31 July 2007

The WTA conference

Here are two reports: one from Fight Aging and one from Reason magazine. Here's the conference's website.


Would President Giuliani protect abortion?

This posting makes the case that we can't count on it.

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"This has to stop"

Christopher Hitchens addresses Islam and those who treat it with kid gloves out of fear:

Thus, Islamic belief, however simply or modestly it may be stated, is an extreme position to begin with. No human being can possibly claim to know that there is a God at all, or that there are, or were, any other gods to be repudiated. And when these onto-logical claims have collided, as they must, with their logical limits, it is even further beyond the cognitive capacity of any person to claim without embarrassment that the lord of creation spoke his ultimate words to an unlettered merchant in seventh-century Arabia. Those who utter such fantastic braggings, however many times a day they do so, can by definition have no idea what they are talking about. (I hasten to add that those who boast of knowing about Moses parting the Red Sea, or about a virgin with a huge tummy, are in exactly the same position.)..... Why, then, should we be commanded to "respect" those who insist that they alone know something that is both unknowable and unfalsifiable?

Read it all.



I have been thinking a lot about the issue of impeachment lately. The case that it would be justified seems to grow stronger and stronger the more we know (this is, of course, a separate issue from the very important question of whether a move to impeach could succeed). Aside from the Iraq conflict (and whether one considers the invasion justified or not, there is no question that Bush and Rumsfeld's execution of it was disastrouly inept), there have been the abuses of the PATRIOT act, the Katrina response fiasco, the Pat Tillman cover-up, the firing of several US attorneys apparently for partisan reasons, the use of "signing statements" to undermine the intent of laws, and on and on. I'm not sure whether any of these things qualify as "high crimes and misdemeanors", but they certainly add up to a level of incompetence and abuse of power which would justify firing a chief executive in any normal private-sector situation.

I will freely admit that there are also many other reasons why I and many other people would like to see Bush out of office even though they are policy differences and not impeachable offenses. His fervent support for illegal-alien amnesty, his opposition to stem-cell research, his manipulation of foreign aid to push the fundamentalist taboo on abortion upon foreign countries, his failure to confront Saudi Arabia for its fostering of Islamic extremism, the attitude of elite privilege symbolized by the Libby pardon, and the risk that another year-and-a-half in power will give him the chance to appoint yet another Supreme Court judge who would further endanger Roe vs. Wade -- he is simply on the wrong side of too many issues.

Finally, this essay in The Nation makes another argument for impeachment: that if the new powers that Bush and Cheney have arrogated to the Presidency are not explicitly repudiated, they will become entrenched as precedent, permanently distorting the Constitutional system.

Set against all this, to be fair, is one singular but huge success: the country has not been attacked again since September 11. Knowing Islam and the jihadist ideology as I do, the reason is clear. Citing precedents such as Mogadishu and the Beirut Marine-barracks bombing, Osama bin Laden argued that the United States was a "paper tiger" which retreats when attacked. It's unclear exactly what the jihadists expected September 11 to accomplish, but most likely they imagined that a super-attack would lead to a super-retreat -- perhaps total withdrawal of American power from the Middle East, or abandonment of Israel -- a victory al-Qâ'idah could trumpet, enormously enhancing its prestige in the Islamic world. Instead, Bush attacked two Muslim countries and overthrew their governments, while most of al-Qâ'idah's leadership has been killed off. It was a response with some flaws -- not nearly forceful enough in my view, and several other countries would have been more logical second targets than Iraq was -- but at least it was a military response, and it must have left the jihadists seriously nervous about what the consequences might be if they attacked American territory again. Yet even this achievement is now in danger. Due to the administration's inept management of the Iraq campaign, we may end up having to withdraw before the country is stabilized (indeed, stabilizing the country may now be impossible), allowing the jihadists to claim that bin Laden was right and the US is a paper tiger after all -- and thus hugely increasing the risk of another attack on our home territory.

And as I've pointed out before, if the surge strategy succeeds in Iraq, then Petraeus will deserve credit, but Bush will not. If this strategy was the key to success, why did Bush wait four years to implement it, and then only under the duress of the Republicans' 2006 electoral defeat?

