Lemme have a hit of your booze!

After that last mammoth essay, I feel like I need a drink. And, thanks to the wonders of technology, there seems to be a new way to have a drink without taking a drink. (I said "seems to be" because I haven't tried it, and I'm not convinced that it isn't a lot of hoopla.)

The new technology is called AWOL (Alcohol WithOut Liquid), and it's sold in a delivery system the Philadelphia Inquirer calls "a gizmo that looks like a medical device but is used to inhale vaporized liquor." Needless to say, bureaucrats and activists are jumping all over each other in a bid to make these things illegal everywhere:

The contraption - marketed as a way to imbibe without calories, carbs, hangovers or telltale breath - has lawmakers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey scrambling to prohibit it from bars and restaurants.

Several states, including Kansas, Michigan and Colorado, already have bans on the machines. At least a dozen more have measures pending.

Citing health concerns, Congress is considering a bill to require Food and Drug Administration approval of the machines. Groups as diverse as Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the National Beer Wholesalers Association have condemned AWOL, which they fear could fool users into ingesting more alcohol than they realize.

"It promotes irresponsible drinking," said Heather Griffie, a spokeswoman for the beer-sellers' Pennsylvania chapter.

Well, hey, I haven't tried it, and I suspect the device is a total gyp.

But if the crackpot MADD organization is against it, I might as well say something in its favor. (As Churchill famously said, "If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.")

So, without further ado, here's where to buy them.

And here's an inside peek:


No, I'm not springing for $199 right now. I'm hoping maybe a reader can tell me whether the whole thing is a waste of time and money.

MORE: Similar items called "atomizers" can apparently do the same thing, and can be purchased on ebay (and probably elsewhere).

AND MORE: Please note that it was not my intention to seriously compare myself to Churchill, MADD to Hitler, or AWOL to Hell. (I think it's obvious I was quoting in the satirical sense, but the last time I cited Churchill I was accused of putting his own words back in his mouth. Or something like that....)

posted by Eric at 03:07 PM

Why Activists Win, Part II

"Jimmy" the hippopotamus and my father both came to Philadelphia in the mid-1930s (I'm pretty sure it was 1935, but I couldn't locate Jimmy on the Net). My father had traveled from Minnesota to his new position in Philadelphia, and as he had to work long, long hours, the only time he could find off was Sunday afternoons. As a new person without many friends, he'd go to the Philadelphia Zoo, which had recently added Jimmy. The hippo struck him as lonely (a new transplant like himself), so he befriended him by coming every Sunday with apples and similar treats. My dad had grown up on a farm, so he was used to animals, but he was surprised to discover that a huge wild beast could be so friendly and intelligent. They developed a real friendship, which lasted for the rest of Jimmy's life. I know this will sound hard to believe, but that hippo knew my father's voice, and would come running on command, no matter where he was in the yard, whether indoors, or outdoors. I was born in 1954, and I saw this many, many times. By the time I started going to the zoo, my father and Jimmy were into their third decade of friendship.

No matter how many visitors were crowding around the enclosure yelling "Jimmy!" when my father called him, Jimmy would run or swim over, and he'd stick his head up as high as he could -- often resting it on the rails, where he'd snort and stare dreamily at my father. It was like a dog wanting his ears scratched. Visitors and keepers who saw this thought it was remarkable. (One keeper told my father that he couldn't get Jimmy's attention like that.)

Jimmy was mated with "Submarie" and they had babies. The family is pictured with Jimmy's name in the caption in one of the books currently on sale in the Zoo souvenir store.

The memories of Jimmy will be with me for the rest of my life, and the reason they're especially poignant right now is that I believe the activist philosophy currently focusing on Philadelphia's elephants does not intend to stop there.

"My name is meaningless," said activist "Rowan Morrison," (real name Marianne Bessey) -- who has repeatedly debated the fate of Philadelphia's elephants. While I think her name is important to the story (and I think journalists who knowingly misrepresented her identity committed a breach of journalistic ethics), Ms. Bessey is right in one sense. In the context of a larger movement, her name and even her identity can indeed be seen as meaningless. She is only part of a movement, a cause much bigger than herself.

While I can only speculate whether "Rowan Morrison" would openly admit to agreement with it (and, in light of her meaninglessness, it really doesn't matter whether she does), there is a much larger agenda -- itself part of an even larger philosophy -- which would abolish zoos.

The following (by Dale Jamieson) is from a chapter in Peter Singer's "In Defense of Animals":

Zoos teach us a false sense of our place in the natural order. The means of confinement mark a difference between humans and animals. They are there at our pleasure, to be used for our purposes. Morality and perhaps our very survival require that we learn to live as one species among many rather than as one species over many. To do this, we must forget what we learn at zoos. Because what zoos teach us is false and dangerous, both humans and animals will be better off when they are abolished.
This underlying philosophy isn't about elephants; it's about a reordering of man's relationship to animals. The people who want to do this answer to a higher moral authority than the ordinary mortals who reason with them, bargain with them, and offer them compromises in the hope of making them go away. The non-activists tend to think that the issue is the one before them, and they often forget that even when the activists are right (which they often are), that they'll be back, with more demands, and that above all, they are unwilling to compromise.

Activists excel at finding issues with which most people can agree as foot-in-the-door starting points. Just as the Communist Party USA focused on racial integration in the 1950s and 1960s (a laudable goal), animal rights activists will focus on sympathetic issues like saving the elephant (which I've posted about twice), and eliminating cruel and unnecessary animal research. (When they tackle issues on which most people can agree, it's a "win-win" situation for the activists, because if they win they win, and if they lose, they still win, because those who oppose them are made to appear reactionary, bigoted, and cruel.)

Activist tactics can range from the mildest forms of perfectly legitimate and legal protest to advocacy of murder. If a tactic is effective, people who believe they answer to a higher authority will advocate, or use it, or perhaps merely give aid and comfort to those who do.

Here's an example of a position most non-activists (and many higher-profile activists themselves) would call "extreme":

'I don't think you'd have to kill too many [researchers]. I think for five lives, 10 lives, 15 human lives, we could save a million, 2 million, 10 million non-human lives.
That's Dr. Jerry Vlasak, director of the Animal Defense League, and leader of the campaign against Huntingdon Life Sciences -- a lab which conducts animal research. According to today's Inquirer, Dr. Vlasak's wife, a former child actress who once played the Peanut's "Lucy" character, took over the activist group after the president was indicted. (Today's Inquirer piece focuses on the New Jersey trial of the anti-Huntingdon activists.)

The Wikipedia entry about the group makes note of a rather grim warning delivered to anyone connected with Huntingdon:

"A new era has dawned for those who fund the abusers and raise funds for them to murder animals with. You too are on the hit list: you have been warned. If you support or raise funds for any company connected with Huntingdon Life Sciences we will track you down, come for you and destroy your property with fire."
Gee. I'd almost swear that sounded like a religious fatwa.

Elsewhere, Vlasak calls murder a "morally justifiable solution."

As the Inquirer confirms, for the most part, the activists' tactics don't include murder; they're just behaving as plain old activists:

The activists say they have driven 300 companies away from Huntingdon and persuaded the New York Stock Exchange to pull back from listing Huntingdon at the last minute.

"That's probably not exaggerated," Hanley said. "These are huge, multinational companies they've brought to their knees."

In 2004, the activists targeted Focal Communications, a Philadelphia company that provided phone and Internet service to Huntingdon.

They followed one executive to her West Chester home, passed out flyers to her neighbors, and held a noisy "home demonstration" in the street.

At the company's Center City offices, Focal got bomb threats, the fax machine spit out nothing but black pages, and the e-mail system was jammed with 15,000 messages, each hundreds of pages.

The protests and harassment stopped only after Focal agreed to sever ties with Huntingdon - and provided the activists with written proof.

I keep saying that ordinary people do not understand the nature of activism, and I mean it. It may be impossible to get them to understand it, because any discussion about tactics tends to degenerate into debates involving of the merits of the arguments. (And as I have remarked many times, there is no winning arguments. Not when they are advanced as tactics.)

For example, even though I'm unwilling to compare these things to the Holocaust, I don't like abortion, and I don't like experimentation on animals. I don't like cruelty to elephants, either. But when I'm talking about activists' tactics, what I think about the merits not only isn't the point, it isn't even relevant.

But they will make it relevant, because their issues advance their underlying philosophy -- which is all that matters to them. These issues are more important than the debate over them, because debate is only seen as a tactic. Ordinary people fail to understand this, and they get caught up in figuring out ways to meet their demands, to make them go away -- anything to quiet them down. It's appeasement, and in the short term, it always seems to work. That is, until demands escalate, and new targets are chosen.

Last year, when I posted about the local campaign to force the Philadelphia Zoo to get rid of its elephants, I did so in order to contrast the winning strategy of the activists with the losing "strategy" (if it can be called that) of the people who might oppose them. It wasn't my goal to focus on the elephant issue itself, because that's no more "my" issue than abortion. I have my thoughts, and like any other non-activist they might change from time to time, but I don't really claim to have all the answers. That's because I don't subscribe to any overarching moral philosophy about these things -- especially the idea that zoos should be abolished, that we should all be vegans, etc.

