Upon the Frog / From: John Bunyan's Poetry for Children
The Frog by Nature is both damp and cold,
Her Mouth is Large,
her Belly much will hold:
She sits somewhat ascending, loves to be
Croaking in Gardens, tho unpleasantly.
The Hyppocrite is like unto this Frog;
As like as is the Puppy to the Dog.
He is of nature cold, his Mouth is wide,
To prate, and true Goodness to deride.
He mounts his Head, as if he was above
The World, when yet
Ît is that which has his Love.
And though he seeks in Churches for to croak,
He neither loveth Jesus, nor his Yolk.
Jesus being kindness and genuine humanism, and yolk meaning the rich, nutritious material stored in an animal ovum that supplies food to the developing embryo, it is clear that Bunyan defines the hypocrite as morally the very opposite of what is good and nourishing, life sustaining and enriching. A hypocrite famishes those who come in contact with him.
"She gives when our attention is distracted
And what she gives, gives with such supple confusions
That the giving famishes the craving.
Gives too late
What's not believed in.. " (From: TS Eliot, Gerontion)
The Contentious Centrist
"Civilization is not self-supporting. It is artificial. If you are not prepared to concern yourself with the upholding of civilization -- you are done." (Ortega y Gasset)
Thursday, June 28, 2007
She is smiling...
"That female is our child's murderer. She was sentenced to sixteen life sentences or 320 years which she is serving in an Israeli jail. Fifteen people were killed and more than a hundred maimed and injured by the actions of this attractive person and her associates.
And remind them of what the woman in the Israeli prison - the woman smiling so happily in the New York Times - said last year. "I'm not sorry for what I did. We'll become free from the occupation and then I will be free from prison."
With so many voices demanding that Israel release its terrorist prisoners, small wonder she's smiling."
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
by: Samuel Butler (1612-1680)
HYPOCRISY will serve as well
To propogate a church as zeal;
As persecution and promotion
Do equally advance devotion:
So round white stones will serve, they say,
As well as eggs to make hens lay.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Ban Ki-moon criticizes UN Human Rights Council for singling Israel out
I have to wonder at what point (if ever) will the weight of evidence break the pretension of promulagating a more civilized world of this ridiculously corrupt body.
Monday, June 25, 2007
Free speech . . .
Hitchens in fine form, here.
Saturday, June 23, 2007
Friday, June 22, 2007
Poor Salman Rushdie ...
Accused of having "blood on his hands" and compared with the "the martyrs of the September 11 attacks on the United States?”
Oliver Kamm has this to say about the more universal aspect of the Rushdie affair:
There is a superficial plausibility to the claims of political moderates such as Shirley Williams and her old (and current) party. There comes a stage in your political evolution, however - or at least in mine - when, faced with the enemies of free expression and Western civilisation, you realise that only immoderation and intolerance will do. Whatever else you may say about Tony Blair as he steps down, you can have no doubt he understands that point and has done for a long time - since long before President Bush took office. That's the most important reason for regarding him with admiration. It was commonly said, in the early days on new Labour, that Tony Blair was testament to the belated influence of the late SDP. But he wasn't: he was much, much better than that.
I do have a problem with the characterization of the decision to award Rushdie the knighthood as "immoderation and intolerance". If that is indeed what Kamm means to imply. How can recognition of Rushdie's talent and achievements be thus described? Isn't this the essence of the democratic ethos, the acknowledgement of the exceptional individual in a society of many other individuals?
As Flemming Rose, here, reminds us:
“The only right you don’t have in a democracy is the right not to be offended.”
These words by New York law professor Ronald Dworkin come to mind when reading about the angry Muslim reactions after last week’s decision by Queen Elizabeth to knight Salman Rushdie.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
I've been collecting material from the internet, from some of my favourite websites and other sites which I often visit, in an attempt to compile a glossary of terms most used these days in blogs and boards that discuss world affairs.
I'm going to post now the first term, as a trial balloon.
On the question of where criticism of Israel ends and antisemitism begins, a commenter on "Engage" provided this simple litmus test:
“If you can't criticize Israel without using an antisemitic stereotype then you are an antisemite.”
