Catallaxy Files

polymathic pontification, bleeding heart economic rationalism and liberal secularist contrarianism

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    Saturday, November 02, 2002
    Reflections on Daniel Pipes
    Maureen D, a valued reader and correspondent from New York, recently attended a lecture by Daniel Pipes on the Palestine question and files this report:

    Since I am neither right wing nor Jewish, I was anticipating Dr. Pipes' talk on the Palestinian situation with a mixture of curiosity and - shall we say - mild self-consciousness.

    But all of these concerns abated as I approached the Jewish Community Center (Pipes' speaking venue) and suspected that some type of terroristic threat had reared its treacherous head. A line of hundreds of people stretched into the parking lot, and I could see two or three police stopping and searching each person before they could enter the lecture hall. I visit the JCC several times a week and this scenario was highly unusual. I didn't know it at the time, but Pipes informed us at the conclusion of his talk that an Islamic message board had publicized his talk, urging "Muslim brothers" to reserve tickets under Western names and appear en masse in the audience,
    wearing the kaffiyeh and prepared to disrupt the proceedings.

    Liberal as I may be, I have grown so weary of this crap … all those beeping wands everywhere I go.

    I did not disagree with the content of his talk - not at all. I was, however, vaguely unsettled as I observed his demeanor. Since I am a teacher and a lecturer, I am keenly aware of that "professorial thing," a type of pedantic archness that can emanate from certain speakers, which Pipes possessed in spades. Did it detract from the content? For me it did, yes, because I clearly sensed an underlying agenda. Many of his points were well taken, however. At several points in his talk, he reiterated his belief that treaties ("no more paper") and negotiations were pointless because the Palestinians had not yet accepted the permanent presence of Israel - and until the Palestinians could accept this Israeli presence, treaties and talks were useless and counterproductive. When asked to project when this might occur, he unhesitatingly replied "Not until at least 2035. But … there *will* some day be an end to this violence."

    He was quite good at condensing his talk into two or three key points and not allowing his audience to steer him into a larger conversation about militant Islamism, which is the subject of his latest book, as you know. I read a chapter as a waited for his talk to begin, and it's quite a good read.

    And what happened to the kaffiyeh-clad multitudes? Hah! They were relegated to a cold, rainy spot far from the main entrance. It was so dark that I couldn't see a word on their signs and banners. Good enough for them.
    The Yartz
    What I've been listening to:

    1) Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus - Charles Mingus.
    Another amazing compilation of soulful and intense compositions and arrangements by the great man. The gospel, blues and Ellingtonian influences are always very evident - my favourite tracks on this are 'II BS" (which essentially sounds like an alternative version of his 'Haitian Fight Song'), 'Better get hit in yo' soul' and his arrangement of Mood Indigo.
    Is there any reason other than the fact that he worked in jazz that Charles Mingus (or Duke Ellington for that matter) is not better know among professed lovers of contemporary 'classical' music whereas Gershwin gets his obligatory references because of Rhapsody in Blue? Not to denigrate Gershwin's achievements - after all, the Gershwins produced wonderful popular music which get endlessly reworked into great jazz standards. But 'Rhapsody in Blue' is just plain insipid in comparison to most of Mingus's works.

    2) Works - Keith Jarret
    I'm actually quite an old fashioned jazz fan. The most avant garde albums I've got are the more experimental works of John Coltrane and even that ultimately still has its foundations in the sensibilities of the blues. This is the first Keith Jarret I've listened to - it basically consists of snippets of his longer works, a perfect introductory album - and it's obviously very different (again, it could be regarded as contemporary classical) but I'm quite taken by it. More Keith Jarret albums in future.

    3) Love and theft - Bob Dylan.
    This is an amazing album, both lyrically and musically. The old master is back in brilliant form. I think it's much, much better than his earlier and heralded Time out of mind which was probably much heralded only because it broke a silence by Bob of some years.

