Saturday, April 03, 2004

conservative science fiction and fantasy authors -- Christianity

I'm not sure I really approve of the close association of Christianity with conservatives. Christianity is concerned with issues much more critical than mere politics. Still, political conservatives and biblical Christians are natural allies so they tend to get conflated into one group. That's my justification for including Christian books and books sympathetic to Christians in my list of conservative science fiction and fantasy authors. I'll discuss four of them here.

C. S. Lewis, the famous Christian apologist, wrote one science fiction series and one fantasy series. The Space Trilogy is a rather grim story that takes Biblical themes and plays them out in a science fiction setting. The Narnia series is an allegorical fantasy. If you don't see (or don't appreciate) the Christian allegories then these books are only suitable for children. If you do appreciate the allegories, then you will enjoy the books as an adult as well. Both sets of books are manifestly Christian. I can't think of anything else particularly conservative about them, and in fact I don't think C. S. Lewis was particularly conservative in a political sense. You have to remember though, that he lived in England where "conservative" meant something quite different than it does in the US today. In fact, "conservative" in the US today means what "liberal" did in previous centuries. "Liberal" today means what "anti-liberal" did in previous centuries. It's one of the most obvious signs of leftist control of the media that they were able to appropriate this grand old word to mean the opposite of what it used to.

Christopher Stasheff is a Catholic who has criticized other fantasy authors for writing stories about the middle ages while ignoring the powerful and pervasive influence of the Church. I think his complaint is exaggerated, but he deserves credit for writing a series: Wizard in Rhyme to explicitly counter this trend. In that series the Church is a strong and positive influence on the culture, and the good guys are all good Christians. I didn't think this series was as good as his Warlock of Gramarye series though. The first few books in that series were terrific. Stasheff is a prolific writer and his work varies quite a bit in quality so if you buy a stinker, don't give up on him, give him another shot.

I was drawn to my first book by C. Dale Brittain: A Bad Spell in Yurt because I loved the title. There is a series of Yurt books now, and they are unusual in having a sympathetic Church similar to the Catholic Church and in having sympathetic Christian characters. Don't be mislead by the book covers: although there is some humor at the expense of the hero, these are not comedies. The hero is a wizard with natural talent but who has a problem with, shall we say, motivation. Or we could just say he is lazy. The first book is a sort of a fantasy, Elizabethan, Lovecraftian murder mystery/comedy. It all works, though. Trust me. Over all, I'd have to rate the Yurt books higher than Stasheff's Rhyme books.

And of course no list of Christian science fiction and fantasy authors would be complete without mentioning Donald Crankshaw. His Fire novel/series is better than a lot of published science fiction and fantasy I've read. Actually, the story doesn't have anything especially conservative or Christian, but he does list himself in his web page as " An Evangelical, Republican Electrical Engineer ", so that ought to count for something. Besides, Lewis is CofE, Stasheff is Catholic, and Brittain is unknown, so I needed an evangelical to round things out. You can access his on-line novel here.

UPDATE: Oops. Corrected the spelling of C. Dale Brittain's name. Two t's. Donald Crankshaw seems a bit embarrassed that I included him in the list. That was, of course, one of my motivations for doing so. He also mentions that I forgot Tolkien. That's sort of like going out to count the trees in your neighborhood and forgetting to count the ones in your front yard. On the other hand there doesn't seem to be much reason for me to review him. Go rent the DVD's.

the liberalization of China

This from my right-wing insider, James:
Now, it makes sense that France would conduct joint military exercises with
China, as they both see a major threat from Tibetan folk songs. The US
should also ban and arrest anyone who posses these seditious CDs.

China arrests popular Tibetan musicians
Fri Apr 2,10:33 PM ET

...The arrests appear to have been prompted by the mildly political content
of Namkha's songs...
Local security officials went to the monastery and instructed the monks to
surrender those CDs, RFA said. They warned the monks that they would face
"serious consequences" if they were found to possess Namkha's music, the
source said.
The arrests follow reports indicating that Chinese officials were taking a
tougher stance on dissent among Tibetans.
I thought James's comment was funny, but then I read the article and it didn't seem so funny any more. It is common for people to get arrested in China and then never be heard from again. These two men might very well end up being worked to death at one of the slave labor camps that make goods for American consumers.

