Goes
by Theodore Dalrymple
Karimi Hotel
De Nidra Poller
The Left is Seldom Right
by Norman Berdichevsky
Allah is Dead: Why Islam is Not a Religion
by Rebecca Bynum
Virgins? What Virgins?: And Other Essays
by Ibn Warraq
An Introduction to Danish Culture
by Norman Berdichevsky
The New Vichy Syndrome:
by Theodore Dalrymple
Jihad and Genocide
by Richard L. Rubenstein
Spanish Vignettes: An Offbeat Look Into Spain's Culture, Society & History
by Norman Berdichevsky



















Friday, 29 April 2011
Says Kate to Wills ...

Enough Parry, already. Thrust.

Posted on 04/29/2011 6:17 PM by Mary Jackson
Friday, 29 April 2011
Formation of the Tennessee Freedom Coalition Announced

Nashville, TN (April 29, 2011)- In a move that could have significant political implications in Tennessee, it has been announced that a new organization, the Tennessee Freedom Coalition, has been established. Its stated goal is "Bringing Truth to Light", and its founders say they plan to do that by "educating citizens on the critical issues of our time."

The coalition's founding chairman is Andy Miller, a well known civic leader and Businessman in Nashville. Miller has helped in varying capacities with numerous Republican campaigns the latest of which as the Chairman of "Tennessee Victory", the GOP's highly successful "Get Out The Vote" effort during the Fall 2010. The Executive Director is Lou Ann Zelenik of Murfreesboro, and a former GOP candidate for congress from Tennessee's sixth congressional district. Zelenik was the co-founder of L&N Construction Company, and a past chairman of the Rutherford County GOP.

In announcing the creation of the Tennessee Freedom Coalition, Miller said, "Our goals are important, yet very fundamental. In an age of social unrest and political turmoil, we want to bring truth to light by using the facts to educate citizens on the critical issues of our time. Those are numerous and varied, but I believe we can speak out and inform in ways that traditional political parties are ill-equipped to approach. We will go where the truth leads us, and not be swayed by political correctness or predetermined commitment to any candidate or elected official."

Executive Director Zelenik added, "The Tennessee Freedom Coalition is a grassroots movement of dedicated individuals working to make a positive difference. We strive to keep America free, and return to the traditional values that have made America the greatest nation on earth. We are going to do our best to involve our fellow citizens in this effort. One of our goals is to have a coalition organization in all ninety five counties of Tennessee."

The coalition's web site lists a number of issues it hopes to have an impact upon. Among them are promoting positive education reform, a fairer and flatter tax structure, market based healthcare reform, promoting cultural cohesion by opposing illegal immigration, job creation by reducing overbearing government interference, promoting religious tolerance by working to stop the growth of radical Islam, and a return to the constitutional principles which have made America the land of individual liberty.

The coalition is a 501(c)4 nonprofit corporation. It currently has six board members including Miller and Zelenik.

The other members are as follows: Raymond Baker, a retired GOP political consultant, and currently chairman of the Williamson County GOP steering committee; Sharon Ford, a lifelong grassroots activist and Executive Director of Act! For America Middle Tennessee; Jeff Hartline, who was recently a candidate for congress in the fifth district of Tennessee, and who is now involved in developing a new startup company; and Glen Hughes, a Certified Public Accountant and Certified Fraud Examiner who has been involved in numerous political activities within Davidson County including serving as President of the Tennessee Republican Assembly.

The coalition is planning numerous events to involve citizens in their work, and inform them on issues by having educational forums, expert speakers, and conducting political leadership classes. "We invite citizens from across Tennessee to join us in this effort. Go to our website to learn more, and contact us if you want to help. Together we can save our nation", Zelenik added.

 

###

For more information visit, www.TNFreedomCoalition.org

Posted on 04/29/2011 3:53 PM by Rebecca Bynum
Friday, 29 April 2011
Those pursed lips open

I was right. On cue, after a splendid, dignified and joyful royal wedding, enjoyed by so many of the "working class" that socialists claim to represent, Polly Toynbee of The Guardian un-purses her lips to dribble all over their parade. Ms Toynbee is not short of a purse or two - her villa in Tuscany, enormous house in London and privately educated children would not disgrace a minor royal - but let's not talk about that.

How well we do it! Was the princess beautiful in lace and was the prince charming? Indeed they were. The glorious pomp and circumstance did not disappoint those 2 billion worldwide watchers, indulging vicariously in the theatre of majesty. They tell us this is what we are best at, the great parade, the grand charade. If you weep at weddings here was one to cry for, for us more than them. The more extreme a ceremony's extravagance, the more superstitious you might feel about the outcome: the simpler the better the prognosis, in my experience.

[...]

Is this what Britain is and who we are? Here was a grand illusion, the old conspiracy to misrepresent us to ourselves. Here arrayed was the most conservative of establishments, rank upon rank, from cabinet ministers to Prince Andrew to the Sultan of Brunei, the apotheosis of the Daily Telegraph and the Spectator in excelsis, a David Starkey pageant choreographed by Charles, the prince of conservatives.

Of course Tony Blair and Gordon Brown had no invitation, being the prime ministers who held back the forces of conservatism for 13 years. Displayed in all its assertiveness was a reminder of what Labour is always up against as perennial intruder. Constitutional monarchy is constitutionally Tory, the blue inherited with its wealth, in its fibre, in its bones.

[...]

How will history look back on this day? Out in the world of bread, not circuses, in the kingdom behind the cardboard scenery, this has been a week that told a bleak story of the state of the nation. History may see the wedding as a Marie Antoinette moment, a layer of ormolu hiding a social dislocation whose cracks are only starting to emerge.

And so on and so forth. What hurts - really hurts - is that so many people don't want Blair or Brown or some Labour- appointed Diversity Tsar. They want to wave the flag and have a good time. Off with her head, that's what I say. First, though, send her to the Tower and make her watch re-runs of the royal wedding until she repents.

Posted on 04/29/2011 2:16 PM by Mary Jackson
Friday, 29 April 2011
General Petraeus at the CIA?

The Wall Street Journal was not exactly enthusiastic about President Obama’s choice of General David Petraeus to succeed Leon Panetta as Director of the CIA. (“Obama’s Security Shuffle,”  April 29, 2011,). Arguing that the General has “earned a promotion to be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” the editors contend that “he may be miscast at Langley.”

 Although conventional  media-and Beltway-opinion has been largely positive about the forthcoming appointment, this writer wonders about a leader who volunteered the opinion that the burning of the Qu’ran by Florida Pastor Terry Jones would endanger US troops. Pastor Jones’ ceremonial book burning was hardly an appropriate or effective way to make the point that there is much about Islam, especially radical Islam, that constitutes the most serious current threat to Western civilization. Nevertheless, willy-nilly, the general needlessly made American behavior hostage to Islamic violence. By the same logic, the editors of Danish newspaper, Jyllens Posten, should not have published the Muhammad cartoons and should have made the Muslim street the arbiter of what could and could not be published in a Western newspaper.

Earlier in 2010, the General also opined that the Arab-Israeli conflict is one of the “root causes of instability” and “obstacles to security” in the Middle East and that it aids al-Qaida. He further argued that “serious progress in the peace process could weaken Iran’s reach, as it uses the conflict to fuel support for its terror group proxies.” It does not take much imagination to anticipate whose ox would be gored in a Petraeus-Obama “peace process.”

Undoubtedly, the Arab-Israeli conflict is one of the causes of regional instability and has been from the Balfour Declaration of 1917. Nevertheless, in view of the real sources of discontent made manifest  in the so-called “Arab spring,” the general could not have been more off target, but that hardly matters to the Obama administration which hasn’t given up its own obsession - or is it a delusion - that “solving” the conflict will bring quiet to the region. I hate to think of what will happen to the fruitful cooperation between the CIA and Mossad under General Petraeus or the intelligence briefings he is likely to offer the White House. But then again, the General may be exactly the kind of Director of Central Intelligence the president really wants, especially in a second term when he will be, if reelected, unconstrained by the imperatives of a presidential election.

Posted on 04/29/2011 1:07 PM by Richard L. Rubenstein
Friday, 29 April 2011
An Epithalamic Musical Interlude: Head Over Heels (Jessie Matthews), I'll Do My Best To Make You Happy (Al Bowlly)

Listen here.

And then listen here.

Posted on 04/29/2011 11:27 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Friday, 29 April 2011
David French On The Meaning Of Mortensen

From Evangelical Portal:

Three Cups of Hogwash

The story Greg Mortensen told in "Three Cups of Tea" was precisely the story we wanted to believe.

By David French, April 25, 2011

Since 9/11, Westerners have tried two approaches to fight terrorism in Pakistan, President Bush's and Greg Mortensen's.

Thus began a column in The New York Times by Nicholas Kristof in July 2008. I remember the column distinctly because I was, at that time, fighting terrorism according to the George Bush approach, serving with the Third Armored Cavalry regiment in Diyala Province as part of the signature Bush policy effort of the war, the Surge. A friend forwarded the Kristof article, and I was intrigued.

Who was this Greg Mortensen? What's his approach?

I read on:

Mr. Mortenson, a frumpy, genial man from Montana . . . has spent less than one-ten-thousandth as much as the Bush administration. He builds schools in isolated parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan, working closely with Muslim clerics and even praying with them at times.

The only thing that Mr. Mortenson blows up are boulders that fall onto remote roads and block access to his schools.

He builds schools. Good for him. But I knew that his efforts—no matter how admirable (and admirable they certainly are)—were but a tiny drop of hope and decency in the oceans of oppression, violence, and misery that are the jihadist-dominated regions of Southwest Asia. I was glad for his work, but that's an approach to fighting terrorism? An approach to rival our massive, ongoing military efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan?

According to Kristof, Mortensen offered more than "an approach." He offered "the approach," one far superior to anything we were doing in the Surge. Kristof concluded:

So a lone Montanan staying at the cheapest guest houses has done more to advance U.S. interests in the region than the entire military and foreign policy apparatus of the Bush administration.

