31 March 2009

The men who found refuge

Who was Tarek Hussein Farid? ManticoreWeb looks into a nasty little cranny of history.

30 March 2009

NY-20: A new wrinkle

The Libertarian candidate has now endorsed the Democrat. Not because of ideology, obviously, but because of Republican dirty tricks to keep him off the ballot.

This race, as the linked posting notes, has become something of a referendum on the two major parties. It's a right-leaning district, but the Democrat still leads. And the actual vote is tomorrow.

29 March 2009

Anniversary of a good move

Today marks two years since the day I left the job I'd held for four and a half years. I won't deny that it was a leap into the unknown, but even then I felt confident I was doing the right thing.

Even so, it's remarkable how well things have worked out. Despite having given up my stable source of income, I was still able to do the traveling I'd been planning, and I found a new job within weeks of returning to the US. I'm still there, and it's still miles better than the job I quit. It's scary to think that, if I'd been a little less willing to take a risk, I might still be at the old place right now.

I remember that there were people there who hated it as much as I did (pretty much everyone hated it) but wouldn't even consider leaving because they feared they wouldn't find anything better. For all I know, those people still are there right now. Their caution was understandable; unlike me, they had families to support. But I'd never advise anyone to put up with abusive and incompetent management or an otherwise intolerable work situation. There is always something better. Yes, I know the economy stinks right now, but that will pass. And even now, people are finding jobs.

Even at those times when things get tough at the current job, all I have to do is think to myself: Yes, but I'm not back there. And that puts it in perspective.

A warning from Norway

Polls show Norway's anti-immigration Progress Party rising in popularity and perhaps now having the largest base of support of any party in the country. Most of Norway's immigrant population is Muslim.

The Labor Party, currently in office, is losing support after trying to enact a set of laws aimed at appeasing Islam -- laws which it withdrew after a public outcry.

The implications are especially striking since Norway's Muslim population is small, less than 2% of the country's total population. In most other western European countries the proportion is much higher, ranging up to perhaps 8%-10% in France. Very likely there are great opportunities in those other countries for any party that seizes upon this issue and makes it its own.

Tax the stoners! (and hookers!)

After writing this posting, it occurred to me that there's another huge sector of our economy which is currently tax-exempt, not because it has a legal privilege but because the whole industry is illegal: drugs. The consequences of our nation's draconian drug policy extend far beyond lost tax revenue, of course, to include the world's highest incarceration rate and the growth of organized-crime cartels powerful enough to threaten the governments of at least two large countries (Columbia and Mexico). To avoid the distraction of debating the harmful effects of harder drugs, my argument here is only for the legalization of the least harmful and most widely-used drug: marijuana.

Marijuana is less harmful than alcohol, not only because it is less injurious to the body, but because it is less able to unleash rage and violence (a big part of the social cost of alcohol is its involve-ment in various kinds of violent behavior such as domestic abuse, rape, brawls, etc.). We've already tried banning alcohol and found that the harm caused by doing so is much greater than the harm caused by accepting it as a legal product. Like today's drug laws, Prohibition fueled the growth of organized crime and an explosion of violence as powerful crime gangs fought over turf and openly resisted government authority. If Prohibition had lasted as long as the War on Drugs has lasted, it's not inconceivable that alcohol-fueled mafias would have grown so rich and powerful that they could threaten the stability of our whole society and government, as the drug cartels have done in Columbia and Mexico.

With marijuana, at least, we should do exactly as we did with alcohol. Don't "decriminalize" it. Make it a fully legal product, legal to produce and sell. Regulate its manufacture and sale the same way the manufacture and sale of alcohol is regulated. Tax it as alcohol is taxed. Allow advertising, restricted in the same ways as alcohol advertising is restricted. Let every grocery store in the land sell the stuff, right next to the beer and wine aisle. And if you catch someone selling one joint to anybody under 18, throw him in prison. Age restrictions on alcohol work because it's legal. The corner store guy who makes good money selling beer legally has something to lose if he sells the stuff to a kid. The pusher doesn't care, since he goes to jail if the cops catch him, regardless of the ages of his customers.

Would legal marijuana be problem-free? No. Legal alcohol isn't problem-free either. As with alcohol, more people would smoke marijuana if it were legal, and there would be various social costs. The point is that, as with alcohol, those costs would be far less than the danage caused by banning it. There's no such thing as a reform which has no bad side effects at all. But reform can replace a set of much bigger problems for a set of much smaller ones.

With harder drugs such as cocaine or meth, there's at least a real argument that they are so dangerous that we're better off banning them than legalizing them (and I think there's a case for putting cigarettes in the same category, though that's a whole other issue). But we could deal with those things much more effectively than we are now if we weren't wasting vast resources going after marijuana. And -- to return to my main point -- government efforts to fight the recession would be buttressed by the tax revenues that a legal marijuana industry would generate.

Finally, a similar case could be made for legal, regulated, taxable prostitution. I have no idea how large a legal prostitution industry would be or how much tax revenue it would generate, but it seems clear that there are currently some fairly large cash flows going untaxed in that area. Prostitution, too, is saturated with sleaze, hard drugs, criminal involvement, and terrible abuses of sex workers, precisely because it is illegal and therefore beyond the reach of the regulation and legal protections which the state can extend to other industries and their workers.

Obama ran for office promising "change". It was never very clear what that meant, but can we at least try for "change" in areas where established practice is flagrantly idiotic and counterproductive and can obviously never achieve its claimed goal?

Quote for the day

"Let us also remember that Steele claimed Barack Obama would lose largely because black people wouldn't support him if he wasn't grievance-focused. That's the sort of proclamation that comes from spending too much time on a campus and at conferences, and not enough time at cook-outs and barber-shops. Steele's analysis of black people always amazes me, because there are rarely any actual recognizable people being discussed. What we mostly get are symbols and automatons, ripped from some debate circa 1994 between him and Cornel West. His columns always give me that feeling of watching a lit professor deconstruct a text."

Go, and live the dream

A question I've seen raised from time to time on the net since last year's election: Liberals eight years ago sometimes threatened to move to Canada if Bush were elected, but is there any country to which conservatives can emigrate, now that we evil socialistic Democrats have been swept to power in the US?

Well, actually, there is a country that seems to embody everything the real hard-line conservatives say they want. It's a country with no government social programs, no government regulations, no government oversight of business or finance, no effective taxes, no intrusive government authority at all. As icing on the cake, there is no feminism or gay-rights agitation or secularism, and everybody lives according to traditional religious moral values whether they agree with them or not.

It's called Somalia. Maybe they should go and check it out.

28 March 2009

Link roundup for 28 March 2009

Too busy to pray? Now you can hire a computer to do it for you (sent by Mendip).

Sexsomnia may be less fun than it sounds, but.....

