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Monday, February 28, 2005

Discover the Nutjobs

Former member of the Far Left, current member of the Far Right, and eternal jerk David Horowitz has compiled a new site entitled Discover the Network which purports to be "A Guide to the Political Left". Beyond it's shockingly pompous title, this is one of the more ludicrous smear tactics to come out of the right for a while. David Horowitz has built a career out of being a provocateur, but this is just pathetic, delusional nonsense, and it makes Daniel Pipes's smear-tastic Campus Watch site look professional.

Ayatollah Khomeini is a leftist? Christ, pull the other one. I wonder what the genuine Iranian leftists that Khomeini dispatched by the thousands would think of such drivel.

Utter, utter horseshit.

|| RPH || 5:43 AM || |

The Chav

Most of my non-British readers are probably unaware of the word 'chav'. The chav is basically the new word to describe young members of the white underclass, and has become the center-point of a raging media controversy.

The concept of 'the chav' is not a new one, although it seems to have become the hot descriptive word. For instance, when I lived in Scotland the terms used for a young guy in a tracksuit with a baseball hat, an attitude, and copious amounts of jewelry included 'neds', 'bams', 'jakeys', and 'schemies' (from 'housing schemes', which is what the Scots call their housing projects). In other regions of the UK there are other terms, including 'scally' in northwestern England, 'charver' in northeastern England, 'spides' in Northern Ireland, and a whole plethora of terms in London and the South-East that I remember from when I was at school, including 'rudes', 'kevs' (as so many of them seem to be named Kev), 'townies', and 'pikeys'. Pikey was originally a term of abuse for gypsies, but has over time become a general insult for poor, rough whites. 'Chav' as far as I can tell, started out as one of the regional variations, originating in Chatham, Kent. Yet it, alone of all the terms, has somehow hit the zeitgeist, perhaps as a result of the huge success of websites like 'Chav Scum' and 'Chav Spotting'.

Recently there was a program on Sky One hosted by Julie Burchill that has attracted a lot of commentary. I haven't seen it, but apparently Burchill spent most of the show excoriating the middle classes for their snobbery and celebrating the chav as an embodiment of working-class resistance to the Establishment. So, in response, the conservative British bloggers Laban Tall and Blimpish have said that the issue with chavs, why they should not be celebrated, is that criticisms are not snobbery, but based on deeper contentions. As Blimpish said:

"What Burchill and her Chav Chic chums seemed to entirely be missing in their analysis is the notion of respectability. Yes, this country has always had a working class and it has always had its rougher side. On the whole though, certainly from mid Victorian times, the English working classes did not pride themselves on living to that rough side. Historically, the English working classes were possessed of a hardy moral puritanism, after all - morals were something that they tended to look down on the middle classes for.

Here is where they miss the importance of the sixties (first) and then the Thatcher episode: not that it was a betrayal of the working class, but the end of it. The sixties ruined working class respectability, and the eighties allowed many of the respectable working classes (including my former council house-dwelling family) to become lower middle class, as most did. If Julie Burchill were twenty years younger, her salt-of-the-earth trades unionist Dad would doubtless have been one of these people, and we would be saved with the chip on her shoulder. The problem with this is that the remaining working class were robbed of their culture of respectability and many of their natural leaders - they were left condemned to anarchy. Thus, Chavdom."

Now, as I said before, I haven't seen the show to which they are making reference, but I don't really believe this argument. Not because I disagree with the content of this critique, but because I don't think that this is what people are talking about when they make fun of chavs. From my time living in Britain, when people made fun of chavs/neds/scallies/whatever it would almost invariably be about how they were dressed and how they spoke, as well as things like what kind of food they ate, what they drank, what names they gave their children, their hairstles, their home decorating tastes, and the growing of terrible-looking bum-fluff moustaches to accompany the riot man-made fibers they clothe themselves in. This are not serious or important issues. Most criticism of chavs, in my experience, has nothing to do with serious-minded critiques of the annihilation of the traditional British working class and everything to do with sneering at the oiks.

|| RPH || 12:35 AM || |

Saturday, February 26, 2005

A Bunch of New Stuff at Pearsall's Tunes

I've done a bit of writing at Pearsall's Tunes. Worth a look.

Oh, and read Anatol Lieven on Bush-style American nationalism, an article I will return to tomorrow.

|| RPH || 2:21 AM || |

Thursday, February 24, 2005

A Couple Of Good Things On Open Democracy

Open Democracy is one of my favorite sites, and recently they've published a couple of articles on the Middle East that I think are well worth reading for anyone interested in the region.

First off, "Rafiq Hariri’s murder: why do Lebanese blame Syria?" by Haziem Saghieh, on the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.

In the post-11 September 2001 era, the moderate Rafiq Hariri was in principle the politician most able to act as mediator between Syria and the west. In practice, Syria’s “rational” rulers chose to extend Emile Lahoud’s presidency – and in so doing, struck both Hariri and the west with a single blow.

Their action reveals a deep, irreconcilable contradiction between two political choices embodied by the figure of Rafiq Hariri and the military regime in Damascus. The first is motivated by “building” a nation-state, the second is obsessed by keeping it annexed and subjugated; the first is driven by life and openness to the world, the second by death, martyrdom and (its brotherhood with Iran excepted) isolation.

The other must-read is "Talking to Terrorists in Gaza" by Mient Jan Faber, a Dutch expert in conflict resolution. I find it to be quite a fascinating article because, although I am not particularly religious, my world view is profoundly shaped by the Calvinist Protestantism ideas that are at the core of Faber's beliefs, and so it is interesting to see how this world view interacts with other ideas of the world.

I went to a small room in a little old house. There I sat with Sheikh Yassin, who was in his wheelchair. As visitors entered, they fell to their knees and kissed his hand as if he were a god.

He began to tell me how bad the Israelis were. After a while I stopped him. I said that I wanted to talk about his principles. I found that I had to explain this. I told him that I was a Calvinist and that though I had learned that people can do good, I also knew that they had a lot of evil inside them. I told him I believed you had to set yourself limits and that I called these limits “personal ethics”. I asked him if this idea of “personal ethics” was also present in Islam. He started talking about Israel again.

