James Frey’s tattoo deconstructed.

GOD’S WEATHER: A reader writes:

Isn’t the Bible replete with examples of God inflicting natural disasters on people? Some because they do not act righteously (Sodom, Gomorrah, Egypt, etc.) and at least one, very famously, to test his faith (Job)?

My point is not that Robertson is right, but rather that people who want to maintain their belief that the Bible is the word of God and yet disbelieve in Robertson have an awful lot of rationalizing to do.

I wish I had put it as simply as that. By the way here’s a very helpful clarification of the differences between premillennialists and dispensationalists.


– posted by Andrew.


Andrew quotes the loathesome Abu Hamza below. What I’ve read about his case persuades me, first, that I would not be terribly upset if this man were slowly gnawed to death by rabid hamsters tomorrow, and second, that his prosecution is nonetheless pretty troubling. The most serious charges against him involve “soliciting” murder—which seems to involve saying a lot of appalling things about, well, everyone but adherents of his necrotic brand of Islam, and talking about the duty to “fight” and “bleed” the “enemy,” declaring at one point that “killing the kafir for any reason is OK.” There are an additional four counts of “using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour with the intention of stirring up racial hatred”. And he had a book regarded as “useful to terrorists.”

None of the accounts I’ve read have suggested that they’ve got, to put it crudely, a body—someone who was killed or some act of violence committed at Hamza’s prompting—or that there was any kind of direct involvement with any particular plan or target. And it seems to me that there’s a big difference between a narrow command, with an expectation that it will be obeyed, to harm some particular persons, or a direct incitement to riot (“They’re over there, get ’em!”) and this kind of general advocacy, which seems to be (if only barely) within the ambit of speech a free society ought to countenance. The new British policy is to go after those who seek to “justify” or “glorify” terrorism. And it’s hard to see how you draw a bright line that stops you short of putting in that category, for instance, Pat Robertson’s implication that the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin was divinely inspired.

ISLAMO-FASCISM This isn’t directly related, but since Andrew defends the term “Islamo-fascism” in passing, I’ll chip in that I’ve been persuaded by Olivier Roy’s excellent Globalized Islam that this is not a terribly helpful term. That’s not to say it’s never apt—it might be well suited for Iran under Ayatollah Khomeini—but that using it in a blanket way for any radical Islamism of an authoritarian stripe elides more than it illuminates. (And I know that as an Orwell fan, Andrew will be acutely sensistive to the problem alluded to in “Politics and the English Language” of watering down terms until “[t]he word Fascism has…no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable.'”)

One of Roy’s key points (one of many in an insight-rich book) is that the modern terrorists he dubs neo-fundamentalists represent an important break from state-focused Islamism as we previously understood it. One central trend he identifies among these newer groups, for example, is de-territorialization: What is in many ways radical and dangerous about these new doctrines is that they reject the local and national accretions that different forms of Muslim practice have picked up over the years in favor of an ostensibly purer, trans-national, trans-racial Islam. The driving force here is a desire for a practice not embedded in any local or national culture. In a perverse way, it is more individualist than traditional Islamism, and, argues Roy, the neo-fundamentalists’ “quest for a strict implementation of sharia with no concession to man-made law pushes them to reject the modern state in favour of a kind of ‘libertarian’ view of the state: the state is a lesser evil but is not the tool for implementing Islam.”

Of course, this description too is a broad one that won’t accurately capture every sort of violent fundamentalist—and probably some will regard all this as picking nits. But as Sun Tzu advised, if you “know the enemy and know yourself, in a hundred battles you will never be in peril.” And however rhetorically satisfying it is, “Islamo-fascism” as an umbrella term doesn’t seem like a helpful tool for knowing the enemy.

—posted by Julian


At the end of a piece about the rare occasions on which Alito sided with the poor, the downtrodden, and the huddled masses in his lower court rulings, Emily Bazelon writes:

In almost none of these cases, though, does Alito seem like a little-guy champion. He seems like a judge who dutifully follows the law. When the law instructs him to find for the criminal defendant or the plaintiff, he does so. When you get to the Supreme Court, though, you get to rip up the instruction manual and rewrite it. There’s very little in Alito’s record that suggests his revisions will favor the little guy.

Just so we’re clear: Alito’s record as a judge indicates that he only rules for the little guy when the law dictates that he should. And this is really bad, because we need Supreme Court judges who are willing to “rip up the instruction manual” (I believe it’s known as “active liberty” jurisprudence these days, but maybe Bazelon didn’t get the memo) to help the little guy, or at least the little guy as defined by Ted Kennedy. And the way we should pick them is by nominating lower court judges who have . . . torn up the instruction manual on the lower courts? (Like this guy, I guess.)

MORE FREY: Why he – and many “memoirists” these days – probably meant to write a novel.