    Dylan looks emaciated on the CD cover and he sounds like 120 years old but his inimitable voice works wonderfully in capturing the by turns jauntiness, playfulness, yearning and world-weariness of the songs. As with any Dylan album there is a powerful thematic unity and though this is an oversimplification, the album looks to me like an extended but more joyful version of 'Desolation Row' set in hick-town. There is the usual self-referential and absurdist (postmodernist?) humour with one wink at the audience which Dylan is noted for. (What else can one make of such lines as these - Well, George Lewis told the Englishman, the Italian and the Jew/ "You can't open your mind, boys /To every conceivable point of view."/They got Charles Darwin trapped out there on Highway Five/ Judge says to the High Sheriff,/"I want him dead or alive/Either one, I don't care.")

    Musically he returns to his early influences - a sort of gutbucket blues, wispy country and Woody Guthrie folksiness. An album to put on the 'Classic Bob' list along with Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde and Blood on the tracks.

    Friday, November 01, 2002
    Godless Capitalist of Gene Expression, who is no softie himself in the warblogging department, has a post on the extent to which warblogging is degenerating into self-parody in some less than capable hands. He cites some rather frightening examples and concludes:

    Now, the annoying thing about all this is that I actually agree with some of the more reasonable warbloggers (Instapundit, Volokh, and Den Beste) on most "war-on-terror" issues, and I don't like having the waters muddied by calls for indiscriminate bloodshed. Our goals in the war of terror are twofold: to end state sponsored terrorism and prevent a recurrence of 9/11. The more bloodthirsty of the warbloggers would do well to realize that we can achieve these aims without advocating genocide.

    Thursday, October 31, 2002
    Spiked and Arena
    I got a free copy of lefty magazine Arena sent to me recently courtesy of my friend, Charles Richardson, who has a piece in the latest issue on the prospects for classical liberalism in the Liberal party (answer - close to zilch). I have to say it's pretty good - even when I think they're wrong, they're at least wrong in an interesting way, a bit like Tim Dunlop or the main bloggers (and my co-bloggers) at Gene Expression.

    (Exam question for kiddies in reconfigured Practical Literary course: "It is better to be wrong in an interesting way than right in a boring way. Discuss")

    Speaking of which, John Quiggin also has a piece in the latest issue though it doesn't seem to be online. What is online is this fairly interesting piece on the prospects for leftism. I won't go into detail on this essay now but I thought a certain passing reference to Spiked magazine in Rundle's essay would interest readers. As regular readers know, I link to articles from Spiked quite regularly - they're thought provoking and at times they seem more libertarian than leftist even though I know they have some leftist pedigree and I've always wondered what their whole story was. So this mention of them by Rundle certainly clarifies matters:

    Not the least of the factors contributing to this has been the degree to which one social class hitherto charged with doing a lot of the ‘dreaming’ — the intellectually trained, those who work in scientific research and humanities and the arts — have seen their status shift radically within the last twenty years, and particularly the last ten. For a period roughly coincident with the existence of the New Left, key sections of such groups saw the realisation of their own cultural and political needs and desires in a world transformed economically and socially — a world that was not merely rational but reinvented, made anew. What has happened since is not merely that the economy has been fused to scientific research to a degree hitherto unimaginable, but that the economy of the 1990s became the field within which the most extreme visions could be realised. Bio-technology, virtual reality, psychopharmacology, space exploration — it was the supercharged market that could deliver this new world. This new historical circumstance brought not only the ‘post-modernists’ over with it, but also sections of the old Left — witness the trajectory of elements within the UK Revolutionary Communist Party, who eventually became coalesced around an online publication called Spiked, and which sees its role as combatting any attempts to place limits on the promethean growth of capital — and scientific rationality — chiefly religion, the pervasive culture of risk minimisation, and the Green movement. In this widely held view it is any form of socialism which becomes, not the enabler of freedom, but the limit upon it.

    To overturn that false dichotomy would appear to be one of the core tasks of reimagining a Left for the twenty-first century. Here the concerns that have been of particular interest to us connect with the broader and more traditional concerns of a Left.

    Don Arthur had a worthy piece many ages ago about what can, using Virginia Postrel's terminology, be seen, as a split between the 'dynamist' Left (represented by the likes of Chris Hitchens, Jack Strocchi and Spiked who have taken a strong stand against Islamism and reemphasising Enlightenment values) and the 'stasist' Left (represented by, say, the isolationist, protectionist and zero population growth greens, the PC lefties with their glorification of traditional lifestyles and oohing and aahing over non-Western religions as if they are anymore rational than the Judaeo-Christian variety, and the New Age movement). This dichotomy Rundle refers to seems to embody the same idea. What I think I disagree with him on is that I'm all in favour of this dichotomy as I'm sure Marx would be. He would see the latter group of leftists as merely representative of a reactionary romanticism.

