Friday, 30 March 2007

Bad (but funny) arguments for God

This is from a Blog posting "Over Three Hundred Proofs of God's Existence"; some of those are pretty boring, and there is a lot of repitition there to wade through. I have therefore selected what I think are the choices gems which are the funniest on the site.

(1) My mommy and daddy told me that God exists.
(2) Therefore, God exists.

(1) Eric Clapton is God.
(2) Therefore, God exists.

(1) Telling people that God exists makes me filthy rich.
(2) Therefore, God exists.

(1) If you turn your head sideways and squint a little, you can see an image of a bearded face in that tortilla.
(2) Therefore, God exists.

(1) Person X died an atheist.
(2) He now realizes his mistake.
(3) Therefore, God exists.

(1) See that person spazzing on the church floor babbling incoherently?
(2) That's how infinite wisdom reveals itself.
(3) Therefore, God exists.

(1) One day, demons were tap-dancing on my roof. I prayed and they went away.
(2) Therefore, demons are really good dancers.
(3) Also, God exists.

(1) I am an idiot.
(2) Even an idiot can see that God exists.
(3) Therefore, God exists.

(1) A few people saw something weird in a bowl of spaghetti.
(2) Some Catholics believe that it is the Virgin Mary.
(3) Therefore, God exists.

(1) You will be assimilated.
(2) All your salvations belong to us.
(3) Resistance is futile.
(4) Therefore, God exists.

(1) "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." - Ben Franklin
(2) Beer exists.
(3) Therefore, God exists

(1) See this bonfire?
(2) Therefore, God exists.

Thursday, 29 March 2007

Harry Potter and the Advance Publicity Machine

Jacket artwork for the seventh and final Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, has been released and is already being pored over by the boy wizard's fans in search of clues about the contents - and Harry's fate.
I think the first three books are the best, after which Rowling began to suffer from writer's "bloat". Goblet of Fire has a runaround (the contest) which just takes up time; it is like the endless car chases that padded out 60s TV detective shows. The Order of the Phoenix has a running battle between Harry and Umbridge, which goes on and on - more padding - and also has a lot of teenage anger portrayed in an embarrassingly unrealistic way, with lots of dialogue in capitals to denote shouting (the baneful influence of the Net!). The Half Blood Prince has a search for the Horcruxes which is another excuse for a run-around (so many to collect and destroy). Compare these with the tight plotting and unwasted words of the early books!
The films, on the other hand, have got better as time has gone on. The first was horribly long and plodding, the second was better paced but still took ages. The third was darker and more action packed. Condensing the fourth down improved that immensely; if only the book had a good editor to make sure JKR trimmed that!

Dawkins Spat,,2045102,00.html

The shortlist stage provoked a spat between two eventual winners. They were the atheist scientist Richard Dawkins, Readers Digest author of the year for The God Delusion, and the comedian Peter Kay, whose The Sound of Laughter won Amazon biography of the year. Dawkins was quoted as deriding Kay, whom he thought had written of believing in God because he found the notion comforting. But in a letter to the Guardian, Dawkins said he had been set up by a "hired publicity machine" and apologised.

Above comment in Grauniad on British Book Awards. If Dawkins allowed himself to be set up, knowing his public image (as Mr Pithy Quote Anti-Religious Nutter), and without finding out what Kay had in fact said, what does that say for his judgement of facts elsewhere? In this "sound-bite" age, he should buck the trend and refuse to give out instant quotations until he has examined the evidence. Belief that what people say is true without evidence! Is this what we can expect from the atheists of Oxford? Surely he can do better than that!




Tuesday, 27 March 2007

NT Wright quotes

My proposal is this.  When Paul refers to 'the gospel', he is not referring to a system of salvation, though of course the gospel implies and contains this, nor even to the good news that there now is a way of salvation open to all, but rather to the proclamation that the crucified Jesus of Nazareth has been raised from the dead and thereby demonstrated to be both Israel's Messiah and the world's true Lord.  'The gospel' is not 'you can be save, and here's how'; the gospel, for Paul, is 'Jesus Christ is Lord'.