The only real arguments I can see against impeachment are (1) that it could easily fail, leaving Bush in a strengthened position, and (2) that a successful impeachment of both Bush and Cheney would leave Nancy Pelosi as President, and I'm not sure we can afford that while the Iranian nuclear program still remains to be dealt with.

It's a conundrum. The country should never have gotten itself into this position in the first place, which is a kind of vindication of the much-ridiculed comment by Michael Dukakis. Competence does matter.


A noteworthy juxtaposition

Why is Bush still coddling the one country more responsible than any other for the rise and flourishing of jihadism?

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29 July 2007

Our Lord Voldemort

As a demonstration of how flaming-batshit-insane the religious-fundamentalist mentality can sometimes become, one would be hard-pressed to beat this discussion of the second Harry Potter novel (apparently based on the film version). Apparently not only is Harry Potter the Antichrist, but Sirius Black is Satan, Lucius Malfoy is the archangel Gabriel, and, yes, Lord Voldemort is the Christian God! And Dobby the house-elf "embodies all the evils of stem-cell research". And the books "contribute to the hidden gay agenda". And Hillary Clinton is bad. And JK Rowling is a student of Satanism. I am not making this up. Read the thing for yourself. (Found via Boys Wear Pants, Men Wear Trousers.)

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28 July 2007

No regrets

It's almost four months now since I quit my job. On and off, from various sources, I've been hearing about what has been going on at the old place since I left. The specific situation which I (and everyone else there) had been anticipating with dread has come about, and is every bit as bad as expected. At least one other person has quit, as others had already done around the time I left; still others, whose personal situations would make a period of unemployment too risky, are lying low and hoping something better will come along.

It's taken me a few months away, getting re-grounded in reality, to allow me to see just how weird that place really was. The clueless and bullying nature of much (not all) of the management, the chaos generated by constant reorganization, the toxic atmosphere of anxiety and hostility -- over the years it had come to seem almost normal. Sometimes you need to look from a distance to understand what you're really seeing.

The temp job I took (to slow the erosion of my savings during the period when circumstances prevent me from looking for a new permanent job) is simple, low-paid, boring, non-stressful, and normal. The boss there is a decent, normal, regular guy. Looking back at the "leadership" we had at the old place, I'm not 100% sure some of them were even carbon-based life forms.

So I feel confident that I made the right decision. There are more important things than how much money you can make.

How do we know.....

.....what the Moon is made of? A posting about cheese, theology, and the "non-overlapping magesteria" nonsense (found via A Whore in the Temple of Reason).

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America's socio-political sea change

John Podhoretz -- yes, John Podhoretz -- makes the case that the tremendous rise in support for the Democrats in recent polls reflects a steady, ongoing shift toward social liberalism among the American people -- a trend only temporarily interrupted by the September 11 attack.

It's a view bolstered by this survey of attitudes among young people (ages 18-30), which shows that this age cohort, by even larger margins than the rest of the population, rejects Republican politicians and Republican positions on most issues. Economic interests are cited as most important, with the young strongly favoring a larger and more active government, but the gap is wide in pretty much every major area. Even the one exception is interesting: young people have a relatively favorable view of Rudy Giuliani, who, though a Republican, is liberal on social issues.



A research center in eastern Ukraine has developed technology to produce transparent armor capable of stopping armor-piercing bullets, which is light enough to be used on helmets and aircraft. The research was carried out for, and funded by, NATO -- another sign of the growing ties between NATO and Ukraine.

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Quote for the day

"[T]here is every demographic and political indication that Tur-key's 'secular' experiment is ending. It went sufficiently against the grain of an Islamic society to begin with. Over time, the prestige of Islam revived, and by presenting themselves as only moderate Islamists, whose main intention is to clean up corruption, and deliver welfare services more efficiently to the country's poor, the A.K.P. has cleverly insinuated itself into the hearts and minds of the people who still have most of the children. Let that be a lesson to us. The Islamic world is not going to become more Western and 'modern' over time. For Turkey was the farthest 'West' any Islamic society could be taken, and then only by force. We must confront that reality plainly, and stop dreaming that 'democracy' will make the Muslims just like us."


This is Islam

26 July 2007

Don't feed the camel

Mary Madigan visits the unique ancient city of Petra, Jordan, and of course has photos.

