30 November 2006
A thing you DO NOT want to find in your house
Reactions to the death of Litvinenko
Demolition derby on ice!
Labels: Eastern Europe
The message of the ape
This attitude reached its apogee in the early seventeenth century when the French philosopher Réné Descartes proclaimed that it was purely the intellectual faculty that bestowed personhood on the human being (cogito ergo sum – I think, therefore I am) and that not only the intellect but even awareness and sensation were unique to humans. All other animals were unfeeling automata, essentially machines made of flesh and blood. If you beat a dog and the dog howls, it is not really suffering; the noise is purely a mechanical reaction, like the noise a drum makes when you beat it. It was the ultimate philosophy of disconnection – man was a supernatural entity, and all of nature, all that was not man, was a vast, mindless mechanism.
But the European Age of Exploration had already begun, and it was not long after Descartes that the existence of apes began to impinge on the European mind. In 1661 Samuel Pepys described a strange animal (probably a chimpanzee) which had been brought back from Africa and put on display in London. Though in appearance it resembled "a great baboon", Pepys said, it was "so much like a man in most things that.....I do believe it already understands much English; and I am of the mind that it might be taught to speak or make signs."
The first scientific dissection of a chimpanzee was carried out in England in 1699 by the prominent anatomist Edward Tyson. Tyson was startled to find that the internal anatomy and organs of the creature were essentially the same as those of a human being, not like the various animals with which Europeans were familiar. He was particularly struck by how humanlike the brain was. Being a good Cartesian and Christian, Tyson ignored the plain evidence in front of his eyes and firmly declared that the chimpanzee was just another mindless, senseless automaton, and that God for some unfathomable reason had chosen to replicate the anatomical basis for thought and perhaps even language in a creature which nevertheless was utterly devoid of those things. Nevertheless one imagines that even then, a century and a half before Darwin’s revelations, at least a dark suspicion of the truth must have begun to creep into Tyson’s mind.
It was not until the 1960s that humans began to observe and study apes systematically, with the beginning of the kind of patient, painstaking observation of wild apes exemplified by Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey, and the first attempts to teach apes the sign language used by deaf people. Goodall discovered that wild chimpanzees live in groups with subtle and complex social interactions, and that they use and even make tools; the sign language experiments established that all the great apes (chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans) can learn, use, and understand true language with grammar and syntax, even if on a lower level of complexity than what humans can handle. A common experience of most of the researchers involved in both types of study was the realization that the apes they were studying were persons, even if not human – that dealing with an ape is more like dealing with another human being than it is like dealing with a dog or monkey. (Most of the language researchers have had at least one or two amusing experiences of being outwitted by their own research subjects, who devised startlingly crafty deceptions to gain access to places or things that were supposed to be off limits to them.) Indeed most of these individuals, realizing that these "animals" threatened with extinction in the wild and being used in medical experiments in the West were essentially "people", became passionately committed to defending them against both kinds of threats, with their own scientific research taking a back seat.
The Cartesian mind-set has not gone down without a fight. The ape sign-language research was tenaciously attacked by linguists; the field of linguistics was (and to some extent still is) dominated by a dogmatic doctrine that language is of very recent origin (no more than twenty or thirty thousand years old) and represents an innate capacity unique to humans alone; the ability of animals whose common ancestor with humans lay millions of years in the past to use true language obviously rendered this belief untenable, but rather than scrap a hypothesis which had been shown to be inconsistent with the facts, many linguists attacked the facts in order to save the hypothesis, in a manner very similar to that of creationists and pseudoscientists in general. At first they claimed that ape sign language was mere mindless rote behavior (a possibility which some of the early, poorly-designed experiments had indeed failed to exclude); when it became undeniable that apes were, in fact, using their sign language to communicate with humans and each other, they resorted to absurdly convoluted re-definitions of "language" in order to exclude what the apes were doing. Such amusing but infuriating behavior is chronicled in Sue Savage-Rumbaugh’s 1994 book Kanzi: The Ape at the Brink of the Human Mind. In fact, Pepys’s supposition has been vindicated; many apes who have had long exposure to spoken human language have learned to understand it fairly well, though the anatomy of their throats prevents them from speaking it. As Frans de Waal has pointed out, people who still refuse to accept the realities of ape intelligence are almost invariably people with no extensive actual experience of dealing with apes in person.