Most of those of us who hold absolute positions and views on these subjects are not activists, though. It is one thing to believe that abortion is wrong and morally evil; it is quite another to spend every spare moment doing things like chaining yourself to a door, publishing web sites with names and home addresses of physicians, or advocating murder. (Or, by pointedly reminding ordinary people that while you don't agree with the tactic of murder, you "understand the rage.")

This may come as a shock to readers, but I think the 1998 murder of Barnett Slepian by an abortion activist was an effective tactic. I no more agree with the extremist philosophy of murderous anti-abortion activists than I agree with the extremist philosophy of Dr. Vlasak, but the fact is, assassination works. Vlasak is right; a few murders can prevent many animal deaths. And a few murdered doctors can act as a powerful deterrent.

Here's activist Michael Bray:

The termination of the murderer was a deed quite consistent with Mr. Kopp’s life of service for the innocent, brutalized womb children of America. It was a good deed that brought peace for many innocents through the death of a wicked serial killer.

While the Slepian assassination was officially condemned by mainstream anti-abortion organizations, there's movement which has been called an "underground railroad" which aided assisted him along the way.

As in the case of animal experimenters, activists run web sites which publish the names of doctors who perform abortions.

Back to today's Inquirer. Here's Pamelyn Ferdin, wife of Dr. Vlasak:

"They're innocent, above-ground activists who have been targeted because the government can't find the people throwing bricks," said Pamelyn Ferdin, an activist and former child actress who did the bossy voice of Lucy in some of the Peanuts specials. She took over the activist group after its president was indicted.

"A Web site is just a source of information," she said. "You can't blame a Web site if someone takes that information and goes out and commits illegal acts."

The activists regularly posted personal information about Huntingdon employees, including home addresses, home phone numbers, the names of their children - even where their children went to school.

Although a disclaimer says the group does not condone illegal tactics, the site also posted anonymous messages that bragged about vandalism and encouraged others to "go get them."

Such "informational" web sites are, of course, nothing new. In the case of the anti-abortion activists who do it too, despite the connection with Dr. Slepian's murder, the right to publish names has been held to be a matter of free speech:
The activists had argued the posters were protected under the First Amendment because they were merely a list of doctors and clinics — not a threat. They maintained they collected data on doctors in hopes of one day putting them on trial, just as Nazi war criminals were at Nuremberg.

"I think it's a great relief that our posters are just as protected by the First Amendment as the posters of any other movement," said Christopher A. Ferrara, the attorney who represented the activists.

"We were all accused of creating an umbrella of fear in the minds of abortionists that it wasn't safe for them to go to work," said Don Treshman, 57, of Baltimore, one of the activists.

During the trial, U.S. District Judge Robert Jones instructed the jury to consider the history of violence in the anti-abortion movement, including three doctors killed after their names appeared on the lists.

One was Dr. Barnett Slepian, who was killed by a sniper in 1998 at his home near Buffalo, N.Y. Slepian's name was crossed out on the Nuremberg Files Web site later that same day.

Doctors who were on the list testified that they lived in constant fear, used disguises, bodyguards and bulletproof vests, and instructed their children to crouch in the bathtub if they heard gunfire.

Ditto the families of Huntingdon Life Sciences employees. Here's CNN's report on the New Jersey story:
Many targets testified that the harassment made them look over their shoulders when walking or driving, move or change their phone numbers, keep their kids from playing outdoors, and prompted several to buy guns.

Sally Dillenback said her young son would often crouch by the door brandishing a 5-inch kitchen knife when the doorbell rang, promising to protect his mommy.

"He told me not to worry," she testified last week. "He said he was going to get the animal people. Once I found him at the garage door with a knife. That was his state of mind. He was a 7-year-old boy."

Dillenback broke into tears as she recounted an anonymous e-mail that threatened her son.

"The person asked how I would feel if they cut open my son, Brad, and filled him with poison the way Huntingdon does with the animals," she said, breaking into tears. "That was devastating for me to see something like that."

The kid should have thought about that before he selected such an evil mother. Birth has consequences, you know. And if you think that child suffered, why, it's nothing compared to how the animals suffer. Maybe they should cut him open and fill him with poison.

Blogging about this is not fun. That's because fanaticism (which is what activism is) is never fun. Philosophies which subordinate means to an end are never fun.

But I guess I should console myself. Some activists take even cartoons as seriously as abortion and animal research. It's now old news, but here's last week's fatwa:

An Islamic court in India has issued a fatwa, or religious decree, condemning to death the 12 artists who drew the controversial images of the prophet Mohammed according to News.com. "The decree was issued on behalf of the Idar-e-Sharia Darul Kaza Islamic court in northern Uttar Pradesh state by its religious head in the state capital, Lucknow.

"Death is the only penalty for the cartoonists who had drawn sacrilegious cartoons of the prophet," Maulana Mufti Abul Irfan, the religious head of the court, said."

"The court's ruling is binding on Muslims, but can be challenged under Indian law.

Mr Irfan said it was clearly written in the Muslim holy book, the Koran, that anyone who insulted the prophet deserved to be punished.

He said the fatwa was applicable wherever Muslims live.

Fatwas are just another tactic. They're a form of protected free speech, whether we agree with them or not.

My point is, fatwas are effective. So are threats of endless protests:

"We won't stop the protests until the world obeys Islamic law."
Of course, we can "disagree" with the fatwas, or the protests. But I think it's worth remembering that with people who think this way, it's not possible to simply "agree to disagree," especially when one side deems itself possessed of and answering to higher moral authority.

This is true wherever activists live.

When I served on the Berkeley Police Review Commission, I was threatened by activists who wanted me to vote their way on issues relating to "People's Park" -- a place they considered to be "sacred ground." They handed out leaflets on which were printed my name and home address which told the crowd to take "whatever action" their conscience deemed necessary -- the usual activist lingo. I've had a rather dim view of activists ever since.

The problem is, I was once an activist myself, so I have mixed feelings about condemning people for doing what I once did.

All I can do for now is remind ordinary people that when they are dealing with activists that they are not dealing with people like themselves.

MORE: Writing about intimidation in Holland, Glenn Reynolds has some thoughts I consider applicable here:

When other groups decide that the way to get favorable press is to use violence, those who have wimped out now will have no one to blame but themselves. As a reader emailed me a while back, what use is a free press if it doesn't believe in free speech?

People talk about Eurabia, but what's really happened is that Europe has become Weimarized, with governments and institutions too morally and intellectually weak to stand up for the principles they pretend to embody. And we know what that led to last time . . . .

He's right. The problem is, it's not always fun standing up for principles.

MORE: Lest anyone think I am proposing "counter-activism," I am not. I'm talking about little things. Like occasionally saying "no" to a shrill and unreasonable demand.

A little thing like that seems simple enough. In fact, if you're part of a majority of ordinary people who'd like to do things like take the kids to the Zoo, it seems so simple as to be a no-brainer.

(Until, that is, you say no to an activist. . .)

UPDATE (03/03/06): The animal rights activists in New Jersey were convicted:

TRENTON - An animal-rights group and six members were convicted yesterday of using their Web site to incite threats, harassment and vandalism against a company that tests drugs and household products on animals.

The group, Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, maintained its actions were protected under the First Amendment.

The government charged that the group waged a five-year campaign against Huntingdon Life Sciences, posting on its Web site information about the lab's employees and those who do business with Huntingdon, including their home phone numbers, addresses, and where their children attended school.

Many of those people saw their homes vandalized, and they and their families received threatening e-mails, faxes and phone calls. Many were also besieged by protesters parading with photos of mutilated animals and screaming "Puppy killer!" through megaphones at all hours outside their homes.

One woman said she received an e-mail threatening to cut her 7-year-old son open and stuff him with poison. A man said he was showered with glass as people smashed all the windows of his home and overturned his wife's car.

The defendants were not accused of directly making threats or carrying out vandalism. Instead, they were charged with inciting the harassment with their Internet postings.

Their group, based in Philadelphia, and six of its members were charged with animal enterprise terrorism, stalking and other offenses. The charges carry two to five years in prison and fines up to $250,000.

Had I been an attorney for the defense, I might not have gone along with testimony like this:
Also testifying was one of the defendants, Joshua Harper, who said that he opposes injuring any life form, including humans.

But he also said it was all right to throw rocks through someone's window as long as the person wasn't home.

Juries tend to be unsympathetic to people who think such things are "all right."

UPDATE (03/05/06): I wasn't following the trial closely, so I can only speculate about why the jury wasn't intimidated as people in positions of authority so often are. But Glenn Reynolds links to Timothy Garton Ash's piece in the Guardian, which identifies the same mentality I've been complaining about:

the main threats to freedom of thought, freedom of speech and freedom of association no longer come from the totalitarian ideological superstate that inspired George Orwell to write his 1984. (First line, for the few readers who may not have caught the opening allusion: "It was a bright, cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.") That totalitarian horror still exists in places like Burma, but the distinctive feature of this new danger is the creeping tyranny of the group veto.