Dinosaur topiary

21 July 2007

The latest buzz

Researchers at Harvard are working on a flying robot the size of a housefly for espionage. Of interest mainly for what it says about progress in the cheap production of tiny, high-precision moving parts to enable the machine to imitate the way living organisms move. The scale is far larger than that of true nanotechnology, but these advances could someday be adapted for human prosthetics. Found via Mendip.


Liberal, hippy, agnostic, atheistic.....

We've all seen those "Ten Rules for Dating My Daughter" things. Here's a dissection.


Erdogan adumbrates

Is Turkey planning to attack Iraqi Kurdistan?


A report from the real world

Many people have been making sweeping statements about how well or badly things are going in Iraq. Here's the view of someone who's in a position to actually know what he's talking about.

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Yes, please remove that from the process



Vitter mockery

O - M - G.....Well, when you preach moralism and condemn others, you make your own eccentricities fair game. And the worst may be yet to come.

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Where is it from -- again

We've already had frightening news about food and medicine exported from China. More and more problem areas have continued to surface, including seafood, cardboard steamed buns, and even tires (found via Chell's Roost; also read this). And there have been alarming finds in imports from other Third World countries, even Mexico -- and note once again the scandalous inaction of the American authorities who are supposed to be protecting us.

(In an effort at "even-handedness", the article also cites other countries' concerns about American exports. However, the main examples it cites are objections to genetically-modified foods, about which there is no evidence suggesting that they might be harmful even though many people have an understandable "ick-factor" reaction to them, and concerns about mad-cow disease, of which vanishingly-few cases have ever been detected in the US.)

The sad fact is that Third World countries simply cannot afford the kind of comprehensive regulatory infrastructure that is the norm in rich countries, and what they do have tends to be riddled with corruption, partly because enforcement officials are so poorly paid that accepting bribes to overlook violations becomes a tempting option. A safe food supply is not cheap; it is one of the things that rich countries buy with their wealth. (Notice from the graph in the MSNBC article how low is the number of problems with imports from Canada relative to those from China, India, and Mexico, even though we import far more from Canada than from those countries.) Trade rules as currently set up are allowing cheap imports -- cheap in part because of the lack of adequate quality controls -- to do an end run around the standards which the US has built up over generations. 92% of Americans support mandatory labeling of food to show country of origin; when will the US government stop caving to the objections of agribusiness and start defending the interests of the public?

18 July 2007

Apostolic whatever

My apologies for the paucity of postings here recently. I've been dealing with some complicated stuff.

A new posting of mine about the Pope and religious sectarianism is up at Enter the Jabberwock.


15 July 2007

Imaginary heroes

More about the Vitter thing

.....than you really wanted to know. Found via Mock Paper Scissors, which has a couple of good quotes here.

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"Apparent collapse"

This article in the British newspaper The Guardian is rather funny if one is reading it in the right frame of mind. It's by an unreconstructed far-leftist literature professor, basically arguing that Britain's real problem these days is that it isn't producing enough turgid Marxist poetry and novels. For some reason the rising generation of writers just don't find a failed, discredited, mass-murdering ideology inspirational any more.

What is striking is the number of authors the article cites -- with Salman Rushdie and Christopher Hitchens being prominent examples -- who seemed promising but later turned "rightwards", meaning they started speaking out for the defense of Western civilization against the threat of Islamic imperialism. If that trajectory is becoming common among smart, leftist-oriented writers, maybe there's a good reason for it.

Found via Andrew Sullivan, who highlights this comment. The reactions in the comments thread are very mixed -- I liked these:

If they're not too high, look over the walls of your garden. You'll see a lot of good satire, morally robust satire outside that's knocking simultaneously fascist regimes and die-hard dreamers like yourself who ignore them. It's very robust, very intellectual-ly penetrating and very, very funny. So in short; the reason why you can't see any good satire around you now is because you and your ilk have become the object of it. Thank you for supplying the essential ingredient, the oxygen without which satire could never flourish - complete, blind, folly. - "AntiFascistLeft"

You can quote Carlyle and Shelly and Wolff as much as you like, and all the others too. But none of them had to countenance the threat that we live under. In fact, none of them had to deal with National Socialism, which was already bad enough. But the blight upon humanity that Islamism represents is a far greater evil. So good for you. Call out for your poets and writers and intellectuals. When push came to shove last time around, it was the gritty, hard-headed working people who saved the world from facsism. And this time around, the same will apply. Once again, those with no vested interest in saving this country, except for a profound belief in its eternal values, will save the day for the poets and writers and thinkers. If you think you can dismiss them as fascists or Nazis or racists, you shame yourself by your own cowardice. - "Marabout"


