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Links 12/19/10

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Mobile phone masts linked to mysterious spikes in births Guardian

13 Products Most Likely To Made By Child Or Forced Labor Huffington Post (hat tip reader May S)

The U-bend of life Economist

Bad Expectations New Republic (hat tip reader Skippy)

Swedish Police Report Details Case Against Assange New York Times

‘A new type of business McCarthyism’ hunts WikiLeaks, site founder says Raw Story

Joe Biden v. Joe Biden on WikiLeaks Glenn Greenwald

Retailers cry poor as sales drop sharply during Christmas period Sydney Morning Herald (hat tip reader Skippy)

The ghost towns of China: Amazing satellite images show cities meant to be home to millions lying deserted Daily Mail (hat tip reader Kendall)

China and Inflation: A Higher Currency Stems Inflation Dean Baker

Bodyguard business is booming Los Angeles Times

More on the lunacy of the Basle Accords London Banker (hat tip Richard Smith). An official welcome back to London Banker!

U.S. Yield Curve Steepest Since February on Tax-Cut Extension Bloomberg. This illustrates the design flaw of QE2: the Fed would have done better to set yield rather than quantity targets, and buy however much or little it took to hit those levels, since the aim of the exercise is presumably to achieve specific outcomes, rather than throw money at the markets and hope you get the desired outcome.

Opening the Bag of Mortgage Tricks Gretchen Morgenson, New York Times. An example of servicer abuses, but in a commercial real estate deal.

Financial Interests Dictate Sovereign Policy Michael Hudson

A bonus antidote from Don B: Lioness shows trust in man with her newborn cubs

Antidote du jour:

Screen shot 2010-12-19 at 2.29.53 AM

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43 comments

  1. Swedish Lex

    I feel that I now know a whole lot more about Mr. Assange’s private life than I ever wanted to know.

    I will not dispute Sweden’s sovereign right to have its own definitions of rape that, nowdays days at least, seem so broad that a truck can be driven right through (which could have as side effect to devalue society’s rejection of the notion of “rape” on the whole, putting more serious cases of rape in a less bad light unfortunately).

    The laws of the land will have to apply to Assange also, of course. Irrespective of Assange’s guilt or innocence, however, the behaviour of the women seems pretty mindless.

    1. DownSouth

      Just imagine the paradox this creates for feminists or those sympathetic to feminist causes.

      Catholic prelates have raped children with impunity for decades. The veil that conceals not only the interworking of the Catholic Church but also the sanctity of the home has been pierced and the abuse that occurs within these private (and quite often patriarchal) domains has been exposed. The state has intruded much farther into what was heretofore considered a sacrosanct private realm.

      At first blush Assangegate seems to be a replay of Monicagate, where powerful political actors cynically played the sexual abuse card. I remember the cant from the right-wing chorus line as if it were yesterday: “That poor little girl was a victim of child abuse.” (Lewinsky was between 22 and 24 years-old when she had her intimate relationship with President Clinton.)

      Those who inhabit the more extreme fringes of the feminist movement unfortunately have few antibodies to such a sardonic right-wing ploy. For in addition to age differences, there’s the issue of power differentials that enter into feminist thinking. And obviously this isn’t pure conjecture, as power differentials can and do lead to abusive situations. But sometimes it’s not that easy to discern who it is that has the power, or whether that power has been or is being abused or not. In Assangegate, what we have are two women who were allegedly powerless in the bedroom who have now aligned themselves with political actors of vast powers. This team of the powerless and the all-powerful is now making war on the ¿powerful? (or is it ¿powerless?) Assange. So how do we make heads or tails of this? Do those with power always get to determine what “the truth” is, as the more avid constructivist/structuralist thinkers who have had such a great influence on the feminist movement assert? It seems like feminists of a more ideological bent, as an act of gender solidarity, would have to throw their hats in with the “powerless women.”