When airline pilot Chafik Gharby's plane met trouble, rather than taking proper emergency measures, he started praying. 16 people died in the ensuing crash. (Maybe if he'd had an account with that praying computer, he'd have been able to concentrate on flying.)

Dungeekin salutes the woman who helped spur the development of modern technology.

As long as conservatives keep talking rubbish about sex, we'll keep making fun of them.

Godless Liberal Homo denounces the Islamic regimes' UN efforts to ban "defamation of religion" -- and posts a must-see Pat Condell video. And don't miss Condell's take-down of Britain's leading Islamotard, Anjem Choudary.

This seems so hard to stop, I'm amazed there aren't lots of people doing it everywhere -- or maybe there are (sent by Ranch Chimp).

It's clear now that red meat is unhealthy (found via Republic of T).

More attention should be focused on this Congressional tax dodge.

Gay marriage moves forward in New Hampshire and Vermont -- with the usual hypocritical opposition.

A new website is being launched to combat Holocaust denial.

This seems like a shocking abuse of police power. At least the police chief apologized.

Josef Fritzl says he now realizes that what he did was bad. All I've got to say about that, I said in my comment on the posting.

As North Korea prepares for a suspicious rocket launch, American warships move in. Japan and Russia are on alert too. I suspect this launch is a test of Obama's resolve; if he takes no action, expect a lot more troublemaking from Kim Jong Il.

Here's more evidence of rising crackpottery among conservatives -- remember, Bachmann is a Congresswoman. And one of Andrew Sullivan's readers comments on conservative reality-denial.

Aubrey de Grey's book Ending Aging is now out in Russian (my review of the English original is here).

Limb-regeneration technology, supported by the US military, is making progress.

Israel is making nanotechnology a priority (found via Exit Zero). Here's a reminder of what nanotechnology could eventually mean.

The Singularity will vastly increase human intelligence -- but what about animals?

27 March 2009

NY-20: Murphy pulls ahead!

In the special election to fill Kirsten Gillibrand's Congressional seat in this traditionally Republican-leaning district, Democrat Scott Murphy now leads Republican Jim Tedisco by 47%-43% -- after having started the race 25 percentage points behind. The election is this coming Tuesday.

Earth hour

This Saturday evening, "vote" on global warming. Details here.

Tax the churches!

With the government dishing out frighteningly-large sums left and right to stimulate this and bail out that, and with most Americans (at least, those not "earning" seven-figure bonuses for helping to screw up the economy of the entire planet) already overtaxed, the crushing national debt left over from the Bush binge threatens to grow even bigger. Most of the foreign countries which buy our Treasury bonds are in much worse shape than we are, and simply letting the printing presses roll would risk inflation. We need a new source of money.

It's time to re-examine the tax-exempt status of churches. Yeah, I know, it's supposed to be rooted in the separation of church and state -- the churches don't pay taxes, and in return they stay out of politics. But lots of entities which are just as clearly separate from the state lack any such exemption, and church non-involvement in politics has long ceased to be anything but a pious fiction -- with threats up to and including excommunication for votes on specific issues such as abortion, some of them are taking clearer and more exact political stands than political parties themselves do. In fact, with tax-exempt status being granted purely on the basis of an institution's claim to be religious (and given to few non-religious entities), it seems like an actual violation of the establishment clause -- religious groups get a special and very valuable privilege granted to few others, solely because they are religious. That looks an awful lot like government promotion of religion.

Let's face reality. The churches these days are all over politics like priests on an altar boy, and that's not going to change. We should let them act openly, just like the NRA and the AARP and every other outfit with a cause to push. And they should be subject to taxation on their income and property, just like everyone else is. No more legal hairsplitting about what is and isn't religious, and no more special privileges.

It would require guts for any politician to take up this cause, of course. But with Americans' religious belief declining, respect for institutional religion at an all-time low, and the economy under strain, the time is surely ripe to chivvy these sacred cows into the milking shed.

26 March 2009

Quotes for the day

"I don't have any answers, but I do have a question: might we be seeing the first real rumblings of class warfare -- the genuine article, not the Republican talking-point -- in this country?.....In the other corner are the real people, the angry people, the unemployed people -- and with them their elected representatives in Congress. They're not interested in such distinctions any more, they're not interested in what's fair or what's sensible. They saw their real wages stagnate for decades as the orgy of plutocratic self-congratulation reached obscene levels only to keep on growing. All they ever had was the American Dream: the idea that they, too, might one day become dynastically wealthy and join the overclass. Now, of course, that dream is shattered -- and, what's worse, it turns out that very overclass is responsible for the working classes' own present straits. While the talking heads in New York and Washington throw around their millions and billions and trillions before commuting home to their comfortable middle-class-and-better lifestyles, the rest of the country is mad as hell, and ain't gonna take it any more. They're not interested in constructive solutions or in leveraging private capital or in the sanctity of contracts: fuck that shit. Those days are over. They want to see jail time, confiscatory policies, and worse."


"With lightning speed and lockstep unanimity, opinion-making elites jointly embraced and are now delivering the same message about the public rage triggered this week by the AIG bonus scandal: This scandal is insignificant. It's just a distraction. And, most important of all, public anger is unhelpful and must be contained or, failing that, ignored. This anti-anger consensus among our political elites is exactly wrong. The public rage we're finally seeing is long, long overdue, and appears to be the only force with both the ability and will to impose meaningful checks on continued kleptocratic pillaging and deep-seated corruption in virtually every branch of our establishment institutions. The worst possible thing that could happen now is for this collective rage to subside and for the public to return to its long-standing state of blissful ignorance over what the establishment is actually doing.....We've had far too little public rage given the magnitude of this rot, not an excess of rage. What has been missing more than anything else is this: fear on the part of the political and financial class of the public which they have been systematically defrauding and destroying.....The AIG scandal is significant and has resonated so powerfully because it is a microscope that enables the public to see what and who has wreaked the destruction that threatens their security and future and, most important of all, to realize that these practices haven't ended and the perpetrators haven't been punished."

In both cases, read the whole thing.

22 March 2009

The darkness can lift

Why I Am Not a Muslim, by Ibn Warraq (1995)

This book's title, of course, is a nod to Bertrand Russell's Why I Am Not a Christian. Ibn Warraq, born to a Muslim family in India and raised in Pakistan, was certainly taught Islam, as many millions of others are. At 14, however, he was sent to Britain to further his education. There he eventually learned the kinds of critical analysis that Western scholars have been applying to Judeo-Christian texts and beliefs for generations; with these tools, he came to see Islam for what it is.

