Posts Tagged “Spirituality & Ideology”

07w45:3 Dante's Heaven and Canadian November

by timothy. 6 Comments

November in Canada is a season of two contradictory impulses. The first is the Massey Lectures, a series of five one hour lectures delivered on CBC Ideas for a work-week sometime during this month. The Massey Lectures to me represent some of the better characteristics of our species: the desire to not only grow in knowledge, but to communicate it as well. This lecture series invites the so called expert to break down the professional linguistic barriers that too often separates them from a broad audience.

The Massey Lectures used to invite scholars and writers of international habitation, but since the mid-nineties have focused on Canadian speakers, highlighting how much excellent thinking is being done by Canadians. My own excessive fondness for the work of John Ralston Saul stems from his delivery of the 1995 Massey Lectures, and my support of Michael Ignatieff’s quest for the Liberal leadership (and the subsequent eventual likelihood of Prime Ministership) comes from his 2000 Lectures (and in that case, it wasn’t so much the content of his talks, which was on human rights, but the fact that Canada deserves to have a Prime Minster who’s intelligent enough to have delivered the talks in the first place). Other past notables of the Massey Lectures include Charles Taylor (who delivered the 1991 Lectures) and Northrop Frye (in 1962; the series The Educated Imagination I consider to be essential reading).

Prior to the can-con, Noam Chomsky taught us about the media-as-propaganda model in 1988, and Dorris Lessing taught us about ‘the prisons we live inside’ in 1985. Lessing’s lectures were re-published by the House of Anansi Press last year, just in time for this year’s Nobel win to spike sales, and I picked up my copy the other day.

This brings me to the other side of Canadian November, and that’s the poppy. This is the impulse which contradicts our desire for knowledge (that desire to grow as individuals and as a species) and that is the desire for barbaric violence. The poppy sentimentalizes what should be considered simply shameful. How can its motto of ‘lest we forget’ still be said after 90 years of more war after that ‘war to end all wars’? It’s shame should be apparent in this embarrassment.

This year I’ve decided to boycott this emblem of remembrance, because I’m tired of war, I’ve had an ear and eyeful from the news all year and I want nothing to do with it. I don’t support the troops, I think Western governance has gone on a patriarchal war-is-glory bender and whatever threats exist are only exaggerated to promote the real agenda, which is an ancient Roman ideal of glory in death, destruction, and the vanquishing of enemies. Fuck all of that.

In her first lecture twenty-two years ago, Lessing brought up the unspoken facet of violence and war which she had witnessed in her lifetime, and that was that war was for many people fun. She opens her talks with a tale of a farmer who’s expensively imported bull had killed the boy who took care of it, and that this farmer decided to kill the bull because in his mind it had done wrong. She also tells of the post-WW II symbolic trial and ‘execution’ of a tree that had been associated with General Petain. Lessing points out that the farmer’s actions, and the villagers who destroyed a tree, were irrational, acting out of symbolism but not sense. As she says, ‘I often think about these incidents: they represent those happenings that seem to give up more meaning as time goes on. Whenever things seem to be going along quite smoothly – and I am talking about human affairs in general – then it is as if suddenly some awful primitivism surges up and people revert to barbaric behavior.’ Later, she writes:

To return to the farmer and his bull. It may be argued that the farmer’s sudden regression to primitivism affected no one but himself and his family, and was a very small incident on the stage of human affairs. But exactly the same can be seen in large events, affecting hundreds or even millions of people. For instance, when British and Italian soccer fans recently rioted in Brussels, they became, as onlookers and commentators continually reiterated, nothing but animals. The British louts, it seems, were urinating on the corpses of people they had killed. To use the word ‘animal’ here seems to me unhelpful. This may be animal behavior, I don’t know, but it is certainly human behavior, when humans allow themselves to revert to barbarism. […] In times of war, as everyone knows who has lived through one, or talked to soldiers when they are allowing themselves to remember the truth, and not the sentimentalities with which we all shield ourselves from the horrors of which we are capable … in times of war we revert, as a species, to the past, and are permitted to be brutal and cruel. It is for this reason, and of course there are others, that a great many people enjoy war. But this is one of the facts about war that I think is not often talked about. (p.15-16)

It is my sense, as noted above, that the Western world has not grown out of the immaturity of its violent, Imperial and Roman past. It used to be the comparison between the United States and Rome was a metaphor, and it has now become an analogy. It can be argued that since the Renaissance the Western project has been the resurrection of the Roman political state.

There is a reason why Roman dramas are part of our televisiual schedules, and that the actors speak with English accents, and that reason is simply that to a contemporary audience at mid-20th Century, when these dramas began to be made, the English accent was associated with Empire, but we still have not shifted to Roman dramas of American accents. Perhaps that wouldn’t be ‘exotic’ enough. Perhaps because American Empire is Robert Duval saying he loves the smell of napalm in the morning, or a cowboy falling on a nuclear weapon, or Nicholson telling us we can’t handle the truth. A Roman drama with American accents wouldn’t work because we associate American Empire with a vulgar New World technological advantage and Ancient Rome still sounds better in an Old World voice.

Cue Dante. This is written as an introduction to the link below, a discussion on Dante’s Paradiso, a recent translation of which has just been published. I’ve tried to read the Paradiso more than once over the past few years and always find it extremely boring, and that’s part of my point. There is a reason why the dark, violent, Hell-Vision of Dante is more often translated, more often talked about, more often borrowed for a cinematic vision. Because we are still barbarians. Resurrecting Rome while still caught in a Dark Ages mind-set that likes all this violent shit. (Beowulf anyone?).