14 July 2007

What real scientists believe

Is science reconcilable with religion or even supportive of it, as some believers these days like to claim? Let's take a look at what scientists themselves think. According to this 1998 survey, 72% of members of the US National Academy of Sciences are atheists, while only 7% affirmed a belief in God (the rest were agnostic). The figures can't be taken as highly exact since they reflect only those who responded to the survey, but it's clear that the number of believers among scientists is strikingly low, especially considering that the US is by far the most religious country in the developed world. Note also the 1914 and 1933 figures, which show that religious belief among scientists has been steadily declining over the long term. There's no reason to think that this trend hasn't continued since 1998.

Found via this excellent posting at Black Sun Journal, which nicely differentiates the world-views of science and superstition, and dissects some of the common attacks on the former.


13 July 2007

The adventures of Republicans

Another one bites the.....oh, never mind.

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Some good atheist postings

Found around the internet:

Daylight Atheism points out that when you debate a Goddist, very often he's not hearing what you actually say but rather hearing "The Atheist", a stereotype which exists in his own head.

Samurai Frog points out the craven, Orwellian self-subjugation and surrender of responsibility that many Goddists seem to wallow in.

Sacred Slut asks "can Christians ever really be sex-positive?" and concludes that, if they take the Bible seriously, they can't.

On the other hand, this rather startling sign found in the Creation Museum suggests that incest fans may find the most hard-core Goddists unexpectedly sympathetic to their desires.


Libby vs. Wilson

Andrew Sullivan is right. This needed to be said.

12 July 2007

Antigrav Cat and Potato Heaven

The Chick tract dissections have been coming thick and fast at Enter the Jabberwock; latest up are Somebody Goofed, Best Friend, and A Demon's Nightmare.

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This planned skyscraper, if built, will certainly shake up the traditional image of the British capital.

"Mixed use"? Hmmm.

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Carnival of the hypocrites

Remember Deborah Palfrey, the DC Madam? I was really looking forward to the explosion of messy fallout from her little black book going public, until some killjoy judge slapped an injunction on her and spoiled all the fun. But now the injunction has been lifted, and it's time to haul in the net and see how many big fish (or shoddy plastic car-trunk fish symbols, at least) have entrapped themselves in it. The first rather smelly specimen to come to light is Republican Senator and stern gay-marriage opponent David Vitter of Louisiana (tasty collection of blogger reactions here), whose dedication to the traditional institution of marriage must certainly be viewed in a new light now. Doubtless more will follow.

As I said before, I don't have a problem with anyone paying for sex (from a consenting adult); what I do have a problem with -- a big one -- is those pious, judgmental, moralistic prigs who want to regulate everyone else's sexual behavior in accordance with their own religious taboos. When people like that get caught with their pants down and their, er, hands in the cookie jar, I'm not going to hesitate to gloat and snicker. They lived, politically at least, by the sword of Biblical morality; let them fall by it as well.


Too many gaps

The answer to the puzzle seems clear.

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Starting small

Robots engage in competitive sports. Clearly there are still bugs to be worked out, but these complex machines are revolutionary in one respect: they're one-sixth of the size of an amoeba.

And don't forget this. The real nanotechnology revolution is still a couple of decades away, but it is coming.


State of the election

After holding steady for months during his supposedly-damaging support for the Iraq campaign, John McCain's poll numbers have abruptly imploded during the battle over the illegal-alien amnesty bill, of which he was a key supporter. Pollsters are starting to raise the "indelicate question" of what happens when he either drops out of the race or at least ceases to be a real factor. These figures show that Giuliani would be the main beneficiary -- not surprising since McCain and Giuliani have both run as secular candidates relatively indifferent to the "social issues" (that is, religious obsessions) of the Christian Right, and thus have arguably been dividing the secular Republican vote between themselves.

