|Man Without Qualities
Thursday, June 23, 2005
In Alex Cox's film Repo Man one person instructs another to read "Diaretics - The Science Of Matter Over Mind" - a semi-subtle reference to one of Scientology's foundational books by L. Ron Hubbard (the secular philosophy of Dianetics was eventually expanded and reworked into the religion of Scientology). But the cross references between the new Spielberg/Cruise fuss-flick War of the Worlds and Scientology go way beyond that kind of thing.
There's been a lot of reporting in connection with War of the Worlds regarding its star's increasingly overt links to Scientology. There was, for example, that Scientology "information tent" on the set, Mr. Cruise's overexcited enthusiasm for the movie and his faith coincidentally emerging at the same time. And so on.
But the Man Without Qualities thinks all that is just picking. It makes perfect sense for Mr. Cruise, as a Scientologist, to be more excited about War of the Worlds than he was about his other movies simply because Scientology is largely derived from the original H.G. Wells' novel War of the Worlds. In fact, to practice Scientology is largely to engage in an ongoing war of the worlds with nearly defunct aliens. Scientology goes to great lengths to keep its more advanced principles from the uninitiated, so the following summary of the core belief in the religion known as Scientology is on the snarky side (the reader may or may not want to read around the snarkier bits, but the basic facts are correct):
One is of course free to accept Scientology or not. Indeed, the abode of the Man Without Qualities is quite near the Scientology mother church in Hollywood, which means that I have known quite a few Scientologists (or former Scientologists) over the years. But I still found it odd that CNN yesterday featured a little item in which an attractive female reporter described how she had gone to a Scientology center in New York to "learn about Scientology." While she did say that her CNN report was occasioned by Mr. Cruise's involvement in War of the Worlds and Scientology, and she did talk about how nice the people at the center had been to her, and how a center big-shot had come down to talk to her, and how Scientology has "practical approaches to real life problems" ( a reference to techniques for flicking off those nasty Thetans?) - she didn't mention anything at all about the Scientology aliens.
L. Ron Hubbard was a science fiction writer before founding his religion. Like all science fiction writers concerned with alien invasions of earth, he had a huge debt to H. G. Wells' novel War of the Worlds. Hubbard's debt pertained to both his literary and religious output. For example, Wells' aliens feed on human flesh; Hubbard's aliens (Thetans) feed on human minds and souls. So why didn't CNN mention any of that? Isn't it newsworthy that the Scientology center - the place one goes to "learn about Scientology," as CNN put it - doesn't mention the core beliefs at all - even though they directly relate to the premises of War of the Worlds? And isn't it newsworthy that Scientology systematically withholds information about its core beliefs for quite some time, and only discloses those core beliefs after one has paid quite a lot of money? As the skeptics who scribed the above summary put it:
If people knew about this story then most people would never get involved in it. This story is told to you when you reach one of their secret levels called OT III. After that you are supposed to telepathically communicate with these body thetans to make them go away. You have to pay a lot of money to get to this level and do this (or you have to work very hard for the organisation on extremely low pay for many years).
Strange it was. Passing strange. Personally, I have no interest in seeing War of the Worlds - I'm still smarting from the dreadful Minority Report. But I may pop a DVD of Repo Man into the machine if I get some down time.
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
The state of the Democratic caucus in the United States Senate has reached the point where it is not surprising that sixteen Democratic Senators have signed a letter to the President that opens:
We are writing to urge you to call for the removal of the Chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Kenneth Tomlinson. We strongly disagree with your Administration’s decision to appoint an individual to head a not-for-profit corporation such as public broadcasting who is actively undermining, under-funding, and ultimately undoing its mission.But Mr. Tomlinson's official on-line biography notes: An appointment of President Clinton, he was confirmed as a member of the CPB Board in September 2000.Mr. Tomlinson's appointment status should be known to every single Democratic Senator who is signatory to this bizarre letter because, as the CPB web site explains:
The President of the United States appoints each member, who, after confirmation by the Senate, serves a six year term.Senators who signed the letter are: Schumer, Lautenberg, Feinstein, Leahy, Stabenow, Nelson (FL), Durbin, Kennedy, Harkin, Corzine, Cantwell, Biden, Boxer, Mikulski, Wyden, and Lieberman. Maybe they just weren't paying attention on September 8, 2000, the day the Senate confirmed Mr. Tomlinson?