It is now known that wild chimpanzees also communicate with meaningful gestures to a limited extent, and that these gestures must be learned rather than innate, since different communities use different gestures to express the same meaning. Wild chimpanzee gestures do not qualify as true language, since they are used in isolation rather than within grammatical structures. But they do provide a clue as to what the first precursors of language among the earliest hominids may have been like.
To anyone who has learned about the minds of apes, the myth of human uniqueness is unsustainable. The final blow against it has come from genetics, with the discovery that about 98.4% of the DNA of humans, chimpanzees, and bonobos is identical; only 1.6% shows any differences. Gorillas are somewhat less close relatives, with 97.7% of their DNA being identical to that of the human-chimpanzee-bonobo group and 2.3% showing differences. Even in the most genetically-distant great ape, the orangutan, 96.4% of the DNA is identical to that of humans, chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas; just 3.6% is different. The genetic difference between a human and an orangutan is smaller than the genetic difference between an African elephant and an Indian elephant. A startling example of the closeness of the relationship is that apes have the same blood types (A, B, O, etc.) as humans, with chimpanzee and bonobo blood being so much like our own that a human could safely receive a blood transfusion from a chimpanzee or bonobo of the right blood type (gorilla and orangutan blood is not quite similar enough for this to work). Indeed, if we apply the same criteria of classification to our own species that we apply to all other species, we must classify humans as the fifth member of the great ape group, not as a separate category.
The apes remind us of what we really are. They are us, stripped of all our pretensions. Just by existing, they create a message for us which we need to hear, even if we don’t want to. After all, man is still unique in one respect: he is the only animal foolish enough to imagine that he has a soul. But after you spend enough time studying apes, you realize the real point is not that they are so much like us, but that we are so much like them.
Finally, the apes represent the fulfillment, in an unexpected form, of an old dream. Based on the current state of our knowledge of astronomy, biology, and evolution, it now seems almost certain that complex life is unique to Earth and does not exist elsewhere in the universe. There are no Martians, Klingons, Wookies, Kzinti, or what have you waiting out there to meet us (or eat us). But still, we are not alone in the universe. Our own planet has brought forth not just one intelligent species, but five, even if we are somewhat the most intelligent among them. The interspecies dialogue has already begun, not with radio waves beamed into the unhearing emptiness and darkness, but face to face, with sign language.
Being rich, in a civilized society, does not mean you can do anything you want to do. But it does pretty much mean that you don't have to do anything you don't want to do. There can be few feelings more delicious than waking up on a weekday morning and knowing that you don't have to go to an office and spend eight hours doing inane things there because you need the paycheck. If I had, say, half a million dollars -- enough that the interest on it could cover the basic needs of life -- then that's what I'd buy with it. Time. Not flashy material possessions.
Moderation continues to appeal
29 November 2006
Patriotic company threatened
The main downside of this month's election result is that we no longer have a powerful voice anywhere in the government for dealing with illegal immigration. The Democrats as a party don't want to do it. Bush doesn't want to do it. Nobody lately has wanted to do it except the House Republicans, and they're in the minority now.
The only group that wants to do it is the American public. Pressure organized on the internet has stiffened Congressional resistance to amnesty plans in the past. The same pressure can get us what we really need -- a border wall, employer sanctions with real teeth, and no amnesty -- but it will need to be relentless.