Here the animal rights campaign has something in common with the extremist reaction to the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, as seen in the attacks on Danish embassies. In both cases, a particular group says: "We feel so strongly about this that we are going to do everything we can to stop it. We recognise no moral limits. The end justifies the means. Continue on this path and you must fear for your life." I don't claim that the two cases are strictly comparable. Human lives are saved by medicines developed as a result of tests on animals; no comparable good is achieved by the republication of cartoons of the prophet. But the mechanism of intimidation is very similar, including the fact that it works across frontiers and is therefore hard to tackle by national laws or law enforcement agencies.

If the intimidators succeed, then the lesson for any group that strongly believes in anything is: shout more loudly, be more extreme, threaten violence, and you will get your way. Frightened firms, newspapers or universities will cave in, as will softbellied democratic states, where politicians scrabble to keep the votes of diverse constituencies. But in our increasingly mixed-up, multicultural world, there are so many groups that care so strongly about so many different things, from fruitarians to anti-abortionists and from Jehovah's Witnesses to Kurdish nationalists. Aggregate all their taboos and you have a vast herd of sacred cows. Let the frightened nanny state enshrine all those taboos in new laws or bureaucratic prohibitions, and you have a drastic loss of freedom. That, I think, is what is happening to us, issue by issue.

Mr. Ash's bottom line:
Facing down intimidation, backed by the threat of violence, is the key to resisting the creeping tyranny of the group veto. Here there can be no compromise.
(If only I could figure out what made a New Jersey jury braver than a city commission....)

posted by Eric at 12:06 PM | Comments (9)

Kibbles and Bits

Australian researchers have knowingly violated the laws of Man and God. Their doom is sealed, their fate horrific.

Just kidding.

In a major step towards understanding prostate disease, Melbourne scientists have grown a human prostate from embryonic stem cells. ...human embryonic stem cells were developed into human prostate tissue equivalent to that found in a young man, in just 12 weeks.

Although prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men, the impact of benign prostate disease (BPH) is equally significant - up to 90 percent of men will have BPH by the time they're 80. BPH is not usually life-threatening, but has a dramatic impact on quality of life.

"The tissue we've grown behaves as a normal human prostate, so it's the perfect model for testing the different hormones and environmental factors we believe play a role in the onset of prostate disease,"...

"We grew the prostate tissue by 'telling' the embryonic stem cells how to become a human prostate gland. We then implanted the cells into mice, where they developed into a human prostate, secreting hormones and PSA; the substance in the blood used to diagnose prostate disease,"...

Director of the Monash Immunology and Stem Cell Laboratories, Professor Alan Trounson said stem cells and cancer were an important new area of medical research and the production of prostate tissue from embryonic stem cells provided a new tool for examining the origins of cancer and role of primitive stem cells.

Research collaborators in the study were the Monash Immunology and Stem Cell Laboratories; Monash Institute of Medical Research; University of California, San Francisco; the Australian Stem Cell Centre and TissuPath Laboratories, Melbourne.

Several weeks ago, Chicago's foremost old woman in trousers had this to say...

Leaving aside the embryo question, I think the claims for so-called "therapeutic cloning" are vastly overrated. I don't think we need this research to do what the scientists want to do, and I don't think it holds out the promise of this rejection-proof tissue transplantation.

I don't believe that for a minute. I think there are alternate ways of getting exactly the same kind of genetically controlled stem cells. None of the major biotech companies in this country—none of them—are putting their money behind therapeutic cloning.

Interesting perspective, isn't it? But is it accurate? More later.

posted by Justin at 11:36 AM | Comments (1)

Waiting For My Rainbow To Come

I mentioned back in November that Vernor Vinge's latest novel, Rainbows End, would be available on May 16th. Unless of course you're the Instapundit, in which case you've already got a copy. Sure wish he'd hurry up and finish it...

At any rate, they've moved the date up by a couple of weeks. The new release date is May second. Which means it's a fair bet that Professor Vinge has already started working on the sequel to A Deepness in the Sky. My hope is that he'll take his time and do it right.

While we wait, here's an early review of Rainbows End. Excerpts follow...

Rainbows End (no, there's no apostrophe) is not a Singularitarian novel. In some ways, it reads as a riposte to some of the technotopian visions imagined by the more ardent followers of the transhumanist and extropian movements that eagerly embraced Vinge's concepts. It also quite handily reframes many ideas bandied about by the 80's cyberpunks...Wearing computers is perfectly quotidian here, their owners permanently logged into their VPN's, firing silent instant messages back and forth to friends and family...Where walking around with your brain jacked into some "net" made you an edgy rebel in the cyberpunk lexicon, in Rainbows End you're just another consumer...

Vinge also challenges the transhumanist dream of radical life extension, not dismissing it so much as pointing out that it too would entail challenges and consequences to be overcome. The novel's protagonist is Robert Gu, formerly a poet laureate and great man of letters, felled by Alzheimer's. A successful series of revolutionary treatments not only cures Robert of the disease, but restores much of his body to a youthful vigor. He has what everyone dreams of, a second chance. But immediately there are problems...

posted by Justin at 10:52 AM

"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by Marxist madness"

In an amazing tale of a world gone mad, I see (via Sean Kinsell and Jeff at Beautiful Atrocities) that San Francisco's City Lights bookstore has banned author Oriana Fallaci.

Reason? She's a "fascist":

although my friend is no fan of Ward Churchill, the faux Indian and discredited professor who notoriously called 9/11 victims "little Eichmanns," he didn't really mind seeing piles of Churchill's books prominently displayed on a table as he walked in.

However, it did occur to him that perhaps the long-delayed English translation of Oriana Fallaci's new book, "The Force of Reason," might finally be available, and that because Fallaci's militant stance against Islamic militants offends so many people, a store committed to selling banned books would be the perfect place to buy it. So he asked a clerk if the new Fallaci book was in yet.

"No," snapped the clerk. "We don't carry books by fascists."

City Lights Books is, of course, famous largely because of its association with the bohemian writers known as "Beatniks" (a term coined by San Francisco columnist Herb Caen). Preeminent among the Beats was Jack Kerouac, author of "On the Road." A rugged individualist all his life, he resented the Culture War when it was still in its infancy:
Despite the 'beatnik' stereotype, Kerouac was a political conservative, especially when under the influence of his Catholic mother. As the beatniks of the 1950's began to yield their spotlight to the hippies of the 1960's, Jack took pleasure in standing against everything the hippies stood for. He supported the Vietnam War and became friendly with William F. Buckley.
Gee, that sounds at least as fascistic as Oriana Fallaci.

I wonder what's going on.

I hope fascism isn't being redefined as opposition to identity politics. Or believing in individual freedom.


Not coincidentally, City Lights Bookstore is located on a street proudly renamed "Jack Kerouac Alley" in his honor:


At the risk of engaging in counterculture revisionismism, I must ask: was it a good idea for San Francisco to rename a street in honor of a fascist?

posted by Eric at 10:23 AM | Comments (5)

WARNING: Not having a gun may be hazardous to your health!

I agree with Eugene Volokh and Glenn Reynolds that this Virginia bill (forbidding doctors from asking patients whether they have firearms in the house) is an unconstitutional infringement on the doctors' free speech. I also think it interferes unduly with the practice of medicine, although I worry that a "guide on safety counseling for pediatricians" might also do that, especially if this were to become a canon of medical ethics.

I notice the NRA supports this legislation. (As I've said before, I'm a Life Member of the NRA, but I think this is a good time to disclose that again.) I haven't read the text of the law, but I'm wondering (just wondering, mind you) whether or not the prohibition on talking about guns would also prevent doctors from recommending in favor of firearms ownership. Patients in high crime neighborhoods would be well advised to protect their families, and a doctor might point that out in the interest of the patients' health.

Professor Volokh touches on this very subject:

...it's certainly quite possible that some doctors' political prejudices lead them to give unsound advice, for instance exaggerating the risks to health of keeping firearms in the home, or ignoring the possible benefits (including to the owners' health) of keeping firearms in the home.

I mean, isn't protecting your life a health issue too?

There's that old saying, "an ounce of prevention beats a pound of cure."

What? Firearms weigh more than an ounce, you say?

That's true. The average pistol weighs three pounds.

But consider that the alternative might be a burial casket! Even a cursory cost benefit analysis reveals that in contrast to guns, coffins weigh -- and cost -- far more.

Such grave and weighty decisions should be matters of choice.

posted by Eric at 02:15 PM | Comments (6)

The discreet charm of discretionary ethics

I have a few more questions about journalistic ethics.

In the case of pseudonyms (discussed infra), I see two issues, which are not at all the same:

  • 1. Should print media allow the use of pseudonyms?
  • 2. Should reporters ask a source whether the name given is that person's real name, and reflect that in the news report?
  • I would defend to the death the right to anonymity, which includes the right to use a pseudonym. This free speech principle stretches far back in this country's history -- to The Federalist Papers, which are considered by many to rank among this country's founding documents.

    However, when someone is the subject of a story as well as a news source, and that person is identified, quoted by that name, called a "spokesperson" under that name, and makes charges against persons whose identities and whereabouts are public facts, I think that the name of the source becomes a vital part of the story. If the name is not the source's real name, that should be disclosed as part of the story.

    Don't we have a right to know whether someone is being anonymous?

