Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Why does Britain honour those who loathe her?

Twice this week I have been reminded of a peculiar quality of the British. We love to praise, honour and reward those who don't really like us - who may indeed hate us. While Gordon Brown was sweet-talking the Americans, it was announced that an honorary knighthood is being conferred on 77-year-old Senator Edward Kennedy, who is seriously ill with a brain tumour. One might suppose that Mr Kennedy - who was notoriously involved in the terrible death of Mary Jo Kopechne - was an old friend of this country. But he isn't.

During the Seventies he portrayed the British role in Northern Ireland as one of virtual occupation, and even suggested that the majority Protestant population be encouraged to 'return' to Britain. He is certainly a chip off the old block. His father, Joe, was an arch appeaser while he was American ambassador to London during the early days of World War II, believing that Hitler was bound to win, and that 'democracy was finished' here. Ted Kennedy is a rare visitor to our shores and probably doesn't think about us very much.

I have been even more struck by the row concerning the 91-year-old historian Eric Hobsbawm [Hobsbawm is a corrupted name. His father's surname was "Obstbaum", meaning Fruit-tree. He is of German Jewish origin], who has lived in this country since 1933. Mr Hobsbawm is upset because he has been denied access to his own MI5 file, which he had applied to see under the Data Protection Act. This refusal has been described in various quarters as an outrage - further proof, if any were needed, that we live in a police state.

Listening to the row as it has been explained on the BBC, or reading about it in our more progressive newspapers, one might suppose that Mr Hobsbawm was a kindly old gentleman who would never harm a flea. A panegyric by Seumas Milne in The Guardian newspaper called him Britain's 'greatest living historian'. He is almost invariably so described. Mr Milne reminded his readers that his hero is a Companion of Honour. Only 45 Britons hold this distinguished award, whose motto is: 'In action faithful and in honour clear.'

How could MI5 possibly keep a file from such a man? Why, indeed, had it opened one in the first place? In a long list of virtues, Mr Milne mentioned that Mr Hobsbawm is also a 'veteran of the last mass anti-Nazi demonstration in Berlin before Hitler came to power in 1933'. So he is not only a Companion of Honour, a member of the British Academy and, yes, this country's greatest living historian. He has also personally grappled with the Fascists. And this brilliant and saintly man is being denied his rights by MI5 which, Mr Milne informs us, has been involved in ' antidemocratic skulduggery' in the past 'against non-violent political movements'.

It all sounds a very bad business. One is almost ashamed to be British. And yet the truth about Mr Hobsbawm is almost the exact opposite of what has been stated. For most of his adult life Mr Hobsbawm supported the Soviet Union, whose methods made MI5 look like a bunch of amateurs. It is not even true that he always opposed fascism. In 1939 he co-wrote a pamphlet justifying, from a communist standpoint, the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact between Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. Only after Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941 did the Nazis revert to being the bad guys.

Eric Hobsbawm joined the Communist Party in 1936 and remained a member for some 50 years. As an intelligent young man with a social conscience in that deeply troubled decade, he did not have to become a communist. He could have been a social democrat, but he chose Joseph Stalin instead, and stuck with him. He either turned a blind eye to Soviet atrocities, or justified them. He defended, albeit with some hand-wringing, the Russian invasion of Hungary in 1956. He deprecated Nikita Khrushchev's denunciation of Stalin's totalitarian methods. Long after decent fellow communists had disowned Soviet communism, Mr Hobsbawm refused to condemn it.

In his book On History, published in 1997, he wrote: 'Fragile as the communist systems turned out to be, only a limited, even minimal, use of force was necessary to maintain them from 1957 until 1989.' Somehow, he had forgotten about the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.

The British security services would have been criminally irresponsible not to have kept copious records on Eric Hobsbawm. Although there is no evidence that he ever worked directly for the Soviet Union, he continued to justify and defend it throughout the several decades when it was this country's enemy. You don't need an MI5 file to know any of this. Hobsbawm admits to much of it in his 2002 autobiography, Interesting Times, in which he shows little affection for his adopted country despite the wonderful opportunities he has been offered here.