      It all carries us back to something Hannah Arendt said in Denktagebuch:

      In the moment of action, annoyingly enough, it turns out, first, that the “absolute,” that which is “above” the senses—-the true, good, beautiful—-is not graspable, because no one knows concretely what it is. To be sure, everyone has a conception of it, but each concretely imagines it as something entirely different. Insofar as action is dependent on the plurality of men, the first catastrophe of Western philosophy, which in its last thinkers ultimately wants to take control of action, is the requirement of a unity that on principle proves impossible except under tyranny. Second, that to serve the ends of action anything will do as the absolute—-race, for instance, or a classless society, and so forth. All things are equally expedient, “anything goes.” Reality appears to offer action as little resistance as it would the craziest theory that some charlatan might come up with. Everything is possible. Third, that by applying the absolute—-justice, for example, or the “ideal” in general (as in Nietzsche)—-to an end, one first makes unjust, bestial actions possible, because the “ideal,” justice itself, no longer exists as a yardstick, but has become an achievable, producible end within the world. In other words, the realization of philosophy abolishes philosophy, the realization of the “absolute” indeed abolishes the absolute from the world. And so finally the ostensible realization of man simply abolishes men.

    2. DownSouth

      I’d just add that the lawyer for the two Swedish women, Claes Borgstrom, isn’t totally forthcoming. “Those who say that the judges in our court of appeal were influenced by pressure from the United States don’t know what they’re talking about,” he said. “It’s absurd.”

      The pressure, however, just the opposite to Borgstrom’s claims, wouldn’t have to come from the United States. As this AP story reveals, Wikileaks released information that reveals Sweden’s military and intelligence cooperation with the U.S. that “give the lie to the official policy” of non-participation in military alliances. This completely destroys the Swedish government’s claim to neutrality, and shows how blatantly and facilely the Swedish government lies to the Swedish people.

      Why haven’t these details and the fact that the Swedish government is such a prevaricating sack of shit been given more press coverage?

    3. Doug Terpstra

      Too much Swedish Sex for Swedish Lex?

      TMI—too much info—is of course the intent, just as it was in the Lewinsky-humidor scandal when Paula Jones finally got her nose and boob jobs courtesy of religious wing nuts. Focusing on the seamy netherworld reliably diverts all attention from anything remotely relevant as men begin thinking with their lower head and women become self-righteous.

      We spent tens of millions of taxpayer dollars on such trivial distractions, collectively choking on MSM sputum about Willie dropping trou in the oval office. But while pondering the definition of “is”, Clinton meanwhile was able to effectively ‘deform’ welfare, repeal Glass-Steagall, monopolize faux telecom, inflict SHAFTA on unions, and ‘modernize’ derivatives gambling.

      And so, as we now consider the redefinition of rape and the brand and integrity of Julian’s condom, whistleblower Bradley Manning is tortured without charges, we are boosting Israel’s weapons stockpile, bulldozing villages in Afghanistan, and killing Pakistani civilians by remote control.

  2. LeeAnne

    Mobile phone masts births.

    I have a book I want to sell you on the birth rate of cities vs towns – astounding info.

    1. Sufferin' Succotash

      Reminiscent of that noted case of correlation between the death rate in Hyderabad India between 1914 and 1919 and variations in the membership of the International Association of Machinists over the same period.

  3. scraping_by

    @Retailers cry poor

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the same or similar story is going to be told about US retail. Many of the same factors apply, along with overweening optimism.

    The American Association of Railroads traffic index showed a 20% increase in container traffic this year over last. Most of this was imports moving from west coast ports to points east. Think China to Walmart.

    However, middle class income’s flat with the 10% official unemployment, the further 10% underemployment, and globalization’s replacement of high paying middle class jobs with low paying temporary jobs. People are paying down their credit card debt at about 6% this year, while still being hamstrung with student loans, inflated mortgage payments, and steadily rising food and energy costs.

    If retailers move that new inventory at all, it will be at a discount and probably after the first of the year.

    1. jest

      I just came from X-mas shopping.

      Banana Republic had a 40% off everything sign in the storefront. Being the skeptical prick that I am, I asked the cashier, “This is a joke, right?” She laughed, and said no it’s true, everything was 40% off.