I think I can easily and credibly expand this wisdom into a more universal rule of thumb:
If you can't discuss political issues and/or persons without dragging in Jews or Jewishness, then you are an antisemite.
Of course, some people mention a person's ethnicity in a benign way, or as a necessary bit of information that add to our understanding the issue. That is certainly not covered by my definition. My idea refers to the time when a public person is deemed bad, or his politics evil, and within the argumentation is embedded an extra something - gratuitous and malevolent denigration - in giving pride of place to that "bad" person's Jewishness.
As illustrated in the following example:
"… now a misguided madman Jew Lieberman is saying we must bomb Iran.”
Apparently, only crazy Jews advocate tough policies vis a vis Iran, which is why it is necessary to include in criticism of this position the reminder that JL is a Jew when he talks about American foreign policy.
This formulation "Jew Lieberman" cannot be un-premeditated. It is intended to hit a raw nerve, to bait. That raw nerve is this.
Medieval bigots used "Jew" as a slur word, not a term of respect, when they addressed themselves to a Jew. As Shakespeare attests:
"Tarry, Jew: The law hath yet another hold on you."
"Art thou contented, Jew? What dost thou say?"
Now if only the utterer of this scinitilating analysis of foreign policy could produce a few Jewish friends, then of course he/she is automatically cleansed of any soupçon of harbouring any antisemitic sentiments . . .
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Dante, in his descent into the Inferno, reserves his worst, hottest circles for the fraudulent, those who act against their fellow-human beings out of malice and by doing so, work at loosening the very bonds of trust that attach one human being to another, trust being the glue that keeps societies, communities, families and friends, coherent, functioning and benevolent. So in Dante’s Hell, those who gnaw at these bonds, like panderers, flatterers, hypocrites and falsifiers, are considered worthy of the choicest punishments.
Paul Ricoeur, Dante’s junior by some 9 centuries, shares with him one or two biographical traits: They were both brought up Catholic, they are both on a quest for clarity and disambiguation when it comes to the good way in which societie sought to function, and that makes them both, inevitably, interested in outlining a possible understanding of evil and its levels of universal harmfulness.“Desire is innocent”, says Ricoeur. And if desire is innocent, then evil is unnatural, cynical, sophisticated. “Evil is, in the literal sense of the word, perversion, that is, a reversal of the order that requires respect for law to be placed above inclination. It is a matter of a misuse of a free choice and not of the malfeasance of desire. The propensity for evil affects the use of freedom, the capacity to act out of duty – in short, the capacity for being autonomous.” It is interesting that there is a tacit agreement between the modern man, Ricoeur and the medieval bard about the atrociousness of the fraud. False promises are counted as hostile to the rule of universalism and to the respect of the difference between persons.
For Ricoeur, friendship is a corollary of responsibility. For responsibility to be possible, a certain open- mindedness is necessitated centred in the principle of equality and reciprocity. It is a sort of trading off of vulnerabilities. Once we open our mind to the possibility of admitting our potential for being hurt, we can go a step further and embrace the vulnerabilities offered by our friends. That which emerges at that moment of mutual emotional nakedness is what Ricoeur tries to extract and distil from the personal to the universal application of friendship, which he calls “solicitude” or "benevolent spontaneity" (OAA 190).
Out of this transaction of spontaneous compassion with the other, self-esteem is boosted and consolidated. Self-esteem can only build up in response to the other extending towards me, and the other extending towards me is rooted in the principle of benevolent inclination.
To understand the delicate nature of this reciprocity, this mutual flow of responsibility and benevolent feeling so valued between friends, enough to imagine what betrayal of friendship feels like, is like. “Betrayals of Friendship”, says Ricoeur, “tell us a lot about the malice of the human heart. The ruse is a depraved form both irony and skilfulness, a twofold abuse of trust.” Ricoeur places the value of friendship at the centre of the good life. Friendship, for him, is a virtue, which, when tested for its ingredients, we find one important foundational stone among them: solicitude. Solicitude is the stuff that universal human rights are made of. The obverse side of solicitude is rejection, abuse, malice.