    Wednesday, October 30, 2002
    Communism and hedonism
    Steve Sailer poses a nice question on his blog. If anyone knows the answer, please explain:

    I'm reviewing the new biopic "Frida," about the glamorous pair of Mexican painters Frida Kahlo and her husband Diego Rivera. They were wealthy, self-indulgent sensualists and dedicated Communists. Exactly what was it about Lenin and Stalin, who don't seem like fun people to party with, that so attracted hedonistic artists like Kahlo, Rivera, Picasso, and the like?
    The two faces of America
    Australians, especially of the progressive variety, always like to say how much more 'humane' and 'tolerant' we as a society are compared to the US. There is no doubt that in some areas we are probably ahead of the game. However what does one make of the Earned Legalisation and Family Unification Legislation which effectively legalises millions of illegal immigrants whereas as John Ray approvingly describes it, we in Australia ' locks such people up until they can be sent back to where they came from'? (my own views on this sorry business change every few days).

    For all its faults and the history of cruelty that has been perpetrated within its borders in the not so distant past, America is a genuinely magnanimous society which seems to dream bigger dreams than Australia and certainly more than the tired old societies of continental Europe, and one has to take its big dreams and idealisms together with its manias and zeals for crusades. They are part and parcel of the same psyche . The crucible that spawned great achievements such as jazz (itself an indirect product of cruelty) and the moon landing and gave refuge to so many persecuted also spawns a degraded underclass and high rates of violent crime (I'm sure Nietzsche would have had something to say about this).

    Apparently even the maligned George W Bush is not opposed to the principle of illegal immigrant amnesty. Even someone as left-wing as John Quiggin agrees that Dubya's colour blindness is genuine. The man may be a mediocre intellect compared to Clinton but he does seem genuinely free of prejudice and malice in that regard, (aside from a few careless remarks about 'Pakis' which one can chalk up to his lack of polish).

    Eek! Ken Parish tears my meditations to bits. Could it be that I have been unwittingly taken in by these constant reports about how unique Australia's system of mandatory detention is?
    Spam of the day
    A sure sign that spam is not the most efficient advertising medium - I received one today informing me of an opportunity to 'naturally increase breast size' by 100% for only $21.95. It includes a link to 'real examples of the results'.
    Then and now

    Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.
    ~ Walt Whitman

    When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?
    ~ John Maynard Keynes

    I have written in a previous post on my past 'isolationist' phase. In case some readers think I am making this up in order to present the face of a 'moderate' while espousing more 'activist' foreign policy views, let me draw your attention to this article I wrote which was published in the AFR three years ago, and has been preserved on the CIS website. All the standard references to Richard Cobden, 'warmongering', 'least antagonistic policy' and such like can be found there. While I would not disown the article completely and the principles espoused there are not in complete contradiction to my current guiding premises, there are bits of it which now seem sadly out of place, and exceedingly silly and idealistic. Whether this is a function of me changing or of the world changing, I am not sure.
    Update on English and pomo
    Don Arthur wades into the English curriculum debate here and here. He makes some very good points about how a Pomo approach to English should work if it were to be implemented ideally and I concede that it doesn't sound that bad. However on Quiggin's comments facility I made the point that one has to differentiate between pomo high theory and 'vulgarian' pomo which is deployed to justify being less selective about assigned reading texts. Don also claims to have had terrible experiences in English classes which is a stark contrast to my own (I thought I had great high school teachers) - I guess it's a luck of the draw that may end up determining one's stances on matters as specialised as education policy.

    Meanwhile, John Ray, as is his wont, sees fit to link postmodernism to fascism.

    Tuesday, October 29, 2002
    "Let them deconstruct Big Brother"
    For an old fashioned leftie, John Quiggin seems surprisignly blase about the infiltration of faddish postmodernism into the English curriculum. Though he says that he's not in favour of closing off options for students who do genuinely love literature to do more 'traditional' English courses he thinks that in the compulsory stream that most students share for some time, studying TV ads and the other deterius of our consumer society is perfectly fine. He also argues that there is already 'too much literary criticism' in the world so why add to more by making students write it?