Justification is not 'how someone becomes a Christian'.  It is God's declaration about the person who has just become a Christian.

The united multi-ethnic church is a sign of God's healing and remaking of the cosmos and also thereby a sign to Caesar and his followers that his attempted unification of the world is a blasphemous paradoy.

Monday, 26 March 2007

Gilbert Keith Chesterton Answers His Mail

Dear Mr. Chesterton,
What is the difference between progress and growth?

Dear Muddy,
The fatal metaphor of progress, which means leaving things behind us, has utterly obscured the real idea of growth, which means leaving things inside us.
Your friend,
G.K. Chesterton
("The Romance of Rhyme," Fancies vs. Fads)

Dear Mr. Chesterton,
What is the difference between happiness and pleasure?
Dear Misbehavin',
The real difference between the two words is that happiness is an end and pleasure can only be a means.
Your friend,
G.K. Chesterton
(Daily News, April 27, 1912)
Dear Mr. Chesterton,
What is the difference between an Italian and an Englishman?
Dear Mionetto,
An Italian will sometimes break things where an Englishman will send for the manager or write to the Times.
Your friend,
G.K. Chesterton
(Illustrated London News, Dec. 2, 1916)

Dear Mr. Chesterton,
What is the difference between individualism and democracy?
Dear Mulling,
The (Individualists say) that a man must be free as regards his individuality, not merely as regards his citizenship. Democracy declares that a man should have liberty indeed, but should have that liberty which other men have. This (Individualist) school felt that the particular liberty which a man should above all things have, was the liberty which other men did not have. Their individual aimed not merely at being free, but at being unique, indeed, at being solitary. They set the claims of men against the rights of men. Your friend,
G.K. Chesterton
(Daily News, May 26, 1906)

Dear Mr. Chesterton,
What is the difference between religion and superstition?
Dear Mystified,
Religion is a rare and definite conviction of what this world of ours really is. Superstition is only the commonsense acceptation of what it obviously is. Sane peasants, healthy hunters, are all superstitious; they are superstitious because they are healthy and sane. They have a reasonable fear of the unknown; for superstition is only the creative side of agnosticism. The superstitious man sees quite plainly that the universe is a thing to be feared. The religious man maintains paradoxically that the universe is a thing to be trusted. The awe is certainly the obvious thing; the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom—but not the end.
Your friend,
G.K. Chesterton
(Daily News, June 2, 1906)


We find throughout Scripture that humans are invited to worship the God in whose image they are made. By worshipping this God (which involves repentance and faith; the faith involves learning to recognize this God in the crucified and risen Jesus), they are restored as image-bearers.

When people continually and consistently refuse to worship this God, they progressively reflect this image less and less. Instead, they reflect the images of what they are worshipping. Since all else other than the true creator God is heading for death, this means that they buy into a system of death, [which] leads, by one's own choice, to an eventual erasing of that which makes us truly human.

– NT Wright, in answer to a request for a definition of what "damnation" means

Monday, 19 March 2007

Birchall, Clare (2006) Knowledge Goes Pop: From Conspiracy Theory to Gossip. London and New York: Berg. ISBN: 184520143-4.

Everest of decency

Stephen Jay Gould wrote:

In an important, little appreciated and utterly tragic principle regulating the structure of nearly all complex systems, building up must be accomplished step by tiny step, whereas destruction need occupy but an instant. In previous essays on the nature of change, I have called this phenomenon the Great Asymmetry (with upper case letters to emphasize the sad generality). Ten thousand acts of kindness done by thousands of people, and slowly building trust and harmony over many years, can be undone by one destructive act of a skilled and committed psychopath. Thus, even if the effects of kindness and evil balance out in the course of history, the Great Asymmetry guarantees that the numbers of kind and evil people could hardly differ more, for thousands of good souls overwhelm each perpetrator of darkness.