Senator Schumer - who was a member of the Senate on September 8, 2000 - actually has this letter posted on his official web site.
The CPB board elected Tomlinson as its chair in September 2003. The board has eight members, and now consists of Tomlinson, Frank H. Cruz, Katherine Milner Anderson, Beth Courtney, Gay Hart Gaines, Cheryl Halpern, Claudia Puig and Ernest J. Wilson III. Of these current members, four (Frank H. Cruz, Katherine M. Anderson, Tomlinson and Ernest J. Wilson III) were appointed at the same time by President Clinton and confirmed on September 8, 2000. These four Clinton appointees were therefore all members of the board that elected Tomlinson Chair in 2003 by acclamation.
UPDATE: The New York Times reports:
"Mr. Tomlinson was first nominated to the board by the past administration and was renominated in 2003," said Erin Healy, a White House spokeswoman.But Ms. Healy appears to be in error because Mr. Bush seems not to have renominated Mr. Tomlinson at any time.
The CPB posts a press release concerning each appointment and reappointment to its board. No such press release concerning any reappointment of Mr. Tomlinson appears in the 2003 records. Moreover, the CPB press relase pertaining to Tomlinson's election as Chair says only that he was appointed by President Clinton - with no mention of any reappointment by President Bush. Nor does his official CPB biography mention a renomination. My guess is that Ms. Healy was confusing Mr. Tomlinson's 2003 election to Chair with a 2003 renomination by the President.
It's not clear (at least to me) why the Times doesn't correct her.
If one of my sons was caught using foul or inappropriate language at his school - calling some other child a "shithead" or a "fuckwad" in geography class, for example - there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this would not be accepted by the school as an "apology:"
"Some may believe that my remarks crossed the line, to them I extend my heartfelt apologies."Nor would such willfully evasive language become an acceptable "apology" if it was offered up with his voice quaking and tears welling in his eyes.
And it wouldn't fix things one bit if the young man added something like:
"I made reference to excrement, and other inappropriate bodily functions, Mr. Principal, I've come to understand that's a very poor choice of words."No, my sons' school would require an apology to include an express, clear admission that my son's remarks were objectively offensive and crossed the line and caused real damage, not just that some people might have taken offense. The school would also require that my son clearly admit that his remarks were substantively and seriously false and request that the people to whom the remarks were addressed forgive him for those remarks. And the school would also require from my son a promise that he not make such remarks and others like them again.
If my son didn't provide such a real, complete, clear apology and promise, the school would not allow him to continue to attend.
But that's what a private grammar school in Pasadena would require (although I am fortunate that neither of my sons has ever been the position of having to provide such an apology.) The United States Senate, Illinois voters and the Associated Press are apparently not supposed to be so picky.
UPDATE: The Washington Post, Fox News (includes video of "apology") and the New York Times certainly aren't prepared to be picky. The Times seems to think that only Republicans were clearly offended in the first place, and doesn't even mention the rebukes Senator Durbin had already received from the Anti Defamation League and Mayor Daley of Chicago.
And what of Senator Harry Reid, who previously said he "stood by" Senator Durbin's original slanders?
FURTHER UPDATE: Perhaps the first draft of Durbin's ersatz "apology" would have been acceptable in Pasadena:
The aide who wrote the first draft, and no longer works for Sen. Durbin, said, "I was asked to write an apology. Apparently I have much to learn about what that word really means."