    Well, I argued on his comments facility that the aim of teaching students to write literary criticism in high school is not to produce literary critics, it is to teach them good habits of reading and writing such as following narratives, being alert to allusions, being aware of part of their heritage (and being part of Western society means that the traditional Western canon is and should be part of their heritage), learning to construct good logical arguments, being aware of subtexts and themes. These are all very important generic skills which help them navigate socially, culturally and intellectually.

    Admittedly, as Quiggin argues, such goals can also be achieved by the study of more recent texts, but selectivity is still called for and it is the premises behind this selectivity that underlie the conflict between the pomo, cultural studies crowd and the defenders of the traditional canon. One side denies there is such a thing as a work that transcends the dross of its age (including politics) and can speak universally in conveying essential truths about human experience and therefore is deserving of closer study on the grounds of its intrinsic merits, and not just to teach students to write job resumes.

    I wouldn't necessarily object to Quiggin's suggestion that more contemporary materials be incorporated in the mix (for instance watching Apocalypse Now and reading Heart of Darkness and comparing the two) but I think one has to draw the line somewhere - teaching students in school how to read newspapers and ads is my definition of 'dumbing down'. While Quiggin complains about the level of 'bullshit' in literary criticism, and indeed the ratio of bullshit to substance may be high in discussing Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, it is undoubtedly higher when discussing some other pomo faddish approved 'work' because there actually IS more substance in Conrad to discuss. While Quiggin thinks that forcing kids to learn some Shakespeare may simply make kids hate literature, I'd suggest from my own past high school experiences and those of people I know that dumbing down the content too much will simply encourage kids to sneer at literature and serious learning - 'I can watch ads/analyse Woman's Day in my spare time, why am I wasting time at school doing this?'. Quiggin also ignores the cultural transmission aspects of education. While practical literacy skills are also important one would think that school should ideally be about more than that. Indeed it should be about more than mere 'cleverness' - the intrinsic goals of a humanist education are being lost sight of in the drive to make education more 'relevant'. As Richard Glover writes in this excellent article:

    There are aspects of the new course which may be useful. I like the way students are taught to express their ideas in different "text types" - to take the ideas you'd normally put in an essay and, instead, write it in the form of a speech, or a magazine article, or an ad, or a letter to the editor. This is an excellent part of a literacy course, but it is a distraction from the study of literature. Students are dancing on a wire, jumping through hoops, when they should be responding directly and personally to the art.

    And what's most rewarded, of course, is a facile skill at parodying various styles of writing. It is a form of exam designed to suit the sort of clever-trouser kids who write The Chaser.

    Perhaps we need to establish more than one subject. In Practical Literacy students could study Blade Runner and Frontline, and practise writing letters to the editor and composing advertising copy.

    Meanwhile, across the hall, there could be space for an obscure subject called English Literature, committed to the notion that some writers can clamber from the mud of their own time, sufficient to be heard centuries later. And that some readers - performing the same heroic struggle - can pretty much hear them. It would be a subject that understands that the play between history and human volition, between the artist and society, is more complex than intellectual fads might allow.

    For children who come from socially deprived backgrounds, their schooling days may well be the only place for a long while where they can be exposed to something more than the dross and trash that pervades commercial TV and radio and which they can get everyday - perhaps that is why many US Jewish neoconservatives (e.g. the Commentary set,) who grew up in such circumstances as children of refugees, have ended up as defenders of the Western canon and its continued relevance today. Indeed closer to home we find that a similar experience at school led Bob Carr to the traditionalist view of education he apparently holds (although his policies don't seem to reflect this). He too has spoken out about the fact that it to the children of lower socioeconomic classes that such opportunities to exposure to the best and finest that has been thought and written are most valuable. On the other hand, for those who send their children to private schools away from the mad fads of the Education Department, 'let them deconstruct Big Brother' is a slogan they may well be comfortable espousing.