So, what is it? The answer to that has always been obvious to anyone who studies it without preconceptions: it is a fabrication, and a very dangerous one. It was Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa against Salman Rushdie that inspired Ibn Warraq to write, but of course we've seen many further examples of Islam's propensity to react with violence to even the most innocuous challenges. And unlike with Christianity and some other religions, it is impossible to dismiss such behavior as contrary to the letter or spirit of Islam. Both the Koran and Muhammad's own words and actions (as recorded in the hadîth and his accepted biographies) endorse and even command war and violence against unbelievers and against those who disrespect the prophet and his religion. One can find Koranic verses counseling tolerance, but these are mostly in the earlier chapters, and are abrogated by more aggressive later pronouncements (this is how Islam deals with the inevitable contradictions which crop up in a sacred text of any length -- when two statements in the Koran conflict, the earlier one is "abrogated", or canceled, by the later one).

Across several chapters Ibn Warraq lays out the case for Islam's fabricated origins. The majority of the Koran is plagiarized, with many crudely-obvious errors, from older sources -- mostly from the Old Testament, but also from other ancient Jewish texts, Zoroastrianism, the New Testament, and pagan Arab folklore. It contains many grammatical errors, unlikely in a perfect rendition of God's word. Many of the "revelations" received by Muhammad conveniently specified that he was permitted to do things that he happened to want to do at the time. According to Islamic dogma, the Koran is "uncreated" -- it existed, along with God, for all of eternity before the beginning of the world -- yet much of it is an as-it-happened narrative of events in Muhammad's own time. There is even a case to be made that "Islam" as we know it actually arose after the Arab conquest of the Middle East, under the Umayyad dynasty, and that the whole accepted history of Muhammad and the first four Caliphs is as fictional as the Gospels.

Is it really possible that Islam, this frenzied colossus from which whole continents shrink in fear, this ideology for which so many fanatics are willing to kill or die, is nothing but an astonishingly shoddy scam? Ibn Warraq's book, and the numerous scholarly sources it cites, seem to allow no other conclusion.

Aside from the fact that Islam explicitly endorses violence, the sheer flagrant shabbiness of the con may help explain the frenzy with which its adherents defend it. When growing knowledge reveals that a cherished belief is nonsense, there are two clear options: abandon the belief, or stick one's fingers in one's ears and yell loudly to drown out the voice of reason in one's own head -- because one knows all too well what it will say. The latter response can of course include violence against others whose words or example demonstrate that the belief is wrong and pernicious.

Ibn Warraq also devotes many pages to the advanced "Islamic civilization" which flourished during Islam's first four centuries. To summarize: that civilization did achieve great things, but that was despite, not because of, Islam. Neither state nor society in the golden age were rigidly "Islamic" as we understand the term today. Most of the great thinkers were non-Muslims or held beliefs far removed from orthodoxy; their world-view was derived from the rediscovered heritage of pagan Classical Greece, not from Islam, and the whole thing was really more a neo-Hellenistic revival than an "Islamic civilization". Some rulers were obvious unbelievers who paid as little lip service to Islam as they could get away with; others were true believers who persecuted thinkers and burned their books. Crediting the attainments of that civilization to Islam is as absurd as crediting the works of Galileo and Copernicus to the Catholic Church would be. And the triumph of rigid theological conservatism in the 11th and 12th centuries snuffed out that civili-zation just as surely as a full restoration of rigid Church dogma in 17th-century Europe would have snuffed out the Enlightenment.

The key point illuminated by Ibn Warraq's book, however, is this: Islam's grip on its adherents may be far more fragile than it appears.

20% of humanity -- some 1.4 billion people -- is Muslim, so we are told. The ferocious belligerence of Islamic belief is widely thought to make it an immutable trait, almost like race; once a Muslim, always a Muslim, with only freakishly-rare exceptions. This leads many Westerners to cling to the hopeful myth of "moderate Islam" -- the myth that Islam is, or can be re-interpreted as, a "religion of peace" which has been hijacked by "extremists" such as al-Qâ'idah and the Taliban. As I explain here, this is a delusion. In contrast to Christianity or Judaism, there can be no moderate, tolerant Islam; non-fundamentalist Islam is a contradiction in terms. Such a concept will always fail because it is inherently dishonest. The nature of Islam and its sacred texts explicitly rule it out.

Realists who grasp this point, ranging from bloggers to thinkers as sober as John Derbyshire, unwilling to indefinitely accept a world in which one-fifth of our species is brainwashed into a gigantic potential suicide weapon aimed at the other four-fifths, have gone so far as to speculate that thermonuclear obliteration of the whole Islamic world is the only way to guarantee civilization's safety. They are wrong because, while Islam cannot become other than what it is, this does not mean that Muslims must forever remain what they are.

Ibn Warraq was raised Muslim. When education and experience showed him the truth about Islam, he did not become a "moderate Muslim" -- he stopped being a Muslim entirely. Ayaan Hirsi Ali did the same. Many others have done so -- both in medieval times and today. Anecdotal evidence suggests that each year hundreds of Muslims (or likely far more) in each European country abandon Islam, either converting to Christianity or simply becoming non- religious like most native Europeans, though exact numbers are hard to pin down since Islamic law mandates death for apostasy and most ex-Muslims understandably keep a low profile. This is even more true in the case of ex-Muslims in Islamic countries. But as Ibn Warraq makes clear, they exist there, most notably among the educated. Thinker after thinker, no longer able to stomach the indoctrinated nonsense, concluded by casting it off, though some (like Copernicus) refrained from publishing anything until old age. One book denouncing Islam sold more than half a million copies in Iran during the early years of the Islamic Republic, despite being illegal and doubtless dangerous to possess.

It is here -- not in "religion of peace" fantasies or in nightmares of thermonuclear genocide -- that the real solution to the Islamic threat is to be found. Education seems to be the key. In the hard- core fanatics, as noted above, it leads only to violent lashing out against the sources of the terrifying doubt (this may explain why jihadism is largely the province not of illiterate peasants but of educated men like bin Laden); but in others -- hearteningly many others -- exposure to reason and to another way of life can defeat Islam altogether.

It follows that the best policy for western Europe would be the opposite of the one they have been following. Rather than allowing Muslims to encapsulate themselves in segregated, Islam-steeped cultural ghettos, Europeans must insist on integrating them into mainstream society and on uncompromising secular education for their children. In the Islamic world itself, too, everything possible must be done to further the spread of modern education and knowledge. Conventional missionary work has never met with much success among Muslims, precisely because it merely seeks to replace an old and established form of irrational belief with another, new and unfamiliar, one. Reason and knowledge are the antibiotics which have shown they can beat Islam.

Is this just a pipe dream? Is it really possible for whole Muslim populations to be de-Islamized? It has actually happened in one country: Russia. Most sources will tell you that today about 15% of Russia's population is Muslim. That 15%, in fact, consists of ethnic minorities which have embraced Islam for centuries, since long before their incorporation into the Tsarist Russian Empire. Yet today only 6% of Russia's population self-identifies as Muslim. The other 9% -- over 12 million people -- no longer do. They have not become "moderate Muslims" or "Muslims in name only" -- they are not Muslims at all, even to the extent of checking the "Muslim" box on a survey. How did this happen? Whatever the evils of the Soviet state, it did raise the educational level of its subjects from almost medieval to modern levels in a remarkably short time -- and the majority of the Muslims among them abandoned Islam. (Whether the explicit atheistic propaganda in Soviet schools helped or hurt this process is harder to assess.)