He came to Britain after the deaths of his father, a British citizen, and his mother, in Vienna. At one point he writes with chilling, and repulsive, detachment: 'I refused all contact with the suburban petty bourgeoisie, which I naturally regarded with contempt.' There are other self-incriminating writings and public statements. Most shocking among them, perhaps, was his response to a question put to him on BBC2's Late Show by Michael Ignatieff in 1994. Asked whether 'the radiant tomorrow' promised by Stalin would have justified 'the loss of 15 to 20 million people', Mr Hobsbawm simply replied: 'Yes.'

The old Soviet sympathiser is honest in one sense. He does not attempt to deny his past beliefs and affiliations. To a large extent he does not even repudiate them now. He has never apologised for having championed one of the nastiest regimes in human history - one that rivalled Nazi Germany in its brutality, and in some respects surpassed it. There is obviously nothing wrong with historians holding Left-wing views - so long as they do not try to outlaw fellow historians who have Right-wing ones. The objection to Eric Hobsbawm is not that he is Left-wing. It is that he plumped for Stalin when there were already ample reports in the West of the millions of people annihilated in the Terror. It is that he stuck with Soviet communism long after World War II, and would not condemn it even when the Hungarian revolution was savagely crushed.

Yet despite all this - despite his well-publicised support for an inhumane regime - he is widely treated as a grand, as well as a delightful, old man, whose views deserve to be venerated. I do not particularly have in mind journalists such as Seumas Milne, an intellectual Wykehamist [A graduate of the "intellectual" Winchester College, an ancient non-government school] Left-winger who might himself have walked out of the Thirties, and shares many of Hobsbawm's political beliefs. I am thinking more of the mildly Leftist or supposedly 'liberal' types who work for our progressive newspapers and the BBC.

Billed as Britain's greatest living historian, an accolade with which many of his peers would quarrel, Hobsbawm is feted by the BBC. A few months ago he was accorded a lengthy interview on Radio 4's Today programme. He was allowed to maunder on about the 'incredibly unstable' nature of modern capitalism and, encouraged by a reverential Ed Stourton, digressed on to the failures of globalisation which Karl Marx had predicted. Stourton, in awe, dared not ask the obvious question, which was whether, for all its imperfections and recent excesses, global capitalism does not produce a lot more wealth for many more people than Soviet communism ever did - as well as, incidentally, respecting the rule of law. Nor did he think of asking why Hobsbawm had been such an indefatigable supporter of that benighted regime.

Why do liberal-minded journalists who would normally abhor the excesses of Soviet communism spare a man who was associated with them - and not only spare but often venerate him? Ignorance cannot be the explanation, as Mr Hobsbawm's views are so well known. It cannot be a result of good manners, since they would not be polite to a historian who had defended fascism. The fact is that, however much these liberals may deprecate Soviet communism, they can't help indulging its apologists.

There is a lack of imagination on the part of these enlightened media folk, who cannot easily conceive of how a kindly looking and apparently civilised gentleman could really have supported a monster like Stalin. He has described himself as 'an accepted member of the official British cultural establishment', and that is how he appears. This gentle-seeming, ruminative soul has been a determined servant of the communist cause until recent times. No one doubts he is a considerable historian - if he were not, he would not have been so powerful a figure.

More here

Quotas Come To Charities

It's not enough that more of rich people's income will, thanks to President Yes-We-Can!, be given to the IRS and that the deductions allowed for giving to charity will now be reduced, starving charities of funds they would formerly have received. Now, according to this disturbing article by Naomi Schaefer Riley in the Wall Street Journal, the "diversity" police are demanding that private "public interest" organizations, i.e., charities, philanthropic foundations, etc., toe the new mandatory "diversity" line. Typical of this effort, Ms. Riley argues, is a new report from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy whose "real aim is to push philanthropic organizations into ignoring donor intent and instead giving grants based on political considerations."
The report, titled "Criteria for Philanthropy at its Best," advises foundations to "provide at least 50 percent of grant dollars to benefit lower-income communities, communities of color, and other marginalized groups, broadly defined." The committee looked at 809 of the largest foundations in the country, whose combined three-year grants totaled almost $15 billion, and concluded that the majority of foundations are "eschewing the needs of the most vulnerable in our society" by neglecting "marginalized groups."
The NCRP, alas, is not alone.
Two years ago, an advocacy group in San Francisco called Greenlining began releasing similar reports. Greenlining's aim then was to pass legislation in California mandating that foundations report to the public the percentage of their dollars given to "minority-led" organizations and the percentage of their boards and staffs made up by racial and ethnic minorities. The legislation was dropped when several foundations promised to donate money to causes Greenlining favored.