And yet, seven hundred years ago, in the midst of that Middle Age between the light of Empires, a man imagined Heaven. It has been said that this alone should be heralded, as a supreme accomplishment of the human imagination. And that is why I’ve tried to read and appreciate it. Because it represents something other than violence and darkness, and if we find it boring, it’s because we still allow ourselves to be thrilled by cruelty and brutality. We still pay money to see digital humans ripped apart by monsters, fake blood flying everywhere. The Romans had least had the balls to do it for real, they didn’t try to hide behind our ‘special effects’ which somehow is supposed to do two things: maintain a moral vision of human worth (which is continually contradicted by the cruelties in the news) and prevent us from seeing the dubious morality of being entertained by violence.

And so, a conversation on Dante during the season of Ideas and poppies. – Timothy

Dante’s Paradiso | CBC Tapestry
From CBC’s Tapestry website: “We’ll explore the vision of heaven in Dante’s Paradiso, the third and final part of The Divine Comedy with Dante scholars Robert Hollander and Jean Hollander. Their new translation of Paradiso is published by Doubleday.”

07w06:1 Free Expression

by timothy. 1 Comment

Last Sunday saw this year’s Superbowl, when the marketing agencies try to wow us ito another enthusiastic year of American consumerism. I was in no mood for any of it; in fact, I was rather grumpy last weekend. So when I found Theodore Dalrymple’s intolerant text entitled Freedom and its Discontents in which he expresses thanks for not having to voice on radio his thoughts on the 12 year old Austrian boy who recently had a sex change, I was annoyed and grumpified even more, although I appreciated his perspective. He wrote:

If I had spoken my mind, without let or hindrance, I should have said what I suspect a very large majority of people think: that there is something grotesque, and even repugnant, about the whole idea of sex-changes, let alone of sex-changes for twelve year-olds.

I don’t find the issue repugnant nor do I find it very interesting. Dalrymple goes on to write about how the freedom of expression has been curtailed, not by onerous censorship laws, but by the intolerance of the politically correct. He concludes by writing: ‘Please don’t reply to any part of this article. I won’t read it: I know I’m right.’

Those who know they are right are the most exasperating people one ever has to deal with. Stubborn minded fools so set in their ways they don’t even care about appearing to be ignorant, deluded and hateful. Dalrymple’s work nevertheless tends to be a good read because we can learn and gain something from his perspective. He isn’t constrained by an idealism, nor his he constrained by the specialized knowledge that cuts ‘those in the know’ off from the common.

Over my time doing this list, I’ve occasionally received letters taking to task something I wrote in introduction, or questioning my link selection. I thought I would need a defense of Dalyrmple’s article saying basically: don’t shoot the messenger, and began it anticipating this edition. But over the past week, I saw more than one article appear which basically underlines a theme of intolerance. It is one of the things I’ve enjoyed doing with Goodreads, and that is attempting to document through the link selection the occasional popular meme – an idea which seems to be expressed in more than one article appearing simultaneously from different sites.

The greatest example of intolerance in current public/web discussion has to do with the Holocaust, and seems focused on the latent assumption that the next war will be with Iran. There seems to be a lack of appetite in the United States for another invasion, which is a good thing, but churning along underneath the popular sentiment is the attempt by the right-wing blowhards to demonize Iran’s president Ahmadinejad who made the cover of yesterday’s (Feb 10) Globe & Mail. We have been told for months that Ahmadinejad is a Holocaust denier, because he has said in the past that it was a myth. Out of an extreme generosity and skepticism of North American propaganda, I’ve questioned whether he didn’t mean the anthropological sense of the word, until I remembered referring in recent conversations to consumerism as a myth (meaning it as an inaccurate oversimplification of our economic activity) and I was using the popular form of the word.

To clarify: anthropologically a myth is a story of meaning, one that punches above its weight of accumulated incidents. To say that the Holocaust is a myth under this context I think is accurate. It is has found a high, and defining, place in the Jewish story, and in a world of secularism, it seems that while not all contemporary Jews may believe in their God, they certainly all believe in their near genocide. As a gentile I find the overwhelming presence of the story sometimes noxious, as it has seemed to breed an unhealthy and unproductive paranoia that generates more hatred and anger than peace. And as a gentile I have to be very careful about what I say regarding this historical incident, since there is an element within Judaism who are ready to condemn any one who questions this reality in any way, who seem to think that all gentiles are closeted anti-Semites ready to light up the ovens again if given the chance. The taboo and reverence that is now tied to the Holocaust story is surely mythic in this regard, making condemnable heretics of those who deny.

But popularly, a myth is a fairy-tale, a fiction, and I don’t question the veracity, or the horror of the Shoah. The reality of Holocaust denial fits in perfectly with the stupidity of the age which questions even the Moon landings; such is a healthy skepticism toward the stories of authority taken to an extreme and absurd level. We live at a time when some believe in the literalness of the Bible, that people lived with dinosaurs, and that perhaps Jesus only lived a thousand years ago. It is doubtful that Ahmadinejad is sophisticated enough to mean the anthropological sense of mythology when referring to those events.

But my problem is essentially based on the fact that I have no reason to believe anything I’m ever told by Western governments in general with regard to foreign policy. Since childhood I’ve been told that political leaders on the other side of the planet are generally untrustworthy and/or crazy. And because everything nowadays seems to be about the other side of the planet, I was left with cognitive dissonance when I heard Mike Wallace interview the President of Iran, as he did last August (and available in the two mp3s below). Because Mr. Ahmadinejad sounds saner than my own political leaders.