I literally laughed out loud. I gave no further thought to Mortensen, and we just kept doing our job: clearing al Qaeda from our corner of Iraq, having our own "cups of tea" with tribal elders, local police, ordinary villagers—so much tea, in fact, that I get nauseous at the very thought of the word chai.

But tea wasn't enough. Nor were schools or roads or power stations or our other nation-building efforts; they weren't enough until al Qaeda was beaten, until they no longer had the strength to behead villagers who cooperated with our efforts, until they no longer could terrorize mothers by shooting their babies right in front of them, or until they could no longer clear out the schools or power stations or government offices (or anything else we built) and use them as weapons depots and safe houses, or simply vandalize them, leaving their shattered emptiness as a symbol of their power, not ours.

When I got home in late 2008, I learned that Greg Mortensen was a bigger deal than I had realized. The military made his books mandatory reading. He spoke to tens of thousands, and even the President of the United States donated to his charity. In the midst of a long and bloody war, his story of cultural understanding, patience, tea, and education resonated. Did Greg Mortensen really offer a better way?

Less than two weeks ago, the whole story unraveled. John Krakauer and "60 Minutes" discovered that key elements of Mortensen's compelling life story were fabricated. Worse, they discovered that his charitable efforts were far less extensive than advertised. Many of his schools were empty, some didn't exist, and the overall footprint of his efforts was a fraction of what we believed. He wasn't a total fraud (he has done much good in the lives of the students he served), but he and his charity were not what we thought they were.

In the immediate aftermath of the "60 Minutes" story, the question came: Why? Why did a man who'd done such great good so exaggerate his story and his efforts? Wasn't the truth enough for him?

But that's actually a less interesting question than its reverse. After all, he simply joins a long line of public figures who have exaggerated their accomplishments. Greed and pride are the oldest of sins. The real question is, Why did we believe him? Why was his exaggerated story so eagerly embraced by the public and even by military leaders? Why did people actually believe so quickly and uncritically that he'd made so much progress in a war-torn region characterized more by medieval barbarism than by any kind of recognizable love of learning?

I think the answer is theological. We've lost any real understanding of evil and depravity. Cultural relativism teaches us that conflict is a result not of significant moral differences but of misunderstandings. Postmodern anti-colonialism teaches us that the West is the root of all that ails the world; that virtuous indigenous cultures would flourish without our oppression and militarism. Well-meaning, idealistic (but biblically ignorant) Christians believe that just a little kindness and love will transform hearts and minds on a vast scale. "If only they can see how nice we are, how much we care, then their hearts will melt."

But biblical Christianity teaches us that evil is not only real; it is the default human condition. Since the Fall, we are hard-wired for evil, not for good. Biblical Christianity teaches us that grace is extraordinary, not ordinary, and that even Christians are shot through with sin. Why do we believe that cultures that have not had a significant Christian presence for more than one thousand years (if ever), that have lived and died by the sword for every generation in living memory, and that are locked in the hate-fueled grip of jihadist Islam, will be transformed by schools, tea, and books, all delivered with a smile by well-meaning Americans?

The Taliban and al Qaeda are grotesquely evil. In regions they control, they will immediately kill anyone they perceive as a threat to their military or cultural domination. That is a fact. We can build 10,000 schools, but if the schools are not safe, if the curriculum is not countercultural (and often counter to their own faith), and if the education does not continue well into adulthood, then we are simply chasing after the wind. Nicholas Kristof points out that a school is cheaper than a Tomahawk missile, and this is true. But could anyone build a girls' school in Taliban-held areas of Afghanistan before the Tomahawks?

Why did we believe Greg Mortensen? Because we wanted to believe him. Because we still can't understand the enormity of the evil we face. Because we actually believe that a few cups of tea can bridge a yawning cultural and spiritual gap that has existed for more than a millennium.

The story he wanted to tell is the story we wanted to hear.

 

David French

David French is a lawyer, writer, soldier, and veteran of the Iraq war. He is the director of the Alliance Defense Fund Center for Academic Freedom.

Posted on 04/29/2011 11:38 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Friday, 29 April 2011
HRH Haram

How very un-Islamic was today's Royal Wedding:

  1. Westminster Abbey, full of crosses, stained glass windows and other haram horrors.
  2. The Archbishop of Canterbury, for all his faults, performing his office with dignity. Father, Son and Holy Ghost, all present.
  3. Music, music and more music.
  4. Men and women together, sometimes talking to their spouses, sometimes to other men and women.
  5. Many a strange hat, but not a burkha in sight.
  6. Crowds celebrating - songs and alcohol.
  7. A marriage of equals.
  8. A woman ruler, with her "Prince" consort. God save the Queen - the only one not singing the National Anthem.
  9. A kiss, and then another.
  10. Joy, joy and more joy.
Posted on 04/29/2011 9:29 AM by Mary Jackson
Friday, 29 April 2011
Crown Imperial

William Walton wrote the march Crown Imperial for the coronation of King Edward VIII but after he abdicated it was used for the Coronation of King George VI in 1937.  The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge left Westminster Abbey to the march earlier today.

When the Muslims Against Civilisation (thanks for that comment Jewdog - I liked it so much I have pinched it) first made their threat to disrupt the wedding they showed on their website a graphic of the Imperial Crown in flames, the cross torn off the top of the arches.

There are ancedotal and unconfirmed reports that black flags appeared on the streets of East London this morning only to be confronted by members of the public and turned back by the police.

Today was a day for celebration and uplift. It didn't rain on the happy couple and the crowds - neither literally nor metaphorically.

Posted on 04/29/2011 9:09 AM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
Friday, 29 April 2011
A Re-Run, Perhaps, But A Kiss Is Still A Kiss

Up, but not exactly betimes, so saw little live, but did see, as re-runs, what the networks chose to offer as selected highlights of the ceremony itself. The sensible Bishop of London clearly superior to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Two very good looking young people, both beautifully outfitted -- one in a dress, the other in a dress uniform. A pledge, a ring, the epithalamic end. From Westminster along the Mall to Buckingham Palace,  English crowds demonstrating admirable crowd self-control. Fly-by of three World War II vintage planes flown by William's mates reminded  the world -- they may not have meant to, but they did -- of Blitz-and-Biggles bravery. A Prendergastian profusion --oops, I think I'm actually thinking of Childe Hassam -- of flags being waved. Queen in eye-attracting yellow, Prince Philip, Prince Charles, tiny royal children in white, the waving couple-- Andrew et ux. --  in the middle of the balcony and this paragraph, giving ordinary rather than royal waves. One kiss, and then a few minutes later, another. Something being said about Prince William's choice of a McVitie's chocolate-biscuit cake to accompany the other cake. An interview with the publican -- for Americans almost a stage publican -- from postcard-perfect Bucklebury in Berkshire, home of that handsome and winning pair, the parents of Kate Middleton, explaining how he had been so much in a daze that he had forgotten to bow, as he clearly would have wished to, when the Queen went past. American commentators trying desperately to fill up their allotted slots with repetitive and increasingly annoying chatter. Lots about the overcast day being considered by the want-but-little-here-below English as good weather. Oh to be in England, now that April -- and England -- are still there.

Posted on 04/29/2011 7:54 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Friday, 29 April 2011
The Unbearable Wholeness of Beings

Steve Talbott has an interesting and important piece in The New Atlantis noting how the language properly used to describe mind such as recognize, respond, function, adapt, regulate and communicate are used to describe the function of molecules, proteins and cells while scientists continue to deny the reality of mindal involvement in what they continue to insist are purely mechanical interactions. I will quote the end, but the whole thing is worth reading.

To say, as Nobel laureate Max Delbrück once did, that DNA could be conceived in the manner of Aristotle’s First Cause and Unmoved Mover, since it “acts, creates form and development, and is not changed in the process”[37] — well, that’s a stupefying blind spot, a blind spot that to one degree or another dominated the entire era of molecular biology through the turn of the current century. It was already recognized and warned against by the German botanist Fritz Noll in 1903, who pointed out how (in E.S. Russell’s paraphrase) “the chief theorists have tried to solve the problem of development by assuming a material and particulate basis [today’s ‘gene’], without however attempting to explain how the mere presence of material elements could exert a controlling influence on development. They have been forced to ascribe to such abstract material units properties and powers with which they would hesitate to credit the cell as a whole.”[38]

Weiss emphasizes very much the same point: because there is no possible way to make global sense of genes and their myriad companion molecules by remaining at their level, researchers have “simply bestowed upon the gene the faculty of spontaneity, the power of ‘dictating,’ ‘informing,’ ‘regulating,’ ‘controlling,’ etc.”[39] And today, one could add, there is at least an equal emphasis on how other molecules “regulate” and “control” the genes! Clearly something isn’t working in this picture of mechanistic control. And the proof lies in the covert, inconsistent, and perhaps unconscious invocation of higher coordinating powers through the use of these loaded words — words that owe their meaning ultimately to the mind, with its power to understand information, to contextualize it, to regulate on the basis of it, and to act in service of an overall goal.

Weiss considers terms such as “regulate,” “organize,” and “control” an “obvious reversion in modern guise to animistic biology, which let animated particles under whatever name impart the property of organization to inanimate matter.”[40] Weiss refuses to ascribe the power of regulating and organizing to specific material parts of the organism, which would grant them a kind of magical quality. Whatever regulates a set of interacting parts cannot be found in one of the parts being regulated. To see the principles of regulation governing any set of parts, we have to step back, or up, until we can recognize a unity and harmony that operates, so to speak, between the parts, becoming visible only from a more comprehensive, relational vantage point.

This unity and harmony may represent a genuine difficulty for our understanding, if only because few in recent decades have bothered to address it. But until we see the problem where it actually lies, instead of concealing it in molecules with mystical qualities, we can hardly begin the work of trying to understand. To be sure, serious researchers long recognized the “problem” of biological explanation — but the issues were largely set aside in the era of molecular biology due to the expectation that they were well on their way to routine solution. Biology would soon be rid of its troublesome language of life in favor of well-behaved molecular mechanisms. And yet today, after several decades of stunning progress in molecular research, it is no more possible than it was two hundred years ago to construct a single paragraph of properly biological description that does not draw on a meaningful language of living agency considered improper in chemistry or physics.