    This is not a legal question, but an ethical one, and for journalists it is not a new one. According to a comment in Dan Gillmor's blog the rules in this area are so strict that many newspapers insist on "a 'real' name for any published comments" before they'll even run a letter to the editor. That might be a bit harsh, as there are good reasons why a letter writer might wish to remain either anonymous or pseudonymous. But the fact of such anonymity or pseudonymity is highly relevant. Otherwise, anyone could claim to be a citizen of any country, or an official spokesman for anything, and readers would simply be left with the impression that they were.

    The following is from the Society of Professional Journalists's Code of Ethics:

  • Identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources' reliability.
  • Always question sources’ motives before promising anonymity.
  • It's pretty clear that at minimum, a journalist should ask whether a source's (or particularly, a spokesperson's) name is a real name.

    That's why ABC News issued an apology for running a story about a Palestinian using the pseudonym of "Abu Shahar" without bothering to tell the viewers this was a pseudonym.

    I'm wondering whether in spite of an apparently settled ethical policy, there's a sort of unofficial (but very flexible) code along the lines of "Don't ask, don't tell" (wink-wink).

    I said flexible, because it might be left up to the discretion of the individual reporter.


    I don't like the look of the word "discretion."

    It seems pretty close to a blank check -- a free invitation for individual bias. Not that bias should be made illegal or anything like that. I just don't like seeing it hidden behind meaningless, um, "standards."

    posted by Eric at 09:27 AM

    Amerika ain't got no class!

    Now that I've devoted several posts to deconstructing the flawed concept of "Cultural Marxism," I think it's fair that I shift my attention to real Marxism (aka Communism).

    When I started this blog and named it "Classical Values" with a stated goal of ending the Culture War, the idea was to disagree with both sides of this damnable excuse for a war, by reminding people (hopefully in a gentle and constructive manner) that our precious Western heritage is far richer, culturally much deeper, and far antecedes any of the "Culture War" memes which distract so many people by causing them to hate each other. The blog theme was intended to remind everyone that Western Civilization is good. To the right wing, the reminder is that personal matters like human sexuality are not alien forces threatening the fabric of Western Civilization to its core. On the other hand, things like identity politics and post modernist deconstructionism do threaten long-cherished Western cultural values like logic, reason, skepticism, scientific inquiry, and even the arts. I had a classical education and I consider myself a classical liberal (rebadged these days as a "small-l "libertarian"), so I thought I should speak up on behalf of our classical past against those forces which are in a great hurry to disregard or even destroy it.

    Unfortunately, the damned "Culture War" is a nexus of this destruction, where both sides seem to conspire, as if in an unholy alliance.

    And I do mean alliance. What most annoyed me about traditional (that word!) Marxists is that they are hung up to the point of being obsessed with this thing called "Class War":

    [T]he antagonism between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie is a struggle of class against class, a struggle carried to its highest expression in a total revolution. Indeed, is it at all surprising that a society founded on the opposition of classes should culminate in a brutal "contradiction," the shock of body against body, as its final denouement?
    Class war is culture war, and the Marxian view is based upon a hopelessly outmoded concept that only the so-called bourgeoisie owned what Marx called the "means of production."

    What in hell is the means of production? I produce this blog on a computer that cost me as much as a pair of shoes. Anyone can sell anything on ebay.

    I don't think further examples are needed to show how outmoded Marxist thinking is. But this "class struggle" deal -- something about it has thoroughly penetrated Western thinking. On both sides.

    Class war rhetoric underlies much of what we call the Culture War. In political disagreements, points are scored and countless arguments punctuated by derisive remarks about the class background of the person on the wrong side ("grew up with a silver spoon in his mouth," "a member of the ruling class," "rich," "elite," and other similar remarks about the quality of the person's parentage). This is invariably contrasted with the salt of the earth, working class or poverty stricken background of the person on the other side. Both sides -- left and right -- blatantly engage in class war attacks on each other; the latest manifestation of this is in the "Red State" "Blue State" conflict in which the Red Staters play the role of proletarian masses who seek to be free from their elitist Blue State bourgeoisie oppressors. Rough hewn rednecks versus preppie Ivy League elitists. (Ironically, Marxism has been so perverted that it is the elites Marx hated who most champion it.)

    I am sick of this Class War stuff, and I think it lies at the core of a lot of what's going on with the Culture War.

    Unstated and unacknowledged Class War issues are a major reason I'm so intrigued (and amused) by the uproar surrounding President Bush. Not that I'm enamored of him or his politics. (As regular readers know, I'm in the I-held-my-nose-and-voted-for-Bush camp.)

    But here's what I most like about Bush, and I think it's the very thing he's most hated for: Bush is, simply, a walking, talking Class War!

    Why, I'd go so far as to say that he's as shocking and outrageous in his own way as "Brokeback Mountain" in its.

    I know that will come as a shock to some of my readers, so I'll try to explain. It's my theory that the Class War has been largely folded into the Culture War, but that this has happened so slowly, and with so much cooperation by both "sides" (often because of political necessities) that people haven't had time to realize it, much less understand it.

    Bush is at once the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. He's the rich, unaccountable, spoiled Ivy League brat every "Red Stater" loves to hate, and the Texas, church-going, oil-rig-working redneck every "Blue Stater" fears and regards with contempt. To an inflexible Marxist steeped in Class War and Culture War thinking, a rich preppie is one thing, and a redneck is quite another (and there are different techniques for indoctrinating or neutralizing each). But a hybrid of the two? That's a monstrous atrocity -- a cruel affront to the sensibilities of every true-believer leftist in the United States, whether they admit it or not. Most of them hate Bush with a passion bordering on the insane, but few of them understand why the hatred is so intensely and so bitterly personal. (There are other prominent examples of people who stir similar feelings of cultural outrage, but there's no need to name names.)

    I think it's because the Class War is the Culture War, and the nexus is founded on division. The proponents of division hate and fear its opposite -- mongrelization and mixing of any kind. A preppie redneck president is almost as horrifying and disgusting a thought as the idea of gun-toting gays going out and voting for him. (How do you remind people like that how dreadfully misguided they are? By making a movie?)

    Fortunately, America is a land of mongrelization and cultural hybrids. Of people who don't like being told what to do, how to live.

    And fortunately, inflexibility of thinking is what has made Marxism (and the Class and Culture Wars it spawned) such a miserable failure.

    Notwithstanding the occasional success, I think it will keep failing.

    Unfortunately though, Marxist thinking has insinuated itself into both "sides."

    (Mongrelization isn't always a perfect process....)

    posted by Eric at 07:52 PM | Comments (4)

    Neo Cultural Revisionism resurrected?

    Even if there isn't such a thing as "Cultural Marxism" in the pure sense, might there as well be? And if there might as well be, isn't it as if there is? And if it's as if there is, then, well, isn't it a form of reality?

    Of, like, truth?

    A comment left by Nick Packwood (who believes there is such a thing as "Cultural Marxism") forced me into a fit of neo quasi cultural Marxist revisionism.

    While I hate to put words in anyone's mouth, Nick and I both seemed to agree that used as a political grab-bag, the term "Cultural Marxist" is nonsensical. Nick's comment:

    Eric: I recently used the term "cultural Marxism" in a specific, technical sense to refer to a way of thinking that now predominates in American and Canadian arts and social science departments. While I disagree with most of the complaints made by The Conservative Voice he is entirely correct to attribute "cultural Marxism" to the Frankfurt School and its subsequent influence on what is now known as cultural studies. Though this is a revision of Marxist thought which I believe is in direct contradiction of Marx's own writings it is now taken for granted in the thinking of most academics (who for the most part have not read Marx). It is a school of thought independent of whatever "memes" are now circulating by the same label or indeed of its relationship to Marx, let alone facts. That many people teaching cultural cultural studies (as I did for two years) or influenced by cultural studies in traditional arts and social science departments support a variety of "progressive" policies and causes (as indeed I do) is perhaps not purely coincidental.
    Nick's view that there is a persistent cultural Marxist class made me think back (waay back) to my youth. My reply:
    Thanks Nick. The thing is, I considered myself a Marxist in the 1960s when Marxism still meant understanding and agreeing with the economic theories of Marx. At the core of what's now being called "Cultural Marxism" may be the implementation of an anti-bourgeoisie strategy, which took whatever form was most convenient to the Marxists of the Frankfurt school decades ago. That it is "in direct contradiction of Marx's own writings" and has never characterized life in Communist countries seems to matter not one bit to anyone.

    And while it's certainly true that many people teaching cultural cultural studies support "progressive" policies and causes, they also support extreme decadence as a fad, to be in style. I'd go so far as saying that these attitudes have become thoroughly bourgeois. Blue State, even. But isn't calling them "Marxist" a perversion of the word? Couldn't it be said that the class struggle Marx wrote about still persists in the Red State versus Blue State phenomenon? For example, traditional Marxists saw homosexuality as "bourgeois decadence," and they called it precisely that. Today's working class Red State "proletariat" aren't the ones lining up to see "Brokeback Mountain" are they?

    There are a lot of ironies, and I think if Marx was alive today he'd feel as if something went very, very wrong.

    I think "Cultural Marxism" is a poor descriptor, and was primarily coined as an insult. (What fascinates me is that it is more likely to resonate among today's proletariat class....)

    Still unsatisfied, I decided to search far and wide for signs of actual, real-life "Cultural Marxism."