What happened in Russia can happen in Europe -- and the Islamic world itself. Our enemy is not 1.4 billion people, but an idea. It is a vicious, belligerent, deadly idea -- but one which, like a vampire, cannot long survive in the bright clear sunlight of reason.

21 March 2009

Link roundup for 21 March 2009

Catfish on the march!

Watch dolphins blow amazing bubble rings.

A bunch of rebellious teenagers ran into trouble -- ninety million years ago (found via Mendip).

Check out Theo Jansen's kinetic sculptures (found via Sentient Developments).

Those DVDs Obama gave British Prime Minister Brown during his visit here.....were US "region code" DVDs that don't work on British DVD players.

Are newspapers doomed?

I see people who look like this all the time -- including at my job (they should read this).

Bernanke says the recession will probably end this year.

Did Obama know about the AIG bonuses in advance? Maybe, or maybe not.

Andrew Sullivan sees a new power rising in America: atheism. One of his readers seems to be seeing the light. To some, religion offers only a bleak existence.

The Essene sect, alleged authors of the Dead Sea scrolls, may have never actually existed (sent by Ranch Chimp).

A British school headmistress (= US principal), driven from her job by Muslims, sues -- and wins £400,000 (found via Islam in Europe blog).

Paul Sikander dissects the scam of "Islamophobia". Somewhere down in Hell, Hitler must be kicking himself for not thinking up the concept of "Naziphobia" and defining it as a despicable prejudice.

Norway's soft-on-Islam Labor party, sinking in the polls against its tougher rival, starts taking a harder line.

Muslim insults against the British army evoke a massive response from the British people.

The head of the Iranian regime dismisses Obama's Nowruz (Iranian new year) diplomatic overture. Nowruz, by the way, marks the spring equinox -- a reminder of the pre-Islamic origins of this widely-celebrated festival.

Things are looking up in Iraq.

The Nazis called certain people lebensunwürdiges Leben ("life unworthy of life"). Some people today hold similar views.

I'm glad to see that Americans' support for nuclear power is at a new high. It's a proven technology, doesn't contribute to global warming, and is safer than most realistic alternatives.

19 March 2009

Quote for the day

"Talk about misplaced anger. Wall Street built a wooden house, stuffed it with flammable material, set it on fire and then poured gasoline on the blaze. And now it's blaming the inferno on the arson inspector, who wasn't appointed until after the fire had reached three-alarm status?"

18 March 2009

The death spiral continues

If you doubt that American conservatism and the Republican party are in deep and deepening trouble, check out this posting at The Plum Line. The data, from just two days ago, show that the national approval rating for the Republican party leadership has fallen 6 points, from 34% to 28%, over the last month. It's fallen by even more -- 12 points -- among Republicans, from 55% to 43%.

Conservatives will not be helped by their response to the latest eruption of public anger over the AIG bonuses. AIG, recipient of billions in taxpayer bailout money, is paying out $165 million in bonuses to its executives, because it can't risk losing the brilliant and talented leadership which has, uh, steered the company into the tar pits from which the taxpayers are now spending so much money to extricate it. Those long-suffering taxpayers are so angry about this that it's even hurting Obama's approval rating because he's viewed as not doing enough to stop the bonuses. (This isn't really fair to Obama -- the President is not a dictator and the Constitution doesn't allow him do just anything he wants.) But what are most conservative bloggers and pundits doing now? Trying to justify the bonuses and trivilize the issue. That seems to be present-day conservatism's highest imperative (after hating abortion and fags, anyway) -- protect the looters. Make sure the malefactors of great wealth are never held accountable.

Is there any hope on the horizon for conservatism? The only thing that comes to mind at the moment is the nationwide "tea party protest" movement. It's clearly a grassroots movement based on a classic conservative cause -- resistance to taxes and redistribution -- without the gay-bashing and creationism and all the other nutty stuff. My guess would be that most of the people at those protests aren't too happy about the AIG bonuses, either. But the protests will need to get a lot larger before it's clear that they represent something important. And there are already signs of them being sillyized by the "going Galt" meme.

More relevant links and observations here and here. I should also call attention to this posting by Andrew Sullivan about his struggle to stay loyal to conservatism and the Catholic Church after both of them have so dreadfully betrayed what he thought they stood for.

Buck Flogger

At about 6:00 AM yesterday this blog was "locked" by Blogger, some idiot algorithm having apparently concluded that it was a "spam blog". I could not write any postings but could , at least, approve comments -- hence the comment I put on the posting below this one (now removed) to notify people of the problem. I was told the blog would be reviewed and, if I turned out to be a real person, the lock would be removed within two days.

This morning the lock notifications were gone, so if this posting appears, I'll assume I can post again, although Blogger didn't even have the courtesy to send me an e-mail stating that the problem was resolved.

Reading their description of how these algorithms work, I suspect the "link roundup" postings are the problem -- the robots just flag any blog that has a high ratio of hyperlinks to postings. If that's the case, since I'm not going to stop doing link roundups (they seem to be popular), I have no assurance that the problem won't recur.

If that ever happens, needless to say, I'm moving to a different hosting service. There's no excuse for locking down blogs during the two-day inspection period. Yes, send the blog owner a notice that the blog is flagged as spam and let him request a review, but leave posting open during that time. The internet will not blow up if a real spam blog is allowed to stay working two days longer (and has anyone ever actually seen one of these alleged spam blogs? I never have), but blocking posting shows a real disdain for the people that use the service.

I might move anyway. I have all the archives of this site stored on my computer and backed up on CD-ROM. I have no idea how much hassle it would be to move everything over to a different service, but obviously Blogger isn't reliable. Yes, I know some other hosting services charge, but I can afford a few bucks a month and as a paying customer I might be treated better. I'll have to think about it.

17 March 2009

Islamic family values

Hannah Shah is the daughter of a prominent and respected Muslim imam in northern England. He raped her repeatedly over a ten-year period starting when she was five. When she was sixteen, he tried to force her into an arranged marriage, prompting her to flee the family. The final straw, however, came when she converted to Christianity. In Islamic law, if a Muslim leaves Islam for another religion (or for atheism), he or she must be killed. Shah's father led a mob of forty Muslim men to track her down with the intent of killing her. The full story is here (found via Counting Cats).