If we want to reckon with the holism, the coordination and organization, the means-end relationships that are continually appealed to in biological explanation, one way forward might be to take the biologist’s special language of life — minus its mystical tendencies — seriously and at face value. Perhaps the biologist describes what he actually sees, and perhaps the living qualities of the organism are not really as spooky as they are sometimes made out to be. Perhaps it never did make sense to try to understand the world from the bottom up, never made sense to dismiss the richest, most multifaceted phenomenal displays — the most organically unified realizations of the world’s creative potential, such as we find in the performance of whole living creatures — as if they were, by very reason of the fullness of their revelation, the most unreal and misleading guides to the true nature of things.

Mechanisms of Control or a Living Unity?

Before concluding, it remains only to show ever so briefly what happens when you mix the language of organic coordination with that of mechanistic control. It’s not a pretty sight. A paper that recently landed in my e-mail inbox, otherwise very worthy, serves as well as any to illustrate the situation. It concerns the p53 protein:

The tumor suppressor p53 is a master sensor of stress that controls many biological functions, including [embryo] implantation, cell-fate decisions, metabolism, and aging.... Like a complex barcode, the ability of p53 to function as a central hub that integrates defined stress signals into decisive cellular responses, in a time- and cell-type dependent manner, is facilitated by the extraordinary complexity of its regulation. Key components of this barcode are the autoregulation loops, which positively or negatively regulate p53’s activities.

We have, then, a master sensor that controls various fundamental cellular processes, and yet is dependent on the signals it receives and is subject to “extraordinarily complex” regulation by certain autoregulation loops. While all these loops regulate p53 (some positively and some negatively), one of them, designated “p53/mdm2,”

is the master autoregulation loop, and it dictates the fate of an organism by controlling the expression level and activity of p53. It is therefore not surprising that this autoregulation loop is itself subject to different types of regulation, which can be divided into two subgroups.[41]

So the master controlling sensor is itself subject to a master controlling process (one of several regulatory loops) that dictates the fate of the organism. But this master loop, it happens, is in turn regulated in various manners (the author goes on to say) by a whole series of “multi-layered” processes, including some that are themselves “subject to direct regulation by mdm2” — that is, they are regulated by an element of the regulatory loop they are supposed to be regulating.

I can hardly begin to describe the stunning complexity surrounding and supporting the diverse performances of the p53 protein. But it is now clear that such “regulatory” processes extend outward without limit, connecting in one way or another with virtually every aspect of the cell. The article on p53 makes an admirable effort to acknowledge and summarize the almost endless intricacy and contextuality of p53 functioning and, with its language of mechanism and control, it does not differ from thousands of other papers. But that only underscores the undisciplined terminological confusion continuing to corrupt molecular biological description today. When regulators are in turn regulated, what do we mean by “regulate” — and where within the web of regulation can we single out a master controller capable of dictating cellular fates? And if we can’t, what are reputable scientists doing when they claim to have identified such a controller, or, rather, various such controllers?

If they really mean something like “influencers,” then that’s fine. But influence is not about mechanism and control; the things at issue just don’t have controlling powers. What we see, rather, is a continual mutual adaptation, interaction, and coordination that occurs from above. That is, we see not some mechanism dictating the fate or controlling an activity of the organism, but simply an organism-wide coherence — a living, metamorphosing form of activity — within which the more or less distinct partial activities find their proper place. The misrepresentation of this organic coherence in favor of supposed controlling mechanisms is not an innocent inattention to language; it is a fundamental misrepresentation of reality at the central point where we are challenged to understand the character of living things.

How the organism holds together and makes sense is surely what the employers of such language are really trying to capture. One sympathizes with them. The problem is that their science gives them a respectable (and extremely valuable) language of analysis, while it is still stumbling around looking for a language able to comprehend unities or wholes — a “systems” language, some would say. The difficulty is owing to the stubborn proviso that this language must not come too uncomfortably close to infringing the taboo against recognizing mind and meaning, direction and intention, lest the world become unsafe for objects and mechanisms. So the researcher is left with a curious problem: to make sense of the organism without finding any real meaning in it — least of all the meaning traditionally associated with living beings. Systems may perhaps be tolerated; at least they are reassuringly vague and anonymous, and invite casual manipulation. But who knows what disagreeable entanglements might follow once we find ourselves staring into the face of other beings?

Posted on 04/29/2011 7:41 AM by Rebecca Bynum
Friday, 29 April 2011
The royal wedding: today even atheists should cry out 'God Save the Queen'

And the whole thing is worth it just to see the pursed lips of dreary Guardianista republicans like Polly Toynbee, annoyed that so many people love the royal family. A more patriotic Norman Tebbit in The Telegraph:

The royal wedding is of itself a happy occasion for the bride and groom, their immediate families and a host of dignitaries and well-wishers watching from the roadside and of course at home on television. However, it is also something more than that. In a world where it seems at times that, apart from death and taxes, the only certainty is uncertainty and change, there is something comforting about the essentially unchanging concept of Monarchy.

Our own Monarchy has its roots deep into our history. Some of them go back even further than the Norman Conquest. The Act of Settlement which ended the absolutism of our monarchy has about it an echo of the folk moots by which monarchs were legitimised in earlier times.

All those historical threads have been woven into a pattern which is not of just one culture, line or even ethnicity, certainly not just of the English, but is of the embodiment of the Kingdom. Of course it is a great boon that we do not have to endure elections for the post of Head of State. Even more that we do not have to endure being represented by someone with no more allure than the President of the European Union, or perhaps some celebrity whose character faults had been concealed by a stellar, hyper, super injunction.

Above all, the Monarchy is there to be the focus of a common loyalty and mutual identification of all the Queen’s subjects, regardless of religion, ethnicity or politics. Those who remember the events of 1940, and both our French and German friends will do so, will understand that unlike the French, the British people and our Armed Forces owe their loyalty not to a government but to the Crown. Had these islands been subjugated, there could have been no Vichy-style puppet government. So long as the King was free, he would have remained the Head of State.

It should be enough to wring even from the mouths of atheists a cry of “God Save The Queen”.

Posted on 04/29/2011 4:25 AM by Mary Jackson
Friday, 29 April 2011
All eyes are on . . .

Westminster Abbey from the London Eye.

Gold bless the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Photograph by Susan Sto Helit April 2011

Posted on 04/29/2011 3:09 AM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
Friday, 29 April 2011
Stuxnet Still At It

From newsmax.com:

Computer Worm Wreaking Havoc on Iran's Nuclear Capabilities

 

By: Ken Timmerman

 

An internal report by a special intelligence unit in Iran has concluded that the Stuxnet malware computer virus that has infected Iran’s nuclear facilities is so dangerous it could shut down the entire national power grid.

The report, written by the Iranian Passive Defense Organization, chaired by Revolutionary Guards Gen. Gholam-Reza Jalali, states that Stuxnet has so thoroughly infected the operating systems at the Bushehr power plant that work on the plant must be halted indefinitely.

If the Bushehr power plant were to go on line, “the internal directives programmed into the structure of the virus can actually bring the generators and electrical power grid of the country to a sudden halt, creating a “heart attack type of work stoppage,” the report states.

The report was obtained by the “Green Liaison news group,” Iranian journalists affiliated with presidential candidate Mir Hussein Mousavi, and was translated into English by Reza Kahlili, a former Revolutionary Guards officer who spied on behalf of the CIA for over a decade while inside Iran.

The report claims that Stuxnet “has automatic updating capabilities in order to track and pirate information,” and that it “can destroy system hardware step-by-step."

Gen. Jalali has held two press conferences in recent weeks where he has given tantalizing glimpses into the conclusions of his top-secret task force to analyze and defuse the Stuxnet computer worm.

At one, he blamed Israel for collaborating in developing the worm and claimed that his experts had traced “reports” sent by the worm back to Texas.

Enemies have attacked industrial infrastructure and undermined industrial production through cyberattacks. This was a hostile action against our country,” Jalali said. “If it had not been confronted in time, much material damage and human loss could have been inflicted.”

Jalali also lashed out at Siemens, the German firm that sold Iran the Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) process controllers used to run the Bushehr power plant, the Natanz uranium enrichment plant, and other industrial facilities in Iran.

"Our executive officials should legally follow up the case of Siemens SCADA software, which prepared the ground for the Stuxnet virus," he said.

"The Siemens company must be held accountable and explain how and why it provided the enemies with the information about the codes of SCADA software and paved the way for a cyberattack against us," he said.

Siemens has said it was blindsided by Stuxnet, and began publishing its own research and tools to remove the worm from infected computers last fall.

On Monday, Jalali claimed that his intelligence unit, which merges computer analysts from the intelligence ministry and the Revolutionary Guards intelligence service, had found a new computer virus attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities called “Stars.”


He called “Stars” an “espionage virus,” and said that it copied government files and was difficult to destroy in its early stages.

Kahlili believes that Gen. Jalali’s admission of the damage wrought by Stuxnet is significant, since until now the Iranian authorities have suggested that everything was under control. “This is the first official statement out of Iran that the U.S. and Israel should be blamed for this attack,” Kahlili told Newsmax.

“They held back for a long time in order to solve the problem, but have gone public because they haven’t succeeded in doing so. This shows the extent of the damage to the Bushehr power plant. What Jalali is saying is that they are holding the U.S. and Israel responsible and that Iran will retaliate,” he added.


Ralph Langner, the German computer security expert who first identified the specifics of the malicious code used by Stuxnet, says that the worm contains two “digital warheads” that seek out specific control systems to attack. But its targets are computers driving Iran’s uranium enrichment program, not the control systems at Bushehr, he insists. The larger of the two warheads loads onto S7-415 controllers in Siemens SCADA process control software. While these controllers are found “in power plant turbine control” systems, such as those at Bushehr, Langner now believes the warhead was not programmed to affect those systems.