I stress this greatly underappreciated point because our error in equating a balance of effects with equality in numbers could lead us to despair about human possibilities, especially at this moment of mourning and questioning; whereas, in reality, the decent multitudes, performing their ten thousand acts of kindness, vastly outnumber the very few depraved people in our midst. Thus, we have every reason to maintain our faith in human kindness, and our hopes for the triumph of human potential, if only we can learn to harness this wellspring of unstinting goodness in nearly all of us.

For this reason, a documentation of the innumerable small acts of kindness, the good deeds that almost always pass beneath our notice for lack of "news value," becomes an imperative duty, a responsibility that might almost be called holy, when we must reaffirm the prevalence of human decency against our preeminent biases for hyping the cataclysmic and ignoring the quotidian. Ordinary kindness trumps paroxysmal evil by at least a million events to one, and we will not grasp this inspiring ratio unless we record the Everest of decency built grain by grain into a mighty fortress taller than any breakable building of mere concrete and steel.

Wednesday, 7 March 2007

The disorders of existence

On evil, but not the book (which we will discuss together) several jottings.
The world is a bad place, and most people are bad.
Some notions of evil involve a dualistic or gnostic picture on the one hand, which writes off the world as evil, and is still quite widespread either in religious or secular ideologies. For instance, fundamentalist religions often operate in this mode, especially where apocaplyptic notions - usually taken literally - is involved.  Less so in this country, but very much in evidence in the USA where the "Left Behind" series has been a best-seller success. Atheistic dictatorial regimes, with their implicit acceptance of the idea that power is needed, and it is important to getting one's enemies before they get you, are also operating with a very low opinion of humanity. Sartrean existentialism would also be located somewhere here with its pessimistic ideas about the world as an absurd and meaningless place to be, as well as Spenserian ideas of social evolution (survival of fittest translated into the crudest and most selfish capitalism, and why not, if the world is a jungle).
Human beings are good
On the other side, there is a tendency trivialise or explain away evil. Either with a Dawkins approach - it is all "religious memes", or with the notion that people are basically good, but... which usually locates the source of evil as external (upbringing, culture, society etc) with the conclusion that if only that can be fixed, everything will be wonderful! It is a sunny optimism that often leans far too heavily on reason, and one must remember that "appeasement" was seen as a positive virtue in the run up to the 2nd World War, a fact obscured by later history books, but present in contemporary accounts. The idea that Hitler could be reasonable, that no reasonable man wanted war, that reason could solve international problems justly was another form of this notion of the goodness of people, and the problem with this position is its naivety; people who hold it are always surprised when Hitler types appear and refuse to play the rules.
Sometimes the two views can be combined, so that people are bad because of some kind of cultural or social infection, but if you join the band of those who know this, you can have salvation, or be cured, etc. And if you still have failings, it is because you haven't done enough faith, or psychotherapy, or still have false consciousness etc, so that in principle, you can become perfect. The Cathars are religious version par excellence; the world is bad, but the perfect can escape from it. And of course, perfection always comes at a price, you have to buy (metaphorically and sometimes materially) into the group ideology.
Simplicity and Complexity
One thing that seems to me to be the case with all these ideas about evil is that they operate from an extremely simplistic and unitary idea of causation. The most interesting thing to my mind (as the Old Testament scholar Claus Westermann points out), is that when we look at the Adam and Eve myth, the snake pursuades Eve to eat, she pursuades Adam, and when questioned, Adam denies his responsiblity and blames Eve, when questioned Eve denies her responsibility and blames the snake - but the snake is never questioned. The ultimate causation of evil remains an unasked question, a mystery. That is not to say that we cannot look at the idea of evil in sophisticated philosophical ways, but I think we should bear in mind that it is probably impossible to neatly tidy up the whole idea, and it is certainly a mistake to do so too quickly or in very simplistic terms. I've just been reading some of John Macquarrie's writings on the subject, and his analysis is certainly quite detailed; I'd probably go along with much of what he says; he approaches it from a Christian existentialist viewpoint, with the existentialism very much to the front, and has some quite original ways of viewing what he terms "the disorder of existence" .