    Mind you, I wanted an answer along the lines of "What Would Marx Do?" Not to dwell excessively on the revisionist Paul Weyrich clique, but I'm sorry: gay American cowboys just isn't credible as a Marxist meme, even for the wildest revisionists. I wanted to find someone -- anyone -- who really deserved to be called a "Cultural Marxist"

    And I wasn't disappointed. I found a man who is in fact a leading Cultural Marxist! A man in a better position than anyone alive to know the answer to the question "What would Marx do?"

    I refer to the proudly unapologetic Marxist historian Howard Zinn. For the rest of us proletarian illiterates, he has brought Karl Marx back to life in a play called Marx in Soho.

    Here's the poster with the actor (a man who might as well be Marx):


    Right here in Philadelphia. How did I manage to miss such a touching thing?

    And from the Philadelphia Inquirer, the above site reprints Douglas Keating's review:

    Though Marx has been demonized by some as the father of communism, Robert Weick portrays him as a personable man devoted to his wife and family as he writes Das Kapital and struggles to make ends meet in London, where he lived most of his life.

    This show's Marx is also aware of all that has transpired since his death, which enables him to urge those in the audience toward political and social change. An impassioned Weick rises to this occasion, and though it's obvious he is speaking as Marx, the sentiments are clearly Zinn's.

    Douglas Keating

    Philadelphia Inquirer

    Who better to bring Marx to life than Howard Zinn? I mean, this answers many of my concerns about revisionism, and it will go a long way towards settling the many inaccuracies I complained about.

    Still, I'm not sure about portraying Marx's dedication to "wife and family." I think the memes may need, um, reworking. Can't this Howard Zinn character do a better job of coordinating his alternate reality scheme with Paul Weyrich? Maybe he could add a few lines to have Marx specifically address the additional memes to satisfy Weyrich and his meme-mongers. I know it's revisionism, but hey -- if you can't revise revisionist writing, then what the hell can you revise?

    As it is now, the Blue State bourgoisie [really now! wouldn't Marx prefer them to be Red?] loves the play! A few comments:

    If you're opposed to the Bush administration's domestic and international policies, you may be surprised how many ideologies you share with the title character in the Iron Age Theatre's production of Marx in Soho. But if you're worried this somehow makes you a Marxist, fear not—it turns out Karl Marx didn't even consider himself one.
    Well now! Isn't that nice? If Marx wasn't a Marxist, then none of us are Marxists, even if we love Marx and his theories, and even if we hate the evil Bush! Being a Marxist is so uncool now that even Marx knows. And even if he's dead, it's in a play written by a man who knows more about Marx than Marx did!

    So it's just as if Marx is still alive, right? I can't argue with my logic. Marx's stunning admission means that we are all Cultural Marxists. Cultural Marxism is probably a family value!

    And even if you're religious, that's cool with Marx too:

    Growing Up, Marx was presented as a villian, but now I understand so much more.
    Member of the Elizabeth Catholic Worker
    Forget all that "religion is the opiate of the masses" stuff. Hey, speaking of dope, let's ask Zinn. Couldn't Marx could light a few bowls in the next episode?

    According to a history teacher in attendance, Zinn's resurrection of an alternate Marx is historically accurate:

    ....Your presentation of Marx and his life experiences has provided an opportunity for our students to see history brought to “life.” The students in attendance had wide eyes and were at the edge of their seats for the entire performance. Your energy and intensity engaged the audience and we were hanging on to every word. Your ability to change emotional level as well as mood was astonishing and made Karl Marx real and not just a character from our textbook. I wish our schedule had allowed for more time so our students could have made their comments to you rather than relay them through me. First they wished to thank you and then said things like, “that was awesome,” and “he was amazing.” You really left an impression on them. Once again I thank you for what you do and for doing it so well.

    Vincent Spina

    European History - Easton High School

    I'd say history has spoken. Marx may be dead, but his culture lives.

    If you can't bring the culture to Marx, then bring Marx to the culture!

    (I'll try to keep a close eye peeled for Brokeback Marxist cultural values, but I'm not promising anything....)

    Oh what the hell. I won't put words (or, for that matter, anything else...) in Zinn's mouth. But I think the dead white Karlito can bend over and take this one:


    After all, what's revising revisionism mean without a little revisionary deviationism?

    (Regrettably, I must admit to certain bourgeois tendencies which I have not fully uprooted, as I confess to feelings of nostalgia for the good old days of standard deviationism. But we must move on. No really.)

    AFTERTHOUGHT: Satire aside, there is a serious, um, bottom line here. If a play resurrecting Marx and written by a Marxist is not Cultural Marxism, then what is?

    posted by Eric at 07:48 AM | Comments (3)

    Hero once honored, now smeared. Why?

    In a grotesque example of anti-military bigotry, the University of Washington's Student Senate voted against honoring World War II war hero, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Colonel Greg "Pappy" Boyington. Reason? According to the minutes of the Student Senate meeting, concerns were expressed about honoring "rich white men," "whether it was appropriate to honor a person who killed other people," and whether "a member of the Marine Corps was an example of the sort of person UW wanted to produce."

    While I'd heard of Colonel Boyington before, when I read about the man's life, I became even more outraged by the sleazy and cowardly remarks:

    It all started after a UW senior sponsored a resolution to create a memorial for Boyington, a Marine Corps colonel and Medal of Honor recipient who wrote about his wartime exploits as a fighter pilot in the South Pacific in his best-selling book, “Baa Baa Black Sheep.”

    Boyington and his “Black Sheep” squadron later were the inspiration for a television show starring Robert Conrad.

    On Feb. 7, during a student senate debate on the resolution, critics questioned why the university should pay tribute to a Marine, someone who killed others. One student leader suggested the school had honored enough rich, white men.

    Forty-five students supported the resolution, but it failed by one vote.

    The next day, Kirby Wilbur, the morning radio talk-show host on Seattle station KVI, broadcast the news based on an e-mail from a member of the UW College Republicans.

    “Our phones were slammed for a full hour with our audience,” producer Matt Haver told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for a story in Thursday editions. “They were literally incensed with it.”

    Boyington shot down 22 planes with the Black Sheep Squadron, making him one of the war’s highest-ranking aces. Earlier, he flew with the Flying Tigers in China.

    He was shot down on Jan. 3, 1944. Presumed dead, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

    He had been taken prisoner, however, and was freed with the end of the war. He died in 1988 in Fresno, Calif., and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

    Far from being wealthy, Boyington, a Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, native and 1934 engineering graduate of the University of Washington, struggled with money and alcohol for much of his life.

    Yeah, some rich white guy. But I guess it wasn't enough to just smear him for being a military hero; probably to build a "consensus," the students had to come up with an additional crime. Accuse the man of belonging to the evil white race. (The man was of Sioux descent.)

    Why am I not expecting Ward Churchill to leap to this Indian's defense?

    McQ at QandO has more on the disgraceful interplay of political correctness and woeful ignorance of history:

    Thankfully the rest of us understand the incredible achievement of Pappy Boyington and honor his service and valor. As for the student government of the Univeristy of Washington? They need a history refresher badly. And this time, the political correctness which has apparently so infected the version they last studied needs to be left aside. They need to do some homework on men like Greg Boyington and the honor with which he was bestowed before being so disrespectful of his achievement.


    Apparently, now that this has attracted talk radio and blogospheric attention, there's been an attempt at backtracking, but the real outrage is that it happened at all.

    God help us if we're ever in a real war like World War II.

    (I'm almost tempted to call these young slimebags "Cultural Marxists." But I think it would be a mistake to credit them with having read or understood Marx.)

    posted by Eric at 11:41 AM | Comments (6)

    When anonymity is anonymous, and fiction becomes truth . . .
    Young urban black males may live longer in prison, that does not reduce their natural lifespan, murder is unnatural (in my opinion - maybe not yours). Ditto with poaching of elephants.

    -- Classical Values Commenter "Rowan Morrison"

    As the subject of "truth" has been on my mind lately, I'm pondering a question of what I suppose might be called "ethics," although I'm not entirely sure. It involves the phenomenon of people who either will not identify themselves, or else hide behind undisclosed fictitious identities, but who nonetheless have no problem engaging people who do not hide their identity in debates.

    While I like to know who it is I am arguing with, it isn't really necessary to know, but I do think it helps to at least know whether or not someone advancing an argument is anonymous or not. There's a sort of "level playing field" issue, especially where (as in my case) one side's real identity is disclosed. There's nothing dishonest about anonymity (or even a fictitious identity) but if the fact of anonymity -- the fact of the fiction? -- itself is kept hidden, I think that's a different matter.

    In the case of commenter "Rowan Morrison," while it did occur to me that in theory someone might be impersonating Rowan Morrison, that there was such a local animal rights activist seemed beyond dispute. She has been officially quoted so many times that it never occurred to me that there might not be such a person.

    When (in a post titled "Why activists win") I discussed the campaign by "Rowan Morrison's" group to remove Philadelphia Zoo's elephants, my point was not so much to dispute the elephant issue as it was to explain the mechanics of why the single-minded dedication of activists tends to defeat people who just want to be left alone (or simply stay in business):

    What's always lost in the debate over the merits of each "cause" is that true activists never lose sight of the big picture. Individual "causes" are means to an end, but the people who are confronted by activists are only interested in making the immediate problem go away. In so doing, they end up strengthening and emboldening the movement behind the particular cause.