“Anything that went wrong in Bushehr cannot be attributed to Stuxnet. It may be attributed to other sabotage acts, to stupidity, or whatever,” he told Newsmax in an email.

Because the Iranians reported early on that Stuxnet had infected Bushehr, Langner spent several months investigating what systems Stuxnet might attack at the Russian-built plant, before setting aside that thesis based on his analysis of the worm’s internal code.

“It would certainly be a good idea for Iran to clean up all systems before going operational in Bushehr (and before resuming operations in Natanz) as any further attempts to remove the virus when the plant is running will be much harder or even impossible,” Langner wrote in his blog on Feb. 1. “As long as there is even a single system in the nuclear program still infected with Stuxnet, those centrifuges continue to be at risk.”

Russian experts and officials have been warning for several months that the Bushehr power plant has become too dangerous to operate because of the Stuxnet infection. In February, Russia's envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, described to reporters an incident he claimed had been witnessed by Russian engineers working at the plant.

The engineers "saw on their screens that the systems were functioning normally, when in fact they were running out of control," he said. This was because Stuxnet was sending out false messages to the control instruments the engineers normally monitored.

The Russian engineers performed additional tests that determined physical malfunctions were occurring at the plant and then removed all nuclear fuel from the reactor. "The virus which is very toxic, very dangerous, could have had very serious implications," Rogozin said.

Iran was forced to shut down its uranium enrichment plant at Natanz last November and removed nearly 1,000 centrifuges because of malfunctions caused by Stuxnet. See "Cyberwar Declared on Iran."

Earlier this month, Iran refueled the Bushehr nuclear power plant and seemed ready to start the reactor, but Jalali’s report has put an indefinite hold on operations there.

The Iranian parliament recently sent a separate report to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei saying that Bushehr had become so expensive and so many years behind schedule that it would be cheaper and quicker to build a new nuclear power plant and shut the Bushehr site definitively, Kahlili said.

Posted on 04/29/2011 10:32 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Thursday, 28 April 2011
Tomorrow It's Friday In Syria, In Bahrain, In -- You Name It

What's to come is still unsure.

But you know that something will happen.

In the Middle East, it's going to be Friday.

Posted on 04/28/2011 10:10 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Thursday, 28 April 2011
Royal Wedding - bring it on.

2 tubes of sour cream and onion Pringles, buy 1 get 1 free at Tescos.

Also from Tescos1 bottle each of Wells Bombardier Burning Gold, Morland's Old Speckled hen, Shepherd Neame Spitfire and Fuller's London Pride, 4 for £5 

News that Anjem Choudhary, Abu Izzadeen, Anthony Small and the rest of MAC and fellow travellers have been rounded up and placed in the tower - unlikely but priceless.

I think I am prepared for the day.

 

Posted on 04/28/2011 4:30 PM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
Thursday, 28 April 2011
Esprit d'escalier

Today I shopped online for a friend's birthday present. As I tried to check out, I was unable to get past the "basket" because of a demand to fill in "required fields marked with a *". "Required" as those fields might be, there were no ****ing **** to be seen, and I was stuck. I emailed the firm to complain, but rather than wait for a response, I dived back in and managed to find a secret back passage - perhaps a tradesman's entrance - through which I got to the desired end point. I then emailed my discovery, so that the "team" could share it with others caught in the same web-trap.

Who says no good deed goes unpunished? Mine was rewarded:

We are sorry to read that you were experiencing difficulties placing your order, however we are pleased to read that you were able to rectify the issue and place your order.

We would like to apologise for any inconvenience caused, please rest assured that your feedback has been escalated.

Well I'll go to t'foot of our stairs, as they say in Lancashire. A step change and no mistake. Won't it make it worse, though?
 

 

Posted on 04/28/2011 2:56 PM by Mary Jackson
Thursday, 28 April 2011
A Musical Interlude: He Hadn't Up Till Yesterday (Sophie Tucker)

Listen here.

Posted on 04/28/2011 2:30 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Thursday, 28 April 2011
Overreaching Outreaching From Charles Rivkin And His Crew

I posted earlier a piece from Le Figaro about American diplomats paying a call, to express their deep anguish about the Wikipedia-leaked information about a report on the mosque in Lyon that was a recruiting center, the Americans reported, for Al Qaeda. The same  article told of an upcoming meeting to be held in Paris by the American Ambassador, Charles Rivkin, with a delegation from the Lyon Muslim community that intends to express its great unhappiness with the Americans, and presumably at that time the American Ambassador will abase himself, and assure the whining delegation of his deep respect, etc. for the faith -- the sinister faith, the dangerous-to-Infidels faith -- of Islam.

I had a vague memory  that I had written about the egregious Charles Rivkin before. That vague memory was right:

Friday, 3 December 2010
Charles Hammerman Rivkin (born April 1962) is the current United States Ambassador to France. Selected by President Barack Obama, he was confirmed by the United States Senate on July 10, 2009.[1] Early life, family and education Rivkin earned a B.A. (international relations) from Yale University ...Read More...
 
Thursday, 23 September 2010
Feeling Slighted by France, and Respected by U.S. Corentin Fohlen for The New York Times A mural outside a school in Bondy was created as part of an artistic exchange with the Mural Arts Program of Philadelphia. By SCOTT SAYARE Published: September 22, 201 BONDY, France - The residents of ...Read More...
 
Thursday, 23 September 2010
The Obama Administration is apparently content to continue to squander, by continuiing the policies of the Bush Administration, American resources --  -- men, money, materiel, morale -- in mad policies based on the dreamy notion that Islam is not a threat, that only "violent extremists" or "Islamist ...Read More...
 
Thursday, 23 September 2010
Watch here. Thus you can enjoy, to your heart's content,  clean-cut media mogul and Obama contribgutor Charles H. Rivkin, who left sunny California to become what he so ardently desired as his privatye payoff, that is Ambassador of the United States to France, practicing his French as he unconvincingly ...Read More...
 
So he's been overreaching diplomatically, not just this week and next, but last year, and possibly next year too.
 
Will no one in Congress ask why the American Ambassador, and lesser diplomats at the Embassy, feel they have a right to conduct diplomacy with Muslims in France, as a separate group, and not stick to their last, which is relations with the French government, and the people of France who, the Embassy staff must surely be aware, are getting fed up with the Muslims in their midst and will not take kindly to Americans who think they have a right to meddle?

 

Posted on 04/28/2011 1:49 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Thursday, 28 April 2011
'British national among 14 dead in Morocco suicide attack'

A British national and two French people are among 14 killed in a suicide bomb attack in a popular tourist cafe in Marrakesh, according to reports by French newspaper Le Figaro.

Evidence collected from the scene of an explosion on Thursday in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh confirms it was a bomb attack, the interior ministry said. The blast in the iconic Jamaa el-Fna square is Morocco's deadliest bombing in eight years.

Witnesses reported rescue services pulling casualties from the cafe.

"There was a huge bang, and lots of smoke went up, there was debris raining down from the sky. Hundreds of people were running in panic, some towards the cafe, some away from the square. The whole front of the cafe is blown away," Andy Birnie, of north London, told The Associated Press by telephone. Mr Birnie is honeymooning in Marrakech. "It was lunchtime so the square was very busy. We had just walked into the square, but were shielded by some stalls. The locals are telling us it was gas bottles exploding."

Portuguese tourist Alexandre Carvalho, a 34-year-old call centre worker from southern Portugal said: "I had just arrived at the square, the area where most cafes are located. Suddenly I heard this massive explosion, I had my back turned to it, I turned around to see it the explosion had happened on the veranda of a cafe. There were at least 10 injured people, lots of debris, things flying up in the air. I saw people in a panic running towards the area with fire extinguishers, some people being carried away. I believe the injured were mostly tourists, judging by what they were wearing."

Posted on 04/28/2011 12:34 PM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
Thursday, 28 April 2011
What Business Is It Of American Diplomats To Abase Themselves, And Meddle In France Too, By A "Making-Amends" Visit To A Lyons Mosque?

And still worse will be the respectful hearing the American ambassador in Paris,  Charles Rivlin, intends to give a delegation of Muslims from the Lyoin mosque, apparently unhappy that that mosque has been revealed, by Wikileaks, to be suspected of being a fruitful source for recruitment by Al Qaeda.

 

From lefigaro.fr:

Mosquée/Lyon: visite du consul US

AFP
28/04/2011
Réactions (5)

Deux jours après la publication par Wikileaks d'une liste du Pentagone recensant la mosquée de Lyon parmi les lieux censés avoir été utilisées par al-Qaida pour recruter, aider et entraîner ses militants, le recteur de la grande mosquée de Lyon a reçu jeudi le consul de Etats-Unis.

"Il est venu me dire toute l'amitié et le respect qu'il avait vis-à-vis de la mosquée, de ses dirigeants et de la communauté musulmane", a expliqué Kamel Kabtane.

Par ailleurs, "nous serons reçus mardi matin par l'ambassadeur des Etats-Unis" auquel "nous exprimerons notre mécontentement" et dirons "notre souci et notre indignation de voir l'islam déjà stigmatisé l'être beaucoup plus encore avec ce genre de document", a-t-il ajouté.

Posted on 04/28/2011 11:59 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Thursday, 28 April 2011
Beyond The Self-Aggrandizing Certainties Of Jeffrey Sachs

From FP:

 

More Than 1 Billion People Are Hungry in the World

But what if the experts are wrong?

BY ABHIJIT BANERJEE, ESTHER DUFLO | MAY/JUNE 2011

For many in the West, poverty is almost synonymous with hunger. Indeed, the announcement by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in 2009 that more than 1 billion people are suffering from hunger grabbed headlines in a way that any number of World Bank estimates of how many poor people live on less than a dollar a day never did.