I have a leftist friend who likes to talk about how China is liberalizing. He even approves of the fact that they are (according to him) trying to institute capitalism first, instead of trying to institute capitalism and liberty at the same time like Russia did. In other words, he believes that China is moving from communism to fascism and he approves. He's sure that the fascism is temporary and that the fascist leaders of China will some day institute democratic reforms and give up all their power. Until then, people are being dragged off to slave labor camps for singing slightly nationalistic songs in Tibet.

That's OK for this friend of mine though, because he's sure things aren't as bad as it seems. This friend, like many leftists, claims not to be a leftist and claims to be opposed to oppressive dictatorships. He claims to generally have liberal American values (liberal in the old sense of "liberty"). But if you talk to him for a while, you see that he (like other leftists) always seems to see the good in brutal communist and socialist dictatorships; he's always sure they aren't as bad as reported. I have never once been able to criticize any leftist dictator without him defending the thug. And conversely, he's always sure the US is worse than reported and always does heinous things. He criticizes the US far more often and in far harsher terms than any brutal dictatorship on the planet. The brutal dictatorships that he does citizen are invariably US allies (or at least allies of convenience). Pakistan and Saudi Arabia were far worse, in his opinion than Iraq, Iran, or North Korea.

When there's smoke there's fire. And when someone thinks everything the US does is evil and even the evil things a brutal dictator does are OK, then this is not a person who genuinely values the American ideals of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. Or at least he has other things he values much more highly.

Friday, April 02, 2004

the Passion in Palestine

When Yassar Arafat saw The Passion of the Christ and reported that he found no trace of anti-Semitism, we all thought it was a good joke. If only Hitler were still around to review the film! But what we all missed in the outpouring of sarcasm was the enormous implications of this movie showing in the Arab world at this time. It opened in Qatar on Sunday and it's having a huge draw. Theaters are canceling other movies to make room for it. A large part of the draw is surely the fact that the film is being seen as anti-Semitic. In fact, some Muslim clerics have said that Muslims ought to watch the film because it displays Jewish crimes.

Should we be worrying about the possiblity of a boost in anti-Semitism? It could happen and we should acknowledge the possibility. But really, how much worse can the anti-Semitism in that part of the world get? A majority of the population already longs to see the end of the Jews so any anti-Semitic effect of this film is likely to be lost in the noise. What's far more interesting is the positive things the film might do. A non-native in Qatar reports the following:
The Arabic subtitles were completely accurate - they didn't water ANYTHING down or change any language that Muslims would not agree with. All of us watched the film in absolute amazement in what God had done. The Muslims sitting around us were being moved - gasping, crying and reacting with disgust to the brutality that Jesus faced.Now - if you have heard anything about why the Arab Muslims would want to see the film, you know that it is because they 'heard' it was anti-Jewish and since they hate the Jews, they want to see it. How interesting that God is using this film to communicate the Gospel and the very opposite spirit that might be motivating them to go and see it. The message to LOVE YOUR ENEMIES, and Jesus praying for them to be forgiven while on the Cross would hit the Muslim theatre-goer in a powerful way.
Muslims are going to see this film because of their hatred and in the end, the message they will hear is to LOVE. Is it not just like God to do something like that? They mean it for evil, and God means it for good!!
The killing of Palestinian Hamas leader, Sheikh Ahmad Yassin happened the morning after the film was released. The Arab response has been a whole new wave of hatred for the Jews, which was illustrated in a large public demonstration/march yesterday. Again, God's timing is so amazing. At a time when the urge for Muslims to hate has been renewed, the Lord has brought THE PASSION telling them - NO, LOVE YOUR ENEMIES! Forgive them! The contrast is staggering.

The person writing this email is a Christian who believes (as I do) in the power of the Gospel message to change lives. But even if you don't believe in this, there is reason to hope that this will have a positive effect on Muslims. If nothing else, it will make some of them curious about Christianity, and therefore about alternatives to the hate-filled religious teaching many of them have had to live with. Now that they have the internet, the only thing keeping those people in their insular world is lack of curiosity, so if we can make them curious then a large part of the war has been won. In addition, this film may help to break some of the harmful stereotypes that Muslims have for Christians and Jews. They will see that there is more to Christians than the Crusades and the US Marines. And surely someone is going to have to notice that Jesus was a Jew and that he forgave the people who crucified him.