Here's how I see the Presidential race now. Among the Democrats, Hillary Clinton has consistently maintained a huge lead, and barring some implausible cataclysm, she will be nominated. The Republican contest is much less predictable, given the smaller and less-consistent lead of the front-runner (Giuliani), the discomfort with him among the Christian Right, and the surge of interest in Fred Thompson. If the Republicans nominate Giuliani, he'll win the general election. If they nominate anyone else, Clinton will win.

Last year I argued that it would be a bad idea for Hillary Clinton to become President; she is too polarizing a figure, and with both Houses also held by Democrats, the right would be totally shut out of the federal government -- a situation as unhealthy as that which prevailed during 2000-2006, when the left was totally shut out.

But it's now the right themselves who will determine whether this argument has validity. If the Republicans nominate Giuliani, it will be a sign that the right has accepted secularism and prefers to emphasize the area where it has the most to contribute -- strength in the fight against Islamic imperialism. If they nominate any of their other serious candidates, it will signal that they still cling to their vision of a Christianized America where government policy on abortion, stem-cell research, homosexuality, and personal freedom in general will be determined by ancient religious taboos and dogmas. The choice is theirs. If they opt for the latter course, a few years of total exclusion from power might actually be the only thing that can shock them back into the real world.

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07 July 2007

“Don’t think, just listen and believe"

A tour of the Creation Museum. Found via Ironwolf.

Update (12 July): more cool religio-dinosaur fantasy art here.


"Techno-populism" hits China

Residents in Xiamen have used the internet to block construction of a potentially-dangerous factory -- and the regime is in a snit about it.


"Spiritual" incoherence

A massive report -- with transcripts, photos, and videos -- of an unusual debate on religion, terrorism, and politics. Arch-atheist Christopher Hitchens triumphs, as he usually does. Found via Atheist Self.

The odd political crosscurrents in this debate highlight a peculiar contradiction in American political thinking. Today, the right wing in the US is dominated by religious fundamentalism, while the left is opposed to it and favors secularism. The world's ultimate, most extreme religious fundamentalists, who seek to impose a global totalitarian theocracy and eradicate secularism and personal freedom from the planet, are the Islamic imperialists. Logically, one would expect the left to be most vigorous in defending liberal, secular Western civilization against Islamic imperialism, while the right would be arguing for accommodation and spewing endless self-deluding rationalizations to downplay the threat. Yet, in fact, it is mostly the other way around.

Eventually, somehow, this contradiction must and will come to a head.

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Audience appeal vs. the moralists

Chris Bradley has some interesting observations about the Hayes code and women in the movies.


Ukrainian rhapsody

Here's Verka Serduchka's "official" video for his "Dancing Lasha Tumbai" song (the one I originally linked to here). Slightly NSFW.

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Bang! Bang! Bang!

The evening of the Fourth was the same as it always is. Up to midnight and beyond, continuous volleys of firework noises rat-tat-tatted through the night, as if my apartment were surrounded by a vast herd of bean-fed dinosaurs. Enforced wakefulness threw me off my usual schedule for a couple of days (I'm normally an early-to-bed-early-to-rise kind of person). Sirens were added liberally into the auditory mix, and no doubt many a fireman will see substantial overtime on his next paycheck. Nothing in the immediate vicinity got burned down (the complex I live in bans fireworks, but I think neighboring residents are working on longer-range WMD delivery systems). Citywide, the usual idiots perpetrated the usual idiocies.

Seriously, I've always thought that the ever-growing emphasis on infantile noisemakers detracts from the dignity of the anniversary. Independence day is about more than who can generate the most annoying racket.

04 July 2007

Views from the left

Zaius Nation has the Carnival of the Liberals up.


The road to health and happiness

Fight Aging explains how the ideals of transhumanism follow naturally from the same impulses that have led us to make life better and more humane throughout history.


Are Britain's jihadists targeting women?

Christopher Hitchens makes the case, along with many more of the kind of sensible observations he always offers:

The most noticeable thing about all theocracies is their sexual repression and their directly related determination to exert absolute control over women. In Britain, in the 21st century, there are now honor killings, forced marriages, clerically mandated wife-beatings, incest in all but name, and the adoption of apparel for females that one cannot be sure is chosen by them but which is claimed as an issue of (of all things) free expression. This would be bad enough on its own and if it were confined to the Muslim "community" alone. But, of course, such a toxin cannot be confined, and the votaries of theocracy now claim the God-given right to slaughter females at random for nothing more than their perceived immodesty. The least we can do, confronted by such radical evil, is to look it in the eye (something it strives to avoid) and call it by its right name.