I said that I understood that Israel’s policies could not be justified but I asked him again: “Despite everything, despite what Sharon is doing, do you ever think personally about the two sides, do you ever question yourself and whether you can be responsible for sending suicide-bombers and their victims to their deaths?”

He had no clue what I was talking about.

How could he not understand the idea of personal ethics? It was something I thought was so clear.

I thought perhaps he was joking or lying but the people around him also found the question strange. I realised that nobody had ever asked the question in this way before.

|| RPH || 2:22 AM || |

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Demography and the Future, Part Two

This is shockingly late, but life has intervened over the last couple of weeks. Anyways this is the second in a three-part series on the Richard Kurtz article "Demographics and the Culture War". Part one can be seen here.

In the comments at GNXP to the first part of this series David B said, "As a general comment, I don't share the common assumption that population growth and economic growth are necessarily desirable. We seem to have gone from over-anxiety about a population explosion to over-anxiety about a declining population without an intervening state of sanity!" It's a fair point, and I don't want to come across as a "the sky is falling! Argh!" type of doom-monger, but I do think that sub-replacement fertility is an issue of legitimate concern, something that public policy has to deal with.

I must admit to being unconvinced by some of the comments that ran along the lines of, "don't will save us." This is, I think, an unwise course of action. It's not that I doubt that there will be major scientific advances in my lifetime, simply that I think it's quite difficult to be sure as to what form these innovations will take before the fact, and predicting their potential social, economic, and political impacts is an even murkier business. As a graphic example, all you have to do is look back at predictions made in the 1950's and 60's about the scientific/technological situation of the early 21st century to see how wrong people were about so many things. In the intervening period no one has come up with a fool-proof way of seeing into the future, so I think that public policy approaches to dealing with sub-replacement fertility and (possibly) naturally declining populations have to proceed on the basis of currently available technologies and knowledge, while being flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstances.

At this point, though, I should insert a caveat. Just as no one can accurately predict what technologies will be available to us when (and what their effect on society will be) so demographic predictions beyond a couple years in the future are no more than educated guessing. It is impossible to predict future events or social, political, or cultural shifts before the fact, so all predictive demographic timelines assume unchanging circumstances. If there's one thing that history has shown, it is that circumstances change, and they can change very rapidly. Even quite short-term predictions as to future compositions can turn out to be wrong. An example: in 1993 the Jennifer Cheeseman Day of the US census board issued a population projection that predicted that the non-Hispanic white population of the United States would be slightly under 72% in 2000. As it turned out, the non-Hispanic white population was slightly over 69%, the result of higher than expected immigration from Latin America and Asia.

So, why do I think that sub-replacement fertility, at least as it currently stands, poses serious questions about the future? At heart, I think that my most serious concerns surround economic issues. The most obvious economic side effect that everyone knows, and worries, about is the probability that, under current conditions at least, the major state pension schemes of the industrial world will collapse under the dual strain of caring for ever-larger proportions of retired people who, due to medical advances, are living longer anyways. Obviously, this is a political issue that has been playing an increasingly large role in public debate throughout the industrial world over the last several years, and Kurtz does discuss it. However, he also raises what I think is a more pertinent question: is capitalism itself equipped to cope with national populations where those of working age make up an ever-smaller percentage of the population?

Population growth...drove the Industrial Revolution, and there has never been economic growth under conditions of population decline. Thus, for example, he ascribes Japan’s current economic troubles to its declining fertility. And though Longman doesn’t point to Germany, it is interesting to note that this particular low-fertility country is also struggling economically to the point of revisiting the famously shorter European work week — a phenomenon obviously related to the struggle to reduce the pensions promised to an aging population and premissed on more younger workers than actually came to exist.

Both Longman and Wattenberg raise the question of whether markets need population growth in order to thrive. As Wattenberg puts the point, it hardly makes sense to invest in a business whose pool of potential customers is shrinking. That much might be true, even if entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare were fully funded. But Social Security and Medicare are not fully funded. On the contrary, America’s massive unfunded entitlement programs have the potential to spark a serious social and economic crisis in the not too distant future. And the welfare state in the rest of the developed world is on even shakier economic ground.

The section I've highlighted is, I believe, the essential point, perhaps the single most important thing in the entire article. It is a point so intuitive, so obvious, and yet so often it is not made when discussing the possible impact of declining fertility. How will the economic systems of the capitalist world react to a shrinking population?

Who, indeed, would want to invest in a business where the pool of potential customers is shrinking? In individual cases it might make sense, for instance in those businesses that make the move from mass-market to luxury goods, but for the overall economy it seems like a road fraught with difficulty.

One solution that has been floated is that of continued immigration. Indeed, America's high rate of immigration (as well as relatively high fertility rate) is the main reason that its population is projected to grow by around 50% between 2000 and 2050, unlike European and East Asian nations that will see essentially stable and possibly actively shrinking populations. For America, Canada, and, probably, Australia, continued high levels of immigration are probably enough to offset the effects of declining fertility and an aging population, but I seriously doubt that it will be politically possible to let in the necessary numbers of immigrants to the various European nations and Japan. In their case, other solutions will have to be found.

One thing to remember in regards to immigration is that fertility decrease is not happening just in Europe and the other major industrial nations, but virtually everywhere else. Many nations still have above-replacement fertility, but TFR rates have been consistently dropping over the last several decades and it is not hard to imagine that countries like, for example, Mexico or Turkey will follow the major industrial nations to below replacement fertility. Assuming that this process continues unabated, where is the rich world going to source its immigrants from?

|| RPH || 1:46 AM || |

Wednesday, February 09, 2005


Just as a quick thing while I work on part two of 'Demography and the Future,' here's a couple of updates to some of my older posts:

"Islamism in Malaysia?" - Part three of Dr. Farish I. Noor's series "Malaysia's Homegrown Taliban: Is this the Future of 'Moderate' Islam in Malaysia?"

"Max Schmeling, 1905-2005" - Nathanael from The Rhine River blog links to an interesting PBS documentary on Max Schmeling.

"A Good Weekend for Blog Ranting" - Ward Churchill, self-appointed voice of the red man and the guy who called those who died on the September 11th attacks "little Eichmanns", isn't an American Indian.

|| RPH || 7:00 PM || |

The Mob and Richard Desmond

There was a pretty fascinating story yesterday on the Village Voice site about the Daily Express owner Richard Desmond's conflict with the Gambino crime family of New York in the early 90's.