    In military terms, this strategy would be called "appeasement," and it's generally not considered to be a winning one. Not for the appeasers. For the activists, it's playing right into their hands.

    At the risk of sounding like an appeaser, I'll go so far here and now as to actually declare that I think the force feeding of geese is cruel. But if I ran a restaurant and complied with the demands of activists, would it end there? The prohibition on foie gras is merely one step for them towards an ultimate goal of enforced veganism. The restaurant owners who take the foie gras off the menu will next be asked to eliminate veal, then chickens raised in factory farms, and so on. Similarly, activists who demand the removal of confederate flags have no intention of stopping there. Next will be statues of Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee, as well as streets named after them. From there it's a short step to Lee's relative, slaveholder George Washington. Should there be a slaveholder on the dollar bill????

    I think that the appeasement of forces which are ultimately dedicated to the wholesale destruction of the appeasers is shortsighted at best. But business and idealism mix about as well as politics and idealism. The bottom line is staying open for business, or staying in office.

    That's why the activists win.

    My post quickly attracted the ire of "Rowan Morrison" -- who came to my site not to debate my point about activism, but to press the merits of her campaign to remove the elephants from the Philadelphia Zoo.

    Considering her local fame, it never occurred to me that there was no such person as Rowan Morrison.

    Until this morning when I read this article in today's Philadelphia Inquirer:

    An animal rights activist said today that she hopes to mount some sort of legal challenge after being banned from the Philadelphia Zoo for comments she made about the facility's chief executive.

    Marianne Bessey, leader of Friends of Philly Zoo Elephants, incurred the zoo's wrath after making strongly worded remarks last week about zoo director Alexander L. "Pete" Hoskins in an Internet chatroom called The Elephant Connection.

    In a posting dated Feb. 16 and addressed to Hoskins, Bessey discussed the zoo's treatment of Dulary, an injured, 42-year-old elephant that has been kept in a concrete barn since August. She talked about the elephant's life expectancy - and the director's.

    "I sincerely pray you [Hoskins] have nightmares about Dulary every night until you die, which should be very soon since you are past your own life expectancy," she wrote, also suggesting that Hoskins, who is in his early 60s, might be "kept in a concrete closet for six months to hasten your demise."

    Later that day, she added: "Pete Hoskins thinks he is going to have a peaceful, uneventful retirement... he has another thing coming."

    That could easily be interpreted as a veiled threat, and apparently it was. Zoo offficials decided to ban Ms. Bessey from the premises -- an action Bessey contends is "illegal":
    The police report did not mention Bessey by name.

    Bessey, a lawyer who has frequently gone to the zoo to pass out literature about the elephants, said yesterday that her words were not meant as a threat and that the zoo focused on them to distract from any discussion of the animals ' future.

    "I think this is definitely illegal," said Bessey, while acknowledging that the zoo is private property and not a government facility. "I have the freedom of speech to express my opinion, and they're just trying to prevent me from getting information out to the public."

    Toner noted that other members of the Friends of Philly Zoo Elephants were not being banned, only Bessey. In additon, Toner said that the zoo, a public charity, was exercising its "fiduciary responsibility to look out for the assets of the zoo and the zoo's best interests."

    Bessey works as an attorney for a prestigious Philadelphia law firm -- Dechert LLP (one of those 400 dollar an hour type firms). Additional background on Marianne Bessey here.

    What surprised me about the article was that in the past, every time I read about the elephant issue, I'd become quite accustomed to seeing Rowan Morrison quoted. After all, she's the official "spokesperson." It turns out that she's Marianne Bessey:

    This afternoon, Bessey, who uses the name Rowan Morrison in her animal work, was in the concourse of Suburban Station, passing out buttons and collecting signatures.
    Huh? Was that fact just discovered yesterday?

    There have been numerous articles like this in the Philadelphia Inquirer -- with not a hint about the identity of the "spokeswoman":

    A local animal-rights group, which stages regular demonstrations outside the zoo demanding that the elephants be sent to a sanctuary, reacted cautiously to the decision.

    "It's halfway good news, as long as they retire the elephants to a sanctuary," said Rowan Morrison of Friends of the Philly Zoo Elephants. "The small, quarter-acre exhibit and 1,800-square-foot barn are just not a healthy environment for the elephants."

    The next Friends demonstration is set for 10:30 a.m. tomorrow.

    "We've always been asking the zoo to do the right thing and transfer the elephants, and we'll continue to do that," Morrison said.

    I'm no journalist, but isn't there a rule somewhere that if you're quoting someone who's not using his or her real name, that you're supposed to disclose that fact?

    Bessey has also passed herself off as Rowan Morrison to the prestigious Washington Post:

    A protest group, Friends of the Philly Zoo Elephants, has claimed this as a victory. The group maintains that elephants are roaming and foraging animals and need more space than zoos can give them. It and other animal rights activists say that penned-in elephants tend to get diseases and injuries they would not get in the wild. The Philadelphia group is pressing the zoo to donate its elephants to a sanctuary in Tennessee.

    "I know it's the right thing to do. Whether the zoo does it is a different thing," said Rowan Morrison, the spokeswoman for the group.

    Ditto CBS, local NBC news channel, Bloomberg.com. "Rowan Morrison" has also petitioned the Philadelphia City Council.

    OK, I'm just a lowly blogger. I don't have the time or resources to verify the identity of anyone. Nor do I think it's particularly relevant in the case of a commenter to the blog. So I accepted her identity at its face value.

    That was a mistake, and I apologize, but there's really no way I could have known, and her true identity wasn't relevant.

    It still isn't. The point is not Marianne Bessey, Esq. Despite the fact that she's been identified in countless articles as "Rowan Morrison" she's not the real issue here, so much as the ethical process.

    Is there one?

    While I have no problem with fictitious identities, what I want to know is this: if an identity is fictitious, is there a duty to disclose that fact?

    I don't think there's any right to know someone's identity, and I'm not talking about invading anyone's privacy. But if you are fictitious, shouldn't that fact be disclosed?

    I wonder how many other spokespeople we see routinely "quoted" in what we assume is "official" news are actually not the people they appear to be.

    If journalists know about a fictitious identity and don't disclose that fact, is there an ethical issue?

    MORE: When I said Ms. Bessey "passed herself off" as Rowan Morrison, I was engaging in speculation under an assumption that might turn out to be unwarranted. It is entirely possible that she has disclosed her true identity all along, but that somehow it's been kept hidden.

    Stay tuned, I guess.

    MORE: Lest anyone misunderstand, Inquirer reporter Larry Eichel should be given credit for revealing the true identity of "Rowan Morrison." Apparently, the previous reporters are no longer interested in covering the story, and they either didn't verify who the "spokesperson" was, or knew and looked the other way.

    I wrote to longtime journalist (and current blogger) Mark Tapscott, because of his expertise in these matters, and he emails as follows:

    she [Bessey] had an obligation to tell the reporters who quoted her her real name and the reporters then had an obligation to tell readers the published name is not her real name and explain why the newspaper published the fake name rather than the real name.
    We'll see whether that happens.

    Be sure to check out Mark Tapscott's blog, as he has some excellent pictures from today's pro-Denmark demonstration.

    UPDATE: "Rowan Morrison" (in repeated comments below) states that she was misquoted in the newspapers, and cites the full text of her remarks, which were as follows:

    You must live with Dulary's blood on your hands. You yourself are retiring in May - yet you have refused to allow Dulary to retire, instead claiming that she is reaching her "life expectancy" and preparing the public who pay your obscenely high salary for her death. You have outlived your life expectancy by some ten years, since the life expectancy of a human is 51 years (in sub-Saharan Africa, that is - I'm using the same logic you use to get a life expectancy of elephants of early 40's, isn't it fun to play around with statistics like that?)

    Pete, I sincerely pray you have nightmares about Dulary every night until you die, which should be very soon since you are so far past your own "life expectancy." Maybe you should be kept in a concrete closet for six months to hasten your demise. After all, what is suitable for the animals you've been paid $329,000 a year to care for should be more than sufficient for you.

    To the zoo spies on this list - please forward to Pete with my sincere blessings. You forwarded the letter from James Kenney and Blondell Reynolds Brown - now you can forward this.
    I know I'm really sticking my neck out, but for what it's worth, I don't think the Zoo Director should be "kept in a concrete closet for six months to hasten [his] demise." (As to the man's salary, I think it's about as relevant as that of "Rowan Morrison.")

    "Rowan Morrison" also maintains that it's "okay" to use an undisclosed pseudonym. Whether that's "okay" is a matter of philosophy. Obviously, some people think it is okay. Which is why, (as I argue in this post) reporters need to ask a few basic questions. It's more and more apparent that they didn't.

    MORE: "Rowan Morrison" also states that she did tell "some reporters, but not all" reporters her real name. What that means is that to if these reporters referred to her as "Rowan Morrison" without pointing out the pseudonymous nature of that name, they engaged in a serious breach of journalistic ethics.

