You've found Father McKenzie. But are you really looking for Eleanor Rigby?

Friday, October 31, 2003

THREE HOWARDS? The favourite to replace Ian/ Duncan/ Smith as parliamentary leader of the British Conservative Party is Michael Howard MP. This means that, depending how the party insiders and the general electorate vote in the UK, the USA and Australia in the next year or two, future Coalition of the Willing leadership summits might see George, Tony and John replaced with Howard, Howard and Howard. Perfect in power, love and unity...

ADDENDUM: The Anglosphere could have ended up with something even more unthinkable over the past two decades: no fewer than four different Clarks.


From former Power Team member Scott Ward, writing at the Boar's Head Tavern:

Dark Dungeons

Ch ch ch... ah ah ah... It's the...

Third Special Halloween Edition of the Chick Tract Translator

Yes, Ladies and Gents.... number 3 in our week of spoooooky translations of some of the spooooookiest Chick Tracts. So far, we've hit "Bewitched" and "The Little Ghost". Today's guest of honor is an oldie but a... well, it's a Chick Tract. Something that should scare the hell out of you! Get it? It's a joke. Hell? Like, make you want to convert and avo... uh... it's Dark Dungeons.

Our story opens with one of the most unbelievable scenes in all the Chickiverse. We open in someone's kitchen, where a bunch of teenyboppers are playing "Dark Dungeons", which sounds suspiciously like "Dungeons and Dragons But We Don't Want To Get Sued". Around the table, the kids are heavily into gameplay and character building. Someone rolls a +20 HP and the result is a Spell o' light. Here's the problem. As we go around the table, I find, not one... not two... not three... but FOUR females. Four. Out of Seven.

Now, as a card-carrying nerd, I can readily assure you that the chances of getting four teenage chicks from the same neighborhood - good looking ones at that - to hang up their homework, telephone conversations, and shoe shopping, and then replace all that with spending quality time with a bunch of greasy nerds who call themselves "Lothar the Invincible" while they solve calculus equations with their calculator watches... well, it just ain't happenin'. In all my years of nerddom, the only time I've seen four good looking women together was when they were laughing at my Emperor Palpatine costume. Realism, Chickie Boy, realism...

So, anywho, the gamemaster...ess... ix... See? It doesn't even work right. These games were not designed for good-looking women. They were designed for guys with Atari 800's, acne problems, and lots of lonely Friday nights...

"Four out of Seven" sounds like a bad Trek fanfiction character.

Friday, October 24, 2003

UPDATE: I was wrong about this. The "elect two extra members per Legislative Council electorate" deadlock-breaking rule is still in the South Australian Constitution Act [section 41(1)(ii)], even though section 19 of the same Act now says that there is only one single, Statewide electorate for the Upper House. Politically, it's weirdly incongruous -- but all quite legal. Lesson: Check via Google or AUSTLII, even if you are blogging late in the day and running for a bus. Thanks to my colleague John Pyke for setting me to rights on this.


"His [then-Prime Minister Paul Keating's] description
of the Senate as "unrepresentative swill" [...]
exemplif[ies] his indifference to constitutional
niceties and due process".

-- Tony Abbott, The Minimal Monarchy, And Why It Still
Makes Sense for Australia
(South Australia: Wakefield
Press, 1995), pp 109-110.

Yes, folks, there was once a time, once upon a time, long long ago and far far away, when The Oaf Of Allegiance and his party thought it was a good thing for the Senate to block government legislation. When it was a Labor government, you see. Liberal Party governments are so renownedly trustworthy that they don't need an Upper Chamber to keep them in check. You can rely solely on their self-control, and on the threat of the next election.

My confidence -- which, admittedly, wasn't very high to begin with -- in the PM's position paper on Senate reform has suffered the kind of blow that such confidence tends to suffer when a clock strikes thirteen. The following is from Table 10 of the said paper -- "Deadlock Provisions in the State Parliaments" -- in the column for South Australia:

"Section 41 of the Constitution Act 1934 allows the
Governor to dissolve both houses if the upper house
blocks a bill, there is an election for the lower house,
and the upper house blocks the bill again.
Alternatively, the Governor can issue writs for the
election of two additional members for each upper
house electoral district."