Wha? I mean, listen closely to the interviews: at one point Ahmadinejad says to Wallace (who prompted him to be more sound-bitey) that all of his questions require book length answers. What North American politician would say such a thing? ‘The problem that President Bush has is that in his mind he wants to solve everything with bombs. The time of The Bomb is in the past, it’s behind us. Today is the era of thoughts, dialogue, and cultural exchanges’. Who the fuck said that!?

Now, with props to my culture’s conditioning, who knows if he was just putting on a show of reasonableness for the Western cameras. We are told continually that these foreign leaders are like that: crafty propagandists who seduce our liberal left-wingers with their talk of international justice and wanting to do good things for their people. But we know The Truth, because our warmongering political elite have deemed to tell us The Real Story in between all of the secrets they keep. These leaders in the next hemisphere want to nuke us, they hate our freedom, they’re insane and hateful, unenlightened and ignorant, and they regularly flaunt international laws. They are also undemocratic and barbaric, because their elections are either rigged or the wrong people (Hamas) win. Further, when they execute their past tyrants they don’t do it tastefully.

Worst of all, they’re all anti-Semtic and want to destroy Israel, which is another way of saying they are Latter Day Nazis and thus we’re in another Just War against genocidal fascists. In the midst of this snake pit there is Israel, and the Israeli Cabinet, we need to remember, is along with the Pope and the American President, infallible; all graced by God with the ability to never be wrong about anything.

On Freedom of Expression
As I’ve said, I’m being extremely generous in assuming that Mr. Ahmadinejad could be more intelligent than he is portrayed. But such an example, based on an uncommon view, removes my argument from the realm of shared experience from which we should be debating ideas about free expression. The controversial issues of our time are discussed based on common understanding and misunderstandings, and it’s important that we debate within those limits, rather than resort to extreme examples which make everything hypothetical fast.

Abortion is the example that comes readily to mind – growing up in the 1980s and hearing about Henry Morgentaler in the news, and even once participating in a junior high school debate on the subject, the pro-choice contingent regularly argued for cases of rape, incest, and maternal health concerns as deserving abortions. I haven’t checked out the stats, but I’ll hazard a guess that over 90% of abortions performed in North America have nothing to do with those examples. Common knowledge – which may be ignorant and flawed granted – suggests that most abortions are a form of birth control. To hedge around that by arguing the extremes keeps the debate from really being held in the first place, and thus the camps can remain unconvinced by the other’s position.

American commentators see free speech as a sacrosanct right, and as a result have one of the most intolerant and ignorant cultures on the planet. But that is their self-described right. The United States gift to the world seems to have been the enlarge definition of rights to include the right to degrade, discredit and humiliate oneself to a state of unreserved indignity. Anna Nicole Smith had the good fortune to die this past week to provide me with her example. The idealists of the U.S. make it a point to defend the offensive and vulgar as a part of this right, and perhaps here I shouldn’t remind you that vulgar came from the Latin word for common, as I want to try and elevate the common to think of our common capacity for intelligence and compassion rather than our current and common psychopathologies. It is to this end that we need free expression defended: so that we are able to judge things for ourselves.

Our position in Canada is a more intolerant view on intolerance. We accept limits to free-speech which includes anti-hate speech laws. This is meant to prevent harm, and as I understand it, our Supreme Court allowed this by stating that some forms of speech are not worth defending.

A case in point is Holocaust denial: questioning the interpretation of the evidence is one thing, but what is the motivation behind it? The Jews have a right to mythologize (anthropologically) the story, and why should any of the rest of us care? When did the phrase ‘mind your own business’ fall out of favour? I think I know the answer to my rhetorical question, and it’s basically the one favored by Ahmadinejad and his fellow skeptics, one that prefers to dehumanize Jews with the word ‘Zionist’. I don’t think I need to get into it. I think the point raised by the Supreme Court’s decision is essentially it isn’t worth the debate, and that in fact it could be perceived as harmful to engage in it.

Somehow (and I think this has remained largely unexplained and unexplored) we can enjoy a freedom of expression without regularly crossing the line into hate speech. Seldom is anyone investigated or charged: you really have to make an effort to be that offensive. Or one has to be basically poking a bee’s nest: posting calls for Bush to be assassinated online, creating cartoons of Muhammed as a terrorist and the like. As free expression those examples are a waste of the freedom, since it contributes nothing to a discussion and is really only retrogressively ignorant.

How do we manage to use our freedom of expression productively when and if we do? I think it comes from our appreciation for those who offend in ways that increase our capacity for all of expression by showing us a new idea, a new way of life, and a new way of thinking. But we are wary and even intolerant of those who want to limit our expression, or limit our innate sense of progress toward a better world, through the expression of their retrogressive views. In other words: blowing away a stale old convention and offending conservatives by doing so rocks; bringing about the downfall of civilization with a medieval attitude and mindset does not. Somehow we understand what constitutes this through a language of behavior rooted in our common experience. This is what makes conservatives so defensive: they know when they’ve been beat by a new expression. It used to be rock n’ roll: now it’s their teenagers using abbreviation, emoticons, and chatting online with strangers.

While we are united by a common grammar of speech, so too we are united by a common grammar of behaviour. This has been in the past referred to as bourgeois values and considered worth rebelling against, and thus movements created a type of poetry of misbehavior which expanded our own vocabularies of affect. But within these values is a core set of ideas about how we should treat one another, a common value set which sees the benefit to the whole at the individual’s expense.