But is it really true? Are there really more than a billion people going to bed hungry each night? Our research on this question has taken us to rural villages and teeming urban slums around the world, collecting data and speaking with poor people about what they eat and what else they buy, from Morocco to Kenya, Indonesia to India. We've also tapped into a wealth of insights from our academic colleagues. What we've found is that the story of hunger, and of poverty more broadly, is far more complex than any one statistic or grand theory; it is a world where those without enough to eat may save up to buy a TV instead, where more money doesn't necessarily translate into more food, and where making rice cheaper can sometimes even lead people to buy less rice.

But unfortunately, this is not always the world as the experts view it. All too many of them still promote sweeping, ideological solutions to problems that defy one-size-fits-all answers, arguing over foreign aid, for example, while the facts on the ground bear little resemblance to the fierce policy battles they wage.

Jeffrey Sachs, an advisor to the United Nations and director of Columbia University's Earth Institute[and World's Greatest Authority], is one such expert. In books and countless speeches and television appearances, he has argued that poor countries are poor because they are hot, infertile, malaria-infested, and often landlocked; these factors, however, make it hard for them to be productive without an initial large investment to help them deal with such endemic problems. But they cannot pay for the investments precisely because they are poor -- they are in what economists call a "poverty trap." Until something is done about these problems, neither free markets nor democracy will do very much for them.

But then there are others, equally vocal, who believe that all of Sachs's answers are wrong. William Easterly, who battles Sachs from New York University at the other end of Manhattan, has become one of the most influential aid critics in his books, The Elusive Quest for Growth and The White Man's Burden. Dambisa Moyo, an economist who worked at Goldman Sachs and the World Bank, has joined her voice to Easterly's with her recent book, Dead Aid. Both argue that aid does more bad than good. It prevents people from searching for their own solutions, while corrupting and undermining local institutions and creating a self-perpetuating lobby of aid agencies. The best bet for poor countries, they argue, is to rely on one simple idea: When markets are free and the incentives are right, people can find ways to solve their problems. They do not need handouts from foreigners or their own governments. In this sense, the aid pessimists are actually quite optimistic about the way the world works. According to Easterly, there is no such thing as a poverty trap.

This debate cannot be solved in the abstract. To find out whether there are in fact poverty traps, and, if so, where they are and how to help the poor get out of them, we need to better understand the concrete problems they face. Some aid programs help more than others, but which ones? Finding out required us to step out of the office and look more carefully at the world. In 2003, we founded what became the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, or J-PAL. A key part of our mission is to research by using randomized control trials -- similar to experiments used in medicine to test the effectiveness of a drug -- to understand what works and what doesn't in the real-world fight against poverty. In practical terms, that meant we'd have to start understanding how the poor really live their lives.

Take, for example, Pak Solhin, who lives in a small village in West Java, Indonesia. He once explained to us exactly how a poverty trap worked. His parents used to have a bit of land, but they also had 13 children and had to build so many houses for each of them and their families that there was no land left for cultivation. Pak Solhin had been working as a casual agricultural worker, which paid up to 10,000 rupiah per day (about $2) for work in the fields. A recent hike in fertilizer and fuel prices, however, had forced farmers to economize. The local farmers decided not to cut wages, Pak Solhin told us, but to stop hiring workers instead. As a result, in the two months before we met him in 2008, he had not found a single day of agricultural labor. He was too weak for the most physical work, too inexperienced for more skilled labor, and, at 40, too old to be an apprentice. No one would hire him.

Pak Solhin, his wife, and their three children took drastic steps to survive. His wife left for Jakarta, some 80 miles away, where she found a job as a maid. But she did not earn enough to feed the children. The oldest son, a good student, dropped out of school at 12 and started as an apprentice on a construction site. The two younger children were sent to live with their grandparents. Pak Solhin himself survived on the roughly 9 pounds of subsidized rice he got every week from the government and on fish he caught at a nearby lake. His brother fed him once in a while. In the week before we last spoke with him, he had eaten two meals a day for four days, and just one for the other three.

Pak Solhin appeared to be out of options, and he clearly attributed his problem to a lack of food. As he saw it, farmers weren't interested in hiring him because they feared they couldn't pay him enough to avoid starvation; and if he was starving, he would be useless in the field. What he described was the classic nutrition-based poverty trap, as it is known in the academic world. The idea is simple: The human body needs a certain number of calories just to survive. So when someone is very poor, all the food he or she can afford is barely enough to allow for going through the motions of living and earning the meager income used to buy that food. But as people get richer, they can buy more food and that extra food goes into building strength, allowing people to produce much more than they need to eat merely to stay alive. This creates a link between income today and income tomorrow: The very poor earn less than they need to be able to do significant work, but those who have enough to eat can work even more. There's the poverty trap: The poor get poorer, and the rich get richer and eat even better, and get stronger and even richer, and the gap keeps increasing.

But though Pak Solhin's explanation of how someone might get trapped in starvation was perfectly logical, there was something vaguely troubling about his narrative. We met him not in war-infested Sudan or in a flooded area of Bangladesh, but in a village in prosperous Java, where, even after the increase in food prices in 2007 and 2008, there was clearly plenty of food available and a basic meal did not cost much. He was still eating enough to survive; why wouldn't someone be willing to offer him the extra bit of nutrition that would make him productive in return for a full day's work? More generally, although a hunger-based poverty trap is certainly a logical possibility, is it really relevant for most poor people today? What's the best way, if any, for the world to help?

THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY [there is no such thing]  has certainly bought into the idea that poverty traps exist -- and that they are the reason that millions are starving. The first U.N. Millennium Development Goal, for instance, is to "eradicate extreme poverty and hunger." In many countries, the definition of poverty itself has been connected to food; the thresholds for determining that someone was poor were originally calculated as the budget necessary to buy a certain number of calories, plus some other indispensable purchases, such as housing. A "poor" person has essentially been classified as someone without enough to eat.

So it is no surprise that government efforts to help the poor are largely based on the idea that the poor desperately need food and that quantity is what matters. Food subsidies are ubiquitous in the Middle East: Egypt spent $3.8 billion on food subsidies in the 2008 fiscal year, some 2 percent of its GDP. Indonesia distributes subsidized rice. Many states in India have a similar program. In the state of Orissa, for example, the poor are entitled to 55 pounds of rice a month at about 1 rupee per pound, less than 20 percent of the market price. Currently, the Indian Parliament is debating a Right to Food Act, which would allow people to sue the government if they are starving. Delivering such food aid is a logistical nightmare. In India it is estimated that more than half of the wheat and one-third of the rice gets "lost" along the way. To support direct food aid in this circumstance, one would have to be quite convinced that what the poor need more than anything is more grain.

But what if the poor are not, in general, eating too little food? What if, instead, they are eating the wrong kinds of food, depriving them of nutrients needed to be successful, healthy adults? What if the poor aren't starving, but choosing to spend their money on other priorities? Development experts and policymakers would have to completely reimagine the way they think about hunger. And governments and aid agencies would need to stop pouring money into failed programs and focus instead on finding new ways to truly improve the lives of the world's poorest.

Consider India, one of the great puzzles in this age of food crises. The standard media story about the country, at least when it comes to food, is about the rapid rise of obesity and diabetes as the urban upper-middle class gets richer. Yet the real story of nutrition in India over the last quarter-century, as Princeton professor Angus Deaton and Jean Drèze, a professor at Allahabad University and a special advisor to the Indian government, have shown, is not that Indians are becoming fatter: It is that they are in fact eating less and less. Despite the country's rapid economic growth, per capita calorie consumption in India has declined; moreover, the consumption of all other nutrients except fat also appears to have gone down among all groups, even the poorest. Today, more than three-quarters of the population live in households whose per capita calorie consumption is less than 2,100 calories in urban areas and 2,400 in rural areas -- numbers that are often cited as "minimum requirements" in India for those engaged in manual labor. Richer people still eat more than poorer people. But at all levels of income, the share of the budget devoted to food has declined and people consume fewer calories.

What is going on? The change is not driven by declining incomes; by all accounts, Indians are making more money than ever before. Nor is it because of rising food prices -- between the early 1980s and 2005, food prices declined relative to the prices of other things, both in rural and urban India. Although food prices have increased again since 2005, Indians began eating less precisely when the price of food was going down.

So the poor, even those whom the FAO would classify as hungry on the basis of what they eat, do not seem to want to eat much more even when they can. Indeed, they seem to be eating less. What could explain this? Well, to start, let's assume that the poor know what they are doing. After all, they are the ones who eat and work. If they could be tremendously more productive and earn much more by eating more, then they probably would. So could it be that eating more doesn't actually make us particularly more productive, and as a result, there is no nutrition-based poverty trap?

One reason the poverty trap might not exist is that most people have enough to eat. We live in a world today that is theoretically capable of feeding every person on the planet. In 1996, the FAO estimated that world food production was enough to provide at least 2,700 calories per person per day. Starvation still exists, but only as a result of the way food gets shared among us. There is no absolute scarcity. Using price data from the Philippines, we calculated the cost of the cheapest diet sufficient to give 2,400 calories. It would cost only about 21 cents a day, very affordable even for the very poor (the worldwide poverty line is set at roughly a dollar per day). The catch is, it would involve eating only bananas and eggs, something no one would like to do day in, day out. But so long as people are prepared to eat bananas and eggs when they need to, we should find very few people stuck in poverty because they do not get enough to eat. Indian surveys bear this out: The percentage of people who say they do not have enough food has dropped dramatically over time, from 17 percent in 1983 to 2 percent in 2004. So, perhaps people eat less because they are less hungry.

And perhaps they are really less hungry, despite eating fewer calories. It could be that because of improvements in water and sanitation, they are leaking fewer calories in bouts of diarrhea and other ailments. Or maybe they are less hungry because of the decline of heavy physical work. With the availability of drinking water in villages, women do not need to carry heavy loads for long distances; improvements in transportation have reduced the need to travel on foot; in even the poorest villages, flour is now milled using a motorized mill, instead of women grinding it by hand. Using the average calorie requirements calculated by the Indian Council of Medical Research, Deaton and Drèze note that the decline in calorie consumption over the last quarter-century could be entirely explained by a modest decrease in the number of people engaged in heavy physical work.