Now Greenlining has put out reports in Florida, Pennsylvania and New York trying to shame foundations into distributing grants differently, as well as pressure them into recruiting more "diverse" board and staff members. The NCRP report picks up on this theme to suggest that foundation boards and staffs should include people with a "diversity of perspectives."
There a number of problems with this effort to dictate the composition of philanthropic boards and the direction of their giving, not the least of which is the nettlesome issue of donor intent. One of the NCRP's recommentations, for example, is that at least 25% of grant funds be devoted to grants promoting "advocacy, organizing and civic engagement to promote equity, opportunity and justice in our society." As Ms. Riley notes, "[t]his might be a worthy mission,"
but whose mission is it? Philanthropists give money to foundations with a particular cause in mind. And promoting "justice in our society" may not have anything to do with it. Indeed, foundations that redirect funding to match the NCRP criteria may have to violate donor intent in order to do so.

The best way for a donor to make sure that his money is given for the purposes he wants is to choose people for his board who agree with him. Whether these people are family members, co-religionists or old college buddies, what is important is that they share his philanthropic vision.
As we've seen in other arenas, however, those determined to do good with other people's money are seldom slowed down by the inconvenient issue of a conflicting intent, whether expressed by legislators, Constitution-drafters or adopters, or, in this case, charitable donors. (For discussion of other recent examples, see here and here.)

SOURCE (See the original for links)

Peremptory Racial Nonsense

The more I think about the current conventional liberal wisdom (pardon the oxymoron) regarding racial discrimination, especially as that wisdom defends racial preference policies, the more it strikes me as incoherent peremptory nonsense, as in:
per emp to ry, adjective, (esp. of a person's manner or actions) insisting on immediate attention or obedience, esp. in a brusquely imperious way : "Just do it!" came the peremptory reply. [From the built-in Macintosh dictionary]
This reaction was provoked again yesterday in spades (if you'll pardon the expression) when I read this interesting article in the Wall Street Journal on the racial challenge to peremptory jury challenges. "In the interest of fair trials," the article begins,
attorneys can dismiss people from jury pools for dressing strangely, for being fat, even for just looking at them funny. What lawyers can't do is dismiss potential jurors based on their race, gender or ethnicity. Yet, attorneys and academics say, it happens all the time. To root out discrimination in the jury room, critics have called for a radical solution: Get rid of peremptory strikes, which typically allow lawyers to dismiss a limited number of jurors, no questions asked.
So, the current rule is that an attorney can have a prospective juror dismissed for any reason, or no reason, except for race, gender, or ethnicity. That, it is felt, would be discrimination. But these race-gender-ethnicity-based dismissals go on all the time, sometimes with humorous attempts at non-racial justifications. (Among those mentioned in the article: one juror dismissed for long dreadlocks; another "because she was obese, not because she was the only black in the jury pool. `Heavyset people tend to be very sympathetic toward any defendant,' the prosecutor had explained.") As a result there is a move afoot to eliminate or limit peremptory challenges.

The dishonesty apparent in these evasions, however, is no worse than the everyday dishonesty of using the idea of "diversity" to justify discrimination against Asians, whites, and others in favor of blacks and Hispanics. It's simply another example of the hypocrisy required by the determination to make "race-conscious" decisions at every opportunity while pretending not to be engaging in discrimination.

But let's return to juries, because the brouhaha over peremptory challenges reveals one of the glaring contradictions at the core of CCLW (Current Conventional Liberal Wisdom) on race. Consider the following points:

* Racial profiling is bad ... except when admissions officers do it.

* Presumably the reason racial profiling is bad is that it uses race as a proxy for something else (in this case, likelihood/probability of being a criminal). Same with Arabs in airports.

* But the entire edifice of "diversity" is based on the belief that race is in fact a valid proxy for all sorts of things - experience, values, ideas, "culture," etc. If blacks weren't thought to be "different" in important ways, they would not be able to provide the "diversity" to others that is the justification for giving them preferential treatment.