Err... There haven't been "upper house electoral district[s]" for the SA Legislative Council since 1973. Since Premier Don Dunstan got his reforms passed, the SA Upper House has been elected at large statewide. I'm assuming the "two extra members elected" deadlock-breaker rule (reminiscent, curiously, of Canada where the Governor-General may appoint additional Senators to break a deadlock) was repealed when SA moved to an 11-member statewide electorate. Don't they have any South Australians working in the OPMC? Wouldn't Senator Nick Minchin have been called in to look over a draft of this Senate-reform paper to make sure it wouldn't disadvantage the Liberal Party?

Given how often John Howard is accused to taking Australia back to the 1950s, it's something of a relief that he and his staffer-chipmunks are "only" thirty years behind the times.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

MY DAUGHTER - OR MY DUCATS? OR MY DAUGHTER? Steven E Landsburg’s “Everyday Economics” column at has a two-parter on why (NB: not whether) having daughters increases the risk of a couple divorcing. (Full disclosure: I have two sons.)

Landsburg offers some plausible explanations: daughters not only correlate to a higher divorce rate, but also to a lower re-marriage rate (among widows as well as divorcées). He seems, though, even after posting a follow-up that involves a partial retraction, to miss the 800-pound gorilla in the living room. That is, boys are harder work to raise. They are more active and more trouble.

Landsburg gets it partly right when he notes that a single mother with daughters might be reluctant to remarry for fear of exposing them to a potentially predatory stepfather. The flipside though is that a single mother with sons might be more likely to remarry - to accept overtures from Bob or Joe at the office, because even though she’s not passionately in love with him he seems decent enough - because she wants a stepfather for her sons. While step-families are fraught with emotional minefields (refer Brothers Grimm), a new man can at least do things with stepsons - take them to sports, go fishing, etc. My limited experience with divorced mothers of daughters, though, is that mother and daughter(s) tend to become even closer emotionally. A new male emotional support for mum is not as urgently sought and may threaten the bond with her daughter. It's all Steve Biddulph-101.


Down this tiled corridor, light does muscular, noisy work. Lasers dig dirt and weld metal. They pound aircraft parts into shape. In Bob Yamamoto’s lab, light devours. He straps on emerald green goggles. A technician stabs a fire button and calls out the computer countdown. “Three… two… one…” Then… nothing. Just a buzz of electronics and an ephemeral glow in this darkened room at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. But inside Yamamato’s target chamber, a block of steel spits flame and molten metal. In those two seconds, 400 blasts of light poured into slabs of clear, manmade garnet. Swollen in energy, the crystal’s atoms then unleashed torrents of infrared light to ricochet 1,000 times between two mirrors and multiply, finally escaping as 400 pulses of pure, square beam.

Kilowatt for kilogram, this is the world’s most powerful solid-state laser. Its invisible beam drilled Yamamoto’s inch-thick steel plate in two seconds. Add larger crystals and it will eat steel a mile or more away. “What we’re building,” Yamamoto explains, “is a laser weapon.”

After sinking 40 years and billions of dollars into beam weapons, defense scientists are on the cusp of what could be a military revolution - warfare at the speed of light. “We’ve made a quantum leap here,” said Randy Buff, solid-state laser program manager for the US Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command. “We’re anxious to get out there and do something.”

No longer are laser guns the stuff of Hollywood and Strategic Defense Initiative fantasy. Instead of laser-guiding bullets and “smart” bombs, the Pentagon inside of a decade could be armed with a beam weapon that is near-instantaneous, gravity-free and truly surgical, focusing to such hair-splitting accuracy that it could avoid civilians while predetonating munitions miles away. [...]

-- From "Warfare at the speed of light", by Ian Hoffman Oakland Tribune (Sunday 19 October 2003). Thanks to Clayton Cramer for the link.