It's well worth reading the whole thing, but here's an excerpt:

The story, as gleaned from sources and records, goes something like this:

It began in an unlikely place, for a mob tale anyway, at the posh Four Seasons Hotel in London, overlooking Hyde Park. The hotel is famous for its high teas. Diners sit on silk sofas; tea and scones are served on silver trays. In late September 1992, three men sat in the tea room conversing. One was a wealthy British press baron named Richard Desmond, whose holdings included several sex magazines, including the British edition of Penthouse magazine. He has since become the owner of the Daily Express and the Sunday Express, two of Britain's biggest tabloids. Across from him were a couple of Yanks: Norman Chanes, dapper and elegant, was the proprietor of a New York firm that placed ads in Desmond's publications; Richard Martino, a little rougher around the edges, owned companies that earned millions every month from dial-a-porn and other products.

Two years earlier, Martino had reportedly walked down a flight of stairs to the basement of a Top Tomato outlet in Manhattan and had his finger pricked by an old-timer, while another mumbled in Italian, making him a member of the Gambino crime family. He was "a monster earner," according to a government informant, so good at making money that he may have been one of the few admitted to the mob without having to commit the initiation rite of murder. "I want guys that done more than killing," John Gotti was heard saying on an FBI bug when Martino was signed up.

If Desmond knew his tea companion's background, he was apparently not impressed. Despite their genteel surroundings, the conversation got heated. Martino accused Desmond of cheating him and Chanes. They'd been charged high rates for ads in magazines that sold no copies, he said. The scam had cost them $1 million and Martino demanded his money back. "You're fucking us," Martino said. Desmond, in a pompous tone, called Martino "stupid" and "a commoner." He didn't need their business, Desmond said. Martino snarled back that Desmond had better not bring his magazines to the U.S. "This is not over," he added as Desmond walked out.

According to Chanes, who was indicted along with Martino in 2003, and later agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, his friend, usually the suave businessman, reverted back to his "other personality, acting like 'Richie from the Bronx,' " which is what the wiseguys called Martino before he became a millionaire. "He's a fucking asshole," Martino said as they left the hotel. "If he thinks he'll publish magazines in the States, he's wrong."

For those who are not familiar with the British press, Richard Desmond is the former soft-porn publisher who has been the subject of great controversy over the last couple of years, from the time he purchased the Daily and Sunday Express tabloids, then for his bizarre anti-German outburst and for his attempted purchase of the Telegraph newspaper stable (a battle that was ultimately won by the Barclay brothers).

|| RPH || 1:49 PM || |

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Demography and the Future, Part One

The first in a series of pieces on the Stanley Kurtz article "Demographics and the Culture War".

The world is getting older. In East Asia and in Europe fertility rates have dropped well below replacement levels. In America the fertility rate remains the highest of any industrialized nation, yet even here it is below the replacement rate of 2.1 children. In Latin America and throughout much of the rest of Asia fertility rates have been following the wealthy nations on a downward trend. These same trends can be seen at work even in parts of the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa, the two areas where more traditionally high fertility rates have held up to a greater degree than anywhere else in the world.

This transformation of fertility presents an enormous challenge to policy-makers in rich nations, because up to now all models for economic growth and for the administration of national pension schemes have been based around the assumption of growing populations. The question that must now be asked is, can the economy grow if the population is shrinking and the percentage of the population that is over sixty years old exceeds 30 or even 40 percent?

The current edition of Policy Review has an excellent overview on the subject from Stanley Kurtz entitled "Demographics and the Culture War," which is a combined review of four different books on the subject of demographics and the "birth dearth". He begins by laying out the essential facts of the matter, before going on to discuss the possible cultural, economic and political effects of declining fertility and a shrinking population. The four books he looks at are The Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity and What to Do About It, by Phillip Longman; Fewer: How the New Demography of Depopulation Will Shape Our Future, by Ben Wattenberg; The Coming Generational Storm: What You Need to Know About America’s Economic Future, by Laurence J. Kotlikoff and Scott Burns; and Running On Empty: How the Democratic and Republican Parties Are Bankrupting Our Future and What Americans Can Do About It, by Peter G. Peterson.

Global fertility rates have fallen by half since 1972. For a modern nation to replace its population, experts explain, the average woman needs to have 2.1 children over the course of her lifetime. Not a single industrialized nation today has a fertility rate of 2.1, and most are well below replacement level.

In Ben Franklin’s day, by contrast, America averaged eight births per woman. American birth rates today are the highest in the industrialized world — yet even those are nonetheless just below the replacement level of 2.1. Moreover, that figure is relatively high only because of America’s substantial immigrant population. Fertility rates among native born American women are now far below what they were even in the 1930s, when the Great Depression forced a sharp reduction in family size.

Population decline is by no means restricted to the industrial world. Remarkably, the sharp rise in American fertility rates at the height of the baby boom — 3.8 children per woman — was substantially above Third World fertility rates today. From East Asia to the Middle East to Mexico, countries once fabled for their high fertility rates are now falling swiftly toward or below replacement levels. In 1970, a typical woman in the developing world bore six children. Today, that figure is about 2.7. In scale and rapidity, that sort of fertility decline is historically unprecedented. By 2002, fertility rates in 20 developing countries had fallen below replacement levels. 2002 also witnessed a dramatic reversal by demographic experts at the United Nations, who for the first time said that world population was ultimately headed down, not up. These decreases in human fertility cover nearly every region of the world, crossing all cultures, religions, and forms of government.

This is an enormous and unprecedented transformation. Never before in history have fertility rates dropped so low and for so long in peacetime. Already nearly 40% of the world's nations, some 88 countries, have dropped below replacement fertility.

And it is as yet unclear as to what can be done to reverse the process. Quite a few countries have attempted to boost fertility rates, through the introduction of family incentives as well as the expansion of state-provided childcare, with mixed results. For instance, Singapore has aggressively tried, through both government exhortation and through tax incentives, to combat the problem, yet the fertility rate is still, as of 2003, at 1.24 children per woman - far below the replacement level. On the other hand, France has seen a consistent rise in fertility since the mid-1990's, an increase attributed at least in part to government policy.