28 November 2006
First, atheism is not a belief system or coherent ideology the way Islam, Christianity, or for that matter Communism are; it is simply an absence of belief in one particular thing (deities). If you know that two people are both Muslims, that tells you there is at least a core set of beliefs and values they probably share. If you know that two people are atheists, that tells you nothing about what else, if anything, they have in common -- only the fact that neither of them believes a deity exists. They might well have no other values or ideas in common at all.
If Stalin didn't believe in unicorns, and Bill Clinton also doesn't believe in unicorns, then that does not mean we can infer any other similarities between the two, nor can we insist that the latter must either defend the atrocities of the former or else admit that their shared disbelief in unicorns is evil.
Second, Communism as practiced in the USSR and China, and by the groups with ties to those regimes, actually had more characteristics in common with a major organized religion than with anything else. There was a prophet (Marx), a set of sacred texts (Marx's writings), a priesthood charged with guiding mankind according to the holy writ (the Communist party), an infallible and almost superhuman leader (Lenin, Stalin, Mao, etc. depending on the time and place), a central ideology based on struggle between virtue and wickedness (the struggle to destroy capitalism and establish Communism), a welter of sects (Stalinists, Trotskyites, Maoists, etc.) denouncing each other as heretics, even an eschatology depicting a supposedly foreordained future, including an Armageddon-like struggle to overthrow capitalism followed by a Communist utopia. I would also note the extreme sexual puritanism of most Communist regimes. And despite the rhetoric about Marxism being "scientific", the whole ideology was in fact held on faith, regarded as "above" being tested against mundane evidence from the real world. This is all far, far more similar to Christianity or Islam than to the world-view of any atheist I know. The fact that the Communist system lacked a deity is a minor detail, not a key characteristic; self-proclaimed Communists in other parts of the world, notably various parts of Latin America, have adopted the whole ideology intact while keeping their traditional belief in the Christian God.
So don't assume that everyone who doesn't believe in unicorns can be tarred with the same brush.
Note especially the paragraphs in the middle about those Westerners who minimized or sympathized with the Fascist threat in the 1930s and those who do the same with the Islamist threat today -- not all of them leftists, then or now.
26 November 2006
".....to beloved Russia and its people."
Andrew Sullivan on Mitt Romney
Pink thingies and electric djinns
25 November 2006
Will Islam be defeated?
Patriotic music -- Russia
The song title "Sdelan Ya v SSSR" ("I Was Made in the USSR") requires a word of explanation. A kind of nostalgia for the Soviet era is fairly common in Russia, not because of Communist sympathies, but because it was the height of Russia's power. Those are Russian, not Soviet, flags being waved by the audience.
Gazmanov's bio here.
Patriotic music -- Australia
Australian singer Beccy Cole is a fervent supporter of her country's troops in Iraq, and has traveled there to meet and entertain them. This has apparently earned her a certain amount of flak from the type of anti-war absolutist (we all know of them) who cannot listen to any hint of pro-military sentiment without utterly condemning the person expressing it. This song, "Poster Girl", is her response (note: "diggers" is slang for Australian soldiers). I have a hard time imagining that her critics could match her eloquence and dignity.
Her own website is here.
When the public is disarmed.....
The ice bar
Now, curiously enough, I've never heard anyone actually object to this. I've never objected to it myself. What I have heard, pretty much every Christmas, is Christians objecting to people saying "happy holidays" -- including, last Christmas, a woman I know to be quite religious yelling very rudely at a younger woman who had uttered the offending words to a decidedly mixed group of people.
The legitimacy of the Christians' possessiveness about the holiday is in any case tenuous. Christmas is most likely a mere adaptation of Saturnalia, the pagan Roman festival of gift-giving and revelry celebrated in late December, in an effort to make Christianity more palatable to the pagans by merely changing the pretext for their most popular holiday rather than abolishing it. Other associated customs such as the Christmas tree are probably of pagan Germanic origin. No element of modern Christmas -- not even the claimed association of December 25 with the birth of Jesus -- has any basis in the New Testament. I rather doubt there's a Biblical passage in which Jesus instructs his followers to get snotty with people who say something as innocuous as "happy holidays", either.
