Posts from July 16, 2005

What a Goofy idea

Here’s the dumbest idea for a podcast I’ve heard yet: Listen to Disney extolling the wonders of Disneyworld. What’s next: The Ron Popiel knife podcast? The hold-music podcast? The subway announcements podcast? The annoying car alarm podcast? The Dell excuses in a foreign accent podcast? The Rush Limbaugh podcast?

What a Goofy idea

What a Goofy idea

: Here’s the dumbest idea for a podcast I’ve heard yet: Listen to Disney extolling the wonders of Disneyworld. What’s next: The Ron Popiel knife podcast? The hold-music podcast? The subway announcements podcast? The annoying car alarm podcast? The Dell excuses in a foreign accent podcast? The Rush Limbaugh podcast?

Tolerating intolerance

Leon de Winter, a Dutch novelist and wise, wry social critic (or so I think, having read a few of his novels translated into German), writes in today’s New York Times about the death of the historic Dutch culture of tolerance, in the wake of the murders of Theo van Gogh and Pim Fortuyn.

The terrible irony is that tolerance, fully exercised, ends up enveloping intolerance.

For centuries the Netherlands has been considered the most tolerant and liberal nation in the world. This attitude is a byproduct of a disciplined civic society, confident enough to provide space for those with different ideas. It produced the country in which Descartes found refuge, a center of freedom of thought and of a free press in Europe.

That Netherlands no longer exists.

The murder last year of the filmmaker Theo van Gogh, whose killer was convicted this week, and the assassination of the politician Pim Fortuyn in 2002 marked the end of the Holland of Erasmus and Spinoza.

No, the Dutch suddenly did not become intolerant and insular. But these killings showed the cumulative effect of two forces that have shaken the foundations of Dutch civic society over the last 40 years: the cultural and sexual revolution of the 1960’s and 70’s and the influx of Muslim workers during those years of prosperity….

When they came to the country, often under long-term government work visas, they were faced with a highly educated but apparently decadent society in the grip of a cultural revolution. Many were astonished: was this country some sort of freak show?

No, it certainly wasn’t. Under the effusive “anything goes” exterior, the majority of Dutch people held on to their disciplined Calvinist values. To the immigrants, however, this core was all but invisible….

And thus the delicate mechanism of Holland’s traditional tolerant society gradually lost its balance. The news media, politicians and artists gnawed away at the traditional values of Calvinistic civic society, while in the bleak Muslim suburbs resentment grew among the Moroccans’ Dutch-born children, who found the promise of an affluent life unfulfillable.

Meanwhile, the news media and politicians maintained an unofficial ban on any discussion of the problems of immigration: after all, in progressive Holland only socioeconomic problems were admissible. It was simply not acceptable to discuss problems relating to religion and culture.

: LATER IN BRITAIN: See, too, Michael Portillo in The Sunday Times of London arguing that mindless multiculturalism is over:

Tolerance was clearly never meant to mean that Britain should allow those with roots outside the country to flout human rights and the laws of the land on the pretext that things were done differently where they came from. The Ayn Rand Institute is right to say that it is dangerous nonsense to pretend that all cultures are morally equivalent. Such sloppy thinking corrodes our ability to distinguish good from evil.

It is tempting in a tolerant society to want to see other people’s point of view. If Islam has thrown up its extremists, we can recall the excesses committed over centuries in the name of Christianity. We can understand that a devout Muslim might find western society licentious and irreligious. But the time for sophistry has passed. Our citizens and our society are under threat from those who believe that difference is a justification for terror and murder. Our country has the right to assert its values and require from everyone living here compliance with our laws and respect for our standards.

Britain’s woolly thinking about multiculturalism has helped to make us vulnerable.

: See also a Sunday Times of London editorial on tolerating intolerance:

We cannot know whether the bombers were driven by the incitement of others. What we do know is that Britain has for too long been tolerant of the messengers of hate, many of whom have been foolishly admitted from abroad. Action will now be taken. It is a pity that it took the deaths of more than 50 innocents to bring it about.

: MORE FROM BLAIR: Tony Blair addresses his party on tolerance and staying the course:

The Prime Minister hit back at suggestions that the London atrocities were linked to injustices in the Middle East, saying it was the ‘almost-devilish logic’ of extremists to play on western guilt.

Their propaganda was clever and sophisticated, he told an audience of Labour party delegates in London: ‘It plays on our tolerance and good nature; it exploits the tendency to guilt of the developed world – as if it is our behaviour that should change, that if we only tried to work out and act on their grievances, we could lift this evil; that if we changed our behaviour, they would change theirs.

‘Their cause is not founded on injustice. It is founded on a belief, one whose fanaticism is such that it can’t be moderated. It can’t be remedied. It has to be stood up to.’