* But if race is a legitimate proxy for "diversity"-providing characteristics, how can liberals object to attorneys being allowed to use it as proxy for one or more of those characteristics and thus peremptorily disqualify black jurors if people with those characteristics are thought to be less likely to be sympathetic with their client?

* Admissions officers say they are not discriminating when they "take race into account" because race is only "one of many factors" they consider."

* But the police and airport guards almost never racially profile on the basis of race alone. They too take other factors into account (young, Arab, male, one-way ticket, bought with cash; young, black, male, fancy car of a certain type, long dreadlocks, Jamaican accent, driving in unlikely place, etc.)

* Defenders of race preferences implicitly, and often explicitly, argue that if it's legitimate to give preferences for other reasons -- athletic ability, legacy status, musical talent, etc. -- it should be legitimate to give preferences based on race. Race, in short, shouldn't be singled out, made a "protected category," walled off and made off limits to either favorable or unfavorable treatment by the state.

* But if race (like religion and to a degree like gender) isn't special, isn't deserving of being a protected category, why not just abolish the anti-discrimination laws, since doing so would undermine the arguments of those who oppose race preferences?

* I could go on, and generally do.

For a detailed examination of the work of one thoughtful observer who perceptively points out many of these same contradictions and then obliviously proceeds to commit them himself, see my discussion of The Inscrutable Randall Kennedy.

SOURCE (See the original for links)

What the Obama Revolution Means for Religion in America

In his successful drive for the presidency, Barack Obama went out of his way to cultivate churchgoing Americans. Obama spoke frankly and fluidly about his faith, he participated in Pastor Rick Warren's candidates' forum at the Saddleback megachurch, he reached out personally and persistently to evangelical and Catholic leaders, and his campaign targeted American religious groups like no other Democratic candidate for president has in recent times. Moreover, Obama and his campaign downplayed his socially liberal views, stressed his commitment to tolerance and civility toward those with whom he disagreed on social issues, and sought to underline the ways in which his progressive policy positions were consistent with biblical faith and Catholic Social Teaching.

Obama's efforts paid off. In 2008, according to CNN exit polls, Obama won forty-three percent of the presidential vote among voters who attend religious services once a week or more, up from Senator John Kerry's thirty-nine percent in 2004. Obama did especially well with Black and Latino believers. But he also made real inroads among traditional white Catholics, according to a recent article by John Green in First Things .

His cultivation of churchgoing Americans has not let up since winning the election. From his selection of Rick Warren to deliver his inaugural invocation to his public support for charitable choice to his recent remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast, President Obama has sought to signal to the faithful in America that his administration is no enemy to religion.

I do not doubt the sincerity of Obama's religious intentions. But while many social conservatives have pointed a spotlight on Obama's socially liberal policies ( repealing the Mexico City Policy, for example) few have paid attention to the likely impact his stimulus, bailout, and economic welfare programs will have. One unremarked and unintended consequence of Barack Obama's audacious plans for the expansion of government-especially in health care, education, and the environment-is that the nanny state he is seeking to build will likely crowd out religious institutions in America. In other words, if he succeeds in passing his ambitious agenda, the Obama revolution is likely to lead the United States down the secular path already trod by Europe.

To fund his bold efforts to revive the American economy and expand the welfare state, Obama is proposing to spend a staggering $3.6 trillion in the 2010 fiscal year. Obama's revolutionary agenda would push federal, state, and local spending to approximately 40 percent of Gross Domestic Product, up from about 33 percent in 2000. It would also put the size of government in the United States within reach of Europe, where government spending currently makes up 46 percent of GDP.

Why is this significant for the vitality of religion in America? A recent study of 33 countries around the world by Anthony Gill and Erik Lundsgaarde, political scientists at the University of Washington, indicates that there is an inverse relationship between state welfare spending and religiosity. Specifically, they found that countries with larger welfare states had markedly lower levels of religious attendance, had higher rates of citizens indicating no religious affiliation whatsoever, and their people took less comfort in religion in general. In their words, "Countries with higher levels of per capita welfare have a proclivity for less religious participation and tend to have higher percentages of non-religious individuals."

