Corrections to the blogosphere, the consensus, and the world

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Hoisted from comments

Matt Yglesias has a piece on
The Eurabia Analogy I've Been Looking For

10 Dec 2007 05:16 pm

I was thinking about the tenor of the European debate over immigration issues and how it differs from our own, and one thing I came up with is that it's more similar to an older American debate, focused on the first wave of Catholic immigrants, in which people were troubled by the notion that Catholicism (a religion with hierarchy and authority at its very core) might be incompatible with democracy.

He's rather conflating anti-immigration with anti-muslim sentiment - they overlap, but they're not identical; the current italian anti-immigrant panic, for example, is against the Rom (who do seem, compared to Jews, to have got very little positive PR out of being the subject of Nazi genocide). Still, the quotes from Al Smith and his critics are spot on, and it's also true that his commentators don't fuss about the Rom, leaping directly into explaining why muslims now are different from catholics then -

I remember those bombings by Catholic terrorists in the 1920. The killings of Catholic girls who dated out of their faith by their families.

The riots by catholic youth, car burnings, the whole thing is like a carbon copy of what happens these days.

Well, the specific analogy Matt's making is between protestants taking snippets from papal decrees saying what a good thing it would be if all the world was catholic (and refusing to grant any other faith rights inconsistent with that) and the same process of overinterpretation taking place with muslims. The issue, that is, is not with extreme factions blowing up airplanes, it's with moderate factions being tagged with the taint of sharing totalising ideologies - "Well, they may say they're moderates, but they still want the Caliphate, just like Osama!" Yes, in the same sense that Catholics used to want Catholic supremacy.

Until Vatican II, fifty years ago, all good Catholics held beliefs that, if pressed to the limit, would yield Al-Qaida-like outcomes . In 1945, say, the vatican believed (in addition to everything they believe now about gays and abortion) in ghettos for jews, intolerance in catholic states, and headgear for women. In Smith's time and in Smith's mind the conflict was muted because both sides of American politics accepted Christianity as essentially binding, whatever the constitution said, and the distinctions between the moral codes of each were pretty marginal; (civil) divorce, yes, abortion, no.

Why the difference, then, in terms of car bombs? In general, in Smith's time the theories weren't pressed to the limits, because in general people didn't actually believe with any intensity what they thought they believed. In part because there was a Vatican to react against. If there was a Caliphate anywhere that could speak with binding force we'd soon see it being marginalised by the forces of diversity; but there isn't, so that doesn't happen.

And if we're talking car bombs, some proportion of the deaths down to the provisional IRA have to be attached to its catholic exclusivity. If England had been holding down more than one catholic country the same bombs might indeed have been detonated in the name of catholic solidarity rather than Irish nationalism; they weren't, so it didn't.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Age bin

The American intelligence community has just produced a report saying that Iran isn’t trying to get a nuclear bomb. This is embarrassing for George Bush, who said just a few days ago that it was; but it’s not nearly as embarrassing as it would have been if he’d said it after the report came out. He didn’t do that - but the Age did, publishing in today’s paper both an article by Con Coughlin talking about Iran’s malign nuclear intentions and the Iran report that totally contradicts it.

While embarrassing for the Age, that’s not Coughlin’s worst offence. He also tries to rouse feelings against “the Islamic militias that have waged a genocidal campaign against the Christian tribes that predominate in the south of the country. There are 700,000 people in refugee camps in the Darfur province…” Here Coughlin is confusing the Sudanese Civil War, which did have Christians on one side and Muslims on the other but which ended in a negotiated peace two years ago (see Jeffery Gettleman’s Age article from 1/12/07 – doesn’t the features editor ever read the news pages?) with the Darfur conflict, which is a considerable and continuing tragedy but which pits Muslim militias against Muslim villagers and Muslim rebels. Coughlin is said to be ‘an international defence and security expert’, so this appeal to anti-Muslim prejudice can’t be excused as pig ignorance. Like his idol John Bolton, Coughlin does seem to want Christians to go to war with Muslims wherever they can be found, however flimsy the pretext.
Can’t the Age find any experts who are actually, well, you know, expert?

Monday, December 03, 2007

Age bin

When it comes to book reviews, I’m not a hard marker. I do not expect reviewers to do much research, show much discrimination, or set aside much prejudice. There are doubtless excuses, though I would not myself care to make them, for skipping some of the text of tedious books or for lightly reworking the material in the introduction. At a minimum, though, I expect the reviewer to have handled the actual book. Guy Rundle doesn’t pass this most elementary of tests.

His review (“Being and Nuttiness’) is headed
The comic-strip face of human folly has been bound into a double volume of 50,000 panels. Guy Rundle reaches for the Peanuts.

In the review Rundle says
… it was only a matter of time before they would be collected in full chronological order in two volumes, with introductions by the great and the good - Garrison Keillor and Walter Cronkite. Surprisingly, they bear re-reading en masse.

At the end we learn that
The Complete Peanuts, Charles M. Schulz, with introductions by Garrison Keillor and Walter Cronkite, Canongate, $45, is available now.

A second’s thought would have told Rundle that 50,000 panels, at five a strip, comes to ten thousand strips; at four a page, 2.5 thousand pages. The strip couldn’t conceivably fit into two volumes, and it doesn’t. There are about ten volumes out already, at around two a year, and the series has a long way to go.

This isn’t something you could miss on a quick reading. The dates covered by each volume are clearly printed on the spine and again on the front cover. Rundle might also have noticed that despite his references to The Great Pumpkin, the red-haired little girl, Peppermint Patty, and Woodstock the bird none of them appear in these early volumes; but that would have involved actually opening the book.

This isn’t just carelessness; it’s a firm statement of principle by Rundle and the review section that, whatever the fadwatchers say, comic strips aren’t real writing and don’t deserve the kind of attention that you’d give real literature. The Age wouldn’t give a new translation of A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu to someone whose only contact with French literature was having as a youth watched Monty Python’s All-England Summarise Proust Competition skit, but they’ll hand over Charles Schultz to someone like Rundle who has neither any interest in comics nor any respect for them. My only consolation is that in another fifty years it isn’t going to be Rundle’s complete works that are still being read.

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