      Many other stores had similar 40% off sales, however on selected items. I’ve never seen this before at Christmas. The clearance sales at Circuit City’s bankruptcy sales weren’t even close to 40% off. Most of my purchases today ended up being 20% off or more.

      The stores were relatively busy, but not the sort of mad house you would expect this time of year.

      Also strange, in retrospect, was the noticeable absence of cashiers pestering me to get in store credit cards.

  4. Dirk

    Re: the Greenwald link. So Prvt. Manning has been in solitary confinement for seven(!) months and not been charged with, much less convicted of, any crime? I am glad to know that he is not being treated any different as any other convicted criminal in such a situation, and any different just because he happens to be an American citizen. I am surprised he hasn’t been waterboarded yet, especially as our great country is now very skilled at that to judge by the boasts of our ex-President. That seems to break captor morale pretty good and they will tell you anything you want to hear. But maybe solitary for a year or so will work just as well. I’m no expert. Remind again why we fought the Cold War or any war for that matter?

    1. DownSouth

      [The Templars] lent large sums of money to Philip the Fair. On October 13, 1307, Philip ordered all Templars in France arrested and the order’s property seized. The Templars were accused of heresy, sorcery, and sodomy, and were subjected to the most-horrible torture—-racking, thumbscrews, and starvation. Their teeth and fingernails were pulled one by one, bones broken by the wedge, and feet roasted over flames. After 36 died in torture chambers and several by their own hand, the Grand Master Jacques de Molay and 122 other knights confessed to all the crimes. “And he would have confessed that he had slain God himself if they had asked him that,” wrote a chronicler. When Jacques de Molay was burned at the stake, he proclaimed his innocence and called down a terrible curse on the king and his descendants to the thirteenth generation. Within a year, Philip the Fair was dead. All of his 3 male heirs died, one after another, without leaving descendants, during the next 14 years. As one disaster after another fell on France during the fourteenth century, the legend of the Templar’s curse was remembered by people and grew in the retelling.
      –Peter Turchin, War and Peace and War

      1. Dirk

        Unless Philip was a sadist, then his purpose in torture was to terrorize everyone, not just his Templar victims. Apply that to the present situation and you get what is called irony. Thanks.

        (“captor morale” -> “captive morale” in my previous post obviously.)

        1. Paul Repstock

          Remember the quote. “Absolute power corupts absolutly”. I think it probable that Philip was a sadist, as are many rulers. Devine rights must not be seen to be thwarted in public. The annointed ones tend to throw hissy fits when that happens.

          1. Dirk

            Given that causing embarrassment is now a high crime, Philip being a sadist back then is not a great stretch I guess.

    2. Paul Repstock

      Dirk. the case that governments and their cronys are not held accountable to “Rule of Law” is becoming common on a world wide basis. This is incredibly dangerous for people who are willing to take a stand against them.

      However, it is also a sign of their imminent demise. I suspect that within a generation we won’t have government that people today would recognise. Governments have failed to evolve and are therefore nolonger relevant.

      I feel very sorry for Bradly Manning. It is obvious that the US cannot use him for prosecuting Mr. Assange. But, they need a whipping boy.

      1. Sufferin' Succotash

        Um, governments that don’t respect any rule of law don’t wither away. Instead they either become what’s known as dictatorships, or they fragment into smaller governments. As far as the US is concerned the second possibility is far more preferable to the first.

  5. Pwelder

    Peter Wallison, one of the four Repubs on the FCIC, was on C_Span’s Washington Journal this AM discussing their “Minority Report” and the thinking behind it.

    There has been NYT commentary to the effect that their position is nothing more than pro-bank flackery in return for campaign contributions. That motivation is very likely one of many that are present, but after listening to Wallison I have to wonder if there was also some pretty aggressive positioning from the majority aimed at airbrushing out the sweet ride enjoyed by the likes of Howell Raines and Jamie Gorelick (not to mention a great many lesser political lights) during the run-up to the crisis.