Beyond India, one hidden assumption in our description of the poverty trap is that the poor eat as much as they can. If there is any chance that by eating a bit more the poor could start doing meaningful work and get out of the poverty trap zone, then they should eat as much as possible. Yet most people living on less than a dollar a day do not seem to act as if they are starving. If they were, surely they would put every available penny into buying more calories. But they do not. In an 18-country data set we assembled on the lives of the poor, food represents 36 to 79 percent of consumption among the rural extremely poor, and 53 to 74 percent among their urban counterparts.

It is not because they spend all the rest on other necessities. In Udaipur, India, for example, we find that the typical poor household could spend up to 30 percent more on food, if it completely cut expenditures on alcohol, tobacco, and festivals. The poor seem to have many choices, and they don't choose to spend as much as they can on food. Equally remarkable is that even the money that people do spend on food is not spent to maximize the intake of calories or micronutrients. Studies have shown that when very poor people get a chance to spend a little bit more on food, they don't put everything into getting more calories. Instead, they buy better-tasting, more expensive calories.

In one study conducted in two regions of China, researchers offered randomly selected poor households a large subsidy on the price of the basic staple (wheat noodles in one region, rice in the other). We usually expect that when the price of something goes down, people buy more of it. The opposite happened. Households that received subsidies for rice or wheat consumed less of those two foods and ate more shrimp and meat, even though their staples now cost less. Overall, the caloric intake of those who received the subsidy did not increase (and may even have decreased), despite the fact that their purchasing power had increased. Nor did the nutritional content improve in any other sense. The likely reason is that because the rice and wheat noodles were cheap but not particularly tasty, feeling richer might actually have made them consume less of those staples. This reasoning suggests that at least among these very poor urban households, getting more calories was not a priority: Getting better-tasting ones was.

All told, many poor people might eat fewer calories than we -- or the FAO -- think is appropriate. But this does not seem to be because they have no other choice; rather, they are not hungry enough to seize every opportunity to eat more. So perhaps there aren't a billion "hungry" people in the world after all.

NONE OF THIS IS TO SAY that the logic of the hunger-based poverty trap is flawed. The idea that better nutrition would propel someone on the path to prosperity was almost surely very important at some point in history, and it may still be today. Nobel Prize-winning economic historian Robert Fogel calculated that in Europe during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, food production did not provide enough calories to sustain a full working population. This could explain why there were large numbers of beggars -- they were literally incapable of any work. The pressure of just getting enough food to survive seems to have driven some people to take rather extreme steps. There was an epidemic of witch killing in Europe during the Little Ice Age (from the mid-1500s to 1800), when crop failures were common and fish was less abundant. Even today, Tanzania experiences a rash of such killings whenever there is a drought -- a convenient way to get rid of an unproductive mouth to feed at times when resources are very tight. Families, it seems, suddenly discover that an older woman living with them (usually a grandmother) is a witch, after which she gets chased away or killed by others in the village.

But the world we live in today is for the most part too rich for the occasional lack of food to be a big part of the story of the persistence of poverty on a large scale. This is of course different during natural or man-made disasters, or in famines that kill and weaken millions. As Nobel laureate Amartya Sen has shown, most recent famines have been caused not because food wasn't available but because of bad governance -- institutional failures that led to poor distribution of the available food, or even hoarding and storage in the face of starvation elsewhere. As Sen put it, "No substantial famine has ever occurred in any independent and democratic country with a relatively free press."

Should we let it rest there, then? Can we assume that the poor, though they may be eating little, do eat as much as they need to?

That also does not seem plausible. While Indians may prefer to buy things other than food as they get richer, they and their children are certainly not well nourished by any objective standard. Anemia is rampant; body-mass indices are some of the lowest in the world; almost half of children under 5 are much too short for their age, and one-fifth are so skinny that they are considered to be "wasted."

And this is not without consequences. There is a lot of evidence that children suffering from malnutrition generally grow into less successful adults. In Kenya, children who were given deworming pills in school for two years went to school longer and earned, as young adults, 20 percent more than children in comparable schools who received deworming for just one year. Worms contribute to anemia and general malnutrition, essentially because they compete with the child for nutrients. And the negative impact of undernutrition starts before birth. In Tanzania, to cite just one example, children born to mothers who received sufficient amounts of iodine during pregnancy completed between one-third and one-half of a year more schooling than their siblings who were in utero when their mothers weren't being treated. It is a substantial increase, given that most of these children will complete only four or five years of schooling in total. In fact, the study concludes that if every mother took iodine capsules, there would be a 7.5 percent increase in the total educational attainment of children in Central and Southern Africa. This, in turn, could measurably affect lifetime productivity.

Better nutrition matters for adults, too. In another study, in Indonesia, researchers tested the effects of boosting people's intake of iron, a key nutrient that prevents anemia. They found that iron supplements made men able to work harder and significantly boosted income. A year's supply of iron-fortified fish sauce cost the equivalent of $6, and for a self-employed male, the yearly gain in earnings was nearly $40 -- an excellent investment.

If the gains are so obvious, why don't the poor eat better? Eating well doesn't have to be prohibitively expensive. Most mothers could surely afford iodized salt, which is now standard in many parts of the world, or one dose of iodine every two years (at 51 cents per dose). Poor households could easily get a lot more calories and other nutrients by spending less on expensive grains (like rice and wheat), sugar, and processed foods, and more on leafy vegetables and coarse grains. But in Kenya, when the NGO that was running the deworming program asked parents in some schools to pay a few cents for deworming their children, almost all refused, thus depriving their children of hundreds of dollars of extra earnings over their lifetime.

Why? And why did anemic Indonesian workers not buy iron-fortified fish sauce on their own? One answer is that they don't believe it will matter -- their employers may not realize that they are more productive now. (In fact, in Indonesia, earnings improved only for the self-employed workers.) But this does not explain why all pregnant women in India aren't using only iodine-fortified salt, which is now available in every village. Another possibility is that people may not realize the value of feeding themselves and their children better -- not everyone has the right information, even in the United States. Moreover, people tend to be suspicious of outsiders who tell them that they should change their diet. When rice prices went up sharply in 1966 and 1967, the chief minister of West Bengal suggested that eating less rice and more vegetables would be both good for people's health and easier on their budgets. This set off a flurry of outrage, and the chief minister was greeted by protesters bearing garlands of vegetables wherever he went.

It is simply not very easy to learn about the value of many of these nutrients based on personal experience. Iodine might make your children smarter, but the difference is not huge, and in most cases you will not find out either way for many years. Iron, even if it makes people stronger, does not suddenly turn you into a superhero. The $40 extra a year the self-employed man earned may not even have been apparent to him, given the many ups and downs of his weekly income.

So it shouldn't surprise us that the poor choose their foods not mainly for their cheap prices and nutritional value, but for how good they taste. George Orwell, in his masterful description of the life of poor British workers in The Road to Wigan Pier, observes:

The basis of their diet, therefore, is white bread and margarine, corned beef, sugared tea and potatoes -- an appalling diet. Would it not be better if they spent more money on wholesome things like oranges and wholemeal bread or if they even, like the writer of the letter to the New Statesman, saved on fuel and ate their carrots raw? Yes, it would, but the point is that no ordinary human being is ever going to do such a thing. The ordinary human being would sooner starve than live on brown bread and raw carrots. And the peculiar evil is this, that the less money you have, the less inclined you feel to spend it on wholesome food. A millionaire may enjoy breakfasting off orange juice and Ryvita biscuits; an unemployed man doesn't.… When you are unemployed … you don't want to eat dull wholesome food. You want something a little bit "tasty." There is always some cheaply pleasant thing to tempt you.

The poor often resist the wonderful plans we think up for them because they do not share our faith that those plans work, or work as well as we claim. We shouldn't forget, too, that other things may be more important in their lives than food. Poor people in the developing world spend large amounts on weddings, dowries, and christenings. Part of the reason is probably that they don't want to lose face, when the social custom is to spend a lot on those occasions. In South Africa, poor families often spend so lavishly on funerals that they skimp on food for months afterward. [And what about inshallah-fatalism?]

And don't underestimate the power of factors like boredom. Life can be quite dull in a village. There is no movie theater, no concert hall. And not a lot of work, either. In rural Morocco, Oucha Mbarbk and his two neighbors told us they had worked about 70 days in agriculture and about 30 days in construction that year. Otherwise, they took care of their cattle and waited for jobs to materialize. All three men lived in small houses without water or sanitation. They struggled to find enough money to give their children a good education. But they each had a television, a parabolic antenna, a DVD player, and a cell phone.

This is something that Orwell captured as well, when he described how poor families survived the Depression:

Instead of raging against their destiny they have made things tolerable by reducing their standards.

But they don't necessarily lower their standards by cutting out luxuries and concentrating on necessities; more often it is the other way around -- the more natural way, if you come to think of it. Hence the fact that in a decade of unparalleled depression, the consumption of all cheap luxuries has increased.

These "indulgences" are not the impulsive purchases of people who are not thinking hard about what they are doing. Oucha Mbarbk did not buy his TV on credit -- he saved up over many months to scrape enough money together, just as the mother in India starts saving for her young daughter's wedding by buying a small piece of jewelry here and a stainless-steel bucket there.

We often see the world of the poor as a land of missed opportunities and wonder why they don't invest in what would really make their lives better. But the poor may well be more skeptical about supposed opportunities and the possibility of any radical change in their lives. They often behave as if they think that any change that is significant enough to be worth sacrificing for will simply take too long. This could explain why they focus on the here and now, on living their lives as pleasantly as possible and celebrating when occasion demands it.

We asked Oucha Mbarbk what he would do if he had more money. He said he would buy more food. Then we asked him what he would do if he had even more money. He said he would buy better-tasting food. We were starting to feel very bad for him and his family, when we noticed the TV and other high-tech gadgets. Why had he bought all these things if he felt the family did not have enough to eat? He laughed, and said, "Oh, but television is more important than food!"