And the ramshackle edifice of political correctness continues to crumble.....

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The soul is untenable

Having long settled the issues of the origin of life and the evolution of mankind, science has now reached the point of challenging the last and greatest illusion: the "divine spark":

But as evolutionary biologists and cognitive neuroscientists peer ever deeper into the brain, they are discovering more and more genes, brain structures and other physical correlates to feelings like empathy, disgust and joy. That is, they are discovering physical bases for the feelings from which moral sense emerges - not just in people but in other animals as well.

The idea that human minds are the product of evolution is "unassailable fact," the journal Nature said this month in an editorial on new findings on the physical basis of moral thought. A headline on the editorial drove the point home: "With all deference to the sensibilities of religious people, the idea that man was created in the image of God can surely be put aside."

Or, as V. S. Ramachandran, a brain scientist at the University of California, San Diego, put it in an interview, there may be soul in the sense of "the universal spirit of the cosmos," but the soul as it is usually spoken of, "an immaterial spirit that occupies individual brains and that only evolved in humans - all that is complete nonsense." Belief in that kind of soul "is basically superstition," he said.

Found via this excellent posting at Black Sun Journal:

Religions will have to choose between accommodating the undeniable facts of human nature or becoming marginalized. Being the adaptive memes that they are, expect many if not all religions to eventually come around as a matter of survival. Then they will have to move their philosophical goalposts and find some other area of ‘mystery’ which can remain safely off-limits to physical or materialistic explanations.

Or we could just forget the whole silly concept and start living in the real world.


Independence Day

These 231 years have been full of achievements. Our nation has grown from fewer than 3,000,000 to over 300,000,000, from a string of settlements on the edge of a hardly-explored continent to the planet's sole superpower. Powerful enemies have arisen along the way: British revanchism during the Napoleonic wars, forces which sought to divide the nation in order to preserve slavery, Japanese imperialism, Nazism, Soviet Communism. All now rot in the garbage-heap of history, where today's Islamic imperialists will sooner or later join them.

It's become customary, on these kinds of occasions, to warn of some form of national decline, to lament that our people have become too decadent, self-absorbed, passive, brainwashed, ignorant, lazy, or whatever to stand up for the American project and carry it forward the way previous generations did. This is surely contradicted by the example of the American soldiers since September 11, who have achieved so much under such hideous conditions in the barbarian wastelands of Afghanistan and Iraq (despite what must be the most incompetent civilian leadership and the most hostile mass media in all the history of American warfare). And consider the events of the past month, when an engaged and enraged populace managed to stop an unjust and disastrous legislative imposition which the privileged elites, from the President to the most powerful Senators to big media and big business, were determined to force upon us. Yes, the internet was crucial, given the stunning speed with which it was able to inform the people of what was happening, to expose lies and distortions, and to provide channels via which dissent could be conveyed to the offices of the powerful. But none of this would have achieved anything if the people themselves had been inert. Many countries have democracy, the internet, and arrogant and insular political elites. Few have populations which will stand up and roar like this when they see the elite working to betray them.

Does America have problems? Of course it does. But I would rather have America's combination of problems and assets than the combination of problems and assets of any other country in the world.

03 July 2007

The Libby commutation

Yes, I know, Bush is just trying to rebuild his burned-to-a-crisp bridges to the conservative base, some of whose leading lights have crusaded for a full pardon for Libby. But all he has done is demonstrate that the laws which apply to ordinary Americans do not apply to those with connections in high places, any more than they apply (apparently) to illegal aliens.

Ron Paul

Two bloggers I read, Andrew Sullivan and Joshua Minton, have been calling attention to Ron Paul's longshot candidacy for the Republican Presidential nomination, so I decided to take a look at his website. Clicking on "Issues", the first thing I saw was this:

Congressman Ron Paul (R-Texas) is the leading advocate for freedom in our nation’s capital. As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Dr. Paul tirelessly works for limited constitu-tional government, low taxes, free markets, and a return to sound monetary policies.