Nevertheless, I am more than willing to concede that Christmas today, regardless of its history, should indeed be regarded as a Christian holiday. After all, considering what it has become -- all the crass consumerism, mob scenes, greed, squabbling, stress, and those godawful "carols"* -- who would want it back from them? They broke it, they own it.
I just wish they'd refrain from taking out their understandable frustration with all those shopping-mall lines on people who use greetings they disapprove of.
*The only Christmas music I like is "Winter Wonderland", which someone once told me isn't even a "carol", and the Mannheim Steamroller version of "Good King Wenceslas", which I'm sure would never be played in any church.
Anti-Muslim riot in Russia
The Exclusive Brethren
Religion and social health
Not according to this survey, which measures verifiable rates of homicide, teenage pregnancy, venereal disease, and other pathologies among 17 economically-comparable countries making up most of the First World [paragraph 10], and finds that these phenomena are much less common in secular than religious societies -- especially in Japan, Scandinavia, and France, the most secular societies of all [13, 19]. Even within the United States, the various pathologies occur at higher rates in the more-religious regions than in the less-religious ones . Homicide rates have fallen dramatically throughout the Western world over the last several centuries  as religiosity declined. Even abortion becomes more common as religiosity increases  -- a seemingly odd finding, but plausible since aversion to or ignorance of contraception would logically lead to higher rates of unintended pregnancy, which in turn would lead to higher rates of abortion.
While this study looks only at developed countries, I cannot help recalling that Latin America (the non-Western cultural region probably most similar to the West) is generally more religious than the West and has astronomical rates of violent crime and social inequality. The most intensely religious region of the world is, of course, the Islamic Middle East -- and we all know what a cesspit of violence, intolerance, and cultural and economic stagnation that is. France and Scandinavia, long blessed with low rates of violent crime (as the study notes), have recently suffered dramatic increases such crime, particularly rape -- but this is due to the presence of large, unassimilated Muslim minorities whose roots lie in the world's most strongly religious culture.
Finally, the study's conclusions suggest a hopeful prognosis for eastern Europe, which is (with the exception of Poland) highly secular, probably even more so than the West -- especially since it has thrown off the yoke of Communism, another irrational, dogmatic, and authoritarian belief system strikingly similar to a religion in many respects. For all of eastern Europe's problems, the relative absence of inane superstition, and consequent openness to scientific thinking, can only be for the best.
23 November 2006
Eating their own
So they denounce and purge each other as heretics and even burn down churches that worship the wrong way.
Watch for more of the same. Intolerance only starts with intolerance of atheists. Inevitably the fanatic's definition of the One True Way becomes ever narrower and more exacting, the range of permissible deviation shrinks to nothing, and the agitated hostility toward those who have the Message wrong and thus might lead the righteous astray waxes stronger.
With Christians like these, who needs lions?
22 November 2006
Considering the sadistic violence characteristic of Europeans during the Dark Ages, when religion was taken seriously and society was about as repressive as the Middle East today, this view has a certain plausibility.
21 November 2006
This is a mafia regime. Russia needs its own Orange Revolution.
Labels: Eastern Europe
Apostates of Islam is a site run by ex-Muslims, including their testimonials about how and why they left Islam. It's unfortunate that those who most need to read this -- current Muslims -- will probably never deign (or dare?) to look at it.
It may be of some interest how I learned of the above site. One day a week or two ago I was studying a Russian grammar book on the bus on the way to work, when the woman sitting next to me glanced over at it and asked, "Russian?" I told her it was, and she mentioned having been "forced" to study Arabic as a child. It developed that she had been raised as a Muslim, but had left the religion later when she realized it was being used as a tool by domineering male family members to control her. She told me about Apostates of Islam. Apparently her experience is not as rare as one might think.