Monday, June 20, 2005
One recurring aspect of many liberal policies is "unintended effects:" effects that the proponents of those policies claim not to have intended or even expected. It seems likely that the post Bush v. Gore Democratic policy of imputing illegalities, irregularities and/or intolerable strong arm tactics to essentially every electoral development that does not favor Democratic interests may have the "unintended effect" of causing parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that expire in 2007 to be renewed on terms seriously unfavorable to Democratic interests simply by inducing Congress to extend those renewed terms to the entire country and to amend those terms to make them consistent with such much broader application.
The Democratic call for uniform federal intervention in local election processes has been loud and broad since Al Gore's defeat in 2000 - and the call often comes with imputation of nationwide racism. For example, Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. has proclaimed:
Congress needs to pass legislation to federalize and nationalize future elections to the extent that there is one, fair, inclusive national standard and mechanism for conducting our federal elections.Although some provisions of the Voting Rights Act are generally applicable, the most serious provisions of the Act - those in its Section 5, sometimes called the "temporary" or "special" provisions - apply only to "covered" jurisdictions. For example, Section 5 requires covered jurisdictions to obtain preclearance from federal authorities prior to implementing any changes in their voting laws or procedures. But the definition of jurisdictions subject to, or "covered" by, special "remedial" provisions of the Act is absurdly out of date - especially given the nearly continuous post-2000 complaints from the left: Jurisdictions are now "covered" if they used a "test or device" for voting and less than half of voting age residents were registered or voted in the 1964, 1968, or 1972 presidential elections. "Coverage" will expire in August 2007 unless renewed - and it is a major goal of the civil rights establishment that it be renewed.
Post-2000 Democratic complaints go way beyond activities occurring in "covered jurisdictions" as currently defined in Section 5. For example, all of Ohio, and all but a few counties in each of California and Florida, are not "covered" jurisdictions under the Voting Rights Act. But the 2004 Presidential election brought reports like this from Ohio concerning Congressman Jackson's father:
The Rev. Jesse Jackson says Ohioans should not stand for the way elections were run in Ohio ... Jackson, president of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition said in a telephone interview Sunday[that] "The Ohio race has not yet been (decided) because of so many irregularities 26 days after the election." ... Jackson and others are complaining about uncounted punch-card votes, disqualified provisional ballots, discrepancies between exit polling and results, and too many votes counted for President Bush in Ohio. ... Jackson also said that there was a disparity in voting machinery used in suburban and urban neighborhoods. "The suburban communities had ample machines," he said. "In inner cities, we had people (waiting) five or six hours in line. That was no doubt targeted."... The counting of provisional ballots and wide gaps in vote totals for Kerry and other Democrats on the ballots in certain counties have raised too many questions to let the vote stand without further examination, Jackson said. "We can live with winning and losing. We cannot live with fraud and stealing," Jackson said.[UPDATE: More evidence that the existing definition of "covered" jurisdictions does not reflect current voting rights problems, in the form of Democratic complaints about the entire non-"covered" state of Ohio:
More than a quarter of voters, and more than half of black voters, experienced problems at Ohio polling places during the 2004 presidential vote, a Democratic Party report said on Wednesday. .... The report cited long lines that discouraged voting, poorly trained election officials and difficulties with registration status, polling locations and absentee ballots..... "The data clearly indicates that the system failed far too many Ohio voters," said Donna Brazile, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee's Voting Rights Institute and the project's leader.]In California, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals sought to enjoin the recent gubernatorial recall election on the basis of a variety of state-wide voting problems that supposedly violated the federal Constitution and the portions of the generally applicable provisions of the Voting Rights Act. The decision of the three judge panel was endorsed by much of the liberal Democratic establishment, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the National Association for the Advancement Of Colored People (whose local chapters were all plaintiffs), but was famously overturned by an eleven judge panel of the same court. And, of course, Republican partisan redistricting efforts in several states have provoked cries of outrage from Democratic partisans who had little objection to prior Democratic partisan districting, cries sometimes pertaining to covered jurisdictions (such as Texas) and sometimes attracting occassional Supreme Court sympathy.
