30 July 2013

Fr Vsevolod Chaplin steps up for Snowden

Russia Today reports:
Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin has praised Russian authorities for not caving in to pressure from abroad, saying granting asylum to US whistleblower Edward Snowden would help prevent the establishment of a ‘global electronic prison camp’.

“It is encouraging news that Russia is demonstrating its independence in this case as it has in many others, despite the pressure” said the head of the Holy Synod’s Department for Relations between the Church and Society.

Vsevolod Chaplin added that the Snowden saga has been broadly discussed both on the domestic and international level, with Russia’s position potentially bolstering its image as a country upholding “the true freedom of ideals.”

The Russian cleric further argued that Snowden’s revelations confirmed the existence of a pernicious problem discussed by Orthodox Christians for many years – “the prospective of a global electronic-totalitarian prison camp”.

“First they get people addicted to convenient means of communication with the authorities, businesses and among each other. In a while people become rigidly connected to these services and as a result the economic and political owners of these services get tremendous and terrifying power. They cannot help feeling the temptation to use this power to control the personality and such control might eventually be much stricter that all known totalitarian systems of the twentieth century,” Interfax news agency quoted Chaplin as saying.

The church official added that in his view true democracy remained an unreachable ideal.

“Any political system fixes the domination of a few over many. In the twentieth century the harshest forms of such political power used brute force, but now they are using soft power, through total data collecting and through soft persuasion of people, first through slogans but then through legal acts,” Chaplin explained. He noted that currently the soft power system was promoting such topics as declaring the western political system as the only viable option, making religion a marginal trend, and sidelining both criticism of market fundamentalism and leftist political platforms.

Chaplin urged Russian authorities to defend “real freedom, the freedom from the global ideological dictate and from the electronic prison camp.”

The cleric also offered a possible solution – the development of its own electronic communications system that would be independent from foreign-based mediums. “The nation has the brains for this and I hope we will also have a will,” Chaplin declared.

Russia is currently considering Edward Snowden’s request for temporary asylum and the former NSA contractor still remains in the transit zone of the Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport.

The Russian Justice Ministry on Tuesday sent a formal response to a letter from US Attorney General, who assured Moscow that Snowden would not face the prospect of death or torture if handed over to the United States.

The Russian ministry did not provide the details of its reply to the press.
Note here that Fr Chaplin is not being the sycophant of Russian political power that he is often portrayed as being in the Western press (like Time Magazine, which gives him the moniker of the ‘Kremlin’s point man’ and hideously goes on to liken him to Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson). I have noted before how Fr Chaplin falls well to the left of Edinaya Rossiya on economic issues; indeed, his views on issues like progressive taxation and tighter regulation of business (however modestly stated) correspond well with some of the smaller left-wing opposition parties in Russian politics (like Spravedlivaya Rossiya). He is in this case also leagues ahead of the Russian government in calling for Snowden to receive asylum, and indeed critiquing theologically the technologies which have allowed the modern state to achieve such power as it has, and abuse it in the way which it already clearly has. His voice is a conscientious one in Russian politics, and as such it is sorely needed.

Отлично, Fr Chaplin! Keep fighting the good fight, keep staying the course and keep keeping the faith!

28 July 2013

Austen notes

First off, this is absolutely awesome, almost as awesome as the arrival of young George Alexander Louis Windsor, the week-old son of William and Kate, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and third in line to the British throne. If the fact that Britain still puts literary figures on their banknotes is not proof of the continuing stature and dignity of its civilisation, I don’t know what is. I am aware that there are some critiques of the quotation that is to be used on the note, ‘I declare after all there is no pleasure like reading’ being the insincere words of the shallow and vicious Caroline Bingley from Pride and Prejudice rather than the sincere sentiment by which the Bank of England means them to be taken. Even so, the placement of Austen on a British banknote is something to be rejoiced in.