Incestuous abuse, of course, is not unique to Muslims, as the horrifying Josef Fritzl case shows (though such things do seem to happen more often, and are certainly easier to hide, in sexually-repressive societies). The rest of the story, however, is telling. Depraved individuals exist everywhere, but social norms really are different in different societies. Even in a strictly Evangelical Christian family in the US, or a strictly Catholic family in Brazil, or a strictly Buddhist family in Korea or Thailand, or a strictly Jewish family in Israel, a father would be vanishingly unlikely to try to kill one of his own children for abandoning the religion (none of those religions mandates murder in such a case). Furthermore -- and this is the real point -- he would not be able to gather a mob of his neighbors to assist him in doing so. That is only possible in a community where murder for apostasy is a social norm.

One of the many disturbing aspects of the story is that once, at school, Hannah Shah did tell a teacher about the incestuous abuse she was suffering at home. The British authorities' response was to send a social worker "from her own community" (that is, a Muslim) who, of course, accused her of "betraying" the community and told her father what she had said. The European authorities' hands-off approach to the Muslim minority's enforcement of its own norms is a major reason for the persistence of the problem which Islam in Europe represents. Shah herself says that many more Muslims in Britain have renounced Islam than is generally realized, but keep silent through understandable fear.

Far more Muslims would probably abandon Islam if their social environment were even moderately more conducive to doing so. I will be posting a longer discussion of this important point in the near future.

15 March 2009

Jon Stewart storms the Bastille

Comedian Jon Stewart may be the blogosphere's most-talked-about person right now, due to these two clips -- but it's merited.

Here's his takedown of CNBC, which has led some to declare him a better and more honest reporter of real news than the alleged actual news shows are -- a view buttressed by the fact that CNBC itself, as Smashing Telly says, supposedly ranks among the latter:

CNBC covers the industry that makes money, the industry that has recently lost 30% of the notional moolah created from every-thing humans have made, planet-wide, since Tutankhamun. It is watched by Wall street professionals from large screens which hang over trading floors, and during the collapse of Lehman, the employees were looking at CNBC to see what was happening in their own building. In other words, it is not just a consumer product but one used by the billionaire pros who can afford anything. Yet it looks and feels like a cheap toy.

And here's his second clip -- his ambush of CNBC's Jim Cramer. It speaks for itself, but Andrew Sullivan's observations are dead-on:

This was, in my view, a real cultural moment. It was a storming of the Bastille.....Now, I know Jim Cramer a little. The reason he crumbled last night, I think, is because deep down, he knows Stewart's right. He isn't that television clown all the way down. And deeper down, he knows it's not all a game - not now they've run off with grandpa's retirement money.

America will get over this crisis, but the Bastille needs to go down. We cannot risk a restoration of the financial ancien régime.

To be fair: a dissenting view is here, a dissent to the dissent is here.

14 March 2009

Limbaugh of the lost

Four months after its implosion in the November election, the Republican party remains deeply troubled. Gallup's most recent state-by-state survey on party affiliation produced this startling new red-state-vs-blue-state map, while a more recent national survey shows the party trailing the Democrats in favorable ratings by 26% to 49%. Americans even view the Republican party less favorably than they view Communist China. In the race to replace Kirsten Gillibrand in a Republican-leaning district of New York, the Republican candidate's lead has shrunk from 25 percentage points to 4 and he is now distancing himself from the party in desperation.

The situation seems unlikely to be improved by some Republican governors' rejection of stimulus money to extend unemployment benefits in their states -- in the middle of a recession which the public already blames on Republicans by 56% to 24%, according to the national survey link above.

The real problem, though, is ideology. Though conservatives are in denial, a party increasingly aligned with "anti-intellectual..... superstitious fag-bashers" and Rush Limbaugh holds little appeal to the educated or the young. As Frank Schaeffer says, you could disagree with people like Goldwater or Buckley, but they weren't crazy. Today, new RNC chairman Michael Steele has to apologize (and may be doomed) for voicing any hint of sanity. While sane conservatives lament their side's descent into lunacy, liberals rejoice in it and exploit it (update: heh).

Anybody got any popcorn?

Seriously, it is perfectly possible for us thoughtful liberals to be concerned about the death spiral the Republican party seems to be in, with hard-liners trashing those conservatives who dare to point out how foolish it is for conservatism to define itself around people like Limbaugh. The country needs a credible opposition party. Right now it barely has one. In the long run a de facto one-party state wouldn't be good for anybody.

But that's the long run. Right now there are more urgent concerns. The hash which eight years of Republican rule have made of the economy and science policy must be fixed. Stem-cell research must be fully funded without any more medieval nonsense. Full equality for gays, in marriage rights and elsewhere, must be won. A Supreme Court majority to keep Roe vs. Wade permanently out of danger must be put in place. And on and on.

So all I can say to conservatives is this: Just keep right on doing what you're doing. Keep on defending what you've become. Keep on shouting down the few among you who talk sense. Because for now, we need you to stay stuck in the tar pits. And we don't have the power to keep you there. Only you yourselves can do that.

Link roundup for 14 March 2009

Here's an illustrated report on the six strangest things people have been caught having sex with (found via Ambush Predator).

A city council meeting is interrupted.

I want to know if the Houston area's Catholic clergy can prove where they were when this was going on (sent by Ranch Chimp).

Archaeologists in Italy find evidence of a medieval vampire-slaying ritual.

Be prepared! The Christian Right is already bigoted against forms of sexuality that don't even exist yet. And here's where they are today: murder is less "shocking" than bisexuality. Luckily, religion is still declining in this country.

How's that anti-Pelosi strategy working out?

Check back in September, but I'm pretty sure this will come to nothing.

Here's an interesting discussion of what a depression is, and why we're not even close to being in one.

Obsidian Wings takes a grown-up look at the "going Galt" meme.

Annie Kevans presents a gallery of US Presidents' adulterous partners. And yep, that's a guy at the end of the second row.

Want to get in on the action, but can't find a partner as easily as a President can? Here's a kit to help you fake an affair.

Does it matter whether you're actually guilty or innocent?

Drug-gang violence in Mexico threatens the US. More here (sent by Ranch Chimp). Didn't we have a similar problem with Al Capone back in the 1920s? And didn't we solve that problem by repealing Prohibition?

According to this, Ford is out-performing its competitors because it refused bailout money.

Nick M at Counting Cats seems a bit annoyed about Islam-related goings-on in Britain. For more on the "soldier protests" mentioned, see here and here; reactions here.

Muslims in the US pose a potential terrorist threat.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali denounces the myth of moderate Islam.

We still have some allies we can count on in Afghanistan. I hope we will have better memories than these bozos.

Here's more on the stresses the recession is creating for the EU.

Australia threatens to boycott the Durban II anti-Israel hate-fest, as the US, Canada, and Italy are already doing. More here on the Islamic regimes' efforts to use the UN to silence criticism of Islam.

This took a lot more guts than throwing shoes at Bush.

Russia may be taking a tougher line on the Iranian threat.

