Hate Crime and Terrorism

Conservative Contradictions, Volume 6: Hate Crime and Terrorism

The American idea of terrorism has become inflated with hysteria after September of 2001, though the rest of the civilized world had been living with terrorism pretty soberly for the last few decades. (Among other places, you can read about that historical fact in Richard Marcinko's Rogue Warrior which documents the creation of the American Navy SEALs.)

Terrorism is considered an especially horrific crime. Beyond the immediate death and misery that an act of terrorism causes, it's widely acknowledged that the intention of terrorism is to create fear and panic-- terror-- within a specially selected group of people. That is sinister. Terrorism is considered not just an attack against people or individuals, but against society, against the pillars of our good life and everything we hold dear. Special punishment has even been suggested for terrorists: "Make them suffer as much as possible before dying." In other words terrorism is so bad that we should dismiss one of the core principles of our constitution in order to fight it.

Meanwhile, so-called hate crimes, which amount to the systematic terrorization of a specific population because of "who they are", is brushed aside as a pet peeve of naive legalistic idealists who want to smother our finest documents of jurisprudence with their bleeding hearts. "HATE CRIME? Hate isn't a crime. Crime is a crime! If there's a crime committed, then have a trial about the law that was broken, not about hate."

Terrorism has caused the entrenchment of novel American legal concepts like "unitary executive" and "punishment for the sake of cruelty" and "guilty until proven innocent" and "there's no such thing as habeas corpus." Yet attempts to frame hate crimes with any novel legal concepts meets with hisses.

As the argument goes: Terrorism is an evil malignant force, and we must throw the book at it. But home-grown terrorism that rises out of an apple pie and burns a cross on somebody's lawn, or hangs nooses to intimidate people by reminding them of mob murders that were carried out in the past, or threatens the extermination of an ethnic group by spraypainting slogans on a wall, does not warrant any special treatment and should merely be considered in context of public decency or property damage.

As the governor of Texas, George W. Bush maintained that "we don't need tougher laws [for hate crime]." He opposed hate crime legislation, even after James Byrd was beaten and chained behind a truck, then dragged until his body was torn to pieces by the road, by a small mob of white racists. That was a deliberate act of terror that targeted an entire community. Yet during the war on terror, we are told that we need legal overhaul, thousands of pages long, because our entire nation will be destroyed if we don't pull out every last legal stop.


Anarchy and Unilateralism

Conservative Contradictions, Volume 5: Anarchy and Unilateralism

People here and there occasionally claim that some police officers are corrupt. Young radicals occasionally claim that hierarchical forms of government are all corrupt, or that centralized leadership is always abused by those in power.

Conservatives, along with other flavors of partisans, will meet those claims with a response like this: "Well, without police, without order, it will be anarchy! The STRONGEST will win, and they'll abuse everybody! It will be wild and awful. Nobody wants that. You don't want that, do you? We'd both be killed right now by some big brute."

The argument is valid. The sentiments behind it are popular. The prospect of being ruled by brutes run amok puts a sour look on our faces. Rightfully so.

Yet, American Foreign policy ends up justified by meat-heads on these grounds: "We are the biggest and the strongest, so obviously we are going to do this around the world, and do that around the world, and such and such, and protect our interests."

In other words, anarchy is a bad and frightening thing domestically, but on the global stage, anarchy is a justification for itself, as long as the mightiest nation is doing the justifying. The simple fact that power DOES act selfishly becomes proof that it VERY WELL OUGHT to act selfishly.

Next edition: Terrorism demands a total renovation of our legal concepts and our constitution, but hate crime legislation is silly.


War & Global Warming

Conservative Contradictions, Volume 4: War & Global Warming

If you say to a compassionate conservative that you may have noticed some shocking setbacks in the Iraq war, or that new levels of violence have been reached—perhaps a single violent day that was bloodier than any previous day—the person could justifiably point out that no matter the details of current events, the TREND might still be positive. Your conversational partner suddenly becomes an expert in statistical study, and an outspoken zealot of long-term line graphs and careful cautious research, and they might even hand you a pamphlet advertising a helpful community course in mathematics.