On a lighter note:
Give the gods your feedback with this questionnaire.
Get saved here! Great free gifts! (Well, I think it's a joke.)
Tired of worshiping the same old deity? Join the God of the Month Club.
Give up a bad habit here! Or at least learn to feel really guilty about it. (Note: sexual content.)
(Humor links sent by Mendip.)
19 November 2006
An alternative to YouTube?
Putfile isn't perfect -- its FAQ states that X-rated content is not allowed, though this doesn't seem to be enforced -- but in view of the problem of what seems to be political censorship at YouTube, any alternative should be encouraged and used as much as possible.
Labels: Music and video
One feature of Beta is that individual posts can now have "labels" which classify them by topic or category. You can click on these to search for posts on a particular subject.
I have also noticed that some existing comments on old posts which were actually posted by people under specific screen names have now been attributed to "anonymous". I did not do this -- the system did.
18 November 2006
Quote for the day
The future of warfare?
17 November 2006
"Faith" and smallpox
16 November 2006
Quote for the day
"De Waal's Law", from the Wikipedia article on primatologist Frans de Waal
"It is the social issues"
I'm sure that even now there are various "social conservatives" hard at work on screeds "proving" that this is not true. Unfortunately for them, reality doesn't go away just because people don't want to believe in it.
Arrogance and contempt
14 November 2006
On the other hand, this does -- if the Democrats go through with it.
And there's a hint of good news for political moderates.
12 November 2006
But the newspaper says there's a serious storm coming.....one which could uproot trees and cause power outages.
Oh, well, it's still better than the summer.
Quote for the day
"Debbie at the Blog"
The Russian National Anthem
Political desperation in Britain
And so the frustrated voters are turning to parties outside that mainstream. Here is a discussion of this trend as it is developing in Britain (note: "Labour" and "the Conservatives" are the two main political parties; "the Lib-Dems" are a smaller but still mainstream party; "UKIP" is a minor party advocating Britain's withdrawal from the EU).
The BNP (British National Party) is a far-right minor party with no real equivalent in the US. Historically it has been ultra-nativist, ultra-nationalist, and racist -- a party associated in the popular mind with crude, violent thugs and creeps. As voters' concerns about the Muslim problem have grown, and the political elite has refused to address the issue or has insisted on framing it exclusively as an issue of "Islamophobia", the BNP has become a tempting option for those wishing to cast a "protest vote" to get the mainstream parties' attention. Seeking to capitalize on this, the BNP has pushed for a more respectable image, but remains profoundly authoritarian, race-conscious, autarkist, anti-American, and given to disturbing rhetoric about "Zionism". (Here's their platform, if you want to read about them in their own words.) The frequent accusation that the BNP is "fascist" is too harsh -- but, frankly, also all too understandable.
That is what now looks tempting to millions of people in one of the most solidly-democratic countries in the world. That is what those people feel they have been driven to, by the arrogant head-in-the-sand stance of their mainstream politicians.
Could Britain actually elect an extreme-right government someday, if its present leadership continues to ignore the greatest concern of its people? Could western Europe actually opt for a kind of fascism out of desperation, even as eastern Europe consolidates its democracy?
It's up to those mainstream politicans to make sure we never find out.
The real face of Communism
Fun with science
Sometimes the little guys win
I recall a couple of incidents that happened here in the Portland area in the last few years.
Case #1 was in the city of Gresham just east of Portland itself. QFC, a supermarket chain (similar to Safeway but a bit more "upscale") wanted to build a store near the intersection of 182nd and Powell. To clear land for the store, a large stand of old-growth cedar trees would need to be cut down. This led to intense opposition from the neighborhood, which did not want to lose the trees (the old-growth trees in the Portland area, patches of which survive here and there among the buildings, are huge and magnificent). QFC brushed aside the locals' objections and pushed the project through. The irreplaceable trees were cut and the store was built.