Well, that should straighten them out: lesbians in South Africa are subject to "corrective rape".

Here's another example of a non-human ape being able to plan ahead. My sympathies are with the chimp. More on primate intelligence here.

The human suspicion of strangers may have evolved partly as a disease-avoidance strategy. And our capacity to cooperate within groups may have evolved in response to the extreme dependency of human babies.

The latest data suggest that global warming is raising the sea level faster than the IPCC models anticipated.

11 March 2009

Quote for the day

"I have nothing against rich people. If you’re a successful person who has contributed something to society, then more power to you. But please. Do not ask me to feel sorry for you. You’re rich. Again, I repeat: you’re rich. And because you’re rich in the United States, you have to pay less taxes than rich people in every other industrialized country in the entire world. You also have an entire political party (the Republicans) and a large swathe of another political party (the Democrats) who are lining up to kiss your ass on a regular basis. Rich people in this country have it better than rich people in every other country in the world. You’d think they’d be a little more grateful for this fact instead of being perpetually resentful whiners."

Brad at Sadly No

Freeman goes down

Charles "Chas" Freeman (I linked to this posting about him on 28 February) has withdrawn his candidacy for chairmanship of the National Intelligence Council after massive controversy about his ties with the Chinese and Saudi thugocracies and his hostility to Israel. Details and links here (yeah, I know, it's PowerLine, but you gotta love their headline).

10 March 2009

Religious morality

In Saudi Arabia, a 75-year-old woman has been sentenced to 40 lashes for having two unrelated men in her house. Well, as the linked article mentions, two years ago the Saudi king graciously pardoned a rape victim who had been sentenced to 200 lashes, so perhaps this woman, too, may be forgiven for her horrible crime.

I've already linked to these stories about the Brazilian Archbishop who excommunicated everyone involved in an abortion for a 9-year-old rape victim, including the victim's mother. Now we hear that he did not excommunicate the rapist, whose crime, "although deplorable", evidently wasn't bad enough to merit such an action. As Andrew Sullivan says, "I guess the Vatican is used to finding ways to see the lesser evil of raping and molesting children." No doubt the Prophet Muhammad would understand. Of course, if this story had happened in Saudi Arabia, the girl would probably have been flogged.

Frank Schaeffer

Ranch Chimp sends this interview with Frank Schaeffer, scion of the elite of the Christian Right, who has some startlingly blunt things to say about the current state of conservatism and the Republican party. See also his open letter. His own website is here.

People like Schaeffer may be the last hope for conservatism to escape from the corner of fundamentalism, bigotry, and reality-denial into which it is now so determinedly painting itself. We've seen the response to those thoughtful conservatives who try to raise questions in a more diplomatic way -- the hard-line true believers shout them down with clichés (see links here, paragraph starting "The intellectual battle....."). Perhaps Schaeffer's tough-love approach will succeed in evoking some introspection where politeness has failed. I'm not holding my breath, though. In any case, this is the conservatives' problem, not mine.

09 March 2009

".....to make up for lost ground"

Bush's most damaging policy goes down.

Bungling diplomacy

British newspaper The Telegraph reports on protocol gaffes during British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's recent visit to Washington, adding:

The real views of many in Obama administration were laid bare by a State Department official involved in planning the Brown visit, who reacted with fury when questioned by The Sunday Telegraph about why the event was so low-key. The official dismissed any notion of the special relationship, saying: "There's nothing special about Britain. You're just the same as the other 190 countries in the world. You shouldn't expect special treatment."

This is beyond a mere gaffe; it's a direct insult to what is, in fact, one of our most valuable and reliable allies. Somebody needs to be disciplined.

Then there was this embarrassment at the recent meeting between Secretary of State Clinton and her Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov:

"We want to reset our relationship and so we will do it together," said Clinton, presenting Lavrov with a palm-sized yellow box with a red button. Clinton joked to Lavrov: "We worked hard to get the right Russian word. Do you think we got it?" "You got it wrong," said Lavrov, smiling as the two pushed the reset button together before dinner at a Geneva hotel. He told Clinton the word "Peregruzka" meant "overcharge", to which Clinton replied: "We won't let you do that to us."

It was a minor gaffe, but doesn't the State Department have any native speakers of Russian on the staff with whom they could have checked this? I'm not very concerned if the Russian regime feels insulted by the US goverment -- it's a murderous dictatorship, after all. I'm more concerned about the regime deciding that the US government is amateurish and naïve, which frankly would not be an unreasonable conclusion at this point.

The excuse that Obama is "tired" and "overwhelmed" has justly attracted widespread derision. The man is only 47 (younger than I am) and has been in office less than two months. Earlier Presidents such as Roosevelt and Johnson had to handle problems far more daunting and protracted than the current recession. If Obama is truly "surprise[d] at the sheer volume of business that crosses his desk", then this vindicates the warnings during the nomination process against putting forward a man with so little government experience for the highest office. In any case, wouldn't one simply expect that the chief executive of an organization as huge and complex as the US federal government would probably keep rather busy?

08 March 2009

"Butchery of the First Amendment"

The Muslims are trying to use the UN to suppress all criticism of Islam. Christopher Hitchens is on the case.

The land of my ancestors (3)

Israel: no Munich ahead

The die is cast -- Netanyahu has ended efforts to build a coalition with the Labor party, and will instead form a government with the hard-line nationalist party Israel Beiteinu, whose leader Avigdor Lieberman will become foreign minister.

The Israeli people can depend on this government to stand firm against any effort to impose such insanities as a Palestinian state or appeasement of the gangster theocracy in Tehran. This is now especially critical since Obama's intentions toward, and degree of understanding of, the Middle East are still unclear (and I don't find this at all encouraging).

07 March 2009

Quote for the day

"Muslims are the first victims of Islam. Many times I have observed in my travels in the Orient, that fanaticism comes from a small number of dangerous men who maintain the others in the practice of religion by terror. To liberate the Muslim from his religion is the best service that one can render him."

Ernest Renan

Link roundup for 7 March 2009

Hey, if creationists can run a school board, why not this guy? (Found via Mendip.)

Also via Mendip: Looks like this pilot wasn't paying attention in flight school.

Prash calls for a boycott of stupid boycotts.

Michael Steele wants to bring the conservative message to "urban-suburban hip-hop settings". Here's what that might look like.

Should Newt Gingrich run for President?

The horror of Catholic morality: a Brazilian Archbishop condemns an abortion performed on a nine-year-old rape victim and will excommunicate everyone involved.

Mexico is deploying its military against drug-gang violence (link sent by Ranch Chimp).

Europe is concerned about the Durban II "anti-racism" (actually anti-Israel and pro-Islam) conference. Italy has already joined the US and Canada (and of course Israel) in pulling out.

The Arctic is now warming so fast that it could lose its summer ice cover by 2013.