There are several factors driving this worldwide decline in fertility. The primary cause, on the global level, is urbanization. In 1900 only about 10% of the world's population lived in urban settlements, whereas now it is around half. The twentieth century saw the process of urbanization, which started in Western Europe and the United States in the 19th century, spread to the rest of the world. As an example, in the United States in the 19th century the urban population went from about 5% to around 40%, and today it over 75% (including suburban areas).

Why does urbanization play such an important part of reducing fertility? In a rural society children are a boon to family productivity. At a very young age they can begin assisting their parents in tasks in the fields and around the farms. Urban children are, in contrast, an expense to be borne. They can not so easily work on the family's behalf, although of course there are many children working in the world's poorer cities, in sweatshops and as street salesmen. It is also easier to provide for larger amounts of children at the subsistence level in rural areas, because rural families tend to have the option of growing some, or even most and occassionally all, of their own food on small plots, a cheap way to fill extra mouths that is not available to city dwellers.

Urban life also has certain psychological impacts that tend to retard fertility. Generally speaking, and with the necessary caveats of course, rural life tends to be more socially and religiously conservative than urban life. This is as true of the new megacities of today such as Tehran and Rio de Janeiro as it was of London and Berlin a century ago. Life in a major city in its atomisation and anonymity is very different from the social closeness of the countryside. Of course, attempts are made to maintain traditional ways of life, but for rural migrants the city inevitably makes its changes. The aspirational nature of city life, the living in proximity to great wealth, the tantalizing possibilities with which the city is associated no matter their availability to the average man, all tend to dampen the urge towards the huge families traditional in the country. The only groups that tend to maintain very large families in such situations are those with a clear religious purpose, small and somewhat insular communities where many of the older social pressures towards big families are recreated in an urban setting; a prime example of which can be seen in Hasidic Jewish communities.

An excellent example of the effect of urbanization on fertility can be seen in South Korea. Between 1944 and today the urban population of Korea went from 13.2% (for the whole of Korea) to 83% for South Korea. In the same period the fertility rate dropped from 5.4 children per woman to 1.56, a drop of over 70%.

The other important factor, especially in the West, but also increasingly in other parts of the world, has been the growing independence of women, especially in regards to their economic destiny. Today, many many many more doors are open to women in career terms, especially for middle and upper class women. Today, having children is a lifestyle choice, as opposed to a necessity - something that is expected. The spread of contraception technology, from condoms to abortion to birth control pills, has given women much greater control over their fertility than was ever possible before. At the same time, women marry much later, if at all, and so do not have children throughout many of the years of their peak fertility. This trend is particularly pronounced among middle-class families, where the general trend to illegitimacy has made fewer inroads than further down the social scale, so that many woman end up working on their careers and waiting to marry to the point at which it is too late to have children, or too late to have more than one.

An example of this can be seen in my father's family. On his father's side he is very close to his cousins. The twelve Helms first cousins, including him, have produced eighteen children, for an anaemic family fertility rate of 1.5 children per woman. Indeed, just three members of this extended family (my father and his two sisters) have accounted for seven of the children. Of the eighteen second cousins only one, so far, has had a child (my cousin Catherine whose daughter Jade is, I must report, shockingly adorable).

The slackening of social expectations in terms of children, of pressures on women to settle down and have families, has also coincided with a sea change in Western societies, and the resounding triumph of materialism and aspirational living. The cost of raising children in the modern West is far higher, proportionally, than it used to be, which leads many to question whether it is really a personal priority. After all, if having children is no longer a familial, cultural, and social necessity, and is instead a lifestyle choice, then is it a surprise that many people decide to put their money towards a different lifestyle choice?

Coming up in the following parts of this series: economic effects, social conservatism, religious revival, and eugenics.

|| RPH || 11:00 PM || |

Monday, February 07, 2005

A Good Weekend for Blog Ranting

But then, isn't every day a holiday for those who worship at the altar of Blog Intemperance?

Anyways, via Mark Cooper's blog I found Swarthmore history professor Timothy Burke's superb smackdown of Ward Churchill. Ward Churchill is the professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado who has been the subject of much, much, much debate recently after his invitation to speak at Hamilton College was rescinded in relation to an essay he wrote after the September 11th terrorist attacks.

A choice cut:

Hamilton College’s first instinct, the first instinct of all institutions (including conservative ones) that get caught up in this well-rehearsed minuet, is to cite free speech as a defense. I think that’s perfectly proper in a highly limited way. Once an invitation has gone out, I think you generally have to stick by your guns. Everyone does have a right to speak and say what they want, whatever it might be.

But academic institutions also insist in many ways and at many moments that they are highly selective, that all their peculiar rituals—the peer review, the tenure dossier, the hiring committee, the faculty seminar—are designed to produce the best, most thoughtful community of minds possible. In response to criticism from conservatives who complain at the lack of conservatives in the academic humanities and social sciences, a few scholars even had the cheek publically (and more privately) to suggest that conservatism is one of those things that academic quality control quite legitimately selects against, that if the academy is liberal, that’s because it’s selective. Anybody has the right to speak, but nobody has the obligation to provide all possible speakers a platform, an honorarium, an invitation.

In that context, it becomes awfully hard to defend the comfortably ensconsed position of someone like Churchill within academic discourse, and equally hard to explain an invitation to him to speak anywhere. There’s nothing in his work to suggest a thoughtful regard for evidence, an appreciation of complexity, a taste for dialogue with unlike minds, a proportionality, a meaningful working out of his own contradictions, a civil ability to engage in dialogue with his colleagues and peers in his own fields of specialization. He stands for the reduction of scholarship to nothing more than mouth-frothing polemic.

Elsewhere Juan Cole had a spectacularly splenetic response to a Jonah Goldberg column that called Cole, among other things, "the dashboard saint of lefty Middle East experts". More from Cole can be seen here and here. A collection of links to Goldberg's comments can be seen here or you can go directly here and start scrolling up.

My favorite bit, from Cole on Goldberg:

"Jonah Goldberg is a fearmonger, a warmonger, and a demagogue. And besides, he was just plain wrong about one of the more important foreign policy issues to face the United States in the past half-century. It is shameful that he dares show his face in public, much less continuing to pontificate about his profound knowledge of just what Iraq is like and what needs to be done about Iraq and the significance of events in Iraq."