But people didn't forget. Many locals refused to shop there. The store never made as much money as anticipated. Eventually it closed. The building is still empty.
Today, Wal-Mart has plans for a store on the site. Neighborhood grassroots organizations are uneasy about this, largely due to concerns about traffic congestion. And because the planned store will be much larger than the old QFC, the few remaining old trees on the site would have to be cut down.
Mall-Wart is powerful and may well succeed in overriding all opposition and getting its project built. I wouldn't bet too much on the long-term viability of the store, though.
Case #2 happened in the Sellwood neighborhood, a quiet area in southern Portland which is mostly residential with a few small antique shops and restaurants. A few years ago some advertising company set up one of those electronic billboards, the kind that show continuous moving pictures like a giant TV screen, at the intersection of 13th and Tacoma, the two main streets in Sellwood. This garish, flickering imposition would have been well suited to an urban core setting or a major shopping area (the kinds of sites where they are more commonly located); in the middle of Sellwood, it looked as out-of-place as a bowling ball on a chessboard. Aside from its ugliness, there was a fear that it would distract drivers and cause accidents.
Neighbors complained; the advertising company shrugged off their concerns. Noticing that many of the businesses which advertised on the billboard were local, some people contacted those businesses and promised never to patronize them as long as they continued to advertise there. Word got around. After a while, it was noticed that the billboard was displaying mostly public-service messages, with few revenue-producing advertisements appearing any more. Eventually the billboard was removed "for maintenance". That was several years ago now. It's still gone.
To the best of my knowledge, there was never any vandalism of the billboard, even though it was situated in a way that would have made this quite easy. It was purely the power of the market at work.
It may sometimes seem as though the big guys hold all the cards, but as long as they need something from you -- your shopping dollars, your vote, or whatever -- you do have some power. Try using it. You might surprise yourself.
".....the war against terrorism has turned into an ideological war against Democrats. They seem to believe that we can only fight terrorists by fighting Democrats.
This strategy, treating half of America as the 'enemy' didn't work when the Democrats tried it, why should it work when the Republicans try it? I avoided voting for Democrats two years ago because many treated half of the American population as the enemy. Now some Republicans and former centrists are doing the same thing."
I'm not even a leftist, as any real leftist who reads my material will tell you, and I found the hysterical screeching about evil, stupid, terrorist-loving "Dhimmicrats" by some right-wingers in the run-up to the election to be absolutely wearisome and disgusting. It may well have been a deciding factor for some centrist voters.
11 November 2006
Remember, it's only because of the military that the United States (and most of the civilized world) has lived in peace and freedom for so long that some people have actually managed to forget why the military is necessary. It is a very old truth: Si vis pacem, para bellum.
A ban on Muslim veils?
"Peace or threat?"
10 November 2006
More Russian pop music
Advice for odious hypocrites
Incidentally, if you think I'm actually enjoying the spectacle of preachy, arrogant, judgmental religious fanatics going down in the flames of their own hypocrisy.....then you're about as right as right can be.
Returning troops bullied
More on the election
The anti-illegal-immigration cause is alive and well.
And the internet-driven fight against pork and corruption goes on.
Notice that on these issues, both parties (with the exception of rare and honorable individuals) are on the wrong side. There are opportunities here for whichever party is first to take up an "untouchable" but right and popular cause.
09 November 2006
Sticking with the center on guns
08 November 2006
The pragmatic wisdom of the voters
Mishandling of the Iraq occupation obviously hurt the Republicans, but scandal hurt even more. Americans do not take corruption and abuse of power lightly, especially when the perpetrators represent a faction which is preachy, scolding, and morally judgmental of others. Also, trying to minimize and downplay scandals doesn't work -- it just makes people angry.
There is no evidence that most voters want to cut and run from Iraq, but they are clearly unhappy with the way things are going there, and have sent a message to Bush -- and, indirectly, to the Iraqis themselves -- that their patience is wearing thin. We want the insurgency quelled and our troops back home.