Neuroscience gets closer to debunking the myth of the soul.

Not miracles but technology lets the blind see -- bionics and stem cells.

Best of the Infidel, 2008

Much of 2008's posting was election-related and no longer very relevant, but these may be of some interest.

Six important ideas

The relentless carnage

Personhood

The Old Testament is a forgery

The deluge

Holy shit!

Debating transhumanism

Claiming our rightful destiny

Alien season

The Democratic party's class problem

Anti-gay fanatics are weird

How to deal with global warming

The road to energy independence

Hysteria over a cracker (1)

Hysteria over a cracker (2)

Religious ideas are not interesting or profound

Against death

Responses to pro-death arguments

How to deal with a shady landlord

Why I favored McCain over Obama

What is nationalism?

An epiphany of swine

The operation

Should PUMAs form a third party?

The bullies' last stand

How badly did McCain really do?

Obama's citizenship

The world's biggest health problem

Still melting.....

Technology, freedom, and space colonies

06 March 2009

At last!

By order of the President, from next Monday forward, American progress in stem-cell technology -- the most promising field of current medical research -- will no longer be held hostage to medieval taboos.

Stimulus, schmimulus

OK, so the $787 billion "stimulus plan" is now a done deal. I guess this gargantuan misbegotten Cthulhoid abomination is the best we could have expected from the political system as we have it. But is it the best was to jolt the economy out of a recession?

$787 billion divided by 210 million adults in the United States is $3,750 per adult. If they want to spend that much to stimulate the economy, then just mail a check for $3,750 to every adult in the country and I can guarantee there will be plenty of spending. But they don't want to do that -- they want to spend the money on a bunch of programs so that administration (bureaucrats) can bleed off a good share of it, and the rest can be directed to companies that have lobbyists and connections, and maybe some benefit will trickle down to the average person in a year or two, after the economic crisis has already come to its natural end anyway.

A dangerous misunderstanding

On Exit Zero I found a link to this essay, which led to a comment exchange back on Exit Zero which I think deserves a posting in itself -- because it addresses a very widespread fundamental misunderstanding of the Islamic threat:

Me: It’s admirable, and brave, that Gina Khan has come as far as she has after being raised in such a stultifying background. But I notice she does not mention the thing that most stands out about Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s honesty and intellectual courage -- the fact that today she is not a Muslim but an atheist. Hirsi Ali renounced Islam because she realized that Islam -- not “extremist Islam”, not “radical Islam”, not some particular “brand” or “interpretation” of Islam, but Islam itself -- is the problem. She did think at first that the yelling-and-screaming haters who preached in the Muslim community in Nairobi were distorting Islam, but then she looked in the Qur’ân and found that everything they said was actually there.

A Westernized, tolerant, non-misogynist, non-jihadist Islam will always ultimately fail because such a concept is fundamentally dishonest. People like bin Laden and the Taliban are interpreting Islam correctly. Only people like them are interpreting Islam correctly. The Qur’ân and Hadîth are perfectly clear on this point.

Even Westerners who are alert to the jihadist threat tend to shy away from recognizing this, probably because the implications are too frightening. But reality is what it is.

I suspect that Ms. Khan, like most moderate Muslims, is actually not very familiar with the Islamic primary sources. For example, she apparently thinks that the word kuffâr is singular, an error which no one even passingly familiar with the Arabic language would make. Her description of the prophet Muhammad -- who personally ordered aggressive war, mass murder, and slavery, and “married” a 6-year-old -- is even wider of the mark.

It would be nice if Islam could someday evolve into something moderate and humane. But its founder and primary sources rule out that possibility just as flatly as the reality of Hitler and Mein Kampf rule out the possibility of a moderate and humane Nazism.

Mary Madigan: There is no possibility of a moderate and humane Nazism, but, if we were to treat the Nazi problem the way the anti-Koran crowd is treating political Islam, we would be blaming German culture for the current violence and aggression.

And, looking at German history, that wouldn’t be such a bad idea (they also had a lot to do with the development of communism) but blaming all German culture for Nazism or authoritarianism wouldn’t have helped us win WWII. We would have spun our ideological wheels in a worthless effort to destroy or change a culture instead of more efficiently attacking the military and political source of their power.

Besides, as the Marshall Plan proves, it’s easier to reform a culture after you’ve killed the bad guys and dismembered their political infrastructure. Attacking “Islam” while doing nothing to harm their political, military and financial infrastructure is a waste of time.

Me: No, Islam is a belief system, which is to say an ideology, like Nazism or Communism. It is defined by its sacred texts just as Nazism was defined by Mein Kampf and the other pronounce-ments of Hitler. Obviously Islam has permeated the culture of the societies it dominates more deeply than Nazism permeated German culture, because Islam has been dominant there for so much longer. But there are non-Muslim Arabs, Iranians, etc., just as there were non-Nazi Germans even in Nazism’s heyday.

Arab, Iranian, etc., culture existed before Islam just as German culture existed before Nazism, and if Islam can ever be uprooted from those societies as thoroughly as Nazism was uprooted from German society, there’s no reason why they won’t be able to become normal, peaceful societies again. In the meantime, trying to cultivate a moderate, humane Islam is just as futile as trying to cultivate a moderate, humane Nazism would have been, and for the same reason -- the concept is fundamentally dishonest. The primary sources of both ideologies simply exclude it.

Oh, and I certainly don’t advocate “doing nothing to harm their political, military and financial infrastructure”. This problem needs to be attacked on every possible front. But we have to recognize the actual nature of the ideology we’re up against.

05 March 2009

Oops

Britain's BNP abuses history.

04 March 2009

Time to fight, not equivocate

Dissenting Justice has a most interesting posting up about the Massachusetts DOMA lawsuit and the challenge it poses to Obama and the DoJ -- especially now that legislation has also been introduced in the House to repeal the military's DADT policy.

Historically, social movements have only created change (in either political direction) by agitating and engaging political leaders, rather than passively accepting their positions. If pushing Obama generates positive developments on gay and lesbian rights, perhaps other liberal movements will emulate glbt social movement actors and their allies and push for greater reform.

Indeed, this is one of those moments when the risks of boldness are far less than the risks of timidity. After eight years of fighting just to defend old victories against the reactionaries, it's time to start pushing forward to new ones.

Have they gone totally nuts over there?!

The European Union and especially its common currency, the euro, were always something of an improbable and unwieldy structure imposed on some two dozen distinct nations by the undemocratic, and often downright deceptive, maneuvering of their leaders. Now, it seems, this structure is crippling Europe's efforts to recover from the economic contraction. Jean-Claude Trichet, head of the European Central Bank (ECB),

.....was less able to square the political point about how Brian Cowen, the Irish prime minister, will win an election if he swallows the medicine the ECB is forcing down his throat: spending cuts, public sector wage cuts and eye-watering tax rises to bring Ireland's deficit down to the levels demanded of a member of the eurozone.