Scrolling down for positions on specific issues, I next saw this:

The right of an innocent, unborn child to life is at the heart of the American ideals of liberty. My professional and legislative record demonstrates my strong commitment to this pro-life principle..... I have authored legislation that seeks to define life as beginning at conception, HR 1094.....Many talk about being pro-life. I have taken direct action to restore protection for the unborn.

Sorry, but if he favors legislation to limit the right to abortion, he is not by any stretch of the imagination an "advocate for freedom".

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"Techno-populism" awakens

Thomas Sowell offers the plainest and clearest explanation yet of what happened:

The people stopped it. That is what democracy is all about.....This bill was an insult to people's intelligence from start to finish, and the elites are continuing to insult people's intelligence after being defeated.

Talk about investigating illegal immigrants was just window-dressing to fool the gullible public. When the public turned out not to be as gullible as the politicians and other elites thought, the answer has been to insult their intelligence some more.

If the bottomless condescension of politicians doesn't make you mad enough to keep up the pressure on the government for more enforcement, try this:

Hours after the Senate voted against advancing the immigration reform project, the Mexican activist Elvira Arellano announced a campaign of resistance against the U.S. government.

Arellano, who has remained in a Northwest Side church since August 15 to avoid an order of deportation, said this would be the deadline the government will have to "revive and pass a comprehensive immigration reform.” Otherwise, pro-immigrant organizers will begin a campaign “aimed at bringing this government and this economy to a halt.”

Who in the name of the Devil do these people think they are?!

If you observe illegal-alien activity in your area, here's contact information for national immigration enforcement, and here's a list of local offices (found via Chell's Roost).


02 July 2007

Prayer as bullying

Amnesty fallout

A campaign has begun to recall Florida Senator Mel Martinez, the pro-amnesty chairman of the Republican Party.

And Mark Steyn has a few choice words.


The tribulations of the British

We've all heard about the recent wave of car-bombing attempts in Britain. It's not yet clear whether the motive is primarily outrage over the knighting of Salman Rushdie (when are these people not outraged about one thing or another?) or just the usual generic Muslim desire to slaughter unbelievers. Either way, thanks to the diligence of the authorities and the ineptitude of the would-be jihadists, there have been no casualties and a number of arrests.

There are signs that this latest eruption of Islamic bloodlust is grinding down even the notoriously-obstinate western European brand of political correctness. Tony Blair has told the Muslims of Britain in no uncertain terms to grow up and stop pretending to be oppressed. And this editorial in the Telegraph shows evidence of an awakening, however groggy, to the reality of the situation. It does invoke a generic "violent nihilism"; it pays lip service to the tired old article of faith that "moderate Muslims", often seen in the company of other such elusive and benevolent beings as unicorns and Bigfoot, constitute the "mainstream" of Islam, of which the "extremists" are not -- Heaven forbid! -- true representatives. But even if the media can't decide whether to refer to the terrorists as revolutionary Muslims, British Muslims, conservative Muslims, extremist Muslims, or nihilist Muslims, their efforts to downplay the true nature of the problem seem like little more than going through the motions.

Terrorists aside, Britain has also been suffering from massive floods recently. This has created an opportunity for the Church of England to demonstrate that drooling religious stupidity is not exclusively a Muslim phenomenon.

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The year so far

Now that we're about halfway through 2007, I thought I'd go back and look at some of the events I either predicted or hoped for at the beginning of it. Predictions first:

(1) The United States will get through 2007 without a major terrorist attack on its territory. Europe will suffer at least one or two attacks on the scale of the Madrid or London train bombings.

So far so good over here. As for Europe, the British have cause to be grateful for the diligence of their police and the incompetence of their Muslim terrorists.

(5) The US will try a new military strategy in Iraq, but it will ultimately fail due to inadequate planning, reliance on half measures, and continuing reluctance to confront neighboring countries about their meddling.

There are some signs that the "surge" is pacifying Baghdad and winning over formerly-insurgent groups in Anbar, but it's too soon to tell what the final outcome will be. No sign yet of dealing seriously with Iran, Syria, or Saudi Arabia.

(6) Jean-Marie Le Pen, or someone like him, will gain a startlingly-large number of votes in the French election, forcing the political establishment to confront the problem of Muslim violence and intimidation in France.

As it turned out, the establishment (Sarkozy) had gotten the message and is starting to address the issue. Le Pen's work is done.