"Limbaugh Says Drug Addiction A Remnant Of Clinton Administration"

WEST PALM BEACH, FL -- Frankly discussing his addiction to painkillers, conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh told his radio audience Monday that his abuse of OxyContin was a “remnant of the anything-goes ideology of the Clinton Administration.” “Friends, all I can say is ‘I told you so,’” said Limbaugh, from an undisclosed drug-treatment facility. “Were it not for Bill Clinton’s loose policies on drug offenders and his rampant immorality, I would not have found myself in this predicament.” Limbaugh added that he’s staying at a rehab center created by the tax-and-spend liberals.

-- The Onion, Vol 39 No 41 (22 October 2003)

Monday, October 20, 2003


No, not that Locke.

Congratulations to Red China, by the way, on getting its first man into space last week. We predict that Mao-Deng-Lenin thought will be able to replicate the capitalist running dogs' invention of beehive hairdos and Rolling Stones LPs by early next year. What's a mere 42-year delay to a civilisation that thinks in millennia? On the one hand, Alan Shepard's rocketship (can't speak for Yuri Gagarin's) wasn't built with slave-camp labour. On the other hand, neither Gagarin nor Shepard had any landmarks in their home countries that are visible from outer space. So there -- chalk up one first.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

"TRADITIONALIST"? OUCH!!! The ABC really knows how to hit a low-church evangelical Sydney Anglican below the purple-and-white belt:

LINDA MOTTRAM: "One of the Anglican Church's leading traditionalists is the Archbishop of Sydney, Doctor Peter Jensen, and he's responded to Martin Reynolds position, speaking a short while ago to our reporter Jo Mazzocchi..."

-- "Jensen disagrees injustice committed against gay Anglicans" (ABC AM, Tuesday, 14 October 2003)

DON'T GET ME WRONG, SOME OF MY BEST FRIENDS ARE ... Professor Daniel C Dennett wants people to use the term "bright" as a happier euphemism for atheists, agnostics and other religious unbelievers. Sort of like "gay" as an alternative to "homosexual", etc. Unfortunately, the term "bright" is already in use. When applied to people, it means "[h]aving a clear, quick intellect; intelligent". And has done for, oh, several decades. (If religious believers sought to label themselves "clevers", DCD would be first to complain.) The equivalent term in Latin has other connotations.

This new Bright Power movement [no, wait -- that sounds too much like a laundry soap] says on its website that "[t]here is a great diversity of persons who have a naturalistic worldview. Under this broad umbrella, as Brights, these people can gain social and political influence in a society infused with supernaturalism."

But the Bright Ones may be waiting a while before they gain political influence in proportion to their numbers:

"[...] a Pew Religion Forum study [...] tried to assess which religions carried the most electoral baggage. When they asked people if they would be less likely to vote for someone because of religion, the big losers were not Jews or Catholics. Rather, the groups with the most political baggage were atheists, evangelicals, and Muslims. (Interestingly, many even atheists didn't like the idea of voting for an atheist.)"

-- "How Prayers Poll: Debunking myths about the religious right", by Steven Waldman, (Friday 10 October 2003).

NOT Jews or Catholics? That'll only last until the cinematic release of The Passion and Luther have caused outbreaks of synagogue-smashing and nunnery-burning across the Western world.

It's not surprising that voters would be prejudiced against supporting avowedly atheist candidates, possibly on Dr Samuel Johnson's principle that if someone believes there is no distinction between virtue and vice, then when he leaves our houses we should count our spoons. [UPDATE: No, I didn't mean to say that atheists are immoral. By the same token, a lot of Christians would not like to automatically vote for every fellow Christian ...]

But evangelicals? America is supposed to be Protestant-dominated. In theory, anyway. Hollywood is happy to show President Josiah Bartlett as a devout Catholic -- provided, of course, that he’s anti-death penalty and says nothing about abortion. Secular culture likes the “seamless garment” view, because it means you can’t ever deal with one problem unless you can solve them all at once. It also means that a government can't consistently ban partial-birth abortions if it doesn't also ban married couples from using contraception. In theory, anyway. But it’ll be a cold day in hell when Hollywood shows, sympathetically, a US President reading his King James Bible for guidance. Or if it does, it’ll only ever be because he’s decided God wants him to nuke Mecca so that Josh Hartnett and Halle Berry have to stop him.