Ms Austen being only the third woman to grace a UK banknote is reason enough for celebration, women’s contributions to British culture being manifold and great (though personally, I would have preferred to see St Margaret of Scotland’s, Julian of Norwich’s or Isabella Gilmore’s faces portrayed with somewhat greater prominence than they are!). Even so, certain journalists still somehow see Austen as ‘safe’ and ‘bland’, two words I would certainly not use to describe her. Her keen perceptive capacities and insight into human motivations, weakness and nobility give her novels a timeless quality, but considering her context gives her novels even more bite. She ridiculed the distortions and indifferences of privilege in her own day a litotic-but-sharp way which many more leftist authors of both fiction and non-fiction would do well to emulate, and her sympathies lay (unsurprisingly, given her background as a single woman without property) with poor women who had few-to-no means of self support. Sir Walter Scott saw the value – both literary and social – in her books when most of her contemporaries dismissed her as trifling (a trend to which we are now very sadly returning). It doesn’t help that American audiences, lacking in culture and erudition as we are, when faced with Austen novels are generally too dazzled by the great mansions, the Regency dresses and the fancy parties to clue into the fact that she was busy subtly skewering all of the above.

It’s a great thing that the British government is doing something to commemorate the life of this extraordinary woman-of-letters, and even greater that people like Caroline Criado-Perez have stuck their necks out to see this happen. But it’s also unfortunate that it’s brought the anti-Austen snobs and angrier-and-more-feminist-than-thou types out of the woodwork.

23 July 2013

Miserere nobis, Domine

Just to be clear, gentle readers, the following (courtesy of Mark Shea) is a propaganda video from North Korea, a horrid Stalinist regime which deserves (and indeed gets) no sympathy whatsoever. But when their descriptions of Anglo-American celebrity culture, consumerism, neo-colonialism, militarism, violent entertainment, Brave New World-esque distraction and deliberate cultivation of ignorance and apathy strike so close to home, and the disastrous effects of the culture of death on such basic human experiences as friendship, love and family are so profoundly distinguished and diagnosed, Mark has it absolutely right that the proper response ought to be one of reflection and repentance, not of kneejerk tu quoques. Please be forewarned, parts of this video contain extreme violence (both animated and real) and are not safe for work.

Now, colour me sceptical that the North Korean government published this video with anything but ill intents toward the Anglo-American West in mind. And of course the remedies the North Korean government holds forth, of rabid nationalism and state control over all aspects of life, are as bad if not worse than the disease they describe. But the fact that these critiques strike so close to home on a whole host of issues, political, economic and cultural, should be enough to give us pause. Have mercy upon us, Lord.

19 July 2013

Market liberalisation and sex-selective abortion in Asia

A very interesting abstract of a paper at NBER, and the accompanying article at Foreign Policy magazine, argue that the market liberalisation policies after 1976 are a heavily contributing factor to the sex-selective abortion phenomenon in China, even more so than the actual One Child Policy. I certainly would not be surprised at this, as the destabilising effects of the household responsibility system on China’s socioeconomic landscape have been immense, but I imagine that the assertion that the HRS is more to blame for China’s sex imbalances than is the OCP will be a controversial one, and not only in China.

Also, the Foreign Policy magazine article also links the piece by Mara Hvistendahl about the causes underlying sex selection in Asia. Unfortunately, the issue of sex-selective abortions is already something of a political football, and Ms Hvistendahl points out some of the shady - to say the least - history of the joint involvement of the pro-abort and green Malthusian movements in engineering the institutional and physical infrastructure necessary for sex-selective abortion to become widespread. These two factors in China: privatisation (and thus the introduction of market logic into decisions about family planning) and easy access to the infrastructure needed for sex-selective abortions, driven by a confluence of ideologies in the global technocracy valuing population control as a positive end, have produced a tragic condition for millions of what are commonly called here ‘bare branches’ and ‘leftover women’, which will very likely take multiple generations to undo. Whether privatisation and technologically-driven control over reproduction, the primary sufferers of the fallout are always, always the working class. And it isn’t merely the over 330 million foeti who have been aborted since these policies were introduced; it is also the living young men and young women who are forced to navigate a demographically-shattered society with growing wealth and education gaps.

We inheritors of the modern pseudo-West have a great deal to answer for in China. Not merely for the Opium Wars and the legacy of colonialism, but for the ideological imports which continue to poison Chinese culture and hinder the basic needs of its people.