The Disorder Of Existence

(from Principles of Christian Theology, John Maquarrie, pp 70-73)


 So far the description of human existence has presented man's possible ways of being rather than his actual condition. We have seen the polarities of existence, and even this view of the matter has suggested the possibility that this existence may be an absurdity of which it is impossible to make sense. But what do we find when we turn our attention to the actual instances of existing that present themselves for inspection?


A question like this can, of course, be answered only by a broad empirical generalization, and such generalizations can always be challenged. Yet perhaps no one would deny that when we do look at actual human existing, we perceive a massive disorder in existence, a pathology that seems to extend all through existence, whether we consider the community or the individual, and that stultifies it. Because of this prevalent disorder, the potentialities of existence are not actualized as they might be, hut are lost or stunted or distorted. If, as has been claimed above, self-hood is disclosed to us not only as it has actually come about but also in its authentic potentiality, then we cannot fail to be aware of the gulf separating the two, both in ourselves and in the human race generally. This disclosure, as we have seen, belongs peculiarly to conscience as a kind of synoptic self-knowing.


The disorder of human existence can be defined more precisely as imbalance, and in calling it "pathological" I have implicitly compared it to imbalances in the physical organism. But here we are thinking of existential imbalance. The tension between the polar opposites in existence is not maintained, but one overcomes the other and pulls it out of place, so to speak, so that the whole structure is thrown out of joint. The possibilities for such distortion are presumably infinite. In general, however, we can perceive two main directions in which the imbalance takes place, though both may well be present together in a single person or in a single society, in different regards or alternating with each other.


On the one hand are such disorders, individual or social, as pride, tyranny, angelism, utopianism, with all their variations and intermixings. Individualism belongs here too. These disorders arise from reluctance or refusal to give full acceptance and acknowledgment to the facticity, finitude, and, generally, the limitation of human existence, and also from the desire to have a superhuman or godlike existence, free from the restraints that are inseparable from a genuinely human life. Of course, although men may try to get away from the limitations of existence, they cannot escape them, and so their attempted flight results in some such distortion as those that have been mentioned.


On the other hand, there are disorders such as sensual indulgence, insensitivity to others, despair, and the irresponsibility of collectivism. These disorders represent the retreat from possibility, decision-making, responsibility, individual liability and even from rationality. They move in the direction of a subhuman mode of being, that of the animal which is free from care and lives in and for its present. Of course, here again man cannot really relinquish the being that is his own; he cannot attain pure irresponsibility or animality or rid himself of care, but he distorts his being in the attempt.


The two kinds of disorder are found side by side in the same society or even in the same individuals, but by and large the second kind is characteristic of the masses while the first reaches its pitch in the relatively few who become intoxicated and bewitched with the sense of their own power. This first kind of disorder, though no doubt present to some extent among all kinds of people, has shown its most frightening manifestations in the great tyrants of history, and in them perhaps we see existence at its most disordered. Hence it is understandable that interpreters of man from St. Augustine to Reinhold Niebuhr should have seen in pride the typical perversion of human life.


While perhaps few would deny that there is indeed this massive and manifold disorder of human existence, there would probably be considerable debate as to the extent to which the perversion of existence prevails. Once again, the picture is ambiguous. Calvin, as is well known, taught a doctrine of total depravity, and bluntly characterized "everything proceeding from the corrupt nature of man damnable." This point of view seems to conflict with ordinary experience, for surely anyone who is not a misanthrope will acknowledge that many things proceeding from the "natural man" are not in the slightest degree "damnable": that the view is also unsound theologically will be shown in  due course. Yet although Calvin exaggerates the disorder of human existence, such exaggeration may have had some excuse as against tendencies to underestimate the disorder in man's life and to take too facile a view of the matter and too optimistic a prospect of human capacities. Although we must reject as false the idea that human existence is totally disordered, we must acknowledge that the disorder runs pretty deep, and in acknowledging this, we are following not only the belief of the most thoughtful analysts of the human condition but the Christian belief about man from the New Testament on.