For Ricoeur, evil manifests itself in upsetting or reversing, the natural order, “For where the instrument of intelligence is added to brute power and evil will, mankind is powerless in its own defence”. And nothing, he claims, is more natural than the flow of solicitude.
The ancient Chinese sage Mencius (4th century BC), illlustrates what this solicitude means, in practical terms:
This is why I say that all men have a sense of commiseration: here is a man who suddenly notices a child about to fall into a well. Invariably he will feel a sense of alarm and compassion. And this is not for the purpose of gaining the favour of the child's parents or of seeking the approbation of his neighbours and friends, or for fear of blame should he fail to rescue it. Thus we see that no man is without a sense of compassion or a sense of shame or a sense of courtesy or a sense of right and wrong. The sense of compassion is the beginning of humanity, the sense of shame is the beginning of righteousness, and sense of courtesy is the beginning of decorum, the sense of right and wrong is the beginning of wisdom. Every man has within himself these four beginnings, just as he has four limbs. Since everyone has these four beginnings within him, the man who considers himself incapable of exercising them is destroying himself.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
And, speaking of basketcases. . . .
Was Lord Vader really the mastermind behind the Death Star attack?
Disturbing questions emerge when we start rummaging inside the basketcase among the finer cords, knots, snarls and threads of the famous attack, in which "Luke Skywalker and his ragtag bunch of rebels... mounted a foolhardy attack on the most powerful, well-defended battle station ever built. "
Here are some of the most sleep-depriving puzzles:
4) Why has there not been an investigation into allegations that Darth Vader, the second-ranking member of the Imperial Government, is in fact the father of the pilot who allegedly destroyed the Death Star?
7) Why has their been no investigation into evidence that the droids who provided the rebels with the Death Star plans were once owned by none other than Lord Vader himself, and were found, conveniently, by the pilot who destroyed the Death Star, and who is also believed to be Lord Vader’s son? Evidence also shows that the droids were brought to one Ben Kenobi, who, records indicate, was Darth Vader’s teacher many years earlier! Are all these personal connections between the conspirators and a key figure in the Imperial government supposed to be coincidences?
And as commenter Dave, justifiably nervous, notes that:
It has also been reported that the LEADER of the so called “Rebellion” is none other than Darth Vader’s DAUGHTER, the SISTER of the hero who supposedly destroyed the infamous Death Star?? Absurd.
It is absolutely essential to keep an open mind when we are served with "official stories". The essence of true intellectualism is scepticism, and critical, trenchant, thinking at all times!
Hat Tip: Sergeant Schnitzel whose blog address is a tightly-kept secret.
Saturday, June 16, 2007
"Thick and Thin"
In his book “Thick and Thin”, Michael Waltzer puts forth a theory of moral perceptions. There are two types of perceptions that help us form our moral judgments about events in the world, which he terms thick and thin. Thick is judgment and understanding that comes from an intimate knowledge of a certain event and the value it carries. Thick is a complex understanding which pertains to local conditions. Thin is a simple understanding that comes from afar, from both an emotional and geographical distance. Unlike “Thick”, it is a cold kind of caring for the other’s suffering and concerns, of us being summoned to universal responsibility. We might approximate the difference he intends to make between thick and thin as the difference between flat and deep, or two-dimensional and three-dimensional. Thin morality is international; thick morality is domestic.
At the core of Waltzer’s theory is in the argument that the moral centres of the thick and thin perceptions always converge and cohere. In other words, while we may not be fully cognizant of all that intricacies that make up a human crisis somewhere, we respond to a certain “bulk” message emanating from it that touches our hearts and minds. And our understanding is of the same value as the understanding of someone at the heart of that crisis who is fully aware of every detail and nuance involved in it.
According to Waltzer, when audiences in one part of the world read and hear about a great rally in some totalitarian country demanding truth and accountability from their government, what we respond to is the thin outline of “truth” as a universally cherished value. Our support for that cause does not translate into the details of what it means for the protesters to have truth and accountability. For them it might mean more food in the markets, or a better health care system while we, from far away, take it to be a difference between freedom and imprisonment, or life and death. There are two perceptions at work here. Waltzer’s contention is that even though the two perceptions differ in complexity and application, they both share a certain core value.