Posted on 04/28/2011 11:17 AM by Hugh Fitzggerald
Thursday, 28 April 2011
That Plutonium-Producing Project That Went Agley In Syria

From Haaretz:

Syria secretly tried to build nuclear reactor, UN watchdog says

IAEA secretary general unequivocally confirms suggestions made in previous watchdog reports that the structure hit allegedly by Israel in 2007 could have been a reactor under construction.

By The Associated Press Tags: Israel news Syria Iran nuclear
 

The head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog said Thursday for the first time that Syria had tried to secretly build a nuclear reactor, after years of speculation by the international community.

The target allegedly destroyed by Israeli warplanes in the desert area of Dair Alzour in September 2007 was actually a reactor under construction, said Yukiya Amano, the secretary general of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Syria denies that the bombed building had any nuclear uses and rejects allegations that it is conducting secret atomic activities.

Previous IAEA reports have suggested that the structure hit could have been a reactor, but Amano's comments on Thursday were the first time the agency has said so unequivocally.

For over two years, Syria has refused IAEA follow-up access to the remains of the complex that was being built at Dair Alzour. U.S. intelligence reports said it was a nascent North Korean-designed nuclear reactor intended to produce bomb fuel.

Inspectors found traces of uranium there in June 2008 that were not in Syria's declared nuclear inventory, heightening concerns. Syria stonewalled IAEA attempts to follow up that visit.

In early April, however, the IARA carried out an agreed inspection of another Syrian plant, as part of its wider inquiry into U.S. intelligence suggesting Syria location tried to build a nuclear reactor at another suited to producing plutonium for atomic bombs.

Syria, which denies any nuclear weapons ambitions, agreed with the IAEA the months prior that its inspectors could travel to the Homs acid purification plant, where uranium concentrates, or yellowcake, have been a by-product. In the event that yellowcake is further processed, they could be used as nuclear fuel. Syria says the plant is for making fertilizers.

The IAEA saw the April visit as a possible positive step, even though the United States said the gesture would not be enough to address allegations of covert atomic activity.

Syria, an ally of Iran, whose nuclear program is also under IAEA investigation, denies ever concealing work on nuclear weapons and says the IAEA should focus on Israel instead because of its undeclared nuclear arsenal.
 

 

Posted on 04/28/2011 11:09 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Thursday, 28 April 2011
Syria Does Sandhurst -- As Do Many Arab And Muslim Lands

And the maghrebins go to St.-Cyr, and Egyptians and some Gulf Arabs go for training at war colleges in the United States, while Pakistanis are trained both by the British and the Americans. Arabs and other Muslims receive their military training, their rifles and tanks and anti-tank missiles, their planes and their air-defense systems, their missiles, their advanced technology, their4 everything -- from the Infidels, mainly from  the United States, Great Britain, France and, for weapons, from Germany and Italy and Russia too. They have no military capacity outside what the Infidels supply. Quaere: Why do the Infidels continue to do so? Money? But the cost to the West of tamping down trouble, of defening itself against arms that might be transferred (think of those "Islamic bombs" in Pakistan that is driving the American government to distraction) is far more than any sums made by selling those weapons.; Influence? But what is that "influence"? Are the Bahrainis -- that is, the Sunnis who are sent for training -- less willing to come down hard on Shi'a civilians? What about the Syrian officers -- more often syncretistic Alawites but with a smattering of Sunnis --

From The Guardian:

Syrian officers received training in Britain

Ministry of Defence colleges trained military personnel loyal to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad

Sandhurst
Syrian officers received training at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst. Photograph: Frank Baron for the Guardian

The British government has defended its training programme for foreign military leaders after it emerged that it had educated several Syrian officers at Ministry of Defence colleges. Three officers from the Syrian armed forces were trained in Britain from 2005 to 2010, and a further two were enrolled in 2003 at Sandhurst, the army officer training college in Surrey, and at the Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth. The data was released following a freedom of information request by the Guardian.

News of Britain's role training officers loyal to Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, came after allegations his regime's forces have killed at least 450 civilians in a violent attempt to suppress the uprising. They have reportedly used tanks, snipers and armoured vehicles to crush the opposition movement.

The Syrian officers trained by the MoD were among hundreds from Middle Eastern countries whose governments pay for them to attend Britain's world-renowned officer training colleges each year. It trained 104 Bahraini officers over the same period, seven from Libya, three from Tunisia and 56 from Yemen, according to MoD figures.

Asked about why Britain has been training Syrian troops, a spokeswoman for the defence department said she could not talk about individual cases but claimed no training would be given if it would lead to human rights abuses. "The British military provide places on our flagship courses, such as officer training at Sandhurst, to develop a nation's future military leaders and instil the same values of accountability and commitment to the rule of law that underpin our own armed forces," she said. "All overseas requests for defence training are considered on a case-by-case basis and it would not be provided if we thought such training would lead to human rights abuses. Indeed, providing training to the same high standards used by UK armed forces helps to save lives and raise awareness of human rights."

Meanwhile, Lord Bell, the chairman of Chime, the London public relations company that includes Bell Pottinger, told on Wednesday how he acted for Syria's first lady, Asma al-Assad, in 2007 and 2008 at the beginning of a public relations drive to place her at the forefront of Syria's international image, which culminated earlier this year in a sympathetic Vogue article that branded her "a rose in the desert".

"She wanted to set up a first lady's office rather like Laura Bush and Queen Rania of Jordan," Bell said.

"At the time she didn't want to appear in fashion magazines and she wanted to be taken seriously. She was interested in pitching for Damascus to become a city of culture and we set up an office and communications structure for her, did speech writing and set up interviews with serious media." [yes, just like the Emir of Qatar's attractive wife, who wants so much to be taken seriously as a "force for change" -- though not, of course, for the slightest  change to the Al-Thani rule in the rich city-state of Qatar, that funds, and constarins, the Arab propaganda network Al Jazeera].

Posted on 04/28/2011 9:58 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Thursday, 28 April 2011
A Cinematic Musical And Foreign-Policy Interlude: Whistling In The Dark (from "Pennies From Heaven")

Watch, and listen, here.

Posted on 04/28/2011 9:52 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Thursday, 28 April 2011
Hitchens, For 25 Years An Enthusiast Of Edward Said
A re-posting prompted by Amis' fulsome -- in the correct sense -- tribute, of a piece put up on 22 December 2007

How do you review a book that isn't a book, a 283-page pose?

It's not a rhetorical question. Some assumption of good faith by the author is an important part of how critics operate, but Hitchens simply cannot be this stupid.-- Jeremy Lott's review of Chistopher Hitchens' book, god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, here

Hitchens likes to think of himself as a brave iconoclast, speaking-truth-to-power and all that I'm-George-Orwell-of-this-age-and-I-take-no-prisoners sort of thing. I've mocked him before at this site, many times, quand il fait son petit Orwell, but the longest whack at him, with Hitchens providing the evidence against himself, is the piece "Hitchens and Said" which, by the way, is listed at the Wikipedia entry for Hitchens. It appeared on Feb. 21, 2007.

Here it is:

Hitchens and Said

There are many examples that one can find on-line of the work of this "good egg" who "writes like a dream." [these were phrases used about Hitchens by someone who objected to some previous mocking of Hitchens by me].

A great friend and unctuous admirer of Edward Said, and though his tribute to Said does not reach the bathetic depths, or yawning heights, of Hamid Dabashi's tribute (google "Hamid Dabashi" and "Edward Said" -- you won't regret it), Hitchens own tribute to Said is memorable, for the same reasons, on a slightly different scale:

"The loss of Professor Edward Said, after an arduous battle with demoralizing illness that he bore very bravely, will be unbearable for his family, insupportable to his immense circle of friends, upsetting to a vast periphery of admirers and readers who one might almost term his diaspora, and depressing to all those who continue hoping for a decent agreement in his birthplace of Jerusalem.

To address these wrenching thoughts in their reverse order, one could commence by saying quite simply that if Edward's personality had been the human and moral pattern or example, there would be no "Middle East" problem to begin with. His lovely, intelligent, and sensitive memoir Out of Place was a witness to the schools and neighborhoods in Jerusalem and Cairo where fraternity between Arabs, Jews, Druses, Armenians, and others was a matter of course. (His memory also comprised a literary Beirut where the same could be said.) He took an almost aesthetic interest in the details, eccentricities, and welfare of his own particular confession—the Anglican Christians of Jerusalem and especially St. Georges school in the eastern part of the city—but it's hard if not impossible to imagine anyone with less sectarian commitment. When talking to him about the various types of sacred rage that poison the region, one gained the impression of someone to whom this sort of fanaticism was, in every declension of the word, quite foreign.

Indeed, if it had not been for the irruption of abrupt force into the life of his extended family and the ripping apart of the region by partition and subpartition, I can easily imagine Edward evolving as an almost apolitical person, devoted to the loftier pursuits of music and literature. To see and hear him play the piano was to be filled with envy as well as joy: One was witnessing a rather angst-prone person who had developed the perfect recreation to an extraordinary pitch. To ask him for a tutorial and a reading list, as I more than once did, was to be humbled by the sheer reach of his erudition. I can still hear the doors that opened in my mind as he explicated George Eliot's rather recondite Daniel Deronda.

On one occasion in New York, after giving us a tremendous tour of the Metropolitan Museum during its show on the art of Andalusia (and filling out the most exquisite details on the syntheses and paradoxes of Islamic, Moorish, and Jewish Spain), he took my own wife on a tour of the shops to advise her expertly on the best replacement for a mislaid purse. I never met a woman who did not admire him, and I never knew him to be anything but gallant. As I look back, I am inclined to be overcome at the number of such occasions, where his bearing and address were so exemplary and his companionship such a privilege.