Less debatable than the question about the totality of the disorder of existence is that of its universality, understood in the sense of its horizontal spread. Every society acknowledges its injustices and imperfections, and every individual, when pressed, acknowledges his own disorder and his share in the wider disorder. Such an individual is thrown into a situation where disorder is already prevalent, and thus from the beginning he is wrongly oriented, and whatever decisions he makes or policies he adopts are relative to the disordered situation. So we can assert that the disorder is universal in human existence.


Can something be said to define more closely the character of the disorder that afflicts our existence? It has already been described as an "imbalance," in terms of the polarities of existence, and perhaps this model of imbalance is the best available and, as we shall see, one that can be further developed in connection with the idea of selfhood. But other models are useful in lighting up aspects of the disorder. It can be described as "falling," and although this particular term has its origins in religion and myth, it has been brought into secular philosophy by Martin Heidegger and has an obvious usefulness. It suggests failure to attain, falling short of actualization, or falling away from an authentic possibility, without of course implying that one had first arrived there, and then only subsequently fallen away.


Another model is that of "alienation," also used by Heidegger and by many other writers. The description of the various modes of imbalance showed these as a turning away from one or other of the poles of human existence, so that this imbalance becomes an alienation within existence itself. The basic alienation is really from oneself, in the full range of one's possibility and facticity. This in turn leads to alienation from other existents, for, as we have seen, individualism at one extreme and collectivism at the other take the place of authentic community.


Is it not the case, however, that there is still a third level of alienation, a deeper level where one feels alienated from the whole scheme of things? Perhaps this could be called "lostness." It is the sense of being cut off not only from one's own true being or from the being of others, but from all being, so that one has no "place" in the world. This is surely the deepest despair that can arise out of the order of existence.


At this point it is appropriate to introduce the word "sin." It will be remembered that one part of the purpose of this philosophical theology is to describe the situations in which theological  or religious words and assertions have their meaning. So far we have been discussing the human condition in secular terms. "Sin" is a religious term, and it has connotations that differentiate it from notions like "guilt" or "wrongdoing," though presumably "sin" includes these notions. What is distinctive in sin, however, is the last point to which we came in our discussion of models of human disorder—the notion of "lostness" of being alienated not only from oneself and from other existents but, at a still deeper level, from all being. The religious man would say that this lostness is separation from God, but until we can study the word "God" more closely, this assertion can be left aside. For the meantime, in accordance with the method of a philosophical theology that proceeds descriptively, we can only ask whether the situation described is one that can be recognized as typical of our human existing in the world. That sin can be understood as "separation" or "missing the mark" or "falling away" in respect of one's relation to oneself or to one's neighbour would perhaps be universally conceded. That it is understood as alienation at a still deeper level is what is asserted in the distinctively religious connotation of the word, and I have tried to show that this religious connotation is firmly grounded in a common and widely recognizable element in man's awareness of his own existence in the world, or, more briefly, in his self-understanding. There is of course much that has still to be unfolded and examined before this as yet vague awareness of being cut off at the deepest level can be properly evaluated. In the meantime, however, it would seem that: our discussion of the disorder in human existence has led us still further in the direction of despairing about man and concluding that his existence cannot make sense.