Some of the results show that Americans' dedication to individual freedom is not only alive and well, but stronger than the artificial left-right divide. Here in Oregon, for example, an anti-Kelo property-rights measure passed 66%-34%, while a parental-notification measure designed to discourage teenage abortion was rejected 55%-45%. The first of these decisions would generally be classified as "rightist" and the second as "leftist", but both of them are wins for personal freedom.
The same pattern repeated itself elsewhere. South Dakota's notoriously draconian anti-abortion law was overthrown 55%-45%, while anti-Kelo measures passed in many states, usually by huge margins. A gay-marriage ban failed in Arizona, and while such bans passed in other states, the margins in many cases were smaller than those by which such measures have usually won. Gay marriage is, after all, a new and fairly radical idea, but it seems that the masses' visceral hostility to it may already be starting to weaken.
Arizona also voted 73%-27% to declare English its official language -- a symbolic reminder that feeling on the illegal-alien issue continues to run high.
Bullies who enjoy exposing other people to toxic, stinking filth did not do well yesterday; Nevada, Ohio, and Arizona passed bans on smoking in most public places, the latter two simultaneously rejecting milder options which would have allowed smoking in bars. Many "libertarians" will denounce these restrictions on the "right" to poison and assault the senses of others -- thus showing how far they have drifted from the original libertarian ethos.
Joe Lieberman's re-election even after being rejected by the Democratic party serves as a reminder to the Democrats both that moderation is the key to victory and that an "anti-war" stance on Iraq is not, even in a relatively liberal state like Connecticut. Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger's easy re-election in California sends the same message -- moderates win.
The passage of Amendment 2 in Missouri, guaranteeing the legality of stem-cell research there, similarly rebuked fundamentalist interference in science -- all the more significant since Missouri is not an especially liberal state.
Of course it's not yet clear how the Senate will end up, but at worst it will have a roughly-even split. This should be enough to squelch the Republicans' aspiration to pack the Supreme Court with judges who would threaten Roe vs. Wade, Oregon's physician-assisted suicide law, and other critical bastions.
There will be a lot of analysis in the next few days, and much will depend on whether the right foolishly denounces the voters as idiots and dupes (as so many on the left did two years ago) or listens with an open mind to what they are saying. But in broad strokes, the message is that most of the people vote for freedom and common sense on most of the issues. The system works.
07 November 2006
Let's look at the Republicans' track record:
First, it's astonishing to see how far the current administration has abandoned a good chunk of the values traditionally considered "conservative". (Andrew Sullivan has been an invaluable source on this -- go to his site and keep scrolling.) Skyrocketing spending and deficits, a lax policy toward illegal aliens, a homosexual scandal in Congress which Republicans tried to minimize and perhaps even cover up -- with conservatives like these, who needs liberals?
(It is true that the House Republicans have stood firm on illegal immigration, and I would still prefer to see the Republicans keep the House and lose the Senate. But even if they lose both, public opinion on this issue is so overwhelmingly in favor of a tough line that I think the odds are good that mass pressure will be able to stop the amnesty and open-borders agenda.)
Second, the Republicans' increasing identification with the Christian Right's agenda makes them a threat to individual freedom. Their efforts to undermine Roe vs. Wade, their opposition to the physician-assisted-suicide law repeatedly approved by voters here in Oregon, their attacks on legal rights for homosexuals (even civil unions in many states, not just marriage), their foot-dragging on making new forms of contraception easily available, and the continued prosecution of the insane war on drug (user)s, all make it clear that what we are dealing with here is authoritarian nanny-statism in its ugliest form.
Third, their scientific illiteracy embarrasses the United States in front of the rest of the world and has led us to neglect matters which need urgent attention. Insistence that anthropogenic global warming either is not happening or is not an urgent problem, support for teaching fake "scientific theories" based on religious mythology in schools alongside evolution, and refusal to fund research which violates religious taboos (the stem-cell imbroglio) -- all these are positions completely unworthy of any modern nation, never mind the leading nation of the modern world.