    In case I am giving the impression that I am metamorphosising into a Commentary style neoconservative let me add some caveats. I acknowledge the argument made by 'Gummo Trotsky' on Prof. Quiggin's comments facility that celebrated writers of the canon such as Dickens and Shakespeare were in their day popular artists. I am certainly not saying that the 'best that has been thought and written' cannot emerge out of popular culture. There is no doubt that in a few centuries from now, Matt Groening, creator of the Simpsons, may be celebrated as a satirist of the stature of Jonathan Swift. And looking at other art forms, jazz music - arguably humankind's greatest musical achievement - arose out of the saloons and brothels of America. What matters is the attitude underlying the selection of works to be studied under the English curriculum - for instance the same Gummow Trotsky who otherwise makes some very good points also seems to share the pomo's attitude that at the end of the day the past works being celebrated today and the accompanying literary criticism are just some 'old fart's impression of some other old fart'. If that is all it is and there is no prospect of evocation of finer responses across the generations and a sense of participation in a wider community of minds contemplating universal dilemmas, then the students might as well pack up and go home while the universities should start offering nothing more than MBAs (on a tangential point, IMHO an Economics degree is worth more in the end than an MBA both in thinking skills that aid work prospects and in intrinsic interest).
    'The conscience of a conservative' and libertarian-conservative fusionism
    Reader John Legere corrects me about the authorship of 'The conscience of a conservative' which I falsely attributed to Pat Buchanan. Having read the book myself, though many years ago, I should have known this as reference to the original author, is, as Mr Legere notes, made in the book. He also has some quite fitting words to add to my evaluation of David Brock's own notorious book, which plays on the title of the Goldwater manifesto:

    In your blog item dated 27 October -- "Blinded By the Right" -- you remark that 'The Conscience of a Conservative', allegedly written by the late Senator Barry Goldwater, was actually written by Patrick Buchanan.

    In fact, the book was written by L. Brent Bozell Jr. Mr Buchanan had nothing to do with it, and was not involved with the Goldwater campaign.

    Mr Bozell was the brother-in-law of William F. Buckley Jr, and an editor of Buckley's National Review. That Brent Bozell was the father of L. Brent Bozell III, another conservative commentator who now occasionally appears on television.

    Bozell received some kind of "assist" credit on 'Conscience'. I've forgotten the exact formula: "written with," or "as told to," or somesuch; but it was the usual polite nudge-wink signaling that a book attributed to a politician or entertainer is substantially ghost-written.

    People who were closely associated with Goldwater have been unanimous in saying that Bozell was the sole author, and that Goldwater made essentially no contribution to its writing.

    In his 1995 biography, 'Goldwater: The Man Who Made a Revolution', Lee Edwards (who was a press aide to Goldwater in 1964), writes that when Bozell brought the manuscript to him, "The senator read quickly the less than 200 pages, pausing here and there, and then handed it back to Bozell, saying 'Looks fine to me. Let's go with it.' "

    Clifton White, who was head of the Draft Goldwater Committee, went further in his own memoir, saying that Goldwater never even saw the manuscript before it was published.

    Bozell was also a Goldwater speech writer, but he didn't pen Goldwater's most famous bit of rhetoric: "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And... moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue." That was composed by libertarian Karl Hess.

    Notwithstanding the open secret that Goldwater didn't write it, the book itself was a concise, eloquent statement of the then-new libertarian-conservative synthesis that had been worked out by the National Review group in the late 1950s -- especially by their chief theoretician, Frank S. Meyer. It was a huge best-seller and one of the most influential political tracts ever published.

    David Brock's book, rather than being a principled argument like Bozell's, is a shapeless and embarrassing plea for attention. That he should echo that 40-year-old title is a testament to its iconic status, but the contrast just invites more embarassment than the full measure he has already earned.
    Housekeeping message
    To all the Ozbloggers who have linked to me and whom I haven't linked back to yet, let me assure you this is a function of laziness and not disdain. Ozplogistan has been growing like topsy in the last few weeks and with migrations to Movable Type and all, it's been hard to keep up. You will be added in due course.