    In real life, saying someone is somebody else (when you know this is untrue) is called "lying."

    posted by Eric at 06:54 AM | Comments (23)

    An opinion is not a fact, and the truth is not an opinion
    There are no facts, only interpretations.

    -- Nietzsche

    I disagree with Nietzsche, because I think there are facts. But if I agreed with Nietzsche, that would not make me a "Cultural Marxist."

    And I hope that even Nietzsche would agree that a lot of people have a hard time distinguishing facts from opinions.

    Facts (such as whether it is raining outside right now) are by definition truth. (I don't see how it is possible to have intelligent discussions about what is true unless we agree that truth -- at minimum -- consists of knowable facts.) Opinions sometimes involve questions of fact, but often they involve larger issues over which people disagree. An opinion does not become "the truth" simply because a large number of people share it.

    The discussion in the comments below -- over objective and subjective truths -- brings this to mind, as facts are almost always objective truths, while opinions tend to be subjective.

    I think the confusion of fact with opinion is what causes much of the trouble in cultural debates. People who believe very strongly in certain opinions tend to regard these opinions as facts, as truths, and are unable to admit that they are actually opinions. There's a certain gray area we call "belief" but I'm of the opinion (and therefore believe) that beliefs are opinions. Widely shared and strongly held opinions, but opinions nonetheless. And no matter how strongly held a belief, the fact that it is strongly held does not make it true.

    Opinions and beliefs can of course be true. Most of what we call disagreements over truth consist of disagreements not over facts, but over whether certain beliefs are true. This is compounded by the fact that some beliefs are based on perceptions (feelings, if you will), which seem very true to an individual, but which are not provable to others. For example, if someone believes that he has felt the presence of God, that is true for him, but it cannot be called an objective truth -- even though it might be true.

    If enough people agree that certain opinions and beliefs are true, and they become shared cultural beliefs, while that agreement does not tranform subjective truths into objective truths, it forms the basis of what can be called objective morality. This can be further divided into religious truths such as "keep holy the Sabbath" (said to emanate from God) and ethical truths such as "do no murder" (not dependent on God).

    But not all morality is dependent on God -- either for belief or for enforcement. Much of what we call "morality" consists of these systems of ethical truths agreed upon over the millenia, and even most atheists would agree that it is wrong to lie, steal, murder, rape, etc. Such social agreements have long formed the basis of Western culture (both from Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman perspectives), and as they are also formalized into law, it matters very little whether an individual agrees with the philosophical underpinnings, which are derived from religion, philosophy, self interest, and common sense. One does not need to be a Christian to agree with Jesus's central ethical premise of "Love your neighbor as yourself."

    I realize that I have not begun to articulate a comprehensive system of epistemology, and I'm sure people will disagree with some or all of what I have said. But I don't think that makes me a "Cultural Marxist."

    UPDATE (03/02/06): I agree with Jeff Goldstein on what I think is an important point:

    ...it matters not whether you believe classical liberalism to be the manifestation of some metaphysical truth or simply the best possible manifestation of human social contracts.
    Unfortunately, this often causes needless debate over the role of God:
    ... they have but simply to adopt as part of their own philosophical position regarding social contracts the primacy of certain individual rights that are beyond the bounds of any government to remove.
    As to why I call this an important point, I should probably admit my bias here. While I believe in God, the religious debate can get very acrimonious. (In the past, it has caused me more than a little grief.)

    posted by Eric at 04:46 PM | Comments (3)

    安全第一 (And I'm sure I agree!)


    What's the above title mean?

    I really don't know, because I don't understand Japanese. But hey, I guess I'll just write a post about it anyway.

    Sean Kinsell (who wrote the above title) reminded me of something I know all too well -- but which it's damnably easy to forget:

    There's so much information lacking about the port-rental-connected-to-UAE-holding-company thing that I figure I'll let everyone else rupture a few arteries and decide what I think when we actually know what we're talking about.
    This reminds me of why I'm not a war blogger (at least, disinclined to shoot off my mouth about which tactics are appropriate in battle). I'm simply not qualified. Not only I have never served in the military, but I don't have (and never had) a security clearance, or access to inside information which is absolutely necessary to be informed about what goes into classified decisions involving national security matters. So, my inclination is to try to support the war, stick to common sense issues I can understand, and hope we win.

    I don't like writing about stuff I know little or nothing about, and it makes me feel like an ignorant asshole whenever I do. (Might as well try to expound on the meaning of the characters in Sean's title.)

    What I can't figure out is why I keep doing it. Because others do? That's no reason to do anything.

    I guess I can console myself with the knowledge that I'm not alone in my idiocy.

    (Small comfort that is.)

    posted by Eric at 02:50 PM | Comments (4)

    Looking on the bright side of life

    What do you do if you're supposed to be a daily blogger but you're just burned out on opinions? I don't know whether I'm more sick to death of my own opinions or the opinions of other people, but I'm sure as hell sick of opinions, and it isn't easy saying so. Why? Because it sounds negative. And we're not supposed to be negative, are we?

    So what am I supposed to do? Maybe read another idiotic pronouncement (by some horse's ass who knows God personally) about some stupid movie I didn't like in the first place and then write another post trying to politely point out the illogic in that opinion? Get into an argument with someone who advances opinions as tactics? (There's no winning an argument with someone whose mind is made up and who argues tactically, nor is there any possibility of the rational sharing of ideas...) Maybe I should find an opinion I agree with, and say so! That'd be a thrill. Or maybe I should take pictures of my dog!

    Nah, done that too many times. Plus, Coco isn't quite up to her usual energy levels yet, as she's still sulking from being in the kennel last weekend.

    How about uploading some cool pictures?

    Here's one which made my spirits soar:


    It's all about survival, right?

    Here's an even funnier picture (via Deroy Murdock):


    Yuck yuck. No name-calling, though! (Allah forbid that we might offend...)

    Hmmmm... Now I'm curious about something. Would uploading that picture be a crime in Austria, or is it only Holocaust denial that's a crime? I mean, have they left a loophole in the law allowing "Holocaust Approval" as long as you don't engage in "Holocaust Denial"?

    Apparently not. At least, not according to Skeptic Magazine's Michael Shermer. Here's his reading of the laws:

    In Austria it is a crime if a person "denies, grossly trivializes, approves or seeks to justify the national socialist genocide or other national socialist crimes against humanity." In France it is illegal to challenge the existence of the "crimes against humanity" as they were defined by the Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. In Germany, where the legal precedence began, the Auschwitzl¸ge, or "Auschwitz-Lie" Law, makes it a crime to "defame the memory of the dead." (Emphasis added.)
    Personally, while I don't agree with the above laws, I'd love to see the woman holding the sign above in prison. Or, preferably, dead. No good will come of her -- nor, probably, from her hellish progeny.

    But I should refrain from insulting her, shouldn't I?

    I really should try to be more cheerful. It's tough sometimes. But this is all just a form of exercise.... To quote Drayton Sawyer,

    There's just some things you gotta do. Don't mean you have to like it.

    UPDATE: Where it comes to insults, the Germans don't mess around:

    DUESSELDORF, Germany (Reuters) - A German court on Thursday convicted a businessman of insulting Islam by printing the word "Koran" on toilet paper and offering it to mosques.

    The 61-year-old man, identified only as Manfred van H., was given a one-year jail sentence, suspended for five years, and ordered to complete 300 hours of community service, a district court in the western German town of Luedinghausen ruled.

    He could have gotten up to three years. Hmmm.... I don't think it should be a crime to "insult Islam" -- any more than it should be a crime to deny the Holocaust. However, time, place and manner restrictions are reasonable (and, in this country, constitutional). Insulting people at their places of worship is no more protected than picketing them at home.

    posted by Eric at 07:56 AM | Comments (2)

    Advancing Neo-Nazi "Mufti"culturalism

    Should it be illegal in a free country to spout nonsensical lies grounded in bigotry?

    A brief word on the Holocaust denial laws in Austria and other European countries. While I don't think Holocaust denial and editorial cartoons posing questions about Muhammad are moral equivalents (I explained why in detail here), I think these laws are outdated and should be repealed as soon as possible.

    The criminal conviction of faux historian (and now martyr) David Irving, whose opinions are condemned by anyone with a brain, could not have come at a worse time. No one could be less friendly to Irving than Deborah Lipstadt, who was sued by him, but who admits the laws are no longer needed:

    In 2000 [Irving] lost a highly publicized libel lawsuit in London against Lipstadt and her publisher, Penguin Books, after Lipstadt called him a Holocaust denier in her 1994 book, "Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory."

    That victory, perhaps, helps support her conviction that books, and not laws, are what should fuel the fight against denying the Holocaust.

    "We don't need laws to fight Holocaust deniers. We've got history on our side," she said.

    Mickey Kaus has more, and so does Glenn Reynolds, who adds that "this further exacerbates the 'censorship envy' of the radical Muslims," which it does.

    I also think it helps whatever Nazis there are out there, helps the Islamofascists, while seriously damaging the moral authority of Western countries to condemn censorship.

    While it would be tempting to argue that an American equivalent would be a law forbidding the denial that slavery ever existed, it isn't quite so simple as that. According to Meryl Yourish, the laws were originally passed in the immediate post-Nazi period to prevent a Nazi resurgence. That may have been a pragmatic approach at a time when tens of millions of people were dead, and half of Europe occupied. But after the passage of more than sixty years, aren't these countries mature enough and stable enough to handle crackpots unable to recognize reality? If the answer is no, then I don't think any laws will help them.