Gill and Lundsgaarde show, for instance, that Scandinavian societies such as Sweden and Denmark have some of the largest welfare states in the world as well as some of the lowest levels of religious attendance in the world. By contrast, countries with a history of limited government-from the United States to the Philippines-have markedly higher levels of religiosity. The link between religion and the welfare state remains robust even after Gill and Lundsgaarde control for socioeconomic factors such as urbanization, region, and literacy. The bottom line: as government grows, people's reliance on God seems to diminish.

How do we account for the inverse relationship between government size and religious vitality? As Gill and Lundsgaarde point out, some individuals have strong spiritual needs that can only be met by religion. This portion of the population remains faithful, come what may.

But other individuals only turn to churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques when their needs for social or material security are not being met by the market or state. In an environment characterized by ordinary levels of social or economic insecurity, many of these individuals will turn to local congregations for social, economic, and emotional support. At times of high insecurity, such as the current recession, religious demand goes even higher. Witness, for instance, press accounts chronicling the recent boom in churchgoing among Americans hit hard by the recession. Of course, many of those who initially turn to the church around the corner for instrumental reasons often end up developing an intrinsic appreciation for the spiritual and moral goods found in their local congregation.

By contrast, the more the state steps in to reduce the economic and social insecurity of its citizens, the less likely fair-weather believers are to darken the door of a church on Sunday. Now, to paraphrase Charles Krauthammer, Obama hopes to expand the size of the welfare state by offering cradle-to-grave health care and cradle-to-cubicle education to Americans. If he gets his way, Americans will not have to trust in God, or their fellow congregants, to support an ailing parent, or to help them figure out how to pay for their daughter's college tuition. Instead, they can put their faith in Uncle Sam.

To secularists and religious skeptics, this may seem no great loss. Who cares if Americans substitute "In God We Trust" for "In Government We Trust"? But as political scientist Alan Wolfe observed in Whose Keeper? , one of the primary dangers associated with the rise of the nanny state is that when government assumes moral responsibility for others, people are less likely to do so themselves. Wolfe noted that large increases in welfare spending in Sweden, Denmark and Norway over the last half century have ended up eroding the moral fabric of families and civic institutions in these societies. Scandinavians have come to depend not on family, civil society, or themselves, but on the government for their basic needs.

The problem with this Scandinavian-style welfare dependency is that many Scandinavians, especially young adults who have grown up taking the welfare state for granted, are markedly less likely to attend to the social, material, and emotional needs of family and friends than earlier generations. As a consequence, social solidarity is down and social pathology-from drinking to crime-is up. In Wolfe's words, "High tax rates in Scandinavia encourage governmental responsibility for others; they do not, however, necessarily inspire a personal sense of altruism and a feeling of moral unity toward others with whom one's fate is always linked." Not surprisingly, cheating on taxes is on the rise in Scandinavian countries, both because the social solidarity undergirding these societies is fraying and because men and women-especially high earners-are recoiling from paying the hefty taxes associated with keeping their nanny states afloat (sound familiar?).

The dangers that Wolfe identifies in societies like Sweden would likely be even more salient in America, which has a much lower level of cultural homogeneity and collectivism than the Scandinavian nations. In the United States, as Alexis de Tocqueville observed, religious institutions have long provided crucial social and moral ballast to the individualistic ethos of our nation. For instance, as political scientist Arthur Brooks pointed out in his recent book, Who Really Cares , religious Americans are significantly more likely to give to charity and to volunteer their time than are secularists. In 2000, he found, for instance, that ninety-one percent of regular churchgoers (those who attend religious services nearly every week or more frequently) gave money to charities, compared to sixty-six percent of secularists (those who attend religious services a couple times a year or not at all); moreover, sixty-seven percent of churchgoers volunteered, compared to forty-four percent of secularists.

This is why, even though Obama's audacious agenda might provide short-term relief to the economic and social challenges that now beset us, over the long term the Obama revolution is likely to erode first the religious and then the civic and moral fabric of the nation. Undoubtedly, this is not the change religious believers who put their faith in Obama last November are hoping for from this president. But if the European experiment with the welfare state tells us anything, it tells us that this is the change we can expect from a successful Obama revolution.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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