    Monday, October 28, 2002
    Sharia law? Parish the thought
    It appears that the mild mannered legal academic Ken Parish who lives up in the Northern Territory (which Jemaah Islamiyah has envisioned as forming part of an Islamic super-state) may have a future in stand up comedy if he ever gets bored with his law books:

    I've decided to implement precautionary burkah-wearing lessons for the wife and kid starting tomorrow, and I'd better start talent spotting for wives 2, 3 and 4. It must be a sign of middle age that this prospect doesn't send shivers of sexual anticipation down my spine; it just makes me wonder whether sharia law allows wives 2,3 and 4 to nag and browbeat the head of the household, or reserves this right to wife no.1. Either way, it doesn't bode well for domestic harmony, methinks.

    Sunday, October 27, 2002
    Blinded by the right?
    I was at Borders yesterday shopping for a friend's birthday gift and picked up David Brock's 'expose' 'Blinded by the right: The conscience of an ex-conservative' (obviously a snide play on Barry Goldwater's finely written and cerebral 'Conscience of a conservative' which was actually written by Pat Buchanan). IMHO this book is worth reading at least for the author's colourful story telling and his (albeit biased) sketches of the main players among the 'movement conservatives' in the US even though given the sleaziness of the author it should be taken with a grain of salt.

    By his own admission, Brock spent years among movement conservatives seeking to discredit his political opponents (then on the Left) with any available dirt, however poorly verified. How then can we accept the 100% veracity of his testimony, now that he has changed sides? How do we know the leopard has changed its spots? Obviously he can't possibly have fabricated everything in his book so that's why I say it's still worth reading for an insider's view of right wing politics in the US but reader beware! Brock comes across as a superficial, sleazy airhead polemicist who admits that he was attracted to 'movement conservative' politics more out of emotional appeal and a sense of combat and resentment triggered by past bad experiences with campus radicals, that he turned a blind eye to the anti-gay and bigoted views of some conservatives because winning the electoral battle was more important (but given the flimsiness of the foundations for his allegiances, why?) and that he has seen the error of his ways since. However it strikes me that he has, like David Horowitz, simply exchanged the new found zeal of his new convictions for his old ones.

    Thus he attributes the same dishonourable and anti-intellectual motives to others that he found in himself in his conservative days. For instance, to him, there is apparently no principled and honourable case for opposition to affirmative action - it is no more than a manifestation of visceral racism (this despite the fact that many black thinkers I respect like Tom Sowell are very strong opponents of AA though I am not myself), all think-tank funded research is partisan and lacks rigour just because his own was [1]. On the other hand, some of the movement conservatives don't come out very well either and I don't doubt there is some truth to his portrayals of the likes of The American Spectator crowd, and radio talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham. The nasty anti-Clinton obsession is simply pathological and inexplicable in terms of a principled commitment to the objectives of limited government when one compares the Clinton record with that of past Republicans (similarly I have never understood the albeit milder anti-Keating hatred among the Right in Australia - Keating and Hawke did more to promote microeconomic reform and the virtues of free trade than any other Australian Prime Minister before and since).

    In a way the likes of David Brock and David Horowitz deserve each other. The latter's gutter polemics is simply a mirror of Brock's innuendo-laden approach both when he was a 'conservative' and today. To people like Brock and Horowitz politics isn't about the process of mutual persuasion and correction in the search for truth about ideas on good governance and the good society (in that process, yes there is room for robust debate and labelling as idiotic ideas that are in one's view idiotic but what Brock and Horowitz engage in go far beyond the epistemological version of 'hate the sin, not the sinner'), it's an emotional and moral crusade focused around personalities. A plague on both their houses.

    [1] Having spent some years working in a think tank I can say that firstly mere incentives alone suggest that an organisation whose raison d'etre is persuasion will not fulfill that aim if you do not make an effort to come up with stuff that is not merely confected propaganda. The work I did there was cited by the Productivity Commission in its own reviews and by other writers so I think that speaks for itself. The same incentives apply to economic consultancies and business consultancies more generally. The market for advocacy imposes its own checks and balances; and secondly people who work in think tanks are very prickly and opinionated people so the simplistic conspiracy theory picture of corporation X saying 'come up with Y' simply is laughable as a model of how things work.