Our solicitude for other people’s well being is being provoked by our shared thin values.
Waltzer’s theory is meant to provide an ethical underpinning to the idea that humanitarian interventions are hard to do and not always desirable. I am not so interested in his conclusions, because I have a problem with his a-priori premises. His theory of the two moral languages is far from being consistently and perfectly applicable to all crises and events.
In today’s world, interest groups have all the savvy and means to present a case which may on its face adhere to the thick and thin perceptions whereas in fact a little probing reveals that the two moral languages do not share a moral code. To cite an example that is close to my heart is the case of the vast support amassed and demonstrated last August in Quebec for Lebanon during the recent Israel/Lebanon war. The rally was called a “Peace” rally. Prominent, mainstream politicians joined its ranks. The “Peace” in the title pretended that this was indeed a demonstration for peace, peace for the two warring parties which suffered death and loss. However, it was a misleading title and only people with ‘Thick” knowledge were aware that the rally was actually an exclusively Lebanese-Arab mass support for Hizzballa, an organization which boasts of a genocidal charter and the praxis to match. This was no peace rally but its very opposite. So in this case alone, the thick and the thin do not converge in their core but rather present opposite values.
It is my opinion that the same chimera is achieved in ‘The Merchant of Venice”. The thin reading of the play, which is the popular view, posits Shylock as the absolutely irredeemable villain of the piece (Harold Bloom’s favourite interpretation) while the hedonistic Venetians are forgiven for whatever moral failure they accumulate. The thick reading of the play exposes the hypocrisy and cruelty of the Venetians, their contempt for other human beings, their self-serving notions of “justice” and mercy. The incompatibility of the “thin” and the “thick” in the play is just an example of why I find Waltzer’s theory unsatisfactory. We cannot easily tell whether the principle that guides us is good by looking at a single case. A principle proves its sustainability and usefulness in making moral judgments when it could be applied to all similar cases.
The denouement is beyond pity to Rights
One of the reasons I am so enthralled to this play is the way it lends itself to modern interpretation. There is a complexity and intricacy to its structure, choice of plot and characters that simply defy time and place.
M. Ignatieff, in his essay: “The Needs of Stranger” makes this comment’
“Need is vernacular of justification, specifying claims of necessity that those who lack may rightfully address to those who have. Without the language of need, and the language of right that derives from it, the human world would scarcely be human: between powerful and powerless only the law of hammer and anvil, master and slave would rule. The pathos of need, like the pathos of all purely verbal claims to the justice and mercy of another, is that need is powerless to enforce its right. It justifies an entitlement only if the powerful understand themselves to be obliged by it.”
It is taken for granted that compassion flows from those who have to those who have not, from those who are imbued with a sense of power to those who are perceived to be powerless. Ignatieff’s essay takes this popular interpretation of compassion and turns it around a bit, to illuminate the equation from the other end, that of need. While compassion is understood to be a voluntary surge of human feeling towards another, less fortunate being, need is described as a hard lack of subsistence or well-being. There is nothing voluntary about need. Want is undeniable. And it’s this very undeniability of the deficiency or scarcity of some essential commodity that gives need its ethical claim on other people’s resources.
The call of Need is answered by compassion. However, need and compassion are not symmetrically balanced. The assymetry can be corrected by that other surge of human feeling – affection, or its younger brother, Ricoeurian solicitude. In other words, solicitude restores balance between giving and receiving, so that the giving becomes the receiving, and vice versa. So we have juxtaposition between compassion and need, wherefore the one, a relatively full vessel abounds towards a relatively empty vessel. But of course, compassion is not at all as simple as that, nor is need just a lack of something. Taking down this duality a notch, it can easily lurch into pity and entitlement.
How is compassion related to obligation? How can we keep our sense of obligations towards other from deteriorating into pity? How can we demarcate the line between the need and the sense of entitlement?