I think there is enormous cause for hope here. And if the film has positive effects in the Muslim world, a great deal of the credit will have to go to the Jewish groups that protested its release. This would be a double irony: the film gains popularity because they opposed it, and they benefit from the increased popularity. I hope that in twenty years we will be having great arguments about what was the more powerful influence leading to the great modernization and pacification of the Middle East: the liberation of Iraq or the release of The Passion of the Christ.

UPDATE: If you are reading this there is about a 1% chance that you didn't come here from One Hand Clapping but if you didn't, read Donald Sensing's comments. His remarks are less optimistic but clearly more knowledgeable than mine. Also, check out Back of the Envelope's comments. Just click on the trackback.

civil engineers

Yesterday's post reminded me of a joke:
How many civil engineers does it take to screw in a light bulb?
ANSWER: It's a trick question. There's no such thing as a civil engineer.
A friend of mine made that joke up. He always made sure to point that out when he told the joke, so I figure I should be pointing out that I know the guy who made it up.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

More on the conspiracy theorists

Last weekend I attended the International Inquiry into 9-11 , a conference for 9/11 conspiracists to get together and blame George Bush for the murders on 9/11. I've already blogged about it here and here.

The speaker who got the most attention was Jim Hoffman who has a web site that
was created to address the suspicious silence surrounding the total collapse of the 47 story skyscraper known as WTC 7
Apparently, there was a third, smaller skyscraper, World Trade Center Building 7 that collapsed on 9/11 but that never got much coverage. Hoffman's burden is to make the collapse and the lack of coverage of it seem as suspicious as possible. He does a fairly good job. He claims that in over 100 years of experience, no other steel-frame building has collapsed like that, yet three did so in one day. He points out that this sort of thing should have led to enormous and serious investigations, like they do for airline crashes, but instead there was just a small commission formed and they were never allowed to really inspect the site, much less do the kind of excavation needed to answer questions. Then the wreckage was hauled away and destroyed under security to make sure no independent investigations could be done.

I don't know how many of these stories are facts and how many are legends, but I do know that one of Hoffman's facts was wrong. He stated that petrochemical fires can't reach more than 900 degrees Centigrade in normal atmospheric conditions. This is significant because he claims the steel used in those buildings melts at 1300 degC. However, I googled "blowtorch" and quickly found a cute little pocket model that produces a petrochemical flame in normal atmospheric conditions that reaches 1300 degC according to the manufacturer. Welding equipment using oxygen with petrochemicals can get considerably hotter --hot enough to cut the highest-temperature steels. Clearly the temperature depends a lot on conditions.

Another of Hoffman's big points is the fact that the three buildings fell into their own footprints rather than falling over like a tree. I'm not a civil engineer but it seems to me that this is the most likely way for a big building to collapse. Materials behave differently at different scales. A quarter-inch steel rod ten inches long seems inflexible, but at ten feet it seems very flexible. Building joints are constructed to hold the building straight up, not to keep it rigid as it falls over. The building itself needs a lot of resistance to sheer (mostly for wind), but the stresses on the structural members must be completely different as the building tilts past a small designed angle, and they aren't built to resist that force.

Finally, Hoffman claims that the fires in the building weren't very severe. He points to the lack of flames and the dark smoke (which indicates an oxygen-starved fire). What he doesn't seem to know is that oxygen-starved fires in enclosed spaces built up large quantities of highly flammable gases that burn very hot when they finally do find some oxygen.