Consider littering. Off hand, I’m sure we all agree that littering isn’t really a good thing. We’ll define it as saying it’s the introduction of garbage into a public space meant to be shared by all. We’ll further define garbage as something unwanted by someone. Thus, our definition here of littering is the introduction, of something unwanted, into a public space.

But what if this unwelcome introduction of something unwanted is called art by the litterer? Then it’s an intervention. Then, that cigarette cellophane you just dropped on the sidewalk is a performance. According to the art-rules I should shut up now, because the recontextualization destroys it as litter and makes it a human expression that should be nurtured, encouraged, and supported by art council grants. But here I really want to link littering to graffiti and say that because some people consider it unwelcome it is also a form of littering, but it’s one that I personally support as a human attempt at the beautification of plain (plane?) architecture.

While we all understand why we shouldn’t litter as part of our common knowledge, we also understand the deal with most abortions and why hate-speech could be criminal. We don’t need freedom of expression – or whatever other freedoms we enjoy – to be defended by extreme examples, because all laws, all social agreements, all freedoms exist first as a social convention in common knowledge and it is from this basis that the state feels it has the authority to police them. The fragmentation of our society into specialized interest groups is perhaps where we began to disagree about what should be legal and what shouldn’t be. Our common knowledge – our vulgarity – has been reduced to extreme forms of behavior and reduced in intelligence to something less than our potential making us more undignified than some animals.

The challenge has always been to incorporate the deviant into the conventional: this pattern has always seemed to be about the dominant sanctioning another – minority’s – convention as harmless rather than a sudden revaluation of the dominant’s morals. The arguments raised by Christopher Hitchens in his defense of the ‘freedom of denial’ in essence is of allowing that process to continue: for the dominant to not become so self-satisified that they refuse to consider the other’s point of view. But it also seems that we have reached examples of extreme perspectives that the dominant decided long ago were not sanctionable. Holocaust denial is one, as is sex with kids and animals. The recent Sundance film festival featured a film in which a 12 year old girl was raped, and another was a documentary on bestiality. My thoughts are essentially: do we really need to have that discussion? Are we so intellectually and emotionally bankrupt that we have to resort to those expressions for stimulation? It turns out that no distributor wants to buy the Dakota Fanning movie Hounddog and all I can think is thank god.

Ultimately, this is all about the strangeness of language: how a set of sounds, strung together a certain way, can have such intense psychological and intellectual effects. Words uttered or read can make the heart leap or fall, can be emotionally devastating or immensely uplifting, and it’s all just a bunch of sounds or a bunch of shapes on a surface. Through this, one mind interacts with another and our sense of what’s going in our world – that intersection of imagination and environment – grows until we eventually are changed people: more sophisticated, more learned, more conversant. We have a bigger bag of tricks and fuller experience of life. The freedom of speech is also the freedom to be exposed to ideas that we don’t agree with, so that we aren’t held back from the mysteriously transformative power of hearing or reading words. But a case can be made that some of this has the potential to be retrogressive and counterproductive, making us more stupid. Inasmuch as the state tries to do this for us, they should have better things to do, but I think it is also true that they don’t need to control what we think about things because that’s already done by a televised culture of idiocy. – Timothy


Iranian Leader Opens Up | 60 Minutes
Link to the video; audio at these links: Part 1 Part 2

Nobel laureate accosted at peace conference |
“In a bizarre attack, a well-known author and Holocaust scholar was dragged out of a San Francisco hotel elevator by an apparent Holocaust denier who reportedly had been trailing him for weeks.”

Are we all anti-Semites now? | Matthew Yglesias
“As a Jewish person with a not-so-Jewish last name who occasionally criticizes the policies of the Israeli government (or, more frequently, the policies of the United States vis-a-vis Israel), I’ve been known to spend some time pondering how to work the fact that I’m Jewish into my writing. After all, you don’t want to be called an anti-semite. The good news, then, is that the American Jewish Committee says I don’t need to bother any more. […] How does the paper pull this off? By starting out with a transparent fraud: identifying anti-semitism – hatred of Jewish people – with anti-Zionism, or the belief that Israel should not exist as a Jewish state. The latter view, while not something I agree with, simply is not anti-semitism. One could imagine applying the latter label to someone who proposed the physical destruction of the Israeli population. But the supposed sins of the ‘new’ anti-semites don’t even come close.”

David Margolick on David Mamet | New York Times Book Review Podcast
“November 5, 2006 | David Margolick on David Mamet; Emily Nussbaum on Heidi Julavits; science fiction columnist Dave Itzkoff.”

// The interview with David Margolick discuses his review of Mamet’s The Wicked Son:
Anti-Semitism, Self-Hatred, and the Jews; the review itself is at this link:

Maybe I Am Chopped Liver | David Margolick
“Even if they find Mamet’s other works bewildering or raw, many Jews, particularly politically progressive types who are also observant or strongly self-identified or devoted to Israel, will applaud him here. They’ve been to one too many Upper West Side dinner parties in which they’ve been forced single-handedly to take on a tableful of pro-Palestinian Jews or to admit to praying periodically. They’ll share his complaint about unremitting hostility of many Jewish leftists to Israel, a place a large number of them have never even visited, nor ever bothered learning very much about. They’ll agree that Philip Roth and Woody Allen trashed Ashkenazi immigrant culture. They’ll share his disgust at all those supposedly enlightened Jews who mock the tradition that helped make them what they are, only to embrace the nearest ‘analgesic’ – materialism, Buddhism, yoga, self-help, agnosticism, sports, ethical culture – instead […] In fact, apart from various Internet wackos, anti-Semitism, at least the American strain, has waned; how else to explain the very assimilation Mamet so detests? But he writes as if Father Coughlin is still on the radio, Henry Ford still hawks The Dearborn Independent and Fritz Kuhn’s German American Bundists still march through Yorkville.”.