I love a good argument.

|| RPH || 2:45 PM || |

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Max Schmeling, 1905-2005

The one-time heavyweight champion of the world and unwilling Nazi symbol of Aryan racial supremacy Max Schmeling has died:

In one of boxing's more memorable nights and surely among the most electrifying 124 seconds in the history of sport, Louis, then heavyweight champion of the world, crushed Schmeling in front of 70,000 fans at Yankee Stadium. For Louis, the first-round knockout was sweet revenge: two years earlier, in what many consider one of the greatest upsets in heavyweight history, Schmeling had knocked out the undefeated and heavily favored Louis in the 12th round.

Between the two fights Louis had beaten James J. Braddock and become world heavyweight champion, a title that Schmeling had held from 1930 to 1932. But Louis hungered for a rematch. "I don't want nobody to call me champ until I beat Schmeling," he said.

And in the supercharged politics of the late 1930's, with Hitler on the march, the Western democracies imperiled and race relations poised to enter a new and more contentious era, what ensued far transcended sport.

The Nazis had embraced Schmeling after his victory over Louis, touting him as proof of German racial superiority. Schmeling never joined the Nazi Party himself. But from the moment Hitler came to power in 1933, Schmeling had walked a tightrope, seeking simultaneously to please the Nazis while maintaining his relations in New York. That was the world capital of boxing, where Schmeling made most of his money, and where a large percentage of the boxing world - managers, promoters, fans - was Jewish.

Despite never choosing the mantle himself, in the eyes of many Americans Schmeling was the personification of Nazism, a standard-beared for National Socialism.

By the time of the rematch in the summer of 1938, Hitler was in full war cry. In March, he took Austria. Then he moved against Czechoslovakia. News of the persecution of Jews and suppression of civil liberties in Germany made it easy for fight fans, and everyone else, to see Schmeling as representative of Hitler. Louis, then, took America on his shoulders...To Schmeling's credit, he did nothing to portray himself as Hitler's fighter. "This is just another heavyweight fight," he said. "Of course, Hitler and all Germany is interested ... but sport is sport in Germany--nothing more.... "

Louis's defeat of Scmeling caused celebration throughout America.

It was no wonder that throughout black America Louis' swift and decisive victory was greeted with jubilation...Blacks of all ages celebrated in the streets. Years later, 'Jersey Joe' Walcott remembered that in his hometown of Camden people came 'pouring out of their houses. They were so happy. It was like New Year's Eve'. In Detroit, meanwhile, the city most closely associated with Joe Louis, 10,000 blacks in the 'Paradise Valley' section joyously sang and danced.

In the pre-Civil Rights era most black heroes were entertainers and sports stars. Joe Louis was fast becoming the greatest of black idols. At a time when 'coloured people', to use the term then in vogue, were overwhelmingly poor and powerless, Louis was becoming rich by dint of his power to render whites unconscious. At the same time a growing number of whites in the United States who had come to regard Hitler's totalitarian regime with dread and disgust embraced Louis as the standard bearer of Americanism.

There was a wonderful interview with Max Schmeling in Sport Illustrated back in 2001, but unfortunately it doesn't seem to be online anywhere (well, it's almost certainly on Lexis-Nexis, but I don't have access to that). You can read a bit about that article here (scroll to the bottom).

|| RPH || 2:37 PM || |

Oh Dear

From Norman Geras, an English proficiency test as set by the University of Leiden in the Netherlands.

Do you feel like you live in a nation of idiots? I used to (1) console myself about the state of (2) [STUPID] in this country by repeating this to myself: Even if there are two hundred million stone-cold idiots in this country, that (3) [LEAVE] at least eighty million who'll (4) get what I (5) [SAY] - and that's still more than the populations of the United Kingdom and Iceland combined! Then came the day I found myself (6) [SHARE] an office with the ESPN game show Two-Minute Drill. This is the show that (7) [TEST] your knowledge of not only who plays what position for which team, but who hit what where in a 1925 game between Boston and New York, who was (8) rookie of the year in 1965 in the old American Basketball Association, and what Jake Wood had for breakfast the morning of May 12, 1967. I don't know the answer (9) [prep] any of those questions, but for some reason I do remember Jake Wood's uniform number: 2. Why (10) [prep] earth am I retaining that (11) [USE] fact? I don't know, but after (12) [WATCH] scores of guys (13) [WAIT] to audition for that ESPN show, I think I do know something about (14) [INTELLIGENT] and the American mind.


This is one of the most moronic things I've ever read. What's the point?

I don't like to indulge in paranoid fantasies about mass Anti-Americanism in Europe, but there is very definitely a strain on the European Left of reflexive, brainless criticism of American society and people. There are certainly, unquestionably, problems in America (and God knows I try to avoid talking about the Bush administration), but much of the criticism of America that comes from the European Left is nothing more than posturing and finger-wagging - as if that is going to solve anything.

|| RPH || 11:01 AM || |

Friday, February 04, 2005

Religious Practice and Change in 19th Century Catholic Europe

note: Occassionally I post up old history essays of mine. Here is another one. See the comments for the bibliography.

Religious practice in Catholic Europe in the nineteenth century was a multifaceted thing, influenced by such factors as class, gender, and region. Despite nominally being members of the same faith, the religious experience of a Bavarian farmer was very different to that of an industrial worker in Barcelona and different again from that of a bourgeois woman in northern France. In previous centuries it can be argued that the Catholic 'community,' for lack of a better word, was a much more homogenous entity, despite cultural and class barriers. The enormous changes that transformed European society in the nineteenth century had an eroding effect on this uniformity, and the Church found itself having to respond to a variety of new and unique challenges across Europe.

The twin forces of industrialization and urbanization presented the greatest challenges to the Church, as they forced it to redefine its role in communities. Since the very beginnings of European Christianity the overwhelming majority of the population had lived in rural areas and lived quite traditional agrarian lives. The peer pressure and insularity that is rampant within small communities had the effect of keeping virtually everyone within the Church's sphere of influence. The Church was an accepted part of the establishment, consorting with the European political elite while also providing spiritual comfort to the masses. And like other pillars of society such as the military and government, those who had been born into privilege dominated the upper levels of the Church hierarchy. This was the way that things had been throughout Catholic Europe for centuries, remaining relatively unchanged in those areas that were not swept up in the Reformation. The one great exception, of course, was Revolutionary France, where the connection between the Church and the State that had been so strong was irreparably severed. Most people in Europe lived their lives in relative isolation from each other, and only the Church offered a semblance of a wider community, of a life beyond toil in the fields.