His feeling for the injustice done to Palestine was, in the best sense of this overused term, a visceral one. He simply could not reconcile himself to the dispossession of a people or to the lies and evasions that were used to cover up this offense. He was by no means simple-minded or one-sided about this: In a public dialogue with Salman Rushdie 15 years ago, he described the Palestinians as "victims of the victims," an ironic formulation that hasn't been improved upon. But nor did he trust those who introduced pseudo-complexities as a means of perpetuating the status quo. I know a shocking number of people who find that they can be quite calm about the collective punishment of Palestinians yet become wholly incensed at the symbolic stone he once threw—from Lebanon! Personally, I preferred his joint enterprise with Daniel Barenboim to provide musical training for Israeli and Palestinian children. But for Edward, injustice was to be rectified, not rationalized. I think that it was, for him, surpassingly a matter of dignity. People may lose a war or a struggle or be badly led or poorly advised, but they must not be humiliated or treated as alien or less than human. It was the downgrading of the Palestinians to the status of a "problem" (and this insult visited upon them in their own homeland) that aroused his indignation. That moral energy, I am certain, will outlive him.

I knew and admired him for more than a quarter-century, and I hope I will not be misunderstood if I say that his moral energy wasn't always matched by equivalent political judgment. Indeed, it should be no criticism of anyone to say that politics isn't their best milieu, especially if the political life has been forced upon them. Edward had a slight tendency to self-pity, and the same chord was struck even in the best of his literary work, which often expressed a too-highly developed sense of injury and victimhood. (I am thinking of certain passages in his Orientalism and some of the essays in Culture and Imperialism as well.) He was sometimes openly alarmed at the use made of his scholarship by younger academic poseurs who seemed to despise the classical canon of literature that he so much revered. Yet he was famously thin-skinned and irascible, as I have good reason to remember, if any criticism became directed at himself. Some of that criticism was base and outrageous and sordidly politicized—I have just finished reading the obituary in the New York Times, which in a cowardly way leaves open the question as to whether Edward, or indeed any other Palestinian, lost a home in the tragedy of 1947-48—but much of it deserved more patience than he felt he had to spare. And he was capable of stooping to mere abuse when attacking other dissidents—particularly other Arab dissidents, and most particularly Iraqi and Kurdish ones—with whom he did not agree. I simply had to stop talking to him about Iraq over the past two years. He could only imagine the lowest motives for those in favor of regime change in Baghdad, and he had a vivid tendency to take any demurral as a personal affront.

But it can be admirable in a way to go through life with one skin too few, to be easily agonized and upset and offended. Too many people survive, or imagine that they do, by coarsening themselves and by protectively dulling their sensitivity to the point of acceptance. This would never be Edward's way. His emotional strength—one has to resort to cliché sometimes—was nonetheless also a weakness.

I was astonished, when reading his memoirs, to learn that such a polished and poised fellow had never lost the sense that he was awkward and clumsy. And yet this man of enviable manners could be both those things when he chose. He did come, as a member of Yasser Arafat's Palestine National Council, to meet at Reagan's State Department with George Shultz. (Indeed, he could claim to have been the intellectual and moral architect of the "mutual recognition" policy of the PLO at the Algiers conference in 1988.) When invited to the summit between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat in Washington in 1993, however—which I happen to know that he was earnestly entreated to attend by the Clinton White House—he told me that it was quite simply beneath his dignity to take part in such a media farce. Now, by no standard did the 1993 meeting sink below the level of the Shultz one, and by no means had Arafat become on that day any more contemptible than Edward later discovered him to be. But it wasn't just that inconsistency that distressed me: It was the feeling that Edward was on the verge of extreme dudgeon before I could press the matter one inch further. I can't shake the feeling that a microcosm of the Israeli-Palestinian agony is contained in this apparently negligible anecdote.

There is at present a coalition, named the Palestinian National Initiative, which never gets reported about. It is an alliance of secular and democratic forces among the Palestinians that rejects both clerical fundamentalism and the venality of the Palestinian "Authority." It was partly launched by Edward Said, and its main spokesman is Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, a distinguished physician and very brave individual, to whom Edward introduced me last year. In our final conversation a few weeks ago, Edward challenged me angrily about my failure to write enough on this neglected group, which certainly enjoys a good deal of popular support and which deserves a great deal more international attention. Perhaps then I can do a last service, and also dip a flag in salute to a fine man, if I invite you to direct your browsers toward the sites for Barghouthi and the PNI."

From first to last, this is unbearable, stupid and sentimental and in many places, flatly false. As for that writing "like a dream" - it would take about two minutes to edit the piece, cutting here and there, to make the prose, awful as it is (there's nothing to be done about the thoughts and feelings of this "good egg"), much better.

Said was dismembered in feline fashion by Bernard Lewis in "The Question of 'Orientalism'." Last year Robert Irwin's "For Lust of Knowledge," a refutation of Said, essentially a book-length footnote to Lewis' article, appeared. Irwin demonstrates conclusively what many (but not Christopher Hitchens) knew, that Said's misrepresentations of several centuries of distinguished Orientalists was comical in the things he got wrong, the things he left out, his inability to comprehend disinterested curiosity or disinterested scholarship, so foreign were they to the mind and even imagination of Edward Said. Everything that he could get wrong, Edward Said got wrong.

A few months from now Ibn Warraq's "Defending the West: A Response to Edward Said" will be published. I have read the manuscript. That book deals with how Edward Said, and his acolytes and worshippers and epigones, have so crudely misconceived and misrepresented the nature of the Western world and its art, its literature, its scholarship, its openness to what Said and friends like to call "the Other" and to then claim for that "Other" a long history of victimisation. At long last, that Saidian wind that kills, and has had chilling and killing effects for nearly thirty years on innocent students and on fearful or careerist teachers, who have been bullied by Saidism in how they learn about, how they write about, how they teach about,how they comprehend or fail to, works of lasting artistic and literary value produced in the maligned West, works that always and everywhere, in the impoverished and thoroughly politicized mental universe of Edward Said were always reduced to ideological counters,and playthings, and weapons. For one example, consider only Said's comments on Jane Austen, and the reasons for his dismissal of her. Is that the work of a critic? Is that what Samuel Johnson, or Coleridge, or Matthew Arnold, or Jacques Barzun, or Vladimir Nabokov, or anyone of sense at all, would regard as legitimate literary criticism? Said did, and so did his worshippers. And among those worshippers was, for several decades, Christopher Hitchens, who is a "good egg" and who "writes like a dream." And Said did the same in his treatment -- not exactly reminiscent of Gombrich or Panofsky, is Edward Said -- of painters on Oriental themes (and this, too, is dealt with magnificently by Ibn Warraq).

Said's "Orientalism" gave license not only for him but for others to offer the same approach to books and paintings, and the results we see, circumspectly, all about us. And "Orientalism" was not the only ludicrous work that Said produced. There is his work of blatant propaganda, "The Question of Palestine" which a week in the library would cure anyone of taking seriously. It is so full of falsity, so easily rebutted, but apparently a great many people never took the trouble to rebut, the same people who go about prating about the "Palestinian people" who since time immemorial have been tilling the soil of a place called "Palestine." One wishes that those who took Said's work seriously, as Hitchens did, to have the decency, before continuing to spout off, to read something sober on the matter, such as the studies by the the Australian scholar of jurisprudence Julius Stone, and then the nonsense would stop. But Christopher Hitchens never had time to spare, and still doesn't, to engage in such reading, though he continues to hold all kinds of self-assured views on the "Palestinians" and on Israel, views entirely unaffected, one might note, by the glimmer of understanding he is beginning to show -- but just a glimmer -- about Islam. Nor would he likely to engage in a thorough study of the demographic and cadastral history of the area known as "Israel" or "Palestine," over the past two millennia or over the past few centuries, or even during the period from the establishment of the Mandate for Palestine. Why should Christopher Hitchens, at any time during the past three decades of pontificating about "Palestine" and the "Palestinians," ever have bothered to study the exact terms and intentions of the Mandates Commission of the League of Nations in establishing that particular Mandate, and how the Charter of the U.N. requires it to honor those terms and intentions, not to change them. That's too much for Christopher Hitchens. He's got a column to write. He's got lectures to give. He's got appearances on television to get ready for. He's got to have opinions on so many things. So many opinions to give, so little time. It would be like asking him to discuss Resolution 242, what those who carefully crafted it intended that Resolution to mean, and who opposed its adoption, or tried before its adoption to change its wording, or who afterwards deliberately denied that it meant what they knew perfectly well it meant (which is why they had tried so long to change it), and endowed it with a different meaning, one which they then convinced many others to accept. Does Christopher Hitchens have the time to find out Lord Caradon said, and Ambassador Arthur Goldberg, and British Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart, about Resolution 242, or such "details" and that little phrase "secure and defensible borders"? Of course he doesn't. It's too complicated, for the broad sweep of that truth-to-power legitimate heir to Orwell, Christopher Hitchens.

Hitchens never saw through Edward Said -- but Edward Said was a collection of things that could be seen through, and were seen through, by those whose, such as Bernard Lewis or Clive Dewey or Keith Windschuttle or a thousand other historians, art historians, literary scholars, were not for one minute taken in by, or inveigled to agreeing with, the primitive notions of art and literature and history that Edward Said held, and put into practice, and preached. This should not be forgotten or forgiven just because more recently Hitchens has properly denounced George Galloway (is that an achievement?)and others of that ilk. If the bar is to be set that low, then all should win the glittering prizes.

What is offered here is just a sample of the quality of the thought, and of the prose, of Christopher Hitchens. Some are apparently satisfied with little here below -- Norman Mailer, say, rather than Nabokov or Joyce. Some may find Hitchens is perfectly acceptable, a "good egg" who even, another someone suggests, "writes like a dream." But I allow myself to believe that not everyone is so easily pleased, and that many not-easily-pleased souls come to this website because they expect something better, from those not so easily pleased. .

Much more might be offered into evidence, but I don't have the time. All kinds of things have come up. But for now that is enough. That is more than enough.

Posted on 04/28/2011 9:48 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
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