Friday, October 10, 2003

Sheep of Fools

Since the Saudis rejected Australia's shipment of sheep we have the strange situation of 50 000 Australian refugees floating around the waters of the Middle East. Much like the Tampa Crisis except in reverse: instead of Middle Easterners of dubious origin trying to get into Australia, we have Australians of dubious health trying to get into the Middle East. The Howard Government's response to both crises? The Pacific Solution for humans, the Indian Solution for sheep.

Jihad widows keep the faith

Interesting article from the Australian about the widow of a Hezbollah "suicide bomber". . .

In death, Ghandour is hailed as a martyr – the Western term "suicide bomber" is considered offensive – and honoured for sacrificing his life for his country.

So . . . he is a martyr, and this, blowing himself up and in order to kill as many people as possible, must constitute a form of religious self-expression, a form of "Islamic Evangelism" if you will - spreading the message as you spread yourself over as large an area as possible . . .

Thursday, October 09, 2003

A COSMIC "OUT OF OFFICE" MESSAGE. As far as I can tell, this is not a Ned Flanderish parody. Thanks to the Boars Head guys again ...

The Rapture: When all the believers in Jesus Christ, who have been born again, are taken up to heaven. After the Rapture, there will be a lot of speculation as to why millions of people have just disappeared. Unfortunately, after the Rapture, only non-believers will be left to come up with answers. You probably have family and friends that you have witnessed to and they just won’t listen. After the rapture they probably will, but who will tell them?

We have written a computer program to do just that. It will send an Electronic Message (e-mail) to whomever you want after the rapture has taken place, and you and I have been taken to heaven. If you wish to do something now that will help your unbelieving friends and family after the rapture, you need to add those persons email address to our database. Their names will be stored indefinitely and a letter will be sent out to each of them on the first Friday after the rapture. Then they will receive another letter every Friday after that.

This Rapture letter service is FREE and will hopefully gain the person you send it to an eternity in heaven. If you would like to see one of the letters which will be sent after the rapture, click here. This is a personal ministry, if you have any questions or comments please address them to: Thank you and God Bless You!

Your friends'll be just as Rapt as you are .

Wednesday, October 08, 2003


Some of the gems ...

[...] 1. "Dear Bishop Newkirk: You need to act on the problems at St. Malachi's in Elyton--now! Our previously-referenced problems with the Mass here have taken a decided turn for the worse. During last Sunday's 10am Mass, Fr. Dingleman screamed "IA CTHULU FTAGHN!" during the consecration and immolated a ferret on the altar. This happened while auxiliary bishop Newman was here for the annual parish visit, so you can ask him. Afterward, Fr. Dingleman said "greater sacrifices would be needed to inaugurate the reign of the Great Old Ones." Given that the Children's liturgy is next week, we are especially concerned and believe you must do something about this--now!"

This was very interesting. Very, very interesting! Does anyone else notice the problem here? Yes, of course--the tone of the parishioner. Why, if you got such a precipitous, demanding ultimatum ("do something now!"), what would you do? If you didn't tune it out, you'd throw it out! And the diocese gets lots of these kinds of demands every week. Come on, try again--but first with Fr. Dingleman, who's a great speaker! We're people, too--and we deserve to be treated nicely. As the proverb goes, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

2. Dear Bishop Newkirk: Why is your Cathedral hosting a conference by the National Association of Rebellious Nuns (NARN)? Every last one of them has been either excommunicated or disciplined by the Vatican, and amongst the conference topics is "Reclaiming the Office of Cultic Prostitute for Our Time" and "Invoking the Great Earth Mother to Crush the Masculine"? What gives?

Sorry--we just don't respond to e-mail from outside the diocese--it's not fair to us or productive of our time! [...]