Some academic commentators seriously question the need for the renewal of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act - arguing largely that it has achieved its stated purpose. Previous renewals of the expiring provisions of the Voting Rights Act have come close to stalling over exactly the definition of "covered" jurisdictions - with the traditional civil rights establishment and the Democrats determined that the definition not be extended to the country as a whole. Yet, more recently, the upcoming 2007 renewal of the "temporary" provisions already seem to accept that redefining "coverage" is appropriate, as in this pro-renewal article:
Will the VRA’s special provisions be extended in 2007? An article in Richmond Times Dispatch from February of 2004 points to an optimistic future. The author claims that the two top Senate Republican leaders have supported the permanent reauthorization of the Act. Republican senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the majority leader, and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority whip, made public statements in favor of permanent reauthorization of the key sections of the Act. Another Republican Senator, George Allen from Virginia, stated that he supported VRA’s application to extend nation-wide. These public statements indicate a positive future for the extension of the special provisions.The Supreme Court has also weighed into the matter through its decisions signaling that provisions of the Voting Rights Act that call for race conscious actions by federal officials must be carefully documented as actually "remedial" - which means that out-of-date provisions predicated on log-past practices and patterns of discrimination will not survive judicial scrutiny without serious updating.
The link between the continuous post-2000 Democratic cries of electoral unfairness and the renewal of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act has been noticed by others:
Democratic Representative Betty McCollum [said] “The Voting Rights Act is one of the most important civil rights laws passed by Congress and it has my full support...” However, “Making ‘preclearance’ permanent may be premature,” said McCollum. “This provision hasn’t been fully examined and analyzed carefully to reflect the current status of our laws, court decisions, enforcement actions and society. In addition, the Supreme Court has made clear in recent years that it will require Congress to establish a detailed record, through hearings and legislative findings, in order to ensure that the ‘preclearance’ provision (section 5) can survive Constitutional scrutiny. ... The 2000 presidential election in Florida is a terrible example of our democracy not serving the needs of all Americans. Even in Minnesota, minorities, low-income communities, and new Americans are encountering obstacles when exercising their right to register to vote as a result of recent policy changes by Minnesota’s Secretary of State." .... And from Democratic Senator Mark Dayton: “Section 5 definitely needs to be updated and improved. We do not want to do this during a political year, and definitely not during this administration and this Congress.But renewal of Section 5 is going to come up during this administration and probably during a Congress very much like this Congress. And its renewal will come on the tail of many years of Democratic cries for nationally applicable federal elections legislation, Supreme Court demands for current and explicit justification of Section 5 and Republican desires that Section 5 (as amended in 2007) apply to the whole nation - just as the Democrats have been implicitly demanding for years, without intending such a result.
Sunday, June 19, 2005
When I was a kid growing up in New York, the World Jewish Congress fought a never ending battle to keep people from making movies and other entertainments about the Shoa. The Congress understood that such activities would inevitably degrade the reality through a process in some respects similar to the process that has caused the image of George Patton to be displaced in too many minds by that of George C. Scott. Many Long Island families, especially jewish families, imposed a dinner-table version of what Mickey Kaus calls the "Hitler Rule:"**
A politician must never, ever, compare anything or anyone to Hitler or the Nazis, no matter how apt the comparison.The dinner-table version of the Hitler Rule held that anyone in a family argument seeking to advance his or her position by comparing anything or anyone to Hitler or anything Nazi automatically lost the argument (such a ploy was considered to be akin to dividing by zero).
But the Congress lost - defeated by worthy efforts like Schindler's List and Playing For Time. Nevertheless, the process has taken its course. Now, a dim-witted political fable dressed up as an expensive, special effects-laden summer movie, such as X-Men, draws hardly a comment for featuring as its villain a mutant Holocaust survivor outfitted with ersatz concentration camp (in both common meanings of that term) footage to demonstrate his "origins."
And as for the Hitler Rule, it's come to this!
**Mickey's readers also point to "Godwin's Law."
POSTCRIPT: Even sixty years later things keep happening that refresh the understanding that the Nazis really were different.