Other countries, especially the poorer and harder-hit eastern members, are facing the same prescription: spending cuts and tax increases during a recession. This is not only anti-Keynesian, it is utter madness. If the ECB were consciously trying to destroy the economies of its member states, it could not have chosen a better set of policies to do so.

And as so often happens in such cases, the rules apply less to some than to others:

President Sarkozy has entered a familiarly Gaullist phase, ignoring EU competition policy and pushing through a €6 billion support for the French car industry; other manufacturers, notably in eastern Europe, have protested to no avail. Mr Sarkozy's assertion that he is not a protectionist is purely rhetorical. When a German minister says that "now is not the time" to let workers from the EU's former eastern bloc countries have full immigration rights in Germany, he is saying the same thing. Gordon Brown may not be able to ensure British jobs for British workers, but the Germans are determined to keep their jobs for German ones. This bending of the rules – or rather this wholesale disregard of them – is the surest sign of a currency, and quite possibly an empire, in terminal decline.

The eastern Europeans, having submitted to the straitjacket of EU economic rules in return for the free-trade commitments which western Europe is now flagrantly yanking out from under them, can at least hope for some economic support, right? Not a bit of it:

When Ferenc Gyurcsany, the Hungarian prime minister, asked them for a €190 billion handout last weekend to prevent a new economic Iron Curtain from going up across the continent, Angela Merkel told him to get lost. She has the German people and, more to the point, German business behind her: why should they pay for the unregenerate behaviour of others? Why should they worry about the collapse of the zloty and the forint? Why should it bother them that Latvia's debt now has junk rating, or that the Irish are almost broke? If Mrs Merkel wants to stay in power, and German workers wish to keep the fruits of their own labours, they must harden their hearts.

More on that aspect of the problem here. The simple fact is that the various European countries think and feel as separate nations, and under stress they will behave as separate nations, looking to their own interests first.

The only good that can come of all this is that the peoples of the individual states may at last rise up against the insane polyglot empire that is threatening to rob them of any chance of enonomic recovery, and demand that their leaders adopt the policies that the current situation demands, EU rules be damned. If that means abandoning the undemocratic EU and its suffocating currency union completely, so much the better.

03 March 2009

In case you're still bothering to keep track.....

.....the Islamists are now saying that Harry Potter, too, is part of a Zionist conspiracy.

As another commenter over there said a while back, at this point, wouldn't it be quicker to list the things that aren't part of a Zionist conspiracy?

01 March 2009

The fight we can't afford

Joel Kotkin posts an insightful essay about the crucial faultline dividing the Democratic party: not race or religion or foreign policy, but class. Here he explains the division between the rival camps he calls "gentry liberals" and "populists":

Gentry liberals cluster largely in cities, wealthy suburbs and college towns. They include disproportionately those with graduate educations and people living on the coasts. Populists tend to be located more in middle- and working-class suburbs, the Great Plains and industrial Midwest. They include a wider spectrum of Americans, including many whose political views are somewhat changeable and less subject to ideological rigor.

Gentry liberals are very "progressive" when it comes to issues such as affirmative action, gay rights, the environment and energy policy, but are not generally well disposed to protec-tionism or auto-industry bailouts, which appeal to populists.

During last year's Democratic nomination contest, of course, this division manifested itself in the profound split between the Obama and Clinton camps. As I observed at the time, class contempt rose to ugly and dangerous levels, something not only harmful to the party, but also un-American and despicable.

The people Kotkin calls "populists" are, in other contexts, known as "swing voters". An intelligently-reformed Republican party (don't laugh, it might happen someday) could appeal to them, as Reagan did and as McCain might have done if the consequences of eight years of Republican economic incompetence had not come crashing down on the country mere weeks before the election.

The causes crucial to us "gentry liberals" -- gay rights, abortion, secularism, the environment, respect for science -- must never be sacrificed, but they don't need to be. Except for the Christian Right (which will never vote liberal no matter what we do), the country is slowly but surely coming around on those issues. Most populist concerns -- income stagnation, illegal immigration, job offshoring, elite domination of the economy, leaders too hesitant to uphold American sovereignty and American national interests against foreign claims -- are all ultimately legitimate concerns of liberals too. The Democratic party needs to address them, seriously and effectively, in order to stay in power -- and because it's the right thing to do.

Democracy wins and loses

India has a new political party dedicated to fighting against the "corruption and incompetence" endemic in government. The PPI (Professionals Party of India) embodies the concerns of the rising middle class, which has previously tended to focus on business at the expense of politics.

This exemplifies why I'm more optimistic about India's future than I am about that of the other Asian giant, China. The activities and statements of the founders of the PPI (not to mention the very act of establishing a new political party) would, in China, have been illegal and would have resulted in the arrest of everyone involved. Uprooting entrenched corruption is horrendously difficult -- just look at what we've found under the rocks turned over in Chicago lately! -- but India at least has some hope of doing it. China, with its totalitarian regime, its void of independent media or other power centers, and its consequent total lack of accountability for those in power, has none.

Sadly, South Africa, long an oasis of hope in Africa's bleak political landscape, now seems to be losing the democracy it so nobly won in the anti-apartheid struggle. The ruling ANC (African National Congress) is turning to violence and intimidation to retain power, complete with brownshirt-like gangs deployed to break up the rallies of rival parties. If its rulers succeed in creating a thinly-disguised one-party state, then South Africa's fate will be sealed: eroding freedoms, rising corruption, emigration of the most educated and productive (whether white or black) elements of society, economic stagnation, and general decline.

The biker rebellion

I've long suspected that in western Europe, where government and police have mostly proven cringingly useless in the face of Muslim thuggery, intimidation, and crime, the native people will eventually take matters into their own hands -- even violently.

Well, it's starting to happen -- and perhaps predictably, it's starting in Denmark, which has been more resistant to this pestilence than other western European countries (recall for example the battle of the Muhammad cartoons). Biker gangs, apparently, are the vehicle chosen by the young to bypass their quavering elders' sclerotic political system and strike back at their tormentors.

The above link was pointed out to me by Mary Madigan, who says: "Actually, a protest in Denmark might be equivalent to a protest in the Middle East. Many of the riots involve Muslim criminal gangs vs. Danish criminal gangs like the Hell’s Angels. Lots of young Danes are joining the Hell’s Angels, even though they don’t have motorcycles, for an opportunity to fight the Muslim gangs."

I suspect we'll be seeing a lot more of this phenomenon. There are plenty of angry young non-Muslim males in Rotterdam, Sheffield, Marseilles, Hamburg, Brussels, Rome, and on and on. Maybe it won't be biker gangs in those places; maybe it will be something else. But human nature cannot indefinitely tolerate being bullied and threatened by arrogant aliens on one's own turf.