Thanks to Mark Shea for that link. Every denomination has its equivalents...

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

AM: "With the world's Anglican leaders meeting next week to try to stop the church fracturing over homosexuality, one of its most controversial bishops has begun a lecture tour of Australia. The retired Bishop of Newark, John Shelby Spong, of the American Episcopal Church, has in the past upset Anglican conservatives by questioning fundamental interpretations of the Bible and supporting the ordination of women and gay men."

See the full transcript for the classic line about Archbishop of Sydney Peter Jensen's conservative evangelicalism: "Peter speaks to a world that, as far as I can see, doesn't exist anymore, except maybe in Sydney."

I don't think it exist in Sydney either - home of the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, liberal Uniting Churchmen who don't find a bit of a blue and of course, the ABC itself.

NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH ROBERT PLANT. To commemorate the recent passing away of 1980s rock legend Robert Palmer (who achieved the rare double of having two of his song titles later used as film titles) I offer the following hymn for use by sincere Arminian, Catholic, Marsilian and other synergist Christians everywhere:

“Grace Ain’t Irresistible”

His power’s undeniable
But if you burn, He ain’t liable
He’s offered you the way to live
But your assent you must first give

Though the angels rejoice, there’s no coercive force
You’re allowed to say “No”, for you’ve got a free choice
You’re gonna stay dead in sin, unless you choose Him …

Grace ain’t irresistible, Grace ain’t irresistible
Grace ain’t irresistible (He’s so kind, He lets anyone say “No” to Him)
Grace ain’t irresistible (He’s so kind, He won’t stop you sliding back – Oh no …)

He’s got a covenant, and He upholds His Law
follows your consent - not comes before
If you should lock Him out, he won't smash down the door
You’re gonna stay dead in sin, unless you choose Him …

Grace ain’t irresistible (He’s so kind, He lets anyone say “No” to Him)
Grace ain’t irresistible (He’s so kind, He won’t stop you sliding back – Oh no …)


His will is not unsearchable
(The Pope has sent the Church a Bull)
Salvation’s offered free to all
And all mankind can hear His call

You must turn now, or burn: so yourself you must shift
Don’t be like those dumb fools who reject this free gift
He’d like to save everyone, but they must help Him –

Grace ain’t irresistible (He’s so kind, He lets anyone say “No” to Him)
Grace ain’t irresistible (He’s so kind, He won’t stop you sliding back – Oh no …)
Grace ain’t irresistible (He’s so kind, He lets anyone say “No” to Him)
Grace ain’t irresistible (He’s so kind, He won’t stop you sliding back – Oh no …)

Monday, October 06, 2003

HUNT MEETS THE HUNTER: Oztraya's Pryminster John Hunt was praised by Steve "The Crocodile Hunter" Irwin last week. A political story that should get front page on, for all the obvious reasons. Ironically, the day before this story broke, I was watching an episode of Kath and Kim wherein Glen Robbins' character "Kel Knight", in the throes of filling out his GST paperwork, repeatedly curses our Prime Minister for inflicting this new tax upon the small businessman. But now The Crocodile Hunter -- who, like US Senator and Presidential aspirant John Kerry, was mistaken by this scribe for a Glen Robbins comedy character when first sighted on television -- is praising J. Winston.

PS. The horrors of Googling to cyber-footnote one's blog-statements ... I [a] now know there's an Ohio town named Glen Robbins, and [b] came across someone else who's wondered what I've often wondered:

"The new Premier [of Ontario] is Liberal Dalton McGuinty. (Where do Canadians get these wonderful, sturdy frontier names – Lester Pearson, Lloyd Axworthy, Dalton McGuinty? They just roll of the tongue with old-fashioned Canadian solidity. ...)"

-- "Evil reptilian kitten-eater wins Ontario", by Hillary Bray

Not to mention Preston Manning and Stockwell Day. You almost expect Fess Parker as well.