    James Russell sounds like he's been discouraged from buying the book because of this post. Well, I'm not saying there isn't anything to be learned from this book. Even discounting the 'payback' element I'm sure David Brock couldn't have made up every piece of nastiness in this book and perhaps I'm naive but I was shocked at some of his revelations - there are some genuinely sick and bigoted people among the US Right, especially among the obsessive Clinton haters. But at the end of the day you just get tired by all the nastiness depicted and the mind numbing detail about how Brock proceeded with his 'trooper-gate' investigations against Clinton, his hatchet job against Anita Hill, his obsessive worrying about what his comrades think about his homosexuality, how his book on Hillary was received and his obsessive worrying about that, all peppered with strange anecdotes about the number of closeted gays in the right wing movement, how allegedly Matt Drudge tried to come on to him and so on. You wonder though whether Brock has really learned anything from his experience given the thread of attempting to psychoanalyse away his misdeeds that can be found throughout this book. He seems no less shallower than before.

    Mmm, that probably didn't boost James' desire to buy the book either.
    Bigotry on the left

    Check out this article by Andrew Sullivan (thanks to the NZ Pundit for the link).

    He concludes:

    Some argue that Belafonte, because he is black, also cannot be a racist. But that is, of course, a racist argument. Again, it reduces someone's moral responsibility and intellectual autonomy to a racial stereotype -- that all blacks are innocent victims who cannot be held responsible for their beliefs or arguments; or that all blacks are so oppressed that any bigotry they utter is permissible. Again, this simply robs blacks of their individuality. In Belafonte's case, it's simply bizarre. He is an extremely empowered man. He is also a bigot.

    The question to be asked of the left is therefore a simple one: Are you in favor of bigotry or against it? If you're against it, how can you not criticize and, indeed, ostracize a bigot like Belafonte?

    Ethical investing

    There was an interesting articled on ethical investment funds last week in the SMH investor section. It made two good points.

    One was that ethical funds performed worse than the overall market. Does anyone out there know of a vice fund I can invest in?

    Second was that there is one organisation which failed the criteria of every ethical fund – the Government. For example, it buys and produces armaments, runs prisons, is a major greenhouse gas producer etc. If you want to pose as an ethical investor, you cannot have government bonds in your portfolio.

    The thought occurred to me as I struggle to get my BAS in on time (for the first time I hired an accountant for my personal tax return so it can be delayed until January), is it ethical for me to pay tax?
    Civility in politics
    I was interested to read the differing reactions to news of the death of anti-war liberal Democratic Senator Paul Wellstone in a plane crash recently. Compare this treatment of the death by the so-called anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler with this gracious and decent euology by Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan (link courtesy of Steve Sailer who writes: "It's amusing to watch human pit bull James Taranto of the WSJ try, but fail, to say something nice about the late archliberal Senator Wellstone in his "Best [sic] of the Web" attaqblog. Fortunately, the WSJ also employs Peggy Noonan, who, while she's not the most linear of thinkers, is a pretty fine human being").

    May I suggest we in the Australian blogosphere never descend to the appalling and childish inferno of rage exhibited by the first entry? Calling a political opponent's death a 'gain to the nation' is just not on. I hope no one in the mainstream of Australian politics would ever regard Pauline Hanson's death as a 'gain to the nation'. The reactions of some of the commentators on the 'anti-idiotarian's' blog are no more encouraging. What special Vodoo powers are possessed by Rottweiler and his fans that makes them so sure that Wellstone's opposition to invading Iraq *now* involved 'trading the future' of their children? The intellectual certainty on the basis of scanty evidence boggles the mind. It has been frequently said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I wonder if a better phrase would be 'the road to hell is paved with irrational certainty in the truth of one's beliefs' even if it doesn't have as good a ring to it?

    I decided this bit of Peggy Noonan's fine piece is worth highlighting as a quote of the day in light of recent extremely heated debates:

    When conservatives disagree with liberals, and they're certain the liberal they're disagreeing with is merely cynical, merely playing the numbers, merely playing politics, it's a souring experience. When liberals disagree with conservatives and they're sure the conservative they're disagreeing with is motivated by meanness or malice, it's an embittering experience. But when you disagree with someone on politics and you know the person you're disagreeing with isn't cynical or mean but well meaning and ardent and serious--well, that isn't souring or embittering. That's democracy, the best of democracy, what democracy ought to be about.




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