    Here’s the link. Wallison comes on at about 8:40 ET.

    http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/Program1219

  6. Hugh

    “This illustrates the design flaw of QE2: the Fed would have done better to set yield rather than quantity targets, and buy however much or little it took to hit those levels, since the aim of the exercise is presumably to achieve specific outcomes, rather than throw money at the markets and hope you get the desired outcome.”

    In a fiat currency with debt denominated in that currency, Treasuries are unnecessary. They are definitionally about throwing money to someone. Also for the last couple of years the Fed and Treasury have been throwing money like mad to Wall Street. Why should we expect them to stop now?

  7. Doug Terpstra

    No wonder the bodyguard business is booming—it’s the new terror-security bubble.

    In “America’s Second Great Depression 2010 Year-end Update”, Mike Stathis writes:

    “…as Bernanke attempted to defend his recent decision to buy $600 billion of U.S. Treasuries, he made ridiculous claims that this quantitative easing would lead to more jobs. He then used the often used scare tactic to justify this move by saying that a long period of high unemployment could exact a steep social cost.”

    ” ‘There are obviously very severe economic and social consequences from this level of unemployment,” so getting new jobs, getting unemployment down is of an incredible importance.’ ”

    “’The unemployment rate is still going to be high for a while, and that means that a lot of people are going to be under financial stress.’ ”

    “So what is Bernanke trying to say? Read between the lines … First, he has said that there will be very severe social and economic consequences from this high level of unemployment… Quite simply, it means a depression…”

    “…Bernanke stated that unemployment will remain high for four or five years. … optimism by the Fed is a severe understatement. What that means is that high unemployment will last much longer.” — http://www.marketoracle.co.uk/Article25106.html

    Because the PTB know very well what to do—what Obama articulated so clearly in his campaign—concerted public investment in 21st Century green infrastructure—this can only be willful blindness … or by design.

    After the recent tax-cut coup and the coming deficit emergency that will “necessitate” gutting Social Security, banksters know they are likely to need extra protection from deranged citizens seek a pound of flesh. Public cops with shaky pensions may prove an unreliable deterrent in the end. Soon we may see the familiar banana republican phenomenon of machine-gun guards at condo and bank towers and armored motorcades for ‘common’ plutocrats.

  8. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    Luckily, yesterday’s acrobat-turtle antidote is effective that I don’t need today’s.

    I will save it for later use, unless we are supposed to consume as much as we can, not bother to save any antidotes. Savers shall be punished!

    PS: While there is no ‘i’ in team, we have ‘bat’ in acrobat. I think the reason for that is that ancient Greeks loved being entertained by bats in high places, i.e. acrobats.

  9. Hugh

    Re Assange, the feminist backlash against him shows what a powerful political weapon sex and how easy it is to split the left. Why should movers and shakers respect the left when it shows itself so manipulable not just on this but on so many issues?

    The Swedish government has behaved dubiously on this matter from the beginning. The first breathless announcement of charges of rape. Then the pulling of the plug on these. Then the announcement that an investigation was back on. Then the alert through Interpol, even though such an alert in such a case was extremely unusual. Then the warrant to the UK and the opposition to bail.

    The timing of all this, especially the initial claims and then pursuit of Assange, just happens to coincide with a major set of releases from wikileaks. And this occurs against the backdrop of other attacks on Assange and wikileaks, and the ongoing holding of Bradley Manning in supermax level solitary confinement.

    What is so surprising is that anyone with two neurons firing would believe that the Swedish investigations are coincidental. We see the US government, its allies, and corporate proxies seeking to punish and neutralize wikileaks, and of course distract from the content of its revelations. Are we really to believe that the Swedes just happened to stumble into all this with their sex investigation, or that they keep “stumbling” in at opportune moments?

    And what can not be emphasized too much is they have not actually charged Assange with anything. Whatever they currently have is all they’ve got and are going to get. So they should have either charged Assange or dropped the case. Instead they keep spinning it out and the only reason to do that is as part of an anti-wikileaks’ campaign.