Against all this, the Republicans basically have one argument -- the war. This administration is a success by one criterion, and it's a very weighty one: since September 11, our territory has not been attacked again.
But has the administration's overall performance in dealing with the Islamist threat really been impressive enough to merit being rewarded at the polls? Our success at preventing further attacks stems from a robust military response which showed the enemy that violence against the United States carries consequences which will come back and hit them in their own homelands, and from counterintelligence activity designed to abort further attacks before they could be launched. But I think almost any administration, Republican or Democrat, would have carried out such measures after September 11. Personally I would have favored a far tougher military response. And the country ultimately most responsible for the spread of the murderous militant-Islamist ideology, Saudi Arabia, remains untouched.
Furthermore, while the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were justified, it seems obvious that there was inadequate planning for the subsequent occupations and very little effort to understand the cultures we would be trying to democratize, with disastrous results. Yes, the majority of Iraqis have stepped up to the plate and supported democracy, and the violence there is not as widespread as the MSM would have us believe. But if, back at the beginning of 2003, you had asked any supporter of the Iraq invasion (including me) to describe what success there would look like, he certainly would not have described anything like the current situation there. Furthermore, the mishandling of the operation actually risks undermining the deterrent effect we have achieved so far. If we eventually conclude that the democratization of Iraq cannot succeed, and that we have no choice but to withdraw and abandon the country because the situation is hopeless, then the jihadists will certainly claim victory -- a much worse result, from our viewpoint, than if we had not invaded Iraq in the first place.
And precisely because the Presidency is not in play in this election, we have a chance to send a message without any risk that the running of the war itself will be given over to those whom we are not sure will be up to the job. The Speaker of the House is not the Commander in Chief of the military.
A Democratic Senate would be able to block the appointment of any further Supreme Court judges who might undermine Roe vs. Wade -- a critical issue at this point. A strong Democratic showing is the best way to rebuke an increasingly arrogant administration which is threatening individual freedom in the name of a fundamentalist agenda. It might even force a re-think of our Iraq strategy, improving the odds of success there.
The risk that the Democrats will use control over one or both houses of Congress to launch some nutty Ken-Starr-like attack on President Bush, or to force the country into a French-style posture of appeasement toward the Islamists, simply doesn't seem very high. And we already know what the Republicans will do if they remain dominant in all the branches of the government. To me, it's an easy choice.
05 November 2006
PurpleThink on Islam
But in this case I have no reservations at all. There is no doubt whatsoever of Saddam Hussein's guilt for some of the most ghastly crimes ever committed by human beings.
If "evil" is measured by the infliction of suffering upon those who did nothing to deserve it, then Saddam Hussein is easily the most evil person alive today.
There has never been a case where the expression "hanging is too good for him" fits so well. There is literally nothing one could possibly do to Saddam Hussein that would come anywhere near being true justice for his atrocities.
Just this once, I truly wish that Hell were real.
02 November 2006
These people are completely nuts.
Update: This article is almost a year old and thus omits recent incidents, but it still offers a harrowing record of just how vile the consequences can indeed be, when people from such a repressed culture run loose in a normal society -- especially when the normal society is inhibited by political correctness from standing up for itself.
There are, of course, other ways of letting off steam, which are all too typical and common these days -- especially when non-Muslim targets are available.
01 November 2006
Chinese regime turning against Kim Jong-Il?
The Republican nanny state
What part of "None of your damn business" does the Christian Right not understand?
If they think this is acceptable, regardless of their reasons, then they need to be out of power, period.
Found via The News Blog.
"The charade is over. We have a problem."
Quote for the day
From an e-mail published by Andrew Sullivan (I do not agree with what this person says about the WMD issue, incidentally).