Just in time for Harry Potter

Know how the papers they read in Harry Potter movies have moving images. Well, now Fujitsu introduces electronic paper that can show moving images even while bent. [via B&C]

Angry young men

When it turned out that the London bombings were carried out by four young Muslim men born in England, it seemed to give a lie to Tom Friedman’s theory that Muslim terrorism sprouts from the anger of young men in Arab nations who have no hope of economic prosperity and freedom.

Here were young men who may not have been born into Windsor Castle, but they were living in a land of freedom and opportunity. So how can they be portrayed as anything other than what they are: murderers?

Well, today, The Times tries to continue portraying them as angry young men.

“I don’t approve of what he did, but I understand it. You get driven to something like this, it doesn’t just happen.”

To the boys from Cross Flats Park, Mr. Tanweer, 22, who blew himself up on a subway train in London last week, was devout, thoughtful and generous. If they understood his actions, it was because they lived in Mr. Tanweer’s world, too.

They did not agree with what Mr. Tanweer had done, but made clear they shared the same sense of otherness, the same sense of siege, the same sense that their community, and Muslims in general, were in their view helpless before the whims of greater powers. Ultimately, they understood his anger.

The news that four British-born Muslim men from neighborhoods around Leeds were suspected of carrying out the bombings in London has made the shared dissatisfaction of boys like these and the creeping militancy of some young British Muslims an urgent issue in Britain.

The bombers are an exception among Britain’s 1.6 million Muslims. But their actions have highlighted a lingering question: why are second-generation British Muslims who should seemingly be farther up the road of assimilation rejecting the country in which they were born and raised?

The problem with that analysis is that though it does not justify their actions — it tries to understand them — it gives a tacit logic, even a justification, to the horribly illogical, unjustifiable, uncivilized crime.

What they did is a crime. That’s all it is, nothing more. A crime.

But when we treat it as something else, when we try to understand it, when we grant the veil of political correctness — of understanding, even tolerance, invoking fuzzy words like “otherness” — we risk spreading the crime, making it if not acceptable then at least understandable for others. It is a cousin of glamorizing crime, of turning these scum into ideological, religious Bonnies and Clydes.

Well, not Bonnies… Which brings up an entirely different question: If terrorism is caused by anger, then wouldn’t the women of the Middle East be far more likely to turn into terrorists, since they are even more oppressed than their brothers and husbands, who are also their oppressors?

So is it about anger at all? Or is it just a crime? And shouldn’t we treat it as that? A crime.

Do we justify vehicular manslaughter under the influence of alcohol because alcoholism is a disease? No, we treat the act as a crime and slap the killer in jail.

Do we tolerate corporate fraud because the perpetrator was raised in a culture of competition, success, and greed> No, we treat the act as a crime and slap the thief in jail.

Now it’s fine to understand these acts insofar as it helps stop them. Yes, we must understand our enemies to defeat them. And, yes, sometimes we must understand the causes to eliminate those causes — and I’d argue that supporting democracy in the Middle East is just that.

But that’s not what’s happening in the efforts to understand why these young men did this terrible thing in London. This is not a military analysis aimed at finding and killing the enemy before he kills again. This is a sociological effort to understand them. And it begins with the presumption that we should accept their anger as as real.

Well what the hell do they have to be angry about? They’re fed. They’re free. They’re educated. They have health care. They can say and go where they want. Having problems with bullies on their playgrounds, are they? Well, don’t we all? But we don’t turn into Columbine killers or London bombers or Baghdad bombers who target children or the perpetrators of September 11th. Nothing justifies that. Nothing makes that understandable.

Do we try to understand the BTK killer? Not really. Oh, we try to justify the sensationalistic coverage of the case in the media. But no one truly tries to understand him and justify what he did. No one asks whether he was angry (or, as it turns out, horny). We know he is a deranged killer and that’s how we treat him. We rejoice at catching him; we throw him in prison; some regret that we can’t kill him; and we shake our heads at what a horrid person he is. We disdain him.

Well, these are crimes carried out by horrid criminals as well.

They are not insurgents. They are not even terrorists. I am coming to think it is wrong to give them even that bit of explanation and justification.

They are just murderers.

Are they angry? Why even ask?


Yes, to call them “terrorist” gives them too much justification.

Look at it this way: Would you have tried to understand Edgar Ray Killen, the convicted Ku Klux Klan killer in the Mississippi Burning murders? Would you have explained his cultural shame at losing the Civil War and called him an insurgent or a militant or even a terrorist? Would you have blamed his grandparents for teaching him to have no respect for black people? Or would you simply condemn his hate and his act? The answer, of course, is C. So why should it be any different when condemning the crimes of these murderers?


A suicide bomber in a fuel truck blew himself up beside a Shiite mosque on Saturday evening in a town south of Baghdad, killing at least 58 people and wounding 86, the police said.

And what separates this from the bombing of a Mississippi black church?

Murder is murder.