The flourishing emotions of Love and Affection, stop at the gate of pity. Rights are the expression of loveless pity. Solicitude bridges the gap, furnishes the “missing link” between love and rights, and leads to the larger sphere of responsibility: the care for the rights of others. Solicitude pertains to rights on the moral plan, in the same way that justice pertains to the law on the ethical plan. Solicitude and justice work, therefore, along parallel lines, with solicitude nourishing on the compassion, the mercy, needed for justice to be .. just. If, as the philosophers claim, a human being comes into the world already endowed with certain rights, it is Ricoeurian solicitude that both generates and validates these rights.
I think Montaigne opened up the possibility that friendship can occur between unequals, social or economic or cultural. It is the very first rung of friendship of which he speaks. Ricoeur calls it “solicitude” and I prefer to unsetimentalize the whole feeling by regarding it as a simple responsibility, defined as “rights begin where love ends”. We are not called upon to love and care for all in the same way we care for our closest and most chreished friends. But we are called upon to act on the benevolent instinct that inclines us towards others who are distressed in any which way. It is our responsibility to stock that benevolent disposition well, and make sure that our society does not run on the bare structucture of law and order alone. For a society to be a society, a human convergence of interests and individuals, Ricoeur’s friendship is a must. It is as Portia says, very beautifully:
“… mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy”
Friday, June 15, 2007
The root cause for terrorism in th earab world is its culture of hate. This is what Dr. Abd Al-Hamid Al-Ansari - former dean of the shari'a and law faculty at Qatar University - says, here:
".. our inability to explain the phenomenon of terrorism... emanates from the following three main causes that are common in the Arab arena as explanations for terrorism:
"The first is the discourse of denial... that is, exonerating Muslims from [any] accusation of [perpetrating] terror operations, and [instead] accusing their enemies - usually the Mossad and U.S. intelligence. An extensive sector of prominent clerics, intellectual elites, and the masses are still convinced that 9/11 was a Mossad or U.S. intelligence operation... Likewise, many deny that Al-Zarqawi [ever] existed, and blame Israel and the U.S. for what is going on in Iraq.
"The second cause is the discourse of defensiveness, as manifested in repeated statements that terrorism has no religion, homeland or nationality, but is a transient virus that is alien [to the Arab world] - or that Islam is innocent [of terrorism].
"The third cause is the discourse of justification, which is extremely common in the religious and media outlets. This discourse tries to link terrorism with political factors, international conflicts or internal socio-economic factors - saying that terrorism is the outcome of political repression by some regimes that strangle freedoms and are hostile to democracy or that terrorism is a response to American and Western injustices, to the policy of discrimination [against Muslims], to the blind pro-Israel bias, and to the global conspiracy against the Muslims…
What? Not humiliation, desperation and George Bush are responsible for Arab terrorism?
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
I got 18 out of 20 right. The 2 that I missed, I remember hesitating over them. So I guess I'm pretty good at noticing a fake when I see one. It's a tool that comes in handy in all sorts of contexts (and contests).
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
Monday, June 04, 2007
This is the first time I've actually seen the evidence for the claim that the Muhammed al Durah scene was staged. Many questions remain unanswered but the questions that are asked are very unsettling.
"The Birth of an Icon"
This documentary... examines the circumstances surrounding the shooting of the explosive footage about Muhamed al Durah and his father Jamal at Netzarim Junction, September 30, 2000.
Last Friday I finally handed in a long overdue assignment and today I sent in another shorter one. I worried about them, and at them. They filled up a lot of space in my mind. Now all that space, plus the worry (extra, bonus space...) have been cleared up and I feel like my house must feel when its rooms have been emptied. There is a strange, forlorn echo, a melancholy hollowness. But also an undeniable peace which sure enough will evaporate in no time and a certain restless expectation. Empty spaces, especially in the mind, act like vacuum, demanding to be filled.
I'm now still in the empty phase which is why I cannot tackle the grave concerns of the day, like the impending British academic boycott on Israeli academics and my fear that, due to the media-inspired anti-Israel climate of today, such vile motions will have a domino effect. Canadians are awfully insecure and will follow almost any European trend to prove to themselves that they are not like their closest and so embarrassing , kin, the Americans.
And really, I don't think I have much wisdom to add to anything that has been said by much more erudite and disciplined thinkers than myself, like Martha Nussbaum, or Shalom Lappin or Mick Hartley, or Alan Dershowitz (he is really pissed off!), and others.