Already when we had taken note of the polarities and tensions that enter into the constitution of existence, we noted the possibilities for frustration and the frankly despairing views of some philosophers. Now that we have seen how, in actual existing, frustration and distortion do come about and how there is universal disorder, imbalance, falling, alienation, or however it may appear to us, have we not already reached the stage at which we must simply say that it is hopeless to try to make sense of this strange kind of being that we call "existence" and that we know in the phenomenon of man? At least, we have seen enough to show us that Sartre and those who think like him are far nearer to a realistic appraisal of the human condition than those complacent humanists who believe that with more science and education, better social conditions and the like, the ills of humanity can be cured and a fuller existence enjoyed. These men just have not faced the radical character of existential tension and disorder, and this becomes increasingly clear as the problems of the affluent society show themselves to be just as intractable as those of the impoverished society. Our analysis has rather shown that because of the universality and solidarity of human disorder, there is within the human situation no remedy to hand that will be adequate to overcome the problems of that situation.


We can say then that the alternatives confronting us have been sharpened. Either we must go along with Sartre and company, and acknowledge that life is indeed a useless passion, so that the best we can hope for is to reduce its oppressiveness at one point or another, to patch up the situation here and there, without any hope or possibility of really overcoming the absurdity and frustration that belong intrinsically to human existence, as thrown possibility; " or, if we are seeking to make sense of life and to bring order into existence so that its potentialities can come to fulfilment, we have frankly to acknowledge that we must look for support beyond humanity itself, pervaded as this is with disorder. To put the disjunction in another way: either we acknowledge the absurdity of a situation in which we find ourselves responsible for an existence which we lack the capacity to master, and have just to make the best of a bad job; or else we look for a further dimension in the situation, a depth beyond both man and nature that is open to us in such a way that it can make sense of our finite existence by supporting it and bringing order and fulfilment into it. We see then that the quest for meaning and sense in existence, for order and fulfilment, now takes on a more definitely religious character. Whether there is any support from beyond man such as would make sense of his existence and overcome its frustrations, we cannot yet say. But at least we can see that the idea itself is not an empty one. Our descriptive analysis of the human situation has provided a frame of reference within which this idea can be located, that is to say, assigned its meaning. The term in the religious vocabulary which denotes the idea described is "grace," so it is permissible for us now to introduce this word, in addition to "sin" which appeared earlier in the section.


Of course, in the famous words of St. Thomas, "grace does not abolish nature but perfects it."  This point has to be stressed lest anyone should get the mistaken idea that we are saying that man's quest for grace (which is finally identical with the quest for God) arises only from his lack, disorder, and frustration. The condition of his being conscious of any lack is that he  already seeks a  fulfilment. We  have  already seen that in the human being anxiety and hope are intertwined. The quest for grace is ultimately rooted in the openness of human existence or the transcendence of the human spirit toward a whither that attracts. All this will become clearer in the section which follows.


Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Discipline and fear

Discipline, certainly, is needed to keep our loving straight, but not fear; for discipline is an expression of deeper love, it is a going-further, but fear is a drawing back ... Just as the enemy of faith," says John Davies, "is not doubt but the repression of doubt, so the enemy of grace is not guilt but the repression of guilt."  Forgiveness sets us free from the repression of guilt, free to be guilty if in fact we are guilty, free to be guilty if it is necessary to become guilty. 

This can only be true if forgiveness is continuous, not a past transaction but a ceaseless flow of loving acceptance.  Breathing that atmosphere, not only can one forgive, but one can also dare to take the blame, just as Jesus did.

