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Monday, September 01, 2008

"You know that children are growing up when they start asking questions that have answers." - John J. Plomp


My Favourite Periodical:

June 21st:

"Considering its history, today’s Democratic Party remains absolutely obsessed with racial categories in politics. The progressive, modernist middle-class has replaced the economic radicalism of earlier left-wing thought with a sort of ethno-racial determinism. Barack Obama has become the candidate of “history” and “the future”. The Obama phenomenon raises the question of what will happen when the Hispanic constituency, whose ethnic identity has also been carefully cultivated by the Democratic Party, decides it is no longer satisfied with black men or white women professing to speak for its distinct interests and runs “one of its own” in 2012 or 2016. (Does anyone doubt this is coming?) The entitlement disputes will be entertaining, if ultimately dispiriting."

[On gypsies] "Even defining what “Roma” really means is exceptionally tricky. Europe has plenty of marginalised social groups, often with traditions of nomadism and their own languages: Irish Tinkers, for example, who speak Shelta. Their problems and history may in part be similar to the Roma's, but they are not the same. Even within the broad category of Roma (meaning those with some connection to the original migrants from Rajasthan) the subdivisions are complex. Some prefer not to use the word Roma at all, arguing that “Gypsy”, sometimes thought derogatory, is actually more inclusive. The impressive catalogue to the Roma Pavilion at the 2007 Venice Biennale insists that Roma is too narrow a term, excluding as it does “Sintis, Romunglo, Beas, Gitanes, Manus etc”. Even ethnographers find it hard to nail down the differences and similarities between such groups.

Moreover, those more narrowly defined as Roma have surprisingly little in common. The Roma tongue—originally related to Sanskrit—has splintered into dozens of mutually incomprehensible dialects. The sprinkling of internationally active Roma activists have developed their own version (sometimes derisively known as “NGO Roma”), but it bears little relationship to the creoles still spoken in the settlements."

"Furthermore, as Zoltan Barany, author of a controversial but acute book on the Gypsies of eastern Europe, points out, Roma lobbyists tend not to notice that the Roma's own habits and attitudes may aggravate their plight. Speaking off the record, a westerner engaged in Roma welfare tells the story of an exceptionally talented teenage pupil at her country's top academy. She was bound for university and a stellar career, but her family decided that this was too risky: she was bride-snatched, taken to a remote village, raped and kept in seclusion. From there she was trafficked to western Europe, where she is now in a group of beggars camping out near one of Europe's best-known stadiums. Well-wishers tried to rescue her, offering a safe-house where she could continue her studies; she refused, frightened that her family would find her. The result of that is what a senior official dealing with the issue calls “self-decapitation”."

[On Gypsies] "It is unclear how far the problem is race, and how far it is a matter of poverty and other factors. Stop treating Roma as a racial minority, Ms Hawke argues, and concentrate on the poor level of public services they receive in housing, health and particularly education. Seeing the problem only through an ethnic lens is great news for the “Roma industry”, as the campaigning groups are sometimes derisively known. Their activities turn all too quickly into a theoretical, nit-picking discussion about politically correct language, complete with internecine feuds between different lobbies."

"Studies suggest that when a group is ideologically homogeneous, its members tend to grow more extreme. Even clever, fair-minded people are not immune. Cass Sunstein and David Schkade, two academics, found that Republican-appointed judges vote more conservatively when sitting on a panel with other Republicans than when sitting with Democrats. Democratic judges become more liberal when on the bench with fellow Democrats... Voters in landslide districts tend to elect more extreme members of Congress. Moderates who might otherwise run for office decide not to. Debates turn into shouting matches. Bitterly partisan lawmakers cannot reach the necessary consensus to fix long-term problems such as the tottering pensions and health-care systems."

"The home-schooling movement, which has grown rapidly in recent decades, shields more than 1m American children from almost any ideas their parents dislike. Melynda Wortendyke... took her eldest out of public kindergarten because... the kids were exposed to a book about lesbian mothers."

"The racing world is unusually good at mixing social groups, says Kate Fox, a guerrilla anthropologist who has written a book on the racing scene. Gambling is crucial, she reckons, because shared risk-taking creates bonds. A flutter also satisfies people's natural desire for risky behaviour, which might explain why disorder is rare at the races, despite the copious amounts of alcohol consumed by big groups of young men."

June 28th:

"SIR – I attended the recent conference on Islam in Kuala Lumpur and can confirm that the Dutch preference for pre-empting religious flare-ups was well expounded not only by a Dutch lawyer, Famile Fatma Arslan, whom you mentioned, but also by an adviser to the Dutch foreign ministry (“When religions talk”, June 14th).