The nineteenth century changed this. The rise of industrialization and its crusading ideology, liberal capitalism, completely upset the balance of power in European society. Needless to say, this was a change that had a serious impact on the Catholic Church as well. It created a new social class of industrial tycoons whose power was based on wealth, not on their inherited status. Improvements in transport and communications technology drew together European societies in an entirely new way, creating the phenomenon of nationalism, a new way for people to connect their communities into a larger cultural whole. Industrialization drew people by the millions from the old way of life in the countryside to the booming cities. The negative side effects of industrialization, the poverty, the disease, the squalid housing, created socialism and the workers' movements, which were implicitly against the Establishment in all of its forms. The Church was, of course, an integral part of what they were fighting against. Essentially, these enormous changes created new communities of interests that were in many respects diametrically opposed to the old order dominated by the clergy and the aristocracy.

As important as the process of industrialization in the nineteenth century was, it was not the only area in which the Church was facing change. The fallout from the highly anti-clerical French Revolution continued to reverberate throughout the nineteenth century. The impact was strongest in France, of course, but the influence of the Revolution and then Napoleon reached across Catholic Europe. The phenomenon of dechristianisation spread across Europe like a virus as, without fanfare, huge numbers of rural people in some places simply stopped turning up to church. This is not the same thing as saying that people stopped believing in God, or identifying themselves as Christians, but that the Church had started to fade from its place at the heart of communal religious and social life. Since this wasn't an organised movement but a spreading apathy, there has never really been any succinct explanations as to why, using France as an example, people deserted the Church in the Ile de France region in such huge numbers when religious life continued virtually unchanged in the Massif Centrale.

In attempting to explain how religious life changed in Catholic Europe in the nineteenth century it is important to look at specific examples in parts of Europe where the Church was faced with organised anti-clerical movements, as well as at those parts where the Catholic Church retained its traditional influence. Before that, it is necessary to understand the mechanics of religious change, the terms that allow us to make decisions on the growing or waning strength of the Church. One crucial area is the issue of church attendance. Interpretations of church attendance are fraught with difficulties. Do you consider attendance at the important religious festivals (which, crucially, vary by region and sometimes even by community)? Or should those attending church only on those days be considered the equivalent of 'fair-weather fans' in modern sports, i.e. those who have no real interest besides the big event? How can you measure regular attendance when very few detailed week-by-week records exist? Indeed, even basic population records are patchy and incomplete for many areas of Europe at the time, so church attendance records are even more difficult to find. These difficulties become even more acute in urban parishes, where transient populations mean that religious authorities were faced with an enormous task in keeping track of their parishioners.

There are other ways to determine religious vitality beyond counting people in pews. The ordination rate, for instance (number of people entering the seminary per ten thousand people in a particular diocese) can serve as a barometer for religious feeling, but then it can also indicate other, non-religious factors such as relative lack of economic opportunity. Studying baptism delays, the time period between birth and baptism, is another way of tracking religious trends between regions and over time periods. People's actions in death provide another indicator as to religious feeling, by the proportion of people receiving the Last Rites and by those who, having Last Will and Testaments (a small sector of society, but a useful barometer nonetheless), bequeath part of their possessions to the Church.

These sorts of questions, and the difficulty in providing comprehensive answers to them, mean that it is difficult to feel entirely content with providing anything more concrete than qualified generalizations about the state of religious practice in the nineteenth century. Nonetheless, by looking at events in several markedly different areas it is possible to gain an understanding of the breadth of challenges that the Catholic Church was faced with in the nineteenth century. A good starting point is Bavaria, traditionally one of the most important centres of Catholicism in Germany. German unification meant that formerly independent states with Catholic majorities were now subsumed within a much larger nation-state where they were outnumbered by Protestants two to one. The effects of that change would come later, but in more immediate terms, the rising tide of political liberalism saw many of the Church's traditional rights in the Bavarian government disappear. As in other parts of Europe, liberals within the Bavarian government in the 1860's approved the confiscation of Church property, as well as the subordination to state control of traditional areas of Church influence, with limits placed on confessional schools, the introduction of civil marriages, and restraints placed on the activities of religious charities and seminaries.

In effect, this was a dry run for Bismarck's Kulturkampf a decade later. The activities of the Bavarian liberals created a defensive mood within the church, which manifested itself in the creation of a revivalist political party to reassert the authority of Catholicism over the affairs of Bavaria. "The organisational and spiritual renewal within the Church occasioned by these fundamental changes was, however, to undermine any possibility of a common front between liberals and Catholics against the arbitrary excesses of dynastic absolutism." (Farr, p.250) The creation of the Patriotic Party returned political power to Bavarian Catholics. Yet the liberals weren't finished as the Prussians, ever mistrustful of what they saw as the morally inferior Catholic Church, kept them on in administration. The kulturkampf, which saw the persecution of Catholics become an official part of state policy, meant that ordinary Catholics in Bavaria remained united around the Patriotic Party, even though as a political entity it was committed only to defending the interests of the local bourgeoisie and the Church.

When the Kulturkampf was wound down it presented the Patriotic Party with great problems. In its resistance to Bismarck it had focused almost exclusively on religious and clerical issues due to their ability to unite the the greatest number of the people of Bavaria behind the party, and also because the Church hierarchy was terrified that campaigning on social justice issues would give strength to the Catholic left. The fear of populism, and the challenge it represented, ran so deep that political organisation was entrusted in the hands of the parish clergy, with senior clerics involved in the selection of candidates. Bavaria was a de facto one-party state, so the only way to express dissatisfaction was to fail to vote, and the Bavarian working class did this in droves in the 1880's. This disillusionment manifested itself a decade later with the appearance of the Bavarian Peasant League, a populist force that quickly gained popularity throughout the region. The BPL had four main principles that brought disgruntled Catholic voters to them. The first was anger that the PP was devoting so much effort to religious issues in a time of growing poverty. The second was a suspicion that the clergy were misusing Catholic loyalties for political ends. The third was a call for complete state control of primary and secondary education, with the clerics relegated to the provision of religious instruction only. The final principle was an attack on the presumption on the part of the clergy that they could represent the interests of the peasantry. The immediate popularity of this protest party forced the Patriotic Party to entirely revamp the party structure and reduce the role of the clergy in its organisation, as well as to expand the provision of Catholic populist groups, such as the Christian Peasant Association. Ultimately, to retain power the PP had to sever all but the most formal links with the Church.