Hoffman got a standing ovation from the crowd. There was palpable excitement over this evidence (and it was fairly persuasive) of a government conspiracy to murder thousands of Americans. At first, that was the most disturbing part of the conference. If someone could actually manage to convince me that my government was run by people who were willing and able to form conspiracies of hundreds to murder thousands for political advantage, the last thing I would want to do is give the guy a standing ovation. The crowd seemed to be excited and enthusiastic about this evidence of grotesque brutality by their own elected officials. Then, as I went around for the weekend I eventually came to doubt that these people don't really believe these theories. Their actions are just not consistent with what they claim to believe. No one was camera shy. No one suspected anyone else of being an FBI spy. No one was frightened or depressed about the horror they claimed to believe. They acted like they were discussing the strongest force field that ever held the Enterprise. In other words, they acted like it didn't really matter.

Next, my own conspiracy theory.

Townhall embarrasses itself again over prescription drugs is a very good site for finding conservative columnists and I read it regularly, but they have this embarrassing weakness for drug-company propaganda. I don't know if they get money themselves from drug companies (though I'm beginning to suspect they do), but they frequently post bad, repetitive articles desperately trying to frighten people about importing drugs from Canada. I'm sorry, but the only reason anyone would pretend to be worried about the safety of drugs imported from Canada is because they have a strong incentive to take that position. And the most likely form of this incentive is money from drug companies.

The 9/11 timeline

Ann Coulter provides an interesting timeline of events leading up to 9/11. This should be required reading for every conservative who has leftist friends that claim they are fully behind the War on Terror, they just think Bush is screwing it up. The money line:
... now they claim to be outraged that in the months before 9-11, Bush did not do everything Democrats opposed doing after 9-11.

the myth of nuance

It has become common wisdom among the left that the right has a simplistic black and white view of the world in contrast to the left which sees the world in its various complex shades and colors. Some on the right have actually embraced this description, saying that yes, indeed the world is simple in certain situations and there is no need to look for complexity where none exists. By this, they give up too much to the leftist stereotypes of the political struggle and they should stop it.

Consider two people looking at a pile of lemons and limes. The lemons range in color from yellow to greenish-yellow and the limes range from green to yellowish-green. One person, John, looks at the pile and only sees a complex gradation of colors. The other, George, looks at the pile and sees two kinds of fruit with a complex gradation of colors. Which one has a more detailed or "nuanced" version of the situation?

Suppose the two have been assigned to get limes for the margaritas. John starts picking up random greenish fruits, and quickly ends up grabbing a greenish lemon. George tells him not to take that one because it's not a lime. John, being a leftists retorts, "You always see the world in simplistic lemon and lime colors, while I see a broad spectrum of yellow-greens". It is John who is seeing the world in a simplistic way. George sees the broad spectrum just as well as John but he also sees another very important distinction that John cannot: George sees the difference between lemons and limes.

The situation is similar in politics. Those of us on the right are perfectly capable of seeing these "nuances" that so concern the left. We can see that the Islamists think they are doing a noble and self-sacrificing thing. We know that their emotions and loyalties are quite similar to our own emotions and loyalties. In some ways the religious right actually understands the Islamists better than the left because they share with the Islamists a belief in God and a higher moral duty, something the left doesn't grasp at all. The difference is not that the right doesn't understand the terrorists as well as the left does, it is that they also see something else, something that the left doesn't see: the difference between competitors and enemies.

With competitors, you negotiate. You can't have everything you want and your competitors can't have everything they want, so you compromise; you find some middle ground that benefits both of you to some extent. Enemies aren't just competing for resources, they want to kill you. Or they are uncompromising on some issue on which you cannot compromise either. There is no possibility of negotiation unless you are willing to let them kill a few of you. That is arguably exactly what the US did before 9/11 and what Europe (and in particular, Spain) is still doing. "Oh, they only killed a few people, be nice, don't make them angry or they might kill even more." In the US, they eventually killed more than we were willing to tolerate so we finally recognized them as enemies, but our tolerance for small killings was never ethical. We should have had the same concern for the people in the embassies and in the USS Cole and in Mogadishu as we did for the people in the Twin Towers. Those earlier victims are no less deserving of justice for their smaller numbers. We should have recognized our enemies as soon as they proved their murderous intent and responded then as we have now, not because we lack the ability to see alternatives, but because we have the ability to see when there are no alternatives.