However, the same logic would never be applied to the matter of global warming. Nor would the logic even be comprehended if it were applied by somebody else.

A very violent day will never be viewed as evidence about the trend of a war. But, a record-setting cold day will be taken as definitive proof that global warming doesn't exist.

Next edition: Criticism of domestic authority is a naive invitation to turn our country into a dark jungle ravaged by anarchy, but in the global arena Might Makes Right as long as America is the champ.


Big Government and American Paradise

Conservative Contradictions, Volume 3: Big Government and the American Paradise

The American Experiment is a God-blessed gold-encrusted paradise sitting on the peak of an Olympian hill. Why is it so fantastic? Because the government is reducible to its people. It is a great experiment, the greatest experiment. By the people, for the people, of the people. It was achieved by bloodshed on hallowed ground. With all these stories in mind, America is vehemently cited as the freest and mightiest nation in history.

So the government is reducible to its people. But the fact that The People hold the sovereignty does not deter the accusation that government institutions are inherently corrupt, wasteful, self-serving, and out of control. They should be drowned in a bathtub.

A prudent person can doubt a government. Any government. Doubt them all. Doubt them into the ground, I say! But how can we consider something to be a golden god-blessed paradise at the same time that we find it so suspicious? We can't, unless we are stupid.

Next edition: A single unprecedentedly bad day in the Iraq war doesn't mean the trend is bad. However, one very cold day means that global warming doesn't exist.


Big Government and Big Military

Conservative Contradictions, Volume 2: Big Government and Big Military

Conservatives supposedly wish to reduce the size and expenditures of the government. The brilliant idea here is that bureaucracies are inherently self-serving and wasteful. Therefore, the government should be harshly scrutinized and criticized, and then strangled or drowned in a bathtub.

However, the most expensive and most physically powerful human institution ever created-- the present American military-- is never questioned by the compassionate conservative in terms of its motivations or its efficiency.

The military is run by a team of angels and housewives hand-picked by god, since it escapes all bureaucratic indictment. The military is not an institution, just as ancient Egypt is not African. They are both wonderful dreamworlds that exist in their own private universe.

Institutions, departments, governments, and everything else of the sort, have no scruples and inevitably fall prey to boundless human imperfection and corruptibility. A military however, has every scruple in the book. Nothing to see here. (In fact, all authoritarian institutions will be equally immune. For example, police forces.)

While any item that is, or resembles, an institution is fretted over and rushed at with axes like an overgrown forest of weeds, the single most imposing institution in history receives a halo and is excused from all the obvious failings that would be presumed for any other public organization.

Next Edition: The American Experiment, which is a golden god-blessed paradise on the peak of an Olympian hill, is so fantastic because the government is reducible to its people. At the same time, its government is a devilish plague.


Dead Bodies and Tax Dollars

Conservative Contradictions, Volume 1: Dead Bodies and Tax Dollars

Compassionate conservatives praise our country's veterans. They defer to the veterans, and bow to the veterans, and may some day give universal health care to the veterans as a show of thanks.

The reason of course is that veterans make a relatively tremendous sacrifice: they give their bodies and their lives to their nation's cause. Young people are encouraged to fight for their country, while they still have able bodies to contribute. The tree of liberty from time to time is refreshed with the blood of martyrs. The loftiest act is to die or kill for your country.

Meanwhile the issue of taxes seems to give off a stench. Taxes are an evil burden. Taxes are a horrible pox on rich people, so it goes, and should therefore be abolished as much as possible. Dying is not so great a burden, and is subject to glorification at every available opportunity. Men and teenagers should give their lives in the name of their country, even by way of conscription, but they should never be forced to give their money.