(8) Nobody will do anything about the Darfur genocide.

This, of course, is the one prediction I felt totally safe in making.

(10) A consensus will emerge (outside the hard right) that the Bush Presidency is a failure, but he will not be impeached.

How the heck was I supposed to know the man would blunder so badly that even the hard right would join the consensus? (See his illegal-alien-amnesty fiasco last week.)

On predictions (2), (3), (4), (7), and (most frighteningly) (9), it's too soon to say what, if anything, will happen this year.

Next, events I hoped would happen:

(1) In the US, the strident hard-line conservatives who spew hatred and contempt for liberals in general, and the strident hard-line liberals who spew hatred and contempt for conserva-tives in general, will both be marginalized, and more centrist figures on both sides will start to rekindle an emphasis on national unity in place of the present toxic political atmosphere.

I really think things have improved somewhat.

(2) Giuliani will decide to run for President.

Done, obviously.

(3) The Russian people will tire of Mafia-style government and bring about their own Orange Revolution, finally bringing Russia into close alignment with the West, where it belongs.

Realistically, this isn't going to happen unless there's a major economic downturn or their election next year is blatantly stolen.

(4) The US government, under pressure from public opinion, will finally adopt effective measures on illegal immigration -- tough employer sanctions and a full-length barrier at the border.

Well, at least we stopped our "leaders" from making the situation even worse. Will we keep up the pressure strongly enough to make them start enforcing the law? Given what people's attention span typically is, normally I wouldn't be too hopeful, but it's clear that the public is unusually energized over this issue.

On (5) through (10), no sign of progress yet, but I'm an optimist by nature.

01 July 2007

Dividing the nation

I've written before about how any serious intrusion of religion into politics threatens both technological progress and individual freedom. But even the apparently milder forms of establishment of religion pose a subtler danger -- the risk of creating a category of second-class citizens, a situation where some Americans are a little less American than others.

The endless conflicts about whether crosses and nativity scenes and the Ten Commandments should be displayed on government property are far more than mere arguments about what kind of kitsch is appropriate where. Symbols are, well, symbolic -- they have a significance far beyond themselves. The hammer-and-sickle logo displayed on government buildings and official documents in the Soviet Union did not just mean that its rulers were interested in nails and wheat; it meant that the state supported and identified with a specific ideology, privileging it above other ideologies. The presence of that symbol, and its disappearance from such settings after 1991, both sent clear messages about the official identity of the whole society.

Just as the hammer and sickle in official settings proclaimed the Soviet Union to be a Communist state, as opposed to one in which Communism was merely one of a number of accepted ideologies, so Christian symbols in official settings in the United States (if they became as pervasive as their proponents hope) would inexorably assert that our country was a Christian nation, one in which Christianity had a privileged connection with national identity which other religions would not have.

What would be wrong with that, some might ask? Isn't it simply a fact that Christians are the majority of the population (even if not so overwhelming a majority as we are usually told)? And isn't it simply a fact that the United States is part of Western civilization, a civilization whose history was influenced far more strongly by Christianity than by Buddhism or Zoroastrianism or whatever?

To see more clearly what is wrong with this, try to imagine that that there were a drive under way to lace official settings with symbols representing the white race, with the aim being to assert the identity of the United States as a "white nation". No one would accept the claim that this was merely an innocuous recognition of the fact that white people are a statistical majority of the US population, or that our society is part of Western civilization which was built mostly by white people. It would immediately be seen for what it would in fact be: an effort to make non-white Americans feel that they were second-class citizens, that the state was not really theirs, that they were a little less American than the majority.

That's why I can never accept displays of superficially-innocuous Christian symbols on government property, or inscriptions of the Ten Commandments in the courtrooms where the laws of the state are interpreted. These symbols have meaning. Their meaning is that I and millions of other Americans are second-class citizens, that the state belongs primarily to a defined category of people of which I am not a member, that I am not quite as American as they are.

The Russians banished this kind of ideological branding of the state from their country sixteen years ago. Let's not allow the fundamentalists to take our own country in the opposite direction.

Note: this posting is a contribution to the July 2007 Blogswarm against Theocracy project. For other contributions and more information, see here. Also recommended is First Freedom First, an organization dedicated to separation of church and state.

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