Monday, March 29, 2004

The scripture according to John Kerry

La Shawn Barber has started a great discussion of John Kerry's venture into biblical exegesis and practical application of doctrine. She even got Instalanched over it (Yeah, La Shawn!). Being the curmudgeonly type, what I want to mention is the few people who came in to criticize La Shawn for daring to criticize Kerry. One person says:
Shorter Republicans: "Kerry doesn't own Jesus! We own Jesus!"
I'm not sure if he intended to admit that Kerry was trying to claim Jesus for his side, but that's what Kerry was doing. Kerry, who never mentions Jesus except when it will be politically helpful is preaching to George Bush who frightens liberals because he obviously takes that religious stuff seriously. Then Bush is defended by La Shawn who also clearly takes Jesus very seriously as you know if you read her stuff. Then this clown comes in and claim that La Shawn is the one cynically trying to use Jesus for political ends.

Nick Foresta says
I wonder, who amongst you is qualified to speak for god? La Shawn seems to think he knows who is and is not a good Christian. How nice. Reading the words without understanding the message. I was always taught that judgement of another's faith was the exclusive domain of our lord. You guys must have a different bible than mine...
Keep in mind here that it was Kerry who used the Bible to say that Bush isn't a good Christian. La Shawn takes issue with this and Mr. Foresta thinks it is La Shawn who is being judgmental. Remarkable. And he thinks La Shawn, who is obviously a student of the Bible doesn't understand the message, but presumably Kerry, who thinks the Bible has "clauses" does. Nick actually has a good point about judgment here, but his one-sided and slanted application leaves him looking like a hypocrite.

Brian Jones writes,
Silly Nick. She's not questioning his adherence to christianity. She's questioning his patriotism.
Of course what she is questioning is his doctrine and his sincerity. Both are highly quesionable.

Kerry is a shameless opportunist. Twenty years ago he came back from the Vietnam war to slander his fellow soldiers and ride the resulting notoriety into political office. Now he is the proud veteran and champion of all those honorable men who fought in Vietnam. This filthy-rich white guy wants to be the Nascar candidate and the second black president. He wants to be Irish and Jewish. He wants to be a Catholic but oppose any restriction whatsoever on abortion. He's a sophisticated, secular liberal like those French he admires so much, but he also wants to be a fire-and-brimstone preacher railing against that evil man, George Bush. I expect this one will do no better than his other adventures into the streets with the common people he despises so much.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Christians and segregation

Girard Alexander has an interesting article at the Claremont Institute web site. In it he says:
David Chappell, a historian of religion, argues that during the height of the civil rights struggle, segregationists were denied the crucial prop of religious legitimacy. Large numbers of pastors of diverse denominations concluded that there was no Biblical foundation for either segregation or white superiority. Although many pastors remained segregationist anyway, the official shift was startling: "Before the Supreme Court's [Brown v. Board] decision of 1954, the southern Presbyterians. . . and, shortly after the decision, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) overwhelmingly passed resolutions supporting desegregation and calling on all to comply with it peacefully. . . . By 1958 all SBC seminaries accepted black applicants." With considerable understatement, Chappell notes that "people—even historians—are surprised to hear this." Billy Graham, the most prominent Southern preacher, was openly integrationist.
I can't count how many times liberals have told me that Christians (as a group) supported the segregation of the 1950s and 1960s. I was always sure that they were wrong, sure they were making unfounded assumptions based on their prejudice against Christianity, but I never had much response except my own prejudice in favor of Christianity. In my church there was a strong, constant message, not simply of tolerance but of love, for people of all races and religions. It always struck me as unlikely that other churches could be so different from mine. We were supposed to have the same Bible after all. This proves I was right. Hah!

Thanks to Back of the Envelope for the link.

conspiracy theory

This is a continuation of the article just below. What really struck me about the conference was the groaning mundanity of the afair. It could just as easily have been a model railroading convention or a chess club. I did some quick sampling. About half of the people looked to be in their fifties or sixties with other ages pretty much evenly represented. About one in 6 was a woman. The whole two days I only saw four non-whites. In other words, it was a bunch of angry white men (in downtown San Francisco, mind you, where whites are not even a majority).