John V Taylor "The Go-Between God" p 173


Hidden Millions of Mass Delusion

My main gripe with TJN, and Attac, is that they do not seem to have a coherent philosophical background, tend to take swipes at straw figures, and assume that economics follows a very physics type causality.For instance:
a) Straw men and lack of rigour
Hidden proceeds of drug laundering is a good example of this. I've lost count of the number of times Mafia drug money millions or whatever is supposed to be concealed offshore is trotted out; I'd love to know what connections to the Mafia auditors they have in order to glean figures about something unseen. It is like saying that invisible men all have red hair, but they seem to get away with this complete lack of logical coherence. Rumors are accepted as facts far too easily (see example of Arafat's millions below), and talk of hidden millions seem to have the same function as talk of weapons of mass destruction: it gets media attention. It is little wonder that people do buy into the Nigeria scam about hidden millions if they can believe this kind of conspiracy culture. Incidentally, Grove Booklets has a good booklet on Christianity and Conspiracy Culture; it is not just with taxation and offshore, but across the whole spectrum, including all the stuff on the Gospel of Judas, Da Vinci Code, Hidden Vatican secrets etc.
They seem to have little or no idea as to what the money is doing in offshore centres, apart from supposedly evading tax!  I'd also like to see some mention of matters like Asset holding vehicles, Asset protection, Avoidance of forced heirship provisions, Collective Investment Vehicles, Exchange control trading vehicles, Joint venture vehicles, together with an explanation of why those are bad, and deprive governments of taxation. Rather than the idea that offshore centres are some kind of bucket of money into which funds are placed, mostly by people wanting to hide proceeds of drugs etc which seems to be their idea.
b) Economic Determinism
They seem to assume that if the offshore centres were all closed, the money held there would flow back into national economies and be available for taxation. That argument gets repeated with tedious regularity. It assumes that no other variable come into play, which reminds me of Jersey looking at GST and keeping inflation down as if these were economically insulated policies with no overlap. What I suspect would happen if all offshore centres were closed would be less investment worldwide (more risk, less funding available), a depression, and less money available for tax in general. That might not be the case, but it is at least as credible an alternative, and TNJ and Attac should at least consider alternatives. The old theory of mercantalism which I remember Derek Cottrill teaching us about at school was that money was like a physical entity; if one country had more it would have to be at the expense of another. An idea which led to tariff barriers (the Corn Laws etc), the drive to retain the gold standard, but which turned out to be bogus (as the free trade movement showed). I can;t help thinking that with their idea of offshore as a bucket for funds, and their repatriation of funds helping reduce taxes, that they operate under this kind of crude thinking.