While groups like the Organisation of the Islamic Conference prefer legal methods to limit “defamation of religion”, the Dutch approach leans less on law and more on an astute use of early-warning mechanisms to avoid social tensions, which could have exploded as a result of “Fitna”, a film about Islam made by a Dutch member of parliament.

The Dutch method puts a priority on moral pressure against extremism from any quarter, and less emphasis on legal enforcement. By refusing to stoke a fire from which hotheads would benefit, the moral high ground was held in this case.

The fact is that using the law to stop all extremists engaging in inflammatory incitements is impractical, if not impossible. Going Dutch is the better way, as many of the Netherlands’ neighbours in an increasingly diverse European Union should realise.

Michael Shank
Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution
George Mason University
Arlington, Virginia"

"AS HEADLINES go, “Politician Breaks Promise” is hardly “Man Bites Dog”. But Barack Obama’s broken promise to accept public funds for his presidential campaign was nonetheless newsworthy... Mr Obama has long maintained that taxpayer-funded campaigns save the candidate from becoming obligated to private donors. Now he suggests that relying on private donors shows moral courage akin to that displayed by those who signed the Declaration of Independence."

July 5th:

"David Paul Kuhn, author of “The Neglected Voter: White Men and the Democratic Dilemma” points out that moral issues cannot easily be separated from economic ones. Poor people fret more about family breakdown because they see more of it than rich people do and its consequences, for them, are worse."

August 2nd:

"SIR – It is not true that Mr Obama “has not…studied international relations”. It was the subject of his major at Columbia University.

Niklas Mattsson
New York"

"SIR – The myth persists that Mr Obama has committed his putative presidency to a firm deadline for troop withdrawals from Iraq, and that this will result in a more or less complete military disengagement in 16 months or so. Not so.

Cutting through the obliquity, which is formidable, his ever-changing “deadline” will be adjusted if realities on the ground so dictate. Even then, it is limited to a withdrawal of combat brigades, leaving behind a large contingent of training units, logistical units, as well as “some” security units. In short a military presence of many thousands for possibly years to come.

Mr Obama has also implied that he will not abandon the Iraqi government until it is stable and capable of protecting its territory. This continuously evolving plan has morphed into something very close to Mr McCain’s definition of “victory”, which is achievable thanks to the very surge that Mr Obama opposed. Plus ça change.

Ronald Holdaway
Brigadier-general, United States army (ret.)
Draper, Utah"

"SIR – You folks come up with some pretty wacko ideas. You often write (and complain) about the problems of the European Union and its enlargement. Yet now you are proposing that the EU should expand to include the southern Mediterranean countries (“Club Med”, July 12th). First off, it is the “European” Union: southern Med countries are not European. I don’t get why Turkey is included (there’s a reason it used to be called Asia Minor). And second, it is not logical for enlargement to continue without any end in sight. Following your train of thought we may as well envelop the whole world into the EU and have one grand party.

Achal Prakash

August 9th:

"The West has printed a lorryload of angst-ridden books about the demise of the intellectual. Political correctness and academic over-specialisation have indeed hurt the quality of much that is said in the media and taught in the universities."

"The sense of success and inclusion is harder to resist than the wrath of the state. Carrots are more corrupting than sticks. This phenomenon is powerfully described in Vasily Grossman’s novel “Life and Fate” (1960). One of its central characters is Viktor, a talented physicist who stoically defends his science in the face of likely arrest, but becomes weak and submissive when Stalin calls him to wish him success. “Viktor had found the strength to renounce life itself—but now he seemed unable to refuse candies and cookies.”"

[On the Friedman Institute] "On June 6th more than 100 faculty members wrote to the university’s president to protest against the institute. Armed with academia’s common weapons, indignation and verbosity"

"The junior senator from Illinois is strikingly self-obsessed even by the standards of politicians. He has already written two autobiographies. He seems to be happiest as a politician addressing huge crowds of adoring fans. His convention speech... [was moved] to a local sports stadium that has room for 75,000... “Couples all over America are making love again and shouting ‘Yes we can’ as they climax.”"

"Harvard Business School [was a] “factory for unhappy people”... so many of his classmates seemed destined for careers that would leave them no space for a happy personal life. He opted for more time with his family, rather than follow in the footsteps of the “Goldman Sachs executive who came to talk about leadership and values…I just remember this look of total defeat on his face when he said how he had four ex-wives.”"
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