Archive for January 4th, 2008

Respect My Religion, Infidels

January 4, 2008

I’m with Eugene Volokh: this UN resolution (if that link doesn’t work, try this one) is… pretty bad. Professor Volokh doesn’t specifically mention a provision (point 10) I find particularly obnoxious:

[The General Assembly] Emphasizes that everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which should be exercised with responsibility and may therefore be subject to limitations as provided by law and necessary for respect of the rights or reputations of others, protection of national security or of public order, public health or morals and respect for religions and beliefs;

I for one do not want legal restrictions on my freedom of expression, especially for the protection of public morals. Fortunately, since this is just a UN General Assembly resolution mostly made of pap, I imagine it will have no actual effect.

Now I’m all for respecting other people’s religions–no, wait, I’m not! I want the right to make fun of other people’s religions, especially if they are, for example, Scientologists or Madonna-style pseudo-Kabbalists (and by all means, make fun of my religion too, if you can figure out what it is. I can’t!). What I am all for is allowing people to practice whatever religion they want, no matter how stupid, as long as it doesn’t involve violence and general infringement of people’s rights (what rights are those? TBD, but to include, I don’t know, the right not to be stoned to death for dishonoring your family by getting raped).

No one has a right not to be offended, about religion or anything else. Yes, the world would be a better place if everyone respected everyone else, and lived by the rule, “Don’t be a jerk.” But that’s not going to happen, and no amount of laws–let alone UN resolutions–will make it so. In the real world, we often can only make progress by pissing each other off, and that’s OK. If the UN really wants to make us all more understanding and tolerant of each other (not the real motivation behind this resolution, I think; see below), then it should encourage free and open discussion, not legislate (or whatever the UN does) what we can discuss.

Note that this resolution was pushed by Pervez Musharraf, perhaps in an effort to get some political mileage out of that Danish cartoon fiasco. I guess that didn’t work out so well.

George MacDonald Fraser, RIP

January 4, 2008

I am deeply saddened to learn that George MacDonald Fraser, author of the Flashman novels, has died.

The Flashman books are the best historical novels I’ve ever read (*). For those who don’t know, Flashman was the school bully in Tom Brown’s Schooldays, expelled from Rugby for drunkenness, much to the reader’s edification. The conceit of the Fraser’s books is that after being expelled, Flashman–still a bully, a coward, a cad, a compulsive womanizer, a liar, a cheat, and generally an all-around rotter–joined the army, and went on to be involved in every interesting event of the Victorian era, many of which (the charge of the Light Brigade, Little Bighorn, etc) he survived either by surrendering or running away. Needless to say he lived to a ripe old age, hailed as a hero: mostly because those who knew what he really was tended to end up dead.

The books are meticulously researched, extraordinarily well-written, and tremendously entertaining. Historical novels tend to be dry and stilted, even more so than contemporary novels. Writing believable dialog is difficult (at least, to judge from how few people do it well), and writing believable dialog in an approximation of another era’s idiom especially so. Fraser did it brilliantly. Very few authors can conjure up such period atmosphere so convincingly.

If Fraser became a little too sympathetic to Flashman as the series went on, well, that’s a quibble. The third, fourth, and fifth books are the best of the series (IMHO), but read ’em all.

Alas, now we’ll never know how Flashy lost the battle of Gettysburg for the Confederacy, or to what use Grant or Lee (it could have been either) put his striking resemblance to JEB Stuart.

(*) The very first historical novel, which runs through the Biblical books of I and II Samuel, is good too, but that’s another story.

Caucus Fever! The Aftermath

January 4, 2008

Huckabee and Obama–just as I would have predicted at, um, 4:30 or so yesterday afternoon. My thoughts and predictions:

  • Huckabee won’t get the nomination. The caucus results overstate his support and appeal–he’s got a strong base of fervent supporters, drawn from conservative evangelicals, who once fired up are more likely than just plain unexcited folks to turn up for a caucus. In a real election the evangelicals won’t be that overrepresented. Also, as I said, the shadowy cabal that runs the Republican party can’t abide Huckabee.
  • Not that I have much of a clue who will get it, though. I’d bet on Romney, mostly because as far as I can tell the Republican bosses hate McCain too. I’m still desperately trying to assume Giuliani doesn’t have a chance.
  • Also, Romney is still all chiseled and handsome, and that counts for a lot. Paula Poundstone, whom we saw a year and a bit ago, kinda nailed it:

    Paula: “How about Mitt Romney? Is he going to be President, or what? He’s so handsome and Presidential I think he’s going to make it.”

    Audience [a Paula Poundstone audience in Cambridge, MA, will contain very few Republicans. Lots of lesbians, though] : ” Noooo!”

    Paula: “No, no, really! We’re just not that smart! So you’re fucked.”

  • For the Democrats, geez, I don’t know. My money’s still on Hillary, with her steely nerve and political machine. Heck, this could help her, if she can exploit the “now I’m the plucky underdog” storyline (OK, a bit of a stretch for Hillary). It sorta depends on whether The Media decide to go a little easy now that she’s not invulnerable, or to kick her while she’s down.

Gosh, but The Onion has the most intelligent political commentary of any major media outlet (yes, those are all old, but still).