Google Search: Laura Schlessinger: "Dr. Laura"

Dr laura Schlessinger seems to be saying the same thing as [below]. . . but in the land of the free and the home of the brave there are always those who hate others expressing their own opinions publicly, and feel such issues must be kept to oneself, and only practised at home between consenting adults behind closed doors . . .

Stop Dr Laura

"Two months and 14 million–plus hits since its March 1 launch, has become one of the most impressive weapons in the American lesbian and gay activism arsenal. Like a cyber machine gun, it has hit its targets with precision: the people and institutions involved in the creation and distribution of homophobic radio talk-show host Laura Schlessinger’s planned syndicated talk show for Paramount Television. The moment people’s names and numbers went up on the Web site, their phones began to ring incessantly, their fax machines began to churn, their E-mail accounts filled to capacity, and all were forced to realize that something was very, very wrong out there — something they each had a role in precipitating...."
"Takin' it to the streets," by Mike Signorile, the Advocate, 2000

Thursday, October 02, 2003

WAS CS LEWIS EVER NOT RIGHT? Warning: the first link is to an article that CONTAINS RUDE WORDS and REFERS TO ADULT THEMES AND CONCEPTS. Nonetheless it makes some points worth thinking about. (Thanks to Boar's Head Tavern for the link. Link requires subscription, but will give you a "day pass" if you watch a short ad.) I cannot confirm or deny how true Ms Marlow’s generalisations are concerning the wider populace. What is striking, though, is how her report confirms what an unmarried Oxford don predicted sixty years ago:

(1) “It was after seeing “Thirteen” and noticing the display rack of handcuffs at Sam Goody on Sixth Avenue that it hit me: The polymorphously perverse, gender-is-just-a-construct future that radical feminists and academics used to dream of has actually arrived. Men no longer have any authority, either in their own eyes or in women’s, the genders are distinguished socially mainly by stuff they buy, and eroticism has fled from the bedroom to the store. It’s sexier for most of us to go shopping than to make love, and so we do. As a friend said when I told her I’d spent much of the weekend in bed with a man, “Who has time for that? The weekend is the only chance I have to do my shopping”. […]

“The collapse of the patriarchy was supposed to make women happy – we were supposed to get more sex, freer sex, better sex, more loving sex and better relations between men and women. If you went to an Ivy League college in the last 20 years or had a professor who did, you probably heard something about this.

“But instead men treat women worse than ever, women are retreating to 1950s notions that sex is something men like, and the nearly successful effort to stamp out gender contrast has made upper-middle-class American sex miserably dull, with or without handcuffs. Men and women are just too much alike stylistically now for much erotic energy to arise from their conjunction. […]

“The new American ideal is an equal relationship, satisfying our craving for justice and for simplicity. When I hear American women in their 20s and early 30s talk about their boyfriends, they seem preoccupied with whether they do 50 per cent of the dishes and whether they spend 50 per cent of the time talking about their problems and anxieties. Of course this is compensation for years of institutionalised unfairness, but it also sounds a lot like a defence against the powerful feelings they have for the men they love. […]

“What’s often lost in the insistence on equality is quality – how the people feel about each other, how much love they can give each other. We now feel queasy about the romantic language of our ancestors, who used the metaphors of slavery and devotion unabashedly. But is there another language with which to speak of love? Love does involve two people putting themselves in the power of each other. We’ve forgotten that what we are looking for between men and women is fairness and compassion, not identity, and there can be justice between people who acknowledge that their balance of power is unequal. The heterosexual act of love does involve women putting themselves literally in the power of men. And we no longer trust enough to do so.”

-- Ann Marlowe, “No intercourse, please – we’re enlightened: Sensitive, feminised and resentful, today’s young men no longer have the sexual authority to please a woman – no matter how much oral sex they perform”. (1 October 2003).