    To add insult to injury, now we have the “leaking” of the details of their investigation. Now you could consider this as ironic that there should be a leak about wikileaks, but what really does this say about the Swedes? As in what kind of clowns are they? We get all this hyper-sensitivity and concern about the rights of women in Sweden but the instant that Swedish efforts against Assange look to be running out of steam, they ditch all that and dish all the juicy details. So which is it? Are the Swedes punctilious or buffoons? Are they staunch feminists or tabloid journalists?

    You know if governments around the world had simply said, “Yeah, whatever” to the wikileaks’ releases, they probably would have come and gone. But their absurd hyper-reactions have not only raised the visibility of the releases, and Assange, but destroyed far more effectively the credibility of those engaged in these reactions than the actual releases themselves.

    The US has taken by far the biggest hit in this regard, but I think the Swedes have to be number two. I mean they can’t even conduct and close out what amounts to, when the incendiary verbiage is stripped away, a non-evidential he said/she said domestic dispute. Of course, you could argue that they were using it for propaganda purposes. But again what does that say about the Swedes and how low they are willing to go?

    1. Paul Repstock

      When it becomes too painfully obvous that they cannot credibly link Bradley Manning to Assange, then Manning will be transitioned from bargaining chip/whipping boy, to firing squad target.

    2. attempter

      You know if governments around the world had simply said, “Yeah, whatever” to the wikileaks’ releases, they probably would have come and gone.

      That’s basically what they did with earlier deliveries.

      It sure seems like, whereas they weren’t embarrassed to have their crimes exposed, and were perhaps even proud of it, this exposure of their buffooneries really has stung them.

      As the guy about to have a strange encounter with a horse says in “The Godfather”: “A man in my position can’t afford to be made to look ridiculous!”

      That probably is more of a threat to their “authority”, such as it is.

    3. Skippy

      Authority demands recognition, acknowledgment of its power, it can suffer many things save dismissal or seemingly in this case the commonality in their acts like a meth’ed up drunken yabo’s throwing punches at whispers

      Skippy…once I refused the hand shake of a General, the facial contortions that preceded was not unlike a wrench thrown into heavy machinery. I feared an aneurysm oncoming.

  10. F. Beard

    Sweden is the last place in Europe that I would expect that one could be guilty of a sex crime. Now it seems like the sexual equivalent of a speed trap.

  11. doom

    I don’t think this would have simply gone away. The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court is poring over the Afghanistan files in a “pre-examination” of criminality by all sides. Some big sht has yet to hit the fan.

    1. Hugh

      We are not a signatory to the Treaty of Rome and can block all the avenues that would lead to formal charges.

    2. Externality

      Does anyone think that the neo-con architects of the Iraq and Afghan wars, such as Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, David Frum, and Irving Kristol, will ever be held accountable? More likely, the ICC will spend its time prosecuting poorly educated PFCs from rural and inner city America for following orders that they were repeatedly assured were perfectly legal under the laws and customs of war.

      History supports my position.

      Influential sociopaths such as Henry Kissinger are honored elder statesman, meet regularly with Obama and other VIPS, teach college classes, and get rich as consultants. Average grunts in the US or other militaries who carried out Kissinger’s plans in Vietnam or Latin America were viewed as, and sometimes prosecuted as, war criminals. Influential groups excused and continue to excuse Kissinger’s behavior, claiming that he was just following orders under Nixon and Ford, and is merely representing his clients, under Bush and Obama.

      Any war crime prosecution should include the neo-con journalists and intellectuals who supported the wars. There is precedent: German newspaper editor Julius Streicher was executed by the Nuremberg tribunal because his paper ran articles supporting German militarism and containing views hostile to a certain ethnoreligious group. He also wrote books containing similar themes. The court reasoned that by advocating war and racism, Streicher helped set in motion a chain of events that included World War II and its associated horrors. Journalists were similarly pursued for statements made during the genocide in Rwanda. The same principle should apply here: neo-con journalists such as Charles Krauthammer and Thomas Friedman, among others, should be held criminally responsible for their advocacy of the war in Iraq and promoting stereotypical views of Muslims. By supporting the war, and vilifying Muslims, they helped set in motion a chain of events that caused hundreds of thousands of deaths.