In other words:  giving your life is strongly promoted, but giving your money in the form of taxes is never to be considered. A no no. A curse.

Big Government will misuse tax dollars, and put the money toward their selfish pet projects, and demand more and more money because they spend it so inefficiently and unwisely. The military complex however will never mishandle men and women's lives. They will only use human lives for strictly noble and well-organized purposes, and not waste a single one, ever.

The lives of the military's men and women will be contributed toward helping the down-trodden people of a foreign nation across the sea-- Iraq (although the argument for military intervention originally had nothing to do with with helping or "freeing" the people there). However, a single American citizen who is in dire straits and needs a few tax dollars from a rich fellow's coffers should never be granted it. Helping him only makes him worse off.

The reality is that killing is such a grisly unnatural act that it must be surrounded by glory and slogans for anybody to consider doing it. Secondly, the richest people are also the most cowardly because they have the most to lose. They must arrange for somebody to die in their place at war. Thus they call taxes on their money a vile thing, but death during war-time a beautiful thing. Consequently we are presented with the contradictory and very loud loud idea that giving your life is heroic while giving your cash is intolerable.

Conservatives have fragile egos. The possibility that peoples lives are wasted is too painful to recognize or resolve. A perfectly analogous pattern of waste-- claims about taxes-- on the other hand, can be found flowing through the air at any second of any day.

Next Edition: All institutions (big government) are self-serving wasteful inefficient and corrupt. But the military (the most costly and potentially destructive institution in human history) is unimpugnable.

Conservative Contradictions

Many fundamental contradictions sit at the base of the conservative political mind. I think I'll list some of them in an ongoing series here.

These are conceptual trends that are so general and common among various debates that I won't bother attributing them to specific sources. They will be familiar to anyone who occasionally participates in or observes political discussions. If you take a little walk to any location, then stop, and prop your ear or squint your eye, you will hear or see at least one of them out there.

ContraCon 2008 Itinerary

Volume 1. Give your life at war, but never your tax dollars at any time.

Volume 2. All institutions (big government) are self-serving, wasteful, and corrupt. But the military is unimpugnable.

Volume 3. America is a golden god-blessed paradise because of its democracy. But the government, which is reducible to the people, should be drowned in the bathtub.

Volume 4. An extremely bloody day in Iraq doesn't mean the trend of the war is bad. However, a very cold say means global warming doesn't exist.

Volume 5. Criticism of authority is a welcome mat for the horrible ravages of anarchy. But on the global stage Might Makes Right when America is the champ, because rule by the mightiest is a fact of life.

Volumes 6. Terrorism demands a total renovation of our legal concepts and our constitution, but hate crime legislation is silly.

7-8. Stay tuned!


50 Year Old Microfilm: Robert Walser

I recently went on a quest for some old microfilm for the benefit of the Wandering with Robert Walser project. It wasn't merely a favor, since he's my favorite author. I'll cut to the chase.

From the cover story "A Miniaturist in Prose" (possibly written by Michael Hamburger, who passed away last summer, but I couldn't find any byline anywhere) in the Times Literary Supplement July 21, 1961:
When he died [...] in 1956, at the age of seventy-eight, Robert Walser was scarcely known to the general reading public or even to students of German literature. Few historians of twentieth-century German literature so much as mentioned his name. [...] The largely posthumous rediscovery and rehabilitation of Walser is due as much to the influence which he is known to have had on Kafka as to the devotion of [Seelig his friend and editor, and Christopher Middleton, one of his English translators].

Frighteningly true: the mere fact that Kafka supposedly liked Walser's work has done some small wonders. I might never have heard of him except for the bibliography in my copy of Kafka's The Castle or some other volume. Now I can't find the reference, but a note in the bibliography definitely said something about: "The quirky Swiss novelist Robert Walser." I said to myself: Quirky? Swiss? Novelist? Kafka liked? I'll look into him. But when I tried looking into him, my small-time local library had no digital or hard evidence whatsoever that he ever existed. (I eventually found my way to a 26-floor library that had all Walser's work in English that existed at the time.)