16 July 2013

‘Kids Who Die’ by Langston Hughes

Ms Rebekah Grace Potts, my fellow contributing editor at Solidarity Hall and my Facebook friend, posted a poem yesterday which expresses far better than I could ever hope to do with my clumsy prose, my feelings about the Trayvon Martin case verdict:
This is for the kids who die,
Black and white,
For kids will die certainly.
The old and rich will live on awhile,
As always,
Eating blood and gold,
Letting kids die.

Kids will die in the swamps of Mississippi
Organizing sharecroppers
Kids will die in the streets of Chicago
Organizing workers
Kids will die in the orange groves of California
Telling others to get together
Whites and Filipinos,
Negroes and Mexicans,
All kinds of kids will die
Who don’t believe in lies, and bribes, and contentment
And a lousy peace.

Of course, the wise and the learned
Who pen editorials in the papers,
And the gentlemen with Dr. in front of their names
White and black,
Who make surveys and write books
Will live on weaving words to smother the kids who die,
And the sleazy courts,
And the bribe-reaching police,
And the blood-loving generals,
And the money-loving preachers
Will all raise their hands against the kids who die,
Beating them with laws and clubs and bayonets and bullets
To frighten the people—
For the kids who die are like iron in the blood of the people—
And the old and rich don’t want the people
To taste the iron of the kids who die,
Don’t want the people to get wise to their own power,
To believe an Angelo Herndon, or even get together

Listen, kids who die—
Maybe, now, there will be no monument for you
Except in our hearts
Maybe your bodies’ll be lost in a swamp
Or a prison grave, or the potter’s field,
Or the rivers where you’re drowned like Leibknecht
But the day will come—
Your are sure yourselves that it is coming—
When the marching feet of the masses
Will raise for you a living monument of love,
And joy, and laughter,
And black hands and white hands clasped as one,
And a song that reaches the sky—
The song of the life triumphant
Through the kids who die.

11 July 2013

Let’s be clear

Talking again about social issues for the moment (a dangerous pastime, I know), among other things…

Let’s be perfectly clear. American liberals do have a strong point about some of the hypocrisy in the ‘pro-life’ camp. If you are against abortion but consistently block any efforts to make children’s lives bearable once they are born by, say, opposing labour unions, a living wage, easier access to healthcare and so on, you are not ‘pro-life’ and should not get to call yourself so. Likewise you are not ‘pro-life’ if you are in favour of unjust wars, drone strikes, arming Salafi extremists or an interventionist or imperialist foreign policy. You are not ‘pro-life’ if you oppose commonsense restrictions on gun ownership and enforcement of basic gun safety. You are not ‘pro-life’ if you support the unfettered use of capital punishment in nations where wrongful convictions are not only possible but happen on a regular and systemic basis along racial and class lines. You are not ‘pro-life’ if you support an agricultural system and policy which regulates small farmers out of business at home, prices small farmers out of business and into starvation abroad, and all the while feeds the world slow-acting processed poisons and God only knows what genetic monstrosities, sold in shiny packaging by the same five megacorporations.

This is all very much true and fair. If you are going to uphold something like human life as intrinsically valuable, you have to do so – all across the board. But the exact same logic applies to the other side as well.

You shouldn’t get to call yourself ‘pro-choice’ if you are promulgating an atomised, rootless and deracinated model of normative womanhood, centred on contemporary bourgeois white Protestant cultural experience and shaped by corporate workplace-cultural demands of how many children she ought to have and when she ought to have them, if indeed she is to have them at all. You are not ‘pro-choice’ if you oppose making available to a pregnant woman any information about her baby, what her options are or what resources she has available to her if she decides to carry to term, which might be germane to her decision of whether or not to keep it. You are not ‘pro-choice’ if you oppose any sort of basic safety regulation on the clinics which perform abortions. You are not ‘pro-choice’ if you think the only elements of sex education which should be taught to high-schoolers are reproductive biology, prevention of disease and contraception – to the exclusion of sexual ethics and the building of healthy, trusting and monogamous relationships. You are not ‘pro-choice’ if you believe individuals working in health-service provision, or in any business, should not have the right to refuse to provide services to the public which conflict with their consciences or the teachings of their religion.

If you are going to uphold ‘choice’, in the accordant Amartya Sen-inspired manner of building capacities to make fully-informed, physically and morally healthy decisions about one’s living conditions, you should at least be consistent about it.