Thursday, January 11, 2007

Watchers Council Winners

[posted by Callimachus]

Watchers Council winners for the week of January 5 have been poted.

First place within the council went to Religion and Politics: Intolerance Is Growing by Right Wing Nut House. I must belong in the nuthouse, too. Like Rick, I'm essentially skeptical and irreligious, especially in public, and have a strong distaste for aggressive and authoritarian sects of any stripe.

Like him, too, my personal squabbles with certain Christians and Muslims don't lead me to demonize them wholesale, or to deny the legitimacy of the faith of masses of believers. Nor do I ignore the beautiful and uplifting contributions religion has made to civilization. If religion has painted the history books red with spilled blood, it also has painted the Sistine Chapel.

When it comes to the role of religion in American history and public life, I think I see the view of many of the Founders, which is that, regardless of their personal positions on the topic and their hopes for humanity's future, a public religion was an essential good, to be cherished -- from a safe distance -- by a democratic government. As a non-believer, I can say I feel safer in Andrew Sullivan's "Christianist"-menaced America than in any other place I have knowledge of in the present or the past.

People like me tend to know Voltaire's quip about god, but not its context: "I want my lawyer, my tailor, my servants, even my wife to believe in God, because it means that I shall be cheated and robbed and cuckolded less often. ... If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him."

And, like Rick, it's hard for me to turn in any direction on the Internet today without meeting a discussion of Other People's Religion, or religion overall, that isn't stomach-churning in its simplified demon-mongering. Such as:

You people are seriously disturbed. You think a magic man is going to appear out of the sky and grant you eternal bliss. If the man’s name was anything other than Jesus, that belief would get you locked up as a psychotic. And the fact that you have given him this magic name and decided to call him your Lord doesn’t make it any more sane.

Imagine for a second if instead of Jesus, some psycho was waiting for a magical creature named Fred to come save him this year and suck him up into the sky. Now, who doesn’t think that man needs serious counseling and perhaps medical supervision? Now, you change Fred into Jesus, and you have 25% of the country.

Sometimes the world scares me. It is full of psychotics who go around pretending to be rational human beings. You think that’s offensive, then prove me wrong. I dare you.

Also getting votes were The Mysterious Mr. Ritter by American Future; it's a topic I know a little better than I can admit in full, because Mr. Ritter has some local connections here; and You Keep Using That Word... by Andrew Olmsted, Hidden Truth About Arafat Revealed by Rhymes With Right, and Dingell-ling by Soccer Dad.

Nuremburg 2006? by Eternity Road was a fascinating post that explored the concept of "victor's justice" in the American Civil War, World War II, and the Saddam Hussein trials.

Outside the council, the big winner was The Blogosphere at War by The Belmont Club, "an attempt to describe how the blogosphere works; to situate it vis-a-vis the mainstream media and to indicate some of the ways it can be used as a weapon of information warfare ...." An admittedly "half-baked" post, it yet stakes out a field for a great discussion.

Some of the observations are not new, but bear repeating:

One of the most interesting properties of the blogosphere is that its information collectors -- the bloggers -- are sometimes significantly better at gathering certain signals than professional reporters with the mainstream media. This is often the result of the Day Job Effect. A blogger, by definition a part time writer, can sometimes more accurately recognizes the significance of an event because his professional training prepares him to notice something that would be ignored by the generalist reporter.

It prematurely regards the Jamal Hussein/AP story as a settled matter, but if you read past that, it presents a case that bloggers can be -- and have been -- an essential home-front component on all sides in recent wars. Those ironic chickenhawk slurs about "fighting keyboardists" and "chairborne brigades" might have some basis after all.

The State of the Jihad a useful global round-up by Bill Roggio at The Fourth Rail, and Some of the Things I Believe, But Cannot Prove: Regarding Risk by TigerHawk.

A vote also went to CP Snow's Two Cultures Today by Assistant Village Idiot. That was my vote, I'm pretty sure. For anyone who read Snow's book in high school or college and found it a formative experience that has led to a lifelong dialogue with the ideas between its covers, this is a great post.

Also on the list was My First Encounter With the Beast by Breath of the Beast. It tells a tragic story of the author's encounter with her new neighbors, an Iranian-American family, in the early 1980s.

It was a sunny Sunday morning and Amy went out right after breakfast and met Amir in his backyard. We watched as they began to play and turned away to read the Sunday paper. We were surprised when Amy came back inside a short while later. She walked by us with her head down and started up the stairs to her room. We had expected to have to call her in for lunch so it was odd that she came back so early. I called after her and asked her what was wrong. She told me how little 5-year-old Amir had matter-of-factly informed my innocent 5-year-old daughter that because she is a Jew it is his duty to kill her.

I went right over to talk with my friend and neighbor. Hamid was deeply embarrassed. He hastened to explain that: “Over there, the radio and TV were full of that kind of thing - you simply couldn’t avoid it. He assumed that Amir had heard this kind of thing on the radio or TV because no one in his family believed such things. He was sure, he told me, that now that Amir was back here he would soon forget it. He assured me that he would talk with Amir and was sure that the boy didn’t even understand what he was saying.