(1) “Men have so horribly abused their power over women in the past that to wives, of all people, equality is in danger of appearing as an ideal. But Mrs Naomi Mitchison has laid her finger on the real point. Have as much equality as you please – the more the better – in our marriage laws: but at some level consent to inequality, nay, delight in inequality, is an erotic necessity. Mrs Mitchison speaks of women so fostered on a defiant idea of equality that the mere sensation of the male embrace rouses an undercurrent of resentment. Marriages are thus shipwrecked. [fn: Naomi Mitchison, The Home and a Changing Civilisation (London, 1934), Chapter I, pp 49-50.] This is the tragi-comedy of the modern woman; taught by Freud to consider the act of love the most important thing in life, and then inhibited by feminism from that internal surrender which alone can make it a complete emotional success. Merely for the sake of her own erotic pleasure, to go no further, some degree of obedience and humility seems to be (normally) necessary on the woman’s part.”

– CS Lewis, “Equality”. Orig pub in (1943) The Spectator (27 August 1943), p 192. Rep in Present Concerns, ed Walter Hooper (London: HarperCollins, 1986), p 19.


Unexpectedly negative comment about Saint Edward in The American Prospect:

"The problem, as I came to believe while rereading his books and keeping up with his columns, was that while my interest in Arab culture had partly been inspired by Said, his work generally tended to discourage readers from conducting their own research. He dismissed authors of any opinion he disagreed with. To him, they were – to use the once-neutral phrase he had turned into an insult – Orientalists, and all too often they were just straight-out racists.

"Said’s enmity toward Princeton University scholar Bernard Lewis is well-known. Other frequent targets included Fouad Ajami and Kanan Makiya. These two are Arabs, and because they couldn’t be tarred as racists, Said retreated to equally unattractive formulations, like self-loathing, to deflect their work. Said contended – rightly, though it’s hard to know exactly to what degree – that these men had served US policy-makers by telling them the bad things they had wanted to hear about the Arab world. Said thus dismissed their work as compromised and not worth reading. It was perhaps an understandable position for an activist whose views were at odds with US policy, especially regarding Israel and the Palestinians; but as a scholar and intellectual it was dishonourable and irresponsible. He should instead have encouraged both his American and Arab followers to read as much material as possible and to engage it all critically and systematically.

"Said’s frequent recourse to charges of racism was in keeping with the general thesis of Orientalism: that most writing on the Arabs and Islam was undertaken as a handmaiden of empire in order to dominate and subjugate the Middle East. Orientalism is essential reading for anyone interested in the meeting of the West and the Orient, but its canonical status, and frequent tone of condescension, convinced far too many readers they had an explanation at hand and needed to go no further. The sad result is that Said abetted the conditions he himself so often lamented: Americans, even the best-intentioned and most well-educated, don’t know much about the Arab world or Islam."

-- Lee Smith, “Reconsidering Said: Edward Said’s moral courage and mortal mistakes”, The American Prospect Online (30 September 2003)

EYE OF THE BEHOLDER. I suppose whenever an author starts writing about bad guys, evil supervillains, and plots to enslave the world, readers start filling in the blanks with their own political preoccupations. Contrast the following two:

[1] "From: David Edelstein To: Polly Shulman Subject: Harry’s End Posted Wednesday, June 25, 2003, at 1:24 PM PT [...] Despite the fact that you and I put in some years at the Village Voice, I don’t think either of us has ever been too comfortable viewing works like Harry Potter through the prism of the author’s politics. Having said that, I might detect in Order of the Phoenix a certain vexation on the subject of the UK’s left-wing peaceniks, who would deny the threat of racial and religious supremacists in the shape of [fill in your favourite Middle Eastern Voldemort], and who would seek to limit money spent on Defence [Against the Dark Arts/aka WMD]. It is only because Harry and his fanatical brigade have trained unlawfully and in secret that they can take on the Death Eaters. But I’m obliged to point out that a smart reader, John Hubbard, takes the opposite stance: He sees Umbridge as representing “the power of closed government unchecked” and Minister Fudge as “our own president believing only what he wants to”. Hubbard is on firmer ground, I think, when he writes that “Rowling eloquently shows how our current discourse isn’t a debate of ideas, but rather a constant questioning of the morals and propriety of individuals”. That’s in line, too, with Rowling’s distrust of the establishment press: It’s a sick joke that one is more likely to read the truth in the dotty tabloid Quibbler than the Pravda-like Daily Prophet. […] Putting aside the one-dimensional villains, Rowling’s politics are either refreshingly nuanced or predictably middle-of-the-road. I find them comforting. She distrusts authoritarians – and yet she’s enamoured of the Great Father Dumbledore. She approves of religious freedom and seems to think miscegenation a good thing, yet she is a teensy bit skeptical of liberal do-gooders. The author clearly adores Hermione, but Hermione’s impulse to liberate the house elves is a mixed bag: It is grounded in just anger at their enslavement; it is also wondrously ignorant of how the elves actually live and what it is they want. (No, this is not an argument that slaves were happier on the plantation. Only that it’s one thing to liberate people and another to help them create liveable societies.)"