      I really believe that the neo-con intellectuals who planned, led, and advocated for the wars are the most guilty. To paraphrase the movie, “Judgment at Nuremberg,” they are more guilty than the average soldier. Their minds were not warped at an early age by neo-conservative propaganda. They embraced the ideology of neo-conservatism as educated adults.

      1. Externality

        If you think my post is too pessimistic, look at what happened with the Abu Ghraib prison scandal https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Abu_Ghraib_torture_and_prisoner_abuse

        US soldiers, private contractors, CIA employees, and, reportedly, Mossad operatives, physically and pscychologically tortured, sexually abused, and/or killed captured Iraqis. Interestingly, many of the techniques were almost identical to what the Israelis called “moderate physical pressure” and what the US military uses to train its airmen and special forces to resist interrogation. The use of torture, as it is commonly defined, was approved by high-level Bush Administration officials.

        The neo-conservatives who authorized and implemented the regime all prospered. Jay Bybee was made a federal appellate judge. Michael Chertoff was made Secretary of Homeland Security by President Bush, and now makes money as a “consultant” pushing the adoption of the RapeScan scanners used by TSA.

        The contractors were never held accountable for reasons of national security.

        Two military officers received letters of reprimand, a third was demoted because she had been caught shoplifting years earlier. One of the reprimanded officers was also administratively fined eight thousand dollars.

        The enlisted military personnel who carried out the orders were court-martialed, stripped of their ranks, and imprisoned. Many are still serving prison terms, despite their insistence that they were just following orders. Having listened to some of them speak, it seems unlikely that they were intellectually capable of devising sophisticated psychological torture regimens based on US and Israeli techniques. To the extent that they engaged in anything more complicated than a senseless beating, they were, in my opinion, simply doing what they were told.

        It is very likely that any attempt to use the ICC to prosecute the crimes of the Bush Administration will have a similar outcome.

        1. doom

          No doubt we can balk a prosecution with lots of unseemly armtwisting, like what you can read in the cables (read them begging little Belgium to prevent any independent prosecutions, it’s pretty funny), or veto stuff, and isolate ourselves some more and discredit ourselves some more. We vetoed a UNSC resolution when the ICJ dinged us for aggression. It just makes it clear who’s the outlaw state. Good luck leading the free world if you try it again. And good luck prosecuting Manning for disclosing probative evidence on an act of aggression. Imagine the begging and weeping and horse-trading in the UNSC. Think the other P-4 won’t milk this? You can just hear our remaining soft power dribbling away.

    3. Paul Repstock

      I’m wondering how much “commercial” dirt is hidden in the leaks. Waiting to be uncovered after the military and diplomatic stuff has been drooled over. I would suspect KBR and XE might be a bit concerned..Perhaps that could explain the rush to unload XE??

  12. skippy

    @DownSouth,

    Someone is messing with Dickens on the New Republic link. I would truly be humbled if you would parse it.

    Skippy…The comments are delicious.

    1. Anonymous Jones

      I found that article truly disgusting. I care deeply about novels and deeply about my love of Dickens, especially Great Expectations, and God knows, I have no reason to defend the female bourgeoisie or their high priest Oprah, but to issue this judgment about “a generally wrongheaded view of novels” is so offensive, I think I just threw up in my mouth.

      How ’bout this? Let people read novels for whatever reason they like, whether it’s about love of literary fireworks, great phrasing, stirring narrative, insights into themselves, or anything else. Let them judge for themselves and enjoy whatever parts work for them. I mean, seriously, as if it’s this presumptuous, supercilious bitch’s job to judge what is or is not an acceptable pleasure of reading (or what is or is not acceptable as a classic and exactly how such works should be presented to the public).

      You wonder why people hate the educated elite? It because of ridiculously contemptuous articles like that one.

    2. attempter

      What leapt out at me immediately was how they disapprove of her pushing Tale of Two Cities instead of the pro-capitalist, pro-trickle down Christmas Carol.

      I think the reasons are obvious.