The anger was all very abstract though. Everyone was surprisingly calm, courteous and thoughtful. It's kind of strange to have a polite young man raise his hand to ask the grandfatherly-looking speaker who he thinks is behind the Illuminati. By that time I was kind of expecting "The Jews", but no; banks and international finance (conspiracy code for "Jews") were only some of the villains. I asked one of these guys, Anthony J. Hilder, for a brief synopsis of his position. It turns out that Mr. Hilder doesn't give brief synopses, but eventually I determined that his position is that 9/11, like Oklahoma City and every Manson-like murder ever committed are all part of a global plan to take over the world.

It was refreshing to hear that someone wasn't claiming George Bush killed 3,000 people for crass political purposes. No, he has much broader and more sinister purposes. Satanic purposes. Mr. Hilder began with the term "Luciferian" rather than "Satanic". I presumed that "Luciferian" means "Satanic, and I am not a crackpot". Later events proved me right as he switched to "Satanic" when he became more comfortable with the audience. I was itching to ask him what he thought of the Salem witch trials, but forgot. That's my biggest regret of the day.

Anthony J. Hilder is also the one who presented the film 911 -- The Greatest Lie Ever Told. This film suggests that Arabs are too dumb to have pulled off 9/11 and that the military is full of dumb, ugly people. One of the lines (I quote from memory) was "Just take out his brains and put a monkey mask on him and you have a soldier." Some audience member politely pointed out that these parts of the movie could be considered offensive by some people --namely Arabs and veterans. Mr. Hilder agreed that the movie was racist but defended his decision by saying that everyone is racist and he was just exploiting that in order to persuade people who are too dumb to persuade with logic. He defended the comment about soldiers by telling us that in the finished movie (we were seeing a preview) there would be a quote by Henry Kissinger where Kissinger called soldiers dumb. I wasn't sure how that would square things with veterans, but Kissinger is a Jew, so maybe that has something to do with it.

It's only fair to point out that the real conspiracy theorists were not part of the main program. They were clearly among the most popular side shows though, and I wonder how the event organizers felt about that. I also wonder how they felt about the guy selling the book The Pink Swastika about how the Nazi movement was a plot by queers to take over the world. Did I mention that this event was being held in downtown San Francisco?

More later....

conference report: International Inquiry into 9-11

I spent Saturday afternoon at International Inquiry into 9-11, Phase One. This is an event dedicated to exploiting 9/11 in the presidential race to defeat Bush. I sat through parts of four presentations and three discussions. One of the presenters, Michael Ruppert, was burdened with showing how Cheney and Halliburton had conspired from the earliest days of the Bush administration to invade Iraq. One presenter, Joyce Lynn, and one discussion were basically "follow the dots" presentations where they try to demonstrate the existence of conspiracies by showing that lots of Republican Washington insiders know each and have shared business interests, belong to the same organizations, are related, etc. Another presenter, Jim Hoffman argued that the jets crashing into the towers do not explain the collapse of the towers. He proposes either explosives installed in the building or a secret CIA death ray in the basement of the building. He cautions that the death-ray explanation is highly speculative. One of the discussions was about a film clip that purported to show that Arabs are too dumb to have carried out the attack without the help of smart white people. The only presenter who I didn't think was unhinged was Daniel Hopsicker, a journalist who interviewed Mohamed Ata's girlfriend. More about him later.

The even organizer writes
Our hope is to create a safe space for new witnesses and testimony to come forward, and to deepen common understanding of the enormously complex events that preceded, occurred on and followed the attacks of September 11th 2001.
I expected to see people in hoods surrounded by body guards, or possibly video tapes of people testifying about 9/11 with their faces blurred and voices disguised. I hoped to see some action when the FBI invaded the place trying to arrest some witness who was now courageously coming forward after years of successful FBI intimidation. Instead I found that all of the "witnesses" had web sites, books, films, and/or organizations. They all seemed more concerned with promoting their web sites, books, films, and/or organizations than in hiding from the FBI. Several of them had T-shirts and bumper stickers. So, I guess the conference organizers were arguably successful in creating "a safe space for new witnesses" but I would tend to give the credit to America's founders and the various courageous politicians, judges, and soldiers who have kept America a "safe space" for cranks for over two centuries.

Well, I'm off to attend the remainder of the event. I'll write more about it when I get back.