This Holocaust will be different | Benny Morris
“The second holocaust will be quite different. One bright morning, in five or 10 years, perhaps during a regional crisis, perhaps out of the blue, a day or a year or five years after Iran’s acquisition of the Bomb, the mullahs in Qom will convene in secret session, under a portrait of the steely-eyed Ayatollah Khomeini, and give President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, by then in his second or third term, the go-ahead.The orders will go out and the Shihab III and IV missiles will take off for Tel Aviv, Beersheba, Haifa and Jerusalem, and probably some military sites, including Israel’s half dozen air and (reported) nuclear missile bases. Some of the Shihabs will be nuclear-tipped, perhaps even with multiple warheads. Others will be dupes, packed merely with biological or chemical agents, or old newspapers, to draw off or confuse Israel’s anti-missile batteries and Home Front Command units.”

David Margolick on ‘Fear’ | New York Times Book Review Podcast
“July 23, 2006 | William C. Rhoden, the author of $40 Million Slaves; David Margolick on Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland After Auschwitz by Jan T. Gross”

Daniel Mendelsohn on The Lost | New York Times Book Review Podcast
“September 24, 2006 | Daniel Mendelsohn, the author of The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million; science fiction columnist Dave Itzkoff on Dune; Rachel Donadio on the Dummies books.”

In N.Y., Sparks Fly Over Israel Criticism | Michael Powell
“Two major American Jewish organizations helped block a prominent New York University historian from speaking at the Polish consulate here last week, saying the academic was too critical of Israel and American Jewry.”

Christopher Hitchens | TVO’s Big Ideas
“A journalist and writer by trade, a controversialist by reputation and a fiery atheist by avocation, he was invited by the University of Toronto’s Hart House Debating Club to voice his opinion on the subject of the evening’s debate: Be It Resolved: Freedom of Speech Includes the Freedom to Hate. Following a formal debate among four students, Hitchens will explain why it is an intellectual duty to defend the right of the revisionist historian David Irving’s right not be imprisoned in Austria for his views about the Holocaust.”

Christopher and His Kind – The thrill of saying something vile | Mukul Kesavan
“By a grotesque ideological sleight of hand, Hitchens would join the West to this great ‘multi-ethnic democracy’ using arguments that are only used in India by parties that would, if they could, create an ethnic, Hindu supremacist state. This convergence is not an accident: by making prejudice respectable, by short-circuiting due process, by presuming collective guilt instead of affirming the presumption of individual innocence, Hitchens and Amis have become what they pretend to pre-empt.”

Understanding Christopher Hitchens | JW @ Outside the Whale
“If you understand Orwell’s observations here, you will also understand Hitchens’ cutting attacks on hypocritical war critics like George Galloway or Michael Moore. In these, and other critics, Hitchens sees Orwell’s cruel pacifist. Thus, he points to Galloway standing shoulder to shoulder with oppressive dictators like Saddam Hussein and Syrian President Bashar al-Asad or exposes Michael Moore’s praise of murderous terrorists as “Minute Men”. Such conduct, in Hitchens’ eyes, fits squarely in Orwell’s crosshairs.This is not the whole picture. Hitchens is a much more nuanced and complex character than can be summarized in two principles or motives. Still, these points are unquestionably central to his position on Iraq. They are principles to which Hitchens remains absolutely committed, ever uncompromising, sometimes to his own detriment. Whether you agree or disagree, it must be said his stance is principled.”

George Galloway debates Christopher Hitchens: Part 1

//This was one of the best things I’ve seen in a long while. Dates from September 2005; runs in total about 2hrs divided into two parts.

George Galloway debates Christopher Hitchens: Part 2

Academic Freedom | TVO’s The Agenda
//The Agenda raised the issue of Professor Shiraz Dossa of St. F X attending the Tehran conference on the Holocaust. Should the university fire him? Does he have the right to attend?

Canadian prof attends Tehran’s gathering of Holocaust deniers | Doug Saunders
//You don’t need to read it: it’s been money-walled and here only for as a reference point and a bit of background.

No change in political climate | Ellen Goodman
“I would like to say we’re at a point where global warming is impossible to deny. Let’s just say that global warming deniers are now on a par with Holocaust deniers, though one denies the past and the other denies the present and future.”

Denial | Frank Furedi
“Paradoxically, the absence of moral clarity today gives rise to an illiberal and intolerant climate. At a time when moralists find it difficult clearly to differentiate between right and wrong, they are forced to find some other way to draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. So they seize examples of unambiguous evil – paedophilia, the Holocaust, pollution – in order to define potential moral transgression. Today’s heresy hunters strive to construct new taboos. The most ritualised and institutionalised taboo in Western society is to question the Holocaust, or to refuse to stand opposed to it. Numerous countries now have laws against Holocaust denial. In Austria, denying the Holocaust can lead to a 10-year prison sentence. Targeting Holocaust deniers allows politicians to occupy the moral high ground, which explains why, this month, German justice minister Brigitte Zypries called for a Europe-wide ban on Holocaust denial and the wearing of Nazi symbols.”