– posted by Ross


About the best television I’ve seen in forever. Last night, Larry King interviewed James Frey, author of factually-challenged best-selling “memoir”, “A Million Little Pieces.” First off, you have the spectacle of a public person insisting that he did too do lots of crack and spend months in jail and so on and so forth. Then you have a website that usually exposes the lurid pasts of public people actually exonerating the guy, and depicting him as a nice middle-class boy, struggling with addiction. Then it dawns on you that all this will only help sales of the book. Then Larry King brings up the Jerzy Kosinski controversy as an analogy, Frey demurs, and then Larry reminds Frey that Kosiniski was so ashamed he killed himself. Then Frey’s mom shows up, and we watch mortified as this woman is asked to pick between her love for her son and his obvious deceptions. And then, just when you think it can’t get any weirder … God descends. Oprah’s on the phone, and claims she was ringing for ages but couldn’t get through. Weirder? The nation falls silent as God speaks. She doesn’t exactly defend the fraudulently packaged book, she blames the publishers and then somehow manages to bring you almost to the point of thinking that a book that does so much good need not be trashed for basic misrepresentation. For Oprah, the therapy trumps the integrity. Or there’s a deeper integrity to the guy’s recovery that should trump concerns about his obvious misleading of the reader. At this point, you are as gob-smacked as Anderson Cooper. And then he brings up his mother. And with images of Gloria Vanderbilt floating in my head, we find ourselves watching Project Runway. Bravo.

– posted by Andrew.


Iran appears to be on the verge of nuclear capacity. John Keegan sums up the situation admirably here. Sorry to ruin your morning.


THE NSA AND THE LAW: Critical legal analysis of warrant-less wire-tapping of American citizens can be found here.

ONE OF A KIND: Apparently, I don’t look like any celebrities known to the web. Phew.

YGLESIAS AWARD NOMINEE: “It is true that any Washington influence peddler is going to spread cash and favors as widely as possible, and 210 members of Congress have received Abramoff-connected dollars. But this is, in its essence, a Republican scandal, and any attempt to portray it otherwise is a misdirection.” – Rich Lowry, National Review.

CONDOMS AS GUNS: The latest Catholic analogy.

– posted by Andrew.


“I am at a loss to know how creationism has got mixed up with conservatism. I have always thought of conservatives as the cold-eyed people, unafraid to face awkward facts, respectful of rigorous intellectual disciplines, and decently curious, but never dogmatic, on points of metaphysics. Conservatism thus understood is, in my view, the ideal outlook for free citizens of a free society. Contrariwise, pseudoscientific fads, metaphysical dogmas like “dialectical materialism,” magical explanations for natural phenomena, and slipshod word-games about “agency” and “design” posing as science, arise most commonly in obscurantist despotisms. The old USSR was addled with such things, Lysenkoism being only the best known. You may say that an obscurantist despotism can be conservative in its own way, and you may have a terminological point; but that’s not the style of conservatism I favor.” – John Derbyshire, NRO, in an exchange with Tom Bethell.

Once again, I find myself in complete agreement with the old codger. How can that be? Once you get past his prejudices, which he proudly displays, Derbyshire is actually a recognizable old-style conservative. His description of the conservative temperament and attitude toward reality is absolutely something I share and, as he puts it, absolutely consonant with deep religious faith. I can see now what will be a main line of criticism of my book: that its understanding of conservatism is an English one, not American. Maybe that’s the origin of my detente with the Derb. But if our shared conservatism draws inspiration from English tradition and history, it is also a philosophical argument, available for universal inspection and debate. The point is not whether such a skeptical, empirical, practical, limited government conservatism can survive in today’s America. The point is whether it offers an attractive politics for the West in modernity. I agree with Derb that it is the ideal outlook for free citizens of a free society. I also believe it is the best politics for maintaining our freedom in modernity. Which is why fundamentalists of all kinds – Muslim and Christian – feel so threatened by it.

– posted by Andrew.


Here’s a document from some evangelical leaders specifically attacking the notion that the current state of Israel is Biblically mandated. These leaders differ from the increasingly popular and now mainstream fundamentalist notion of the End-Time, the Rapture, and the role that a unified and expansionary Israel will play in such a moment. Evangelical protestantism is not monolithic, but the dispensationalists are clearly gaining ground, as the astonishing success of the “Left Behind” books shows. I should add that dispensationalism is a relatively recent development. Like much that now passes for ancient truth (like the Catholic church’s insistence on the human person present in the zygote), its origins are actually very modern. In this new and modern brand of absolutist faith, the more extreme Christian fundamentalists are similar to many Islamic fundamentalists.

– posted by Andrew.


London’s most famous mullah unplugged. According to the prosecutor,

“In the course of one lecture [Abu Hamza] accused the Jews of being blasphemous, traitors and dirty. This, because of the treachery, because of their blasphemy and filth, was why Hitler was sent into the world.”

And people question why some of us insist on calling these monsters Islamo-fascists. The answer: because we speak English.

– posted by Andrew.


“This is in response to your emailer yesterday. I’m a (theologically) liberal Unitarian serving as an enlisted man in the military. I’ve had a number of religious discussions that included a number of dyed-in-the-wool fundamentalists and I’ve never been insulted/dismissed the way your correspondent was. Of course, that may be because I manage to explain my views respectfully without coming off like a condescending, pedantic ass. I think this unknown sailor was probably responding less to that individual’s theology than to what a jerk he was being. Unfortunately, I get the sense that their exchange was representative of too much of the interfaith ‘dialogue’ that goes on.”