The death of Yasser Arafat (or "the dirty yellow bastard," as Don Imus calls him) occasioned a circus of comments on his "lost millions." The man was no sooner in the ground than reporters, producers, hangers-on, and the political flitterrati opined endlessly on his "hidden millions" -- or is it billions?
In fact, Arafat's "hidden millions" were so hidden that no one seemed to know exactly where they were. CNN said they were "in secret Swiss bank accounts" (and provided not one whit of evidence to prove it), Fox said they were "squirreled away from prying eyes" (privacy not being a right for Palestinians, it seems) while other newspapers and networks said that "secret Israeli and American intelligence reports" (though how these newspapers and networks knew this -- if they were so "secret" -- remains unknown) put his "hidden wealth" in the billions. Another report said that Arafat had invested in companies "linked"to Citigroup. One week after these reports the Swiss government reported that Mr. Arafat had no secret bank accounts and the Citigroup "links" (whatever that means) turned out to be false. So where exactly is all of Arafat's money?
It's in a bowling alley.
A report last week -- so important to the future of the world that it made the national news -- said that Arafat had invested in a Long Island bowling alley, called "Strike Long Island." But Strike Long Island was "just the tip of the iceberg," as it seemed that Arafat had part ownership in at least three other bowling establishments from Manhattan to Miami. Who knew? In all the years that I had known Arafat, I never knew that he had a "thing" for bowling. In all of this reporting, (I used the word advisedly) not one word was said about whether or not the money " invested by Arafat" was actually invested by him personally -- or whether it was invested by Palestinian financial institutions in which his top advisors had a formative role. The difference is significant: for while no one doubts that corruption has been endemic in the PA, no report that I have heard attributes such corruption to Arafat's overwhelming need for self-enrichment. In fact, just the opposite is the case.
Take the bowling alley. Arafat did not, as it turns out, invest any of the $1 million in the alley in his own name. The investment was made for him "through" Silverhaze Partners, a northern Virginia investment firm. Well, not really. As it turns out the investment was not made for him at all. It turns out that Silverhaze Partners did not receive the money from Arafat, but from Palestinian Commercial Services Company, a corporation whose interlocking directorate includes Saudis and Jordanians -- and one Palestinian. PCSC is a West Bank based Palestinian holding company in which Arafat had no shares and no control, though he did appoint Mohammad Rashid, a personal associate to oversee the company's activities. (In fact, Arafat's association with PCSC is far more tenuous than, say, Dick Cheney's with Halliburton.)
Through its investments, PCSC became a major shareholder in the Arab Palestinian Investment Company, whose assets are (and were) used to establish an automobile manufacturing and distribution company (to provide jobs for Palestinians), a medical supply company (to upgrade and modernize the Palestinian medical establishment), a shopping center development corporation, and a storage company. The funds invested by both the PCSC and the APIC are fully audited and tracked by U.S. Standards and Poors -- which has found the company to be solvent, transparent and well-run.
Of course the bowling alley report is fairly predictable: especially given that the PA's ability to run its own financial affairs has been notoriously lax. But of all the large houses, mansions really, that sprung up in Ramallah and in Gaza City in the wake of the Oslo agreements, I do not remember one being owned by Arafat. In fact, most of them are owned by those Palestinians the Americans and Israelis now call "reformers" -- one of the largest houses in Ramallah is owned by Mahmoud Abbas and Mohammed Dahlan (soon to be named the national security advisor in the PA's newly democratic and reformed administration) owns the largest house in Gaza. Arafat owned no houses and, so far as anyone can yet prove, does not now have and has never had any secret foreign bank accounts. So why the rash of stories on Arafat's personal corruption?
One of the reasons may be that Israeli authorities are talking about reopening what is delicately referred to as "the Ginosar Affair" -- in which Shimon Peres' financial advisor and boon buddy Yossi Ginosar took over a Palestinian owned casino and funneled money into (you guessed it) "a secret Swiss bank account" in order to help Palestinian Arabs engaged in small businesses. As you might imagine, not much of Ginosa''s monies ended up in Palestinian hands. Ginosar is also a good friend to Ariel Sharon, who appointed him to head the Israel Export Institute and has been implicated in a variety of political fundraising schemes on behalf of Peres and Ehud Barak. In all, some $350 million of Palestinian money was laundered through Swiss bank accounts, according to the Israeli newspaper Maariv, with the full knowledge if not the connivance of leading Israeli political figures.(5) Some of the money ended up earning interest in one of Israe's leading banks, according to these accounts.
Of course, the Bloomberg Report on Arafat's financial holdings (which were not, as it turned out, his financial holdings at all), failed to mention that corrupt Israelis have long been in bed with corrupt Palestinians -- and are still. It might come as a shock to most Americans that the cement used to build the "security barrier" between Israel and the West Bank is partly owned by Abu Ala, the PA's prime minister, that the settlements have been built by Palestinian laborers under contract to a Palestinian construction company, or that Ariel Sharon's son is a well-known partner in a number of Palestinian business that hold lucrative monopolies over staple products sold to poor Palestinian families -- but while all of this is shocking here, it is general knowledge in the West Bank, Gaza, and even in Israel.
Which does not answer the question as to why the demonization of Arafat continues. After all, it doesn't take a lot of research to find out who owns what and why in the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel. Obviously, Arafat is easy to blame -- he is our most recent devil. Or perhaps, too, blaming Arafat explains away some of the more uncomfortable political truths of the current situation in the Middle East. As Rabbi Scott Hoffman of the Lake Success Jewish Center said after hearing that his bowling ally might be owned by a man reputed to be our eras most notorious "terrorist": "The real sad part is the Palestinians are quite impoverished and he stole from his own people to enrich himself."
Ah, that's it: the Palestinians aren't impoverished because they're under occupation. No, no, no. They're dying and starving because of Arafat. It's their own damned fault