So instead, I'll just post one or two excerpts from something I recently wrote about friendship. What prompted this thought is something I found today in my travels on the Internet, one of the most cruel and stupid comments one person can say to another:
"You are one of those people in the world who take up an inordinate amount of space."
And in case you wonder, no, the context did not merit such a friendly admonition, but then, as I quoted before
"There are fair-weather friends and foul-weather friends,
but the strangest friends of all
are those who display
their commitment to you
only when they publicly criticise you."
These, too, I suppose, fancy themselves friends to those they insult. Like Ruben says, they are the strangest friends of all.
Anyway, I want to speak of genuine friendship and here are just a few thoughts:
Friendship is an excellence, characterized by knowing and wisdom that most people arrive at when they are older. When we seek to know, (a human "singularity" which translates directly into the ability to grow), we try to extend ourselves across a gulf, between the known (the self) and the unknown (the other). As though the mind throws out tethered hooks to sink unto the other’s mind, and vice versa. According to Anne Carson, "When the mind reaches out to know, the space of desire opens and a necessary fiction transpires”. Between the self and the other, between the “I” and the “Thou”, that "space of desire", means that moment when alert and curious minds are jolted into acute awareness of and reaching out towards each other. The “fiction” therefore is the drama of the unmediated encounter with the other. It is a rare and splendid occurrence, from which genuine friendship, a la Montaigne, springs forth.
Friendship in our life cycle
Some of our most basic and powerful life choices are predicated upon the presence or absence of two social relationships which are uniquely human: love and friendship. When I say “love” I mean what the Greeks referred to as “Eros”, a desire stemming from sexuality which is a journey to possess, or as Montaigne articulates it: “sexual is but a mad craving for something that escapes us”. When I speak of “friendship” I mean Agape, the cool, well-aired and light-bathed Apollonian love between two keen and kindred minds.
As we progress from childhood to old age, the two concepts, Love and Friendship, tend to change considerably in their importance to our selves and in our life. Friendship is important in childhood. With the onslaught of teenage, puberty, sexual initiation and courtship, Love takes an unambiguous precedence over friendship. As we progress through life, sometime around the midpoint of a natural lifespan, we become aware, yet again, of the importance of friendship as a good, an asset, in our well being. The two forces of Love and Friendship are always present, but friendship becomes more dominant as a perceived goods in the childhood and maturity.
Canadian author L. M. Montgomery managed to capture the wonderful affirmative affect of friendship in childhood in her book “Anne of Green Gables”. Eleven-year-old lonely and orphaned Anne longs for a bosom friend and invests in her friendship with Diana all the fervour and intellectual energy of a child who had no friends before. And what child reading that story cannot relate to the desperation for an ideal friend who both affirms and endorses his/her uniqueness?
And none described friendship in more astute and uplifting prose than Montaigne, from the other end of his life. About his friendship with La Boetie:
“ If any one should demand that I give a reason why I loved someone, I feel it could no otherwise be expressed than by the answer, “Because he was he; because I was I”.
Of the interim period, that comes between Anne’s childhood friendship and Montaigne’s mature one, we can insert Jane Austen’s courtship novels, in which friendship plays a minor role and mainly a negative force upon the happiness of the heroine. Eros and Agape are in competition in her novels and Austen invariably comes down on the side of Eros.
Great friendships that are known for their uniqueness are rare. There are the literary models of Achilles and Patroclus from the Greeks; David and Jonathan from the Bible. There is the real experience from Montaigne and La Boetie. A famous modern example that comes to mind is the friendship between British novelist Martin Amis and writer/essayist Christopher Hitchens, a modern day version of Montaigne’s model of friendship, described by Amis like this: “ My friendship with the Hitch has always been perfectly cloudless. It is a love whose month is ever May.” There is a clear echo here, I don’t know if conscious or intended, of Montaigne’s own avowal of friendship: “The love of friends is a general universal warmth, temperate moreover and smooth, a warmth which is constant and at rest, all gentleness and evenness, having nothing sharp nor keen”.
Martin Amis: You Ask The Questions
More, maybe, later.