// That Mr. Furedi builds to this point – essentially defending denial as free expression – by appealing to medieval history seems both to be an attempt to appear thoughtful be simply remembering (last Goodreads) and to use those extreme examples which have nothing to do with the issues at hand. His article is about the right of people to deny accepted truths, which is a right of freedom of thought/speech/expression.

Reflecting on this lead to me the above littering example, since I’d like to now censor Global Warming Deniers, but see how they have the right to ‘call it art’ by claiming their right to express themselves. Although, I think they’ve had their time over-indulged and have now crossed over into being potentially harmful. I feel we’ve already wasted enough time by allowing them their freedom of expression and they managed to create such doubt that it has taken this long for politics to begin to take it seriously. Like Holocaust denial, its an extreme example of idiocy and doesn’t need to resort to freedom of expression laws to exist or be prevented. Common sense should be enough for us to ignore these people. The greater issue is that it apparently is not.

The Strangeness of Science | CBC Ideas Podcast (Goodreads mirror) Strangeness of Science.mp3
“Human beings are unable to grasp the reality that exists beyond our perceptions. Evolutionary theorist Richard Dawkins explains why in the Beatty Memorial Lecture recorded at McGill University. Richard Dawkins is the also the author of a number of controversial books, The Selfish Gene, and most recently The God Delusion.”

// Do monotheists have the right to bore us not only with their identity politics but the basis for those delusions: the worship of an overbearing spirit so unpowerful that Catholic arguments against birth-control unwittingly prove His impotence? I mean, if less than a milimetre of latex can thwart His plan, how could He have created at all? Monotheists aren’t the only fundamentalists: Richard Dawkins could be described as a Fundamentalist Atheist, whose intolerance toward the religious is almost as nauseating as what we have to put up with from the die-hard Believers. I listened to this as a Buddhist fascinated by the scientific take on ‘mental-modeling software’ and disturbed by his belligerent intolerance toward spirituality.

The God Delusion | Daniel Dennett & H. Allen Orr

Let’s Be Rational | Theodore Dalrymple
“Not long ago, I spoke at a colloquium attended mostly by American conservatives. They were, at least to me, a highly congenial audience, friendly, humorous, polite, cultivated and very well-read (not always, let us be quite frank, the first characteristic of conservatives in any country). I happened to mention on the platform during one of the sessions that I was not religious, unlike the other members of the panel. I cannot now remember the precise context in which I made my terrible confession.I was surprised afterwards that several of the audience approached me and thanked me for it. What was there to thank me for? They said that they, too, were without religious faith, in short atheists, and it was a relief to them that someone, otherwise of like mind with the majority of the audience, had confessed it.”

The Dark Side of the Moon
// This 2003 documentary tells of how Stanley Kubrick worked with NASA to fake the moon landing. Staring Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfofitwitz, this ultimately is a documentary on how easy it is to be manipulated by video images, since none of it is true.

AIDS and Immune Systems | Michael @
“Researching the late ’70s and early ’80s for a project I’m fooling around with, I recently found myself looking through Richard Berkowitz’s book “Stayin’ Alive: The Invention of Safe Sex.”

… // Michael goes on to describe the harrowing stories from the gay-subculture of New York’s 1970s – how pre-AIDS, getting a series of STDs was a badge of honour, a symbol of one’s sexual profligacy. I mean, I thought I’d seen some undignified stuff in my time – as chaste as it has been – but this I bring up as evidence of our desire for the freedom to be self-destructive and to question if it is really worth it.

Frank Zappa on Crossfire

// This has been on Goodreads before: an argument over music lyrics in the 1980s. Appearing in March 1986, Zappa takes on the conservative old fools. This second video is from June 1987, and continues the argument:

Zappa on Crossfire II

Say Everything | Emily Nussbaum
“As younger people reveal their private lives on the Internet, the older generation looks on with alarm and misapprehension not seen since the early days of rock and roll. The future belongs to the uninhibited.[…] At 17, Oppermann is conversant with the conventional wisdom about the online world – that it’s a sketchy bus station packed with pedophiles. (In fact, that’s pretty much the standard response I’ve gotten when I’ve spoken about this piece with anyone over 39: ‘But what about the perverts?’ For teenagers, who have grown up laughing at porn pop-ups and the occasional instant message from a skeezy stranger, this is about as logical as the question ‘How can you move to New York? You’ll get mugged!’) She argues that when it comes to online relationships, ‘you’re getting what you’re being.’ All last summer, as she bopped around downtown Manhattan, Oppermann met dozens of people she already knew, or who knew her, from online. All of which means that her memories of her time in New York are stored both in her memory, where they will decay, and on her site, where they will not, giving her (and me) an unsettlingly crystalline record of her seventeenth summer.”

Zebro on Boston’s Aqua Teen Bomb Scare | Zebro

// A wonderful rebutal of Boston’s over-reaction. Who are Zebro? I don’t know yet. But they did this to, which was also good:

White Progressive People Fight Racism – A Zebro Documentary | Zebro

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emailed by Timothy on Sunday 11 February 2007 @ 11:59 AM

05w51:1 Everything, or Throwing the Backlog on the Winter's Fire, or Xmastravaganza

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Good Reads Mailing List | 2005 week 51 number 1 (everything, or throwing the backlog on the winter’s fire, or the xmastravaganza)


But first the news….