      1. Skippy

        @AJ,

        When I stumbled across this I was…aghast…another case of poor people getting the art dirty, yet lambasted on the other hand for their uninformed views / lives…epic catch 22. BTW I watched the movie a few days ago…again SQ. what a trip. I took my open water SCUBA test at the base used in the movie (the pontoon in the water was still there + a few buildings), but had yet to see the movie. At times I feel like I have played every part in the old classic “The Party” and a few woodsy’s…thank you for your reply.

        @Attempter,

        Ambidextrous arm raised high! Was it not a very thinly veiled attempt at damage control…Tale of Two Cities…is incriminatory of the masters..it must be suppressed at all cost save consumption by the masters as a cautionary tale.

        @DownSouth,

        Please…your voice on this matter would fill my being with gratitude…especially…amends for being so fragile.

    3. DownSouth

      Skippy,

      My first impression is that the lady doth protest too much. What is it about having millions of women read Charles Dickens that she finds so threatening? Perhaps we can find the answer in the conclusion to George Orwell’s essay Charles Dickens:

      When one reads any strongly individual piece of writing, one has the impression of seeing a face somewhere behind the page. It is not necessarily the actual face of the writer…What one sees is the face that the writer ought to have. Well in the case of Dickens I see a face that is not quite the face of Dickens’s photographs, though, it resembles it. It is the face of a man of about forty, with a small beard and a high colour. He is laughing, with a touch of anger in his laughter, but no triumph, no malignity. It is the face of a man who is always fighting against something, but who fights in the open and is not frightened, the face of a man who is generously angry—-in other words, of a nineteenth-century liberal, a free intelligence, a type hated with equal hatred by all the smelly little orthodoxies which are now contending for our souls. [emphasis Dickens’s]

      My second impression is that Kelly has fallen under some strange atavistic curse. This hex impels her to embrace one of the tenets of a synthesis of philosophy and theology popular in Medieval Europe known as scholasticism. Only the church hierarchy was allowed to read, much less interpret, Holy Scripture. Studying the Bible was a privilege reserved for the church prelates, and especially the Pope, who could then interpret passages to support the sophistry, and often the secular politics, of the Holy See (see William Manchester, A World Lit Only by Fire).

      The first to mount a serious challenge to this was William of Ockham in the first half of the 14th century with his “nominalist revolution.” As Michael Allen Gillespie explains in Nihilism before Nietzsche:

      [S]ince everyone is directly and uniquely related to God, there is no definitive or privileged interpretation of revelation [scripture]. Each is ultimately bound only by his own conscience. As a result, papal authority in matters of faith is nil—-indeed, there are no better or worse judges of the moral law and, therefore, no basis for clerical authority of any sort in moral matters.

      There is even less occasion for papal authority in political affairs. Each individual is free and unique. The only basis for ethical life is thus free self-determination. Human beings are born free and have the right to choose their own ruler and therefore ostensibly their own form of government…

      Although Ockham was excommunicated from the Church and his teaching was repeatedly condemned in Paris from 1339 to 1347, his thought soon became ascendant in much of Europe.

      As Gillespie goes on to explain, Ockham was a long ways from articulating the liberal doctrine that established man as a “free being capable of mastering nature and securing himself in the world.” The evolution of that credo would require another 400+ years, but Ockham provided an important milestone along the road.

      1. Externality

        Scholasticism is not unique to religion.

        When the Republican swept into Congress in 1996, they promised to post online the entire United States Code. (The US Code contains almost all the federal statutes currently in effect). Elites in both parties, academia, the media, etc. were appalled that average citizens would be able to see the laws that they lived under (and would be imprisoned for violating). All of these elites believed that, without their enlightened wisdom, average Americans would become confused and reject the legal system. The Code was posted on the House website, and is now widely available on the Internet.

        Decisions to post online court decisions, the Starr Report relating to the Clinton/Lewinsky affair, federal regulations, and other documents met with similar elite concern that Americans would become “confused” without the elites to help them understand the documents. All of these documents were posted online, and the Republic did not collapse.

        No privileged elite likes having its role decreased by technology or social change.

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