You can find it written in every article about Walser that Franz Kafka liked his work but I've never seen a direct quote, which is unsettling. Just read the first page of Walser's Jakob Von Gunten and you'll see the influence, but all the same. Supposedly Kafka admired J.V.G and gave a copy to Max Brod, but neither Kafka nor Brod ever put his opinion in print. Back to the review:

Kafka's style, like Stendhal's and Kleist's, was deliberately and consistently unliterary; Walser's included literary elements of the most ornate and fustian varieties, but for the sake of parody. Yet, like Walser's attitude to the bourgeois world to which he belonged and, did not belong, the parody was utterly lacking in malice.[...]

In Walser's case the aspiration [to be an amateur] could not possibly be mistaken for the revolutionary gestures of modernism; he was not in advance of his time, but independent of it, and as old-fashioned when it suited him as he was daring. Above all he saw public art and literature as part of the facade of the bourgeois world; in so far as art was institutional, and the artist a "figure", they provided Walser with inexhaustible material for studies in the farcical and the grotesque.[...]

It is characteristic of Walser that his first book, Fritz Kochers Aufsaitze (1904), should have been presented as a collection of school essays on set topics. This early schoolboy persona is closely related to the later ones of the outwardly dutiful inwardly independent, mischievous and yet humble employee, of the well-mannered vagabond and the artist "on the periphery of bourgeois lives", as Walser aptly described himself; in all these roles-- which were also his in real life-- Walser could remain true to himself, an observer implicated only by compassion, love and an unfailing sense of the absurd.

Stylistically, too, these would-be schoolboy essays anticipate the later works; for the obedient pupil at once observes and guys the formalities of literary composition. In this connexion Walser's Swiss origin is as relevant as Kafka's membership of the German-speaking minority in Prague. Both writers began at once remove from standard German, its platitudes, pomposities and artificialities. Neither could take language for granted, and, by questioning language, each was bound to question a great deal more besides. From his very first works Walser's style and vision were unmistakably his own.

I don't believe we can simply attribute their aloof style to their place in a linguistic-minority community. Kafka's legal background could have had as much to do with his "unliterary" style. I could say the same about Walser's temperament. Their styles are more personal than a simple consequence of alienation or questioning of language. Anyway it seems that the author here stopped short of saying that Walser's background helped enable him to make uniquely ironic use of platitudes. "When dawn is nigh, chin high!"-- from Susan Bernofsky's translation of The Robber. There's a thousand more that I can't remember offhand, but they relate as much to social attitudes as to language.
"In The Walk, for example, there are at least three different styles and counterstyles. Often when this happens it is not easy to tell which is the voice and which the echo, until one has recognized the spirit of play in which Walser goes to work. It is this delicate playfulness which makes him a stylist of the first order, beside whom many of his contemporaries may seem little short of elephantine." -Christopher Middleton

Parody is one of these counterstyles; and it is difficult to distinguish from Walser's own voice because the parody was not a literary accretion but a part of Walser's way of looking. His seriousness could be playful, his humour terrifying; and the two intermingled without perceptible transitions. Lack of ambition--and hence of any design on his reader or even on his subject-matter--was Walser's guiding principle and distinction.

After his early novels Walser took the logical step of becoming a miniaturist in prose, obeying his own precept that "writers should not think themselves great because they make up to whatever is grandiose, but rather try to be significant in little things". It will always be easy enough to disparage Walser's microcosms in favour of the more massive constructions of more ambititious prose writers, if only by hurling the brickbat of "journalism" at his shorter works. Yet his spontaneous and peripatetic art is as close to lyrical poetry as it is to journalism; and, now that so much of his work has been available once more, it will soon be unnecessary to apologize for Walser's refusal to be a "great" or "important" writer. The totality of his work has already outlasted much that seemed great and important in his time.