“Welcome to Ohio! Ihre Papiere, bitte!” | Metafilter
“Governor Taft of Ohio is about to sign Senate Bill 9, the Ohio Patriot Act. Among its provisions: * Police can deny entry to “transportation infrastructure” to anyone not showing an ID; * Police can demand the name, address, and date of birth of anyone suspected of having committed a crime or being about to commit a crime, or having witnessed a crime or a plan to commit a crime. Failure to provide this information is an arrestable offense — so basically all demonstrators could be required to give their names, addresses and dates of birth or face arrest; * Reminiscent of Joe McCarthy’s famous question, many state licenses will begin with the question “Are you a member of an organization on the U.S. Department of State Terrorist Exclusion List?”. Failure to answer means no license; answering affirmatively is self-incrimination. * Perhaps worst of all, the original version of the bill simply prohibited state or local governemnts or government employees from objecting to the USA PATRIOT act. The current version allows criticism, but threatens local government with the loss of funds if they in any way “materially hinder” Federal anti-terrorism efforts. “Welcome to Ohio! Ihre Papiere, bitte!” is from Metafilter, and included this comment: “The men who founded this nation were brave and forward thinking, the United States formed as the most modern and enlightened government in history. And now, through the spoiled tricksters in power, it is being dismantled while the citizens are at home watching another sitcom, laughing, laughing, laughing. […] Oh, and f*ck Jesus and every moron who voted for Republicans because they promised to stop homosexuals from getting married.” Yeah, f*ck ’em.

But it is Jesus’ birthday and all, supposedly. But maybe Jesus was a bastard. Maybe he was born in the summer. Ah well, at least it’s time off work, and we get to eat well.

Where is Santa Claus? | Timothy Comeau
from 1990 when I was in Grade 10

Sata Claus | Timothy Comeau
Santa loves logs

Santa is Satan right?
at first I thought this was satire than checked out the rest of the site and saw that it’s a looney Christian one and so the video I guess is supposed to be serious.Thanks to Rany (whoever you are) for the link.

Merry Religious Assimiliation Day | OmniNerd
“The first recorded Christmas on December 25th took place in the 4th century, a date coinciding with the birthdate of Mithras, the Persian sun god. Pope Julius I is rumored to have adjusted Jesus’ birthday to match Mithras’ because the church was unable to stop the pagan celebrations and thereby could associate their festivities in Jesus’ name. Other traditions owe their roots to non-Christian origin. Evergreen trees were revered by Druids for good luck and fertility because they withstood the hardships of winter. The tree became a religious symbol of everlasting life and was decorated to symbolize the sun’s power.”

The Earthly Father: What if Mary wasn’t a virgin? | Chloe Breyer
“Should Schaberg and other scholars who question the virgin birth be hurled into the outer darkness? The problem with dismissing them, as the fourth-century church authorities dismissed their forerunners, begins with Scripture. The biblical sources for the virgin conception are a few short passages in two of the four Gospels. In Matthew, an angel appears to Joseph, who is perplexed about his fiancee’s pregnancy. Should he divorce Mary or have her stoned her to death, as the law of Deuteronomy requires? “Joseph, Son of David,” says the angel, “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus.” The angel then goes on to quote the Hebrew prophet Isaiah. “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel.” (In fact, “virgin” comes from Matthew’s use of a Greek mistranslation; the Hebrew in Isaiah reads “young girl.”) The version in Luke is similar.”

Mary’s Not a Virgin | The Current speaks to Jane Schaberg
Mary’s wasn’t a virgin, she was just unfaithful I guess

Eluding Happiness: A Buddhist problem with Christmas. | Jess Row

Oh, but now Buddhism’s in the picture. Which is interesting because….

Scientists to check Nepal Buddha boy | Navin Singh Khadka

Introduction to Meditation | Gil Fronsdal

…which reminds me of the Buddhist joke I once heard which I never really understood. I guess that means I’m stupid. But whatever. It went: ‘what did the Buddhist say to the hot-dog vendor? — I’ll have one with everything.’

so, on to everything….

Blink and The Wisdom of Crowds | James Surowiecki & Malcolm Gladwell

Preacher of the profane | Daniel Binswanger

Ad glut turns off viewers | Gary Levin

Are you there God? It’s me Margaret | Mathew Fox interviews Margaret Atwood

Move Toward Plain Language in Canadian Court Decisions | Michel-Adrien Sheppard

The Plain Language Association INternational Vincent Van Gogh, the drawings | Franklin Einspruch

Art in Newfoundland | Craig Francis Power
nobody writes me letters anymore. boohoohoo

this was awesome:

Optics in Renaissance Art | Charles M. Falco
(link to realmedia presentation, or go here: Lectures at Princeton page)

and this was really good…:

Urban Planning | The Current speaks to Fred Kent

Fred Kent complained about Frank Gehry’s work and that of similar architects, which in Toronto, means he’s talking about our reno-projects…. he refered to it as ‘starkichecture’ and spoke of design being a disease. Monuments to ego (*cough* Liebskind) maybe, but as public spaces, they leave much to be desired. Personally I can see an historical connection to architecture and fascism, but who cares what I think.

Some pigs are more equal than others | Timothy Comeau

Not Special | Timothy Comeau

Let’s have a culture of six pack minds baby. Because then the world might be a better place. In the meantime there’s Muhammad Yunus.

Muhammad Yunus is one of the most inspiring individuals I’ve ever come across in the media-scape. A highly recommended video presentation….