If the Bavarian experience can be seen as an example of anticlericalism arising from the Church cynically using its influence over the population to pursue its own political ends, then events in Spain show the failure of the Church to adapt to the new problems put forward by industrialisation. When industry began to blossom in Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, and the Basque country in the middle of the nineteenth century there was no real effort on the part of the Church to systematically engage the new urban proletariat. The uneasy relationship between church and state, which was a holdover from the anticlerical legislation passed earlier in the century, further held back the church. As all priests were paid by the state, there was a real reluctance to fund new parishes, so that, for example, by 1920 Madrid had only thirty parishes to serve a population of seven hundred and fifty thousand people, and a disproportionately high number of those were in the wealthy inner core, leaving the masses in the suburbs almost entirely without access to religious services. Worse yet, most priests were still drawn from traditional rural areas, which made them patently unfit to deal with the new challenges presented by industrialisation.

The lack of a real church presence in the new industrial slums was a serious problem, but much more damaging was the Church's alliance with conservative bourgeois forces, which it saw as the lesser of two evils when compared with revolutionary socialism. This alliance with the class enemy meant that a very violent culture of anti-clericalism spread among the urban working class. For conservatives in the industrial regions, "religious practice was seen less as a road to salvation than as a sign of faith of testimony with a church believing itself surrounded by a host of sinister and dangerous forces." (Callahan, p. 53) The result of all this was that religion in urban Spain became an ideological issue, an enormous change from the past, where Catholicism had been a unifying force for all Spaniards.

Now, while the Catholic church failed to confront local issues effectively in Bavaria and urban Spain in the nineteenth century, in Rhineland-Westphalia in western Germany it managed to not only maintain its role in society, but actually to strengthen it. It experienced the wave of dechristianisation in the early nineteenth century that had spread across Europe in Napoleon's wake, but from 1850 onwards religious life in this part of Germany started to reconstitute itself. The Jesuits launched highly successful 'popular missions' to bring the rural poor back to the Church. After 1850, illegitimacy rates fell by over thirty percent. Religious bequests in wills rose sharply, especially amongst women. New populist religious organisations and local pilgrimages met with great approval from the general population. Even with industrialisation, religious fervour remained strong in the region, and the Catholic Church remained a very important part of the lives of the newly urbanised workers. Why were things so different in Rhineland-Westphalia than in either Bavaria or Spain? Well, the return to religious life was a way of restating a cultural identity obscured in the upheaval of the Napoleonic period. It was also a way of holding on to the past in the face of frightening new social and economic changes. Importantly, the local Church hierarchy made concessions to populist methods to tempt people back to religious life much earlier than their counterparts in Bavaria and Spain.

As a counterbalance to both the failures of Bavaria and Spain and the successes in Rhineland-Westphalia is bourgeois northern France, which split down the middle on religious matters between men and women. As one of the first parts of France to industrialise on a mass level it saw the pattern of decristianisation repeated in their region, as was happening elsewhere in Europe. Yet, funnily enough, this was limited mostly to the men in the community. They may have stopped bothering with religion, yet their women were becoming increasingly involved with the Church. For the men, the lack of any Catholic doctrine celebrating making money, in the way that some Protestant religious figures endorsed the fruits of capitalism, proved a turn-off. Faced with a bold new world where material wealth was there to be gained, they left the church in droves.

For women the impact of industrialisation was less marked. They did not have to conform to the same sort of time constraints as men, because they spent their lives at home. As such, they retained more of a link to the less regimented rhythms of life in the past. And in such uncertain times, these links to the past were treasured. In the same way, religion was clung on to as a source of meaning and comfort, especially the aspects of Catholicism that seemed to speak to their desires most directly. Scriptural celebrations of the Virgin Mary and paeans to women's virtue despite their powerlessness and fragility proved especially popular. These were not liberated women in any modern sense. They did not want to think of themselves as independent or powerful in any right, they wanted to feel protected and at spiritual peace. It is certainly significant that the most popular aspects of Catholicism among these middle-class women were among the most ethereal and least confrontational aspects to the religion. It was escapism, and can be understood as coming from the same impulse that sees modern middle-class women take up new age religions; the impulse that seeks escape from dull domesticity not through rebellion and conflict, but through a heightened spirituality that can provide an all-encompassing barrier to the problems of life.

In response to this, the Church in the region began to tailor its message to appease this hungry new constituency. Catholic social organisations for women began to merge with less religious right-wing anti-modernist movements, attacking godlessness, socialism and the evils of the modern world with a ferocious vigour. As one critic said of them they were "fanatical in observing Catholic ritual and ardent in their professions of faith, (but) cold in the face of human misery." (Smith, p. 105)

These four different examples provide a glimpse at the sheer diversity of issues facing the Catholic Church in the nineteenth century. Religion and its public expression had moved from being a part of everyday life, unremarkable in its ubiquity, to being a major ideological battleground. It marked out battle lines by class, region, political orientation and even gender. For some Christianity became synonymous with a system that needed to be completely overhauled, while for others it became something to latch on to in troubled times.

Beyond the ideological clashes that marked out the experience of the Catholic Church in the nineteenth century there was a deeper problem. Industrialisation and modernisation created new types of communities that found that they had, as a collective, a voice that was better suited to their needs than that provided by the 'Christian community,' whether they were socialist workers, or proponents of economic liberalism. The ending of the Church's role as protector of the only truly international community of ordinary people in Europe was a deep blow that it has never really recovered from. Suddenly people were not just 'Christians' they could also be 'capitalists' or 'socialists' or 'anarchists' or so on. This creation of interest communities undermined the church in its old role as one of the central parts of the social fabric, relegating religion to a side position as simply another ideological option.

|| RPH || 2:16 PM || |

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

The Sokal Affair

In 1996 the NYU physics professor Alan Sokal published an article entitled "Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity" in the Cultural Studies journal Social Text, an article that he later revelead to be a parody of 'critical theory'.