Good closer right there. Already outlasted so much that seemed important in his time. Slightly menacing.

Now from a tiny review of Walser's first appearance in the English language, Christopher Middleton's translation of The Walk And Other Stories, Times Literary Supplement December 27, 1957:

[...] If the name of this astonishing Swiss novelist and story-teller is virtually unknown in England, one reason is that he suffered a complete mental breakdown in 1929 and published his last book in 1925; another is that his most characteristic works call for a translator of uncommon accomplishment, intelligence and linguistic virtuosity. Yet Walser was one of the acknowledged masters of Kafka; and Mr. Middleton sees both him and Kafka as "forerunners of the spectral 'minimalism' of Samuel Beckett, whose writings surely expose the very core of the modern predicament." Mr. Middleton distinguishes between Kafka's "mature ironic vision of despair" and Walser's "charmed ironic clownishness"; but he points out that the two writers share a "pronounced heretical tendency to burlesque and parody" conventional perspectives, "substituting for them a new body of imaginative forms."[...]

The Walk is the longest in this collection]; it is a tour de force of cunning improvisation that has no parallel in any literature. Its subject is nothing more than a walk taken by the author around the small Swiss town where he is staying, but a walk that is also a voyage around the author's visionary world in which-- to quote Mr. Middleton once more-- "existence is a fragile kingfisher brilliance spiralling incessantly between heaven and hell." A visit to the bank, to the tailor's, to a lady patron for luncheon become events of momentously comic or terrible significance:

When I wanted to stop cutting it up and popping it in, because I distinctly felt that I was full, she said to me in an almost delicate manner and tone of voice, through which gently shuddered a maternal rebuke: "But you are not eating! Wait, I'll cut you another big juicy slice." A sense of dread rippled through me, and I plucked up the courage to object, politely and courteously, that my main purpose in coming here had been to deploy a certain intellectuality, whereupon Frau Aebi, smiling most captivatingly, said that she did not think this to be at all necessary. "I cannot possibly go on eating," I said, in a dull muffled voice. I was almost suffocating, and was already perspiring with terror. Frau Aebi said: "I cannot possibly believe that you want to stop cutting it up and popping it in, and I do not think that you are really full at all. Quite definitely you are not telling the truth when you say that you are just about suffocating. I am compelled to consider that as mere politeness. I decline any form of intellectual chat, as I have already said, with pleasure. Certainly your main purpose in coming to me was to prove and demonstrate that you have a good appetite and are a big eater.

And so on, until the terrified guest springs up from the table and attempts an escape. Frau Aebi, as it happens, is not one of the monstrous denizens of the bourgeois world, but one of its parodists like Walser himself.

And yes, that scene with the Frau continues on and gets better. The review stopped the quote there though.

That tiny posthumous 1957 review of Walser's collection The Walk was only one part of a small three-piece set about lesser-known German classics. The first book in the set was John Calder's translation of Adalbert Von Chamisso's "Peter Schlemihl". I found a 150 year old copy of the book at my library, but most of the pages were unbound by huge rips, though it was still readable. When I brought it to the check-out the chief there said I couldn't take it out because of the condition of the thing. I said that was fantastic because there was no rush and they could send it to the repair division and I could come back in a month. Then they told me there was no repair division and it would probably be thrown away. You heard me right. The second book in the set of reviews was John Calder's translation of "Mozart's Journey to Prague" by Eduard Mörike.

Both books sounded good.

A lot of the TLS material adjacent to the Walser articles pertained to nuclear apocalypse.

My job here is done.


Ticking Time Bomb

Hypothetical "ticking time bombs" often come up as an argument for the use of torture.

There's one big problem with that: ticking time bombs are a staple device of fiction, not of real life. They build suspense in movies. A terrorist has no reason to use a timer once they have put a bomb somewhere. (A cynical soul on Wikipedia has made a note that the section about known uses of time bombs is in need of expansion.)