Ending Global Poverty | Muhammad Yunus
“ABOUT THE LECTURE: Imagine a bank that loans money based on a borrower’s desperate circumstances — where, as Muhammad Yunus says, ‘the less you have, the higher priority you have.’ Turning banking convention on its head has accomplished a world of good for millions of impoverished Bangladeshis, as the pioneering economist Yunus has demonstrated in the last three decades. What began as a modest academic experiment has become a personal crusade to end poverty. Yunus reminds us that for two-thirds of the world’s population, ‘financial institutions do not exist.’ Yet, ‘we’ve created a world which goes around with money. If you don’t have the first dollar, you can’t catch the next dollar.’ It was Yunus’ notion, in the face of harsh skepticism, to give the poorest of the poor their first dollar so they could become self-supporting. ‘We’re not talking about people who don’t know what to do with their lives….They’re as good, enterprising, as smart as anybody else.’ His Grameen Bank spread from village to village as a lender of tiny amounts of money (microcredit), primarily to women. Yunus heard that “all women can do is raise chickens, or cows or make baskets. I said, ‘Don’t underestimate the talent of human beings.'” No collateral is required, nor paperwork—just an effort to make good and pay back the loan. Now the bank boasts 5 million borrowers, receiving half a billion dollars a year. It has branched out into student loans, health care coverage, and into other countries. Grameen has even created a mobile phone company to bring cell phones to Bangladeshi villages. Yunus envisions microcredit building a society where even poor people can open ‘the gift they have inside of them.'”

I’ve linked to things relating to Bonnie Basseler’s work before. Here is a video presentation from Printceton. I’ve linked to the real audio version, but there are others available from the source website here: Lectures at Princeton page

How Bacteria Talk to One Another | Bonnie Basseler speaking at Princeton (video)

Merry Christmas everybody.

-Mr. Timothy

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emailed by Timothy on Saturday 24 December 2005 @ 5:24 PM

Charles Taylor on Religion and Violence

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Good Reads Mailing List | 2005 week 8 number 3 (Charles Taylor on Religion and Violence)


Religion and Violence | Charles Taylor
“Religion and Violence explores the complex relationship among modernity, religion, and categorical violence – namely, violence directed against people on the basis of their belonging to a certain category or group. Professor Charles Taylor will discuss the rising tide of genocide, ethnic cleansing, and terrorism, and ask what connection this phenomenon has to modernity.”
Note: I went to this lecture in November, and these are the notes

Charles Taylor on Religion and Violence | The Sunday Edition with Michael Enright
Real Audio file on the above lecture, recorded a week later (48.53min)

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emailed by Timothy on Tuesday 22 February 2005 @ 4:09 PM

05w05:4 Mumbo Jumbo

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Good Reads Mailing List | 2005 week 5 number 4 (mumbo jumbo)

——————————————————————— Atheism and children | Natalie Angier
“But seriously. I’m here to talk about why my husband and I are raising our daughter as an atheist. The short, snappy answer is, We don?t believe in god. The longer, self-exculpating answer that is the theme du noir is, We believe it is the right thing to do. […] I can understand the literary and metaphoric value of any number of characters from mythology and religion. […] Yet however legitimate it may be to view any of our religious books as we would the works of Shakespeare or Henry James , I don’t take them seriously as descriptions of how the universe came to be or how any of us will re-be in some posthumous setting, or what god is or wants or whines about. So I am an unalloyed atheist by the standards of the mainstream sects.”

Counting Sheep? | Seema Sirohi
“Are American Christian evangelists using the devastation wreaked by the tsunami to spread the word of God – their God? Disturbing stories from the region and fund-raising appeals from religious leaders in the US who want to ‘plant Christian principles as early as possible’ in the orphans of Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India have raised profound questions about proselytisation of vulnerable people in times of tragedy. […] ‘This kind of proselytisation demeans the idea of religious conversion, for it uses helplessness to spread a religion,’ says Ashutosh Varshney, political science professor at Michigan University. ‘A genuine change in conviction remains the best basis for religious conversion and should not be stopped. Few people in abysmal distress can exercise sound judgement.'”

For Tsunami Survivors, A Touch of Scientology | Peter S. Goodman
“‘Volunteer Minister,’ Meyers’s yellow T-shirt proclaims. You do not know the sound that a tree makes when it falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it. You cannot imagine the sound of a wave big enough to clear coconut palms and smash houses into bits. But you now know the sound of a Scientology minister tending to survivors. ‘Feel my finger,’ Meyers says, as he touches the ankle of a man with back pain. ‘Feel my finger,’ he says again as he touches the opposite ankle. ‘Feel my finger,’ he says for hours unending as he probes points of which you were only vaguely aware.”

Fool Me Once, Shame on You. Fool Me Twice… | Mark Federman
“What is actually revealed here is the willingness of so many people to accept at face value, the ‘truth claims’ we are exposed to each and every day, in almost every facet of our lives. Our education system teaches in a particular way, based on a particular syllabus, because, we are told, this is best for the children. Our business organizations are organized in a particular way because, we are told, it is most efficient, effective or provides the best service to our customers. Political decisions are made that affect hundreds of millions of people all around the world because, we are told, this is the way to emancipation, freedom, liberty, and prosperity for all. The operative phrase in all of these – and many more examples that I could suggest – is ‘we are told.’ “

Creative Psychology | Timothy Comeau
“We tell ourselves stories to explain our actions, but those actions are being processed beneath or above the threshold were the ‘PR person’ gets a hold of them. In Zorn’s case I would say that his musical facility means that a portion of his mind has great facility with music, and when it comes time to compose, this is brought to the awareness of the PR person and the part of his mind that directs writing and all that. However, the PR person is at a loss to understand just what is happening, because it doesn’t have the language to explain it. The only thing it has available for his ‘Coke story’ is to fall back on the mystical stories inherited from the time of Socrates.”

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emailed by Timothy on Sunday 06 February 2005 @ 2:27 PM