-- David Edelstein and Polly Shulman, “the book club: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”, in Slate. com (updated Wednesday 25 June 2003)

(2) "In epic tales, good and evil divide the characters and their motives. In the political world, the opposing forces can be described as those who work for the good of all and those who work for the good of those like themselves. At the end of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Dumbledore, the headmaster at Harry’s school, implores the students to choose “what is right” rather than “what is easy”. In many ways, the principles of liberal America fall in line not only with this teaching but also with other lessons found in the Harry Potter series. Although some reviewers have inexplicably branded the books “monoculturalistic” and even “sexist”, Rowling has admitted to being “left wing” personally and hoped that “every reader will bring his own agenda to the book”. […] With 9. 3 million copies of the book making their way into Americans’ hands, it’s worth asking: Does Harry Potter have liberal leanings? To begin, until the Ministry of Magic – the magic folks’ administration – takes over Harry’s school, Hogwarts, Harry and his friends are never scolded by the headmaster for their insatiable curiosity. Questioning authority and pursuing the truth are seen as positive, even patriotic. […] Hogwarts is not only a haven for the curious but a bastion of diversity, too. Unlike the novel’s more narrow-minded wizards, Dumbledore […] teaches that one should not be judged based on his or her family, breeding or race. […] The values of international cooperation and understanding, liberation of the oppressed, gender equality and interracial relationships are also evident in the series. […] Descriptions of the corrupted politicians at the Ministry of Magic and the Death Eaters (who are loyal to the Dark Lord Voldemort) clearly resemble some of our current American leaders. […] Fudge resembles right-wing politicians again as he legislates to benefit those who hold the purse strings. Lucius Malfoy is a dangerous member of the magic community with bad principles and a lot of money. When he moves, the gold coins clink in his robes, reminding those around him of his power to buy and sell at will."

-- Ashley Glacel, “Paranormal Progressivism The eerie similarities between Harry Potter’s politics and ours”, The American Prospect Online (22 August 2003)

Obviously Voldemort represents Dubya, and obviously Voldemort represents Saddam. You pays your Galleons and you makes your choice.

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Yahoo! News - Saudi Weds Four in One Ceremony to Spite Ex-Wife: "RIYADH (Reuters) - A Saudi man married four women in one night only to prove to his estranged first wife that he was still attractive, a newspaper reported on Saturday.

After the failed marriage which only lasted several months, the man's wife told him that 'no woman would ever marry him,' al-Watan newspaper said.
'So he swore to marry four women just to prove her wrong,' it said.

Polygamy is relatively common in Saudi Arabia, a conservative society with deep Islamic and tribal roots. Under the country's Islamic law, men are allowed to marry up to four wives at the same time. " - News -Madonna Smooches With Britney And Christina; Justin, Coldplay Win Big At VMAs

Finally we have a rapprochement between America'a Protestants and Catholics, in the form of Southern Baptist Britney Spears and tactical Catholic Madonna, with a "right relationship" that Australia's Uniting Church would approve of! A strengthening of American catholicism and its Latin American counterpart was also sealed with a kiss between Madonna and Christina Aguleira. Theological divides will at last be healed with the ecumenical wedding of the three parties, and their co-elevation to the ministry.