"Like the genre it is meant to satirize -- myriad exemplars of which can be found in my reference list -- my article is a mélange of truths, half-truths, quarter-truths, falsehoods, non sequiturs, and syntactically correct sentences that have no meaning whatsoever. (Sadly, there are only a handful of the latter: I tried hard to produce them, but I found that, save for rare bursts of inspiration, I just didn't have the knack.) I also employed some other strategies that are well-established (albeit sometimes inadvertently) in the genre: appeals to authority in lieu of logic; speculative theories passed off as established science; strained and even absurd analogies; rhetoric that sounds good but whose meaning is ambiguous; and confusion between the technical and everyday senses of English words.2 (N.B. All works cited in my article are real, and all quotations are rigorously accurate; none are invented.)

But why did I do it? I confess that I'm an unabashed Old Leftist who never quite understood how deconstruction was supposed to help the working class. And I'm a stodgy old scientist who believes, naively, that there exists an external world, that there exist objective truths about that world, and that my job is to discover some of them. (If science were merely a negotiation of social conventions about what is agreed to be ``true'', why would I bother devoting a large fraction of my all-too-short life to it? I don't aspire to be the Emily Post of quantum field theory.3)

The whole saga can be read about here.

|| RPH || 9:57 PM || |

Islamism in Malaysia?

"Despite the talk of ‘Islam Hadari’ and the attempts to promote the agenda of ‘progressive, moderate Islam’ here in Malaysia, it should be painfully obvious to all by now that there remain very real repressive undercurrents in Malaysian society. This is particularly true for the Malay-Muslims of Malaysia, who are forced to live under the constant threat of a myriad of increasingly repressive, intrusive and constricting laws governing their practice, understanding and expression of normative Islam.


Here in Malaysia the first signs of the rise of authoritarianism could be found in the dominant political culture of the state itself. By the 1970s, the authoritarian political culture of Malaysia gave birth to local oppositional groups that were likewise mirror-reflections of the authoritarian culture they opposed: On the campuses of Malaysia there emerged right-wing Malay-Muslim student groups who claimed to be ‘Islamist activists’, but who were really more concerned about isolating the Malay-Muslims from the rest of the student body and to police their fellow Muslims instead. It was during this period that hot-headed thugs began their campaign to ‘police’ student campus life, to the point of breaking into campus dormitories and checking on their fellow Malay-Muslim students, in order to make sure that they were ‘behaving properly’.

Today, the logic of popular authoritarianism has come full circle, with the state playing a role it has no business playing: namely, policing the values, beliefs and private lives of ordinary Malaysians. Across the spectrum we have seen groups from PUM to TERAS to PAS to UMNO trying to police the behavior, thoughts and lifestyles of Malay-Muslims, ostensibly in the name of ‘defending Islam’. Academics, writers, activists and now ordinary kids going out for a good time have become their victims. There have been attempts to criminalize differences of opinion in Islam, attempts to demonize Muslim women’s groups (like the NGO Sisters in Islam), demonize Muslim gays/lesbians, etc.

Read the whole thing.

Update (8:15 AM, Feb. 4th, 2005): Part two is now up.

|| RPH || 9:22 PM || |

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Will North Korea Collapse? And What Will The Christian Role Be If It Does?

From yesterday's Sunday Times (UK):

In interviews for this article over many months, western policymakers, Chinese experts, North Korean exiles and human rights activists built up a picture of a tightly knit clan leadership in Pyongyang that is on the verge of collapse.

Some of those interviewed believe the “Dear Leader”, Kim Jong-il, has already lost his personal authority to a clique of generals and party cadres. Without any public announcement, governments from Tokyo to Washington are preparing for a change of regime.

The death of Kim’s favourite mistress last summer, a security clampdown on foreign aid workers and a reported assassination attempt in Austria last November against the leader’s eldest son, Kim Jong-nam, have all heightened the sense of disintegration.


Word has spread like wildfire of the Christian underground that helps fugitives to reach South Korea. People who lived in silent fear now dare to speak about escape. The regime has almost given up trying to stop them going, although it can savagely punish those caught and sent back.

“Everybody knows there is a way out,” said a woman, who for obvious reasons cannot be identified but who spoke in front of several witnesses.

“They know there is a Christian network to put them in contact with the underground, to break into embassies in Beijing or to get into Vietnam. They know, but you have to pay a lot of money to middlemen who have the Christian contacts.”

Her knowledge was remarkable. North Korean newspapers are stifled by state control. Televisions receive only one channel which is devoted to the Dear Leader’s deeds. Radios are fixed to a single frequency. For most citizens the internet is just a word.

Yet North Koreans confirmed that they knew that escapers to China should look for buildings displaying a Christian cross and should ask among Korean speakers for people who knew the word of Jesus.

In recent decades South Korea has become the world's second-largest source for Christian missionaries, and South Korean Christians have played a very important role in relations between the two halves of the nation, from working for human rights in North Korea, to alerting the world to the terrible hunger that stalks North Korea, to helping smuggle tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of refugees out of North Korea to the South via China.

Reading this story reminded me of a book I read about a year ago entitled The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag, a memoir by Kang Chol-Hwan, who had survived ten years in the Yodok labor camp, and who had, following his release, ultimately escaped to China and from there to South Korea. At one point he describes the impact of South Korean Christian radio programming on those people, like himself, who defied the official ban on tuning in to South Korean broadcasts.

"We liked listening to the Christian programs on the Korean Broadcasting System. The message of love and respect for one's fellow man was sweet as honey to us. It was so different from what we were used to hearing. In North Korea the state-run radio and television, newspapers, teachers, and even comic strips only tried to fill us with hate-for the imperialists, the class enemies, the traitors and who knows what else...We hungered for a discourse to break the monopoly of lies. In North Korea, all reality is filtered through a single mind-set. Listening to the radio gave us the words we needed to express our dissatisfaction. Every program, each new discovery, helped us tear a little freer from the enveloping web of deception." (p. 185)

If the North Korean regime does ultimate start to collapse the work of Christian organizations will prove to have been absolutely instrumental. Even if it staggers on into the future, it is vitally important to support those who are working for positive change in North Korea: those who work with refugees, against hunger, and towards reconciliation.

|| RPH || 3:45 AM || |