Besides that, imprisoned people have been tortured during the War on Terror even though there were no ticking time bombs anywhere.


Blood Is Not Funny

Blood is not funny.

I know what you're thinking-- "HAHA loogit the lil trauma kid hoohooo yayyaya."

But that kid is great. He's upstanding. I want him for President. "Blood. Not funny." That would be a dramatic change in foreign policy. And I think, a good one.

But I do not seriously expect to have a political leader who is so committed to those values in my lifetime.


Martin Luther King Day

Happy birthday Dr. King.

Jesse Helms and Ronald Reagan originally opposed the creation of a holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1980's. They thought MLK wasn't "important" enough to warrant a holiday.

There are only two other federal holidays in America that commemorate individual people: George Washington's Birthday, and Columbus Day. Christopher Columbus is famous for "discovering the Americas" on his campaign to make a lot of money and gain a lot property, and for mutilating or enslaving the people he found who were already living there.

George Washington is famous for leading the American military against the British during the Revolution. He also fought against the French & Indians before that. He fought with a capable military force and probably wielded a sabre and other arms. As the first President of the United States, he presided over a slave nation, and over general national policy that included exterminating native Americans because of the inconvenience they posed to colonization. For example he signed into law the Fugitive Slave Law of 1793. Washington owned slaves up to his death, and even then they weren't freed: his will postponed that until his wife's death. George Washington broke a Pennsylvianian law which granted freedom to slaves who lived there for 6 months. In accordance with economic values rather than the values that America supposedly stood for since the time of the Declaration of Independence, he rotated his slaves between his Philadelphia and Mount Vernon mansions-- illegally-- to avoid six-month spans.

Martin Luther King Jr. called on and rallied America to rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." He did that in the face of America's oldest and strongest institutions: racism, jim crow, and the vestiges of slavery. He never raised arms against his fellow man. He was once hit in the head by a brick, which was thrown by a white person who hated him.

King was eventually gunned down because of what he stood for: human rights and constitutional rights for black people, and beyond that all people, even poor ones. Martin Luther King Jr. famously had a dream that one day all people would be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. That black people would not be terrorized by police or mobs, or excluded from taking some small relief in hotels and restaurants. He envisioned a day when even in Alabama little black boys and black girls would be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. He called for these things not gradually, but NOW.

He was killed because of that simple aspiration he held for the country. The possibility of it becoming reality was unbearable to many awful people because of the privileges they thought they were entitled to and because of the hysteria they suffered. So they fought desperately to stop him, and one eventually murdered him.

Christopher Columbus does not deserve reflection. George Washington retired and died a wealthy man, after forfeiting his opportunity to lower America from the highest pedestals of hypocrisy. Martin Luther King Jr. fought against entrenched, bloodthirsty hatred-- fought against American tradition itself-- using only peaceful means, with the goal of restoring the dignity of all men women and children, in accordance with ideals that had hitherto largely received only glorified lip-service.


Umberto Eco Doesn't Waste Time

Here's Umberto Eco not wasting time.

Eco proves his thesis, which is that you shouldn't "put your faith in the extravagant claims of madmen", but you might notice that the quacks that he refers to aren't worth talking about.

He skips over the theories handed down to us by madmen that still resonate today with millions of idiots, and that have had actual consequences for living breathing people throughout history, and in recent times.

Like say ideas about so-called race. Heredity. Inferiority. Purity. Or say ideas about God. Piety. Infidelity.

There are systems of thought stemming from those ideas that many people get exterminated over, or enslaved over. Or subjugated over. Or brutalized over.

For example he could have written about the madman theory that a verifiable homo sapien is actually not a human being at all and can be eliminated without any fuss.

Eco would never write that article, maybe because so many people would say, "Well wot's so crazy bout that? It's TRUE!" He knows not to waste his time.