    Actually, I think a good case can be made that laws like this help spread the very views they're intended to combat. Nazis and their supporters are today a tiny minority. I think it's fair to call them deluded psychos. Because they know they're outside the mainstream and will always remain that way, such people take delight in any opportunity to prove that they're being persecuted by the evil Jewish conspiracy. Laws making it a crime to deny the Holocaust make it far too easy for them to do this, all the while screaming bloody murder about how they're "victims."

    I can't think of a better way to transform an alliance between European Nazis and Islamofascists into a growth industry.

    posted by Eric at 08:27 PM | Comments (1)

    On misidentification of Cultural fluids

    More on the logically muddled "Cultural Marxist" meme (which in an outburst of hysteria I earlier called "penile correctness").

    There is a serious logical error being made by the people using and promulgating the "Cultural Marxist" label. In their haste to create a grab bag "ism" for all the various things they oppose, they've confused tactics with ideological philosophy, and called things "Marxist" which are not Marxism. In addition to promoting ideas thought to be destabilizing to their enemies from time to time, Marxists also availed themselves of things like "Molotov cocktails," the AK-47, and even the atomic bomb. Yet no one would call such weapons "Marxist." Why, then, are they saying it is "Marxist" to promulgate ideas like sex education in conservative societies? Or the nihilistic idea (shared by Hitler) that there are no objective standards, and even no truth? These are no more Communist ideas than is fluoridation of drinking water.

    Anyone remember this guy?


    In the satirical Dr. Strangelove, General Ripper asserted that fluoridation of water was "the most monstrously conceived and dangerous communist plot we have ever had to face."

    Let's assume for the sake of argument that fluoridation of water was in fact a communistic plot to systematically undermine our youth, by sapping them of their precious bodily fluids. I'd be willing to bet that as a military man, even the fictional General Ripper would be the first to recognize that pollution of our fluids was not Marxism per se, but a tactic meant to soften us up for the kill, in much the same manner that we might be softened up by the deliberate introduction of smuggled heroin.

    The "Cultural Marxism" phrase creates another "ism" based on two fundamental errors:

  • 1. That psychological war tactics are features characterizing the ideology which promoted them as strategy; and
  • 2. That all ideas once used by Marxists in this manner are therefore wrong, and evil.
  • According to this logic, if Marxists decided to oppose segregation and support integration based on the tactical belief that integration would destabilize the South in the 1950s, then integration, too, is "Cultural Marxism." And, of course, an evil cultural threat.

    This whole thing is almost too ridiculous for extended comment, but some people will fall for anything. I feel forced to address it twice because I don't think this "Cultural Marxist" stuff (which seems to be taken quite seriously) should be allowed to in any way tarnish Eric S. Raymond's excellent essays or Jeff Goldstein's monumental work. Clearly, incalculable damage has been done by certain cultural memes originally promulgated by Marxists as tactics. But they are all individual ideas independent of Karl Marx and some of them (like sex education, tolerance of homosexuality, and racial integration) -- are arguably not evil, nor even necessarily wrong. Defeating ideas that are wrong is hard work. Ideas are not defeated by misidentifying them with a new label, or lumping them in with unrelated ideas and further mischaracterizing them, but by demonstrating that they are wrong, and why they are wrong.

    Fits of demagoguery, hyperbole, and name calling can have the opposite effect of what's intended.


    Joe McCarthy may have been the best friend the Communist Party USA ever had, but that's another essay.

    My advice to the anti-Western PoMo types has long been not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    (I still think this is good advice even if we disagree on whether the bathwater, or the baby, or neither, are, um, "polluted.")

    PRACTICAL ASIDE: I don't know whether people realize it or not, but telling people that their purely personal lifestyle decisions constitute "Cultural Marxism" is not a good way to make friends, influence people, or win arguments. (It didn't seem to play well in Canada.)

    Moreover when people are called Marxists who aren't Marxists, they're likely to feel quite insulted.

    Might as well call people "Cultural pedophiles". . .

    I'll say this, though. It's a good way to advance identity politics in the name of combating it.

    (Interesting that Lind addressed a Holocaust denial group.)

    UPDATE: My thanks to Jeff Goldstein for linking this post in his marvelous exposé of the Boston Globe's dishonest and cowardly attempt to mischaracterize the "the ultimate Enlightenment value" as "tolerance":

    This process, it should be clear, is simply a domestic variant of Said’s multiculturalism—evident in the press’ thinking behind its refusal to run the Mohammed cartoons—with the “Otherness” Said made off limits to our critical faculties no longer relegated to the exotic; instead, it is now being extended to those deemed “inauthentic” or “hostile” to a particular self-defined and self-regulating identity group here at home.

    Today, citing “tolerance” as the ultimate Enlightenment value, our press is able to justify what amounts to (self) censorship. Fear of offending the Other is paramount, because the western press has no “right” to inflame those to whom they must defer on matters of their own culture.

    Which, sadly—but predictably—plays right into the hands of our enemies as they learn to use the same memetic tools the Soviets used against us to great affect.

    No one says it better, and it needs to be said again and again.

    Jeff asked a question which concerned tormented me for entirely different reasons:

    Is Edward Said the new Alexander Hamilton?
    (I think such questions should only be asked quietly, and among trusted friends. That's because I've heard rumors that they're taking Hamilton off the ten....)

    MORE: Think I'm kidding?


    Betcha ten I'm not!

    UPDATE (02/25/06): Nick Packwood's comment below caused me to bend over backwards in search of "Cultural Marxism," and I actually found that in certain circles, it is alive and well! Marxist cultural revisionism has been revised accordingly in this post.


    UPDATE (03/03/06): Ed Driscoll has more on fluoridation and General Ripper. Bottled water will not save us.

    posted by Eric at 03:25 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBacks (1)

    Fairness is a two way street

    Whether from a national security standpoint, a moral standpoint, or a political standpoint, the situation surrounding the UAE port deal is a mess. The right wing of the Republican Party is pissed, and Hillary Clinton (hastily joined by Bill Frist) now stands to gain. As a wellspring of moral support, Bush now has to look to Jimmy Carter. (Well, now McCain is supporting him too.)

    Bush would have us believe that the United Arab Republic [er, Emirates *] is a mature nation, fully capable of running our ports for us. In particular, he stresses fairness:

    "I'm trying to conduct foreign policy by saying to people of the world, 'We'll treat your fairly,' " Bush said aboard Air Force One. "And after careful scrutiny, we believe this deal is a legitimate deal that will not jeopardize the security of the country, and at the same time, sends a signal that we're willing to treat people fairly."
    Well, now, that sounds fair enough. Everybody likes fairness. I believe in fairness too -- especially in international relations. Fairness, says Bush, is the real issue, not port security:
    He added that it was important for U.S. policy in such transactions to appear even-handed.

    "I really don't understand why it's OK for a British company to operate our ports but not a company from the Middle East," Bush said on Air Force One, "when our experts are convinced that port security is not the issue."

    So let's just stick with fairness for a minute.

    I'm just wondering about those cartoons, and the fact that not only the citizens of the UAE but apparently the government have played a major role in the boycott of Denmark -- and even Norway:

    In the UAE, the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry said that it would be forced to impose a boycott on all Danish and Norwegian products if the Federation of GCC Chambers of Commerce and Industry in Saudi Arabia agrees to coordinate boycott action regionally.
    More here.

    Moreover, the UAE apparently can't even tell the difference between Danish companies and a Kuwaiti company named "Kuwaiti Danish Dairy (KDD)" -- even though that company has had no Danish ownership for 22 years.

    As someone who lived in Berkeley for many years, I've seen a lot of boycotts. Usually, they are coupled with demands, and are directed at a company said to be doing a bad thing. I have no problem with citizens boycotting companies or products, but when a government gets into that, a certain line is crossed, and at minimum there ought to be very specific reasons and specific targets. Simply targeting all products of an entire country because of the actions of one company over which the others had no control is hardly fair.

    I want to be fair to the people of the UAE, though. According to this UAE blogger, the Western media are portraying the boycott as a monolithic effort supported by all UAE citizens, but that simply isn't the case:

    Also, I note with regret that our supermarket chains here in the Emirates are still boycotting Danish products. It would be interesting to see what would happen if one of these chains was brave enough to put these products back out on display. I for one would be filling my freezer with Lurpak. I already have a lifetime's supply of Lego (the greatest thing ever invented for kids of all ages).

    What gets me about this is that foreign media are saying 'people of the Emirates are fully supporting the boycott of Danish goods' when what they actually should be saying is that 'people of the Emirates are being denied the chance to buy Danish goods'. Bit of a difference. Boycotts don't work the way you want them to. Arla Foods, the innocent victim in all this, are losing $1.5 million every day in the Gulf. Quite soon they will have to decide whether to tough it out, or close down their Middle East operations, resulting in the loss of 800 jobs in Saudi Arabia and 200 in the UAE. Did Arla Foods draw or publish the cartoons? Did they have anything to do with them at all? No they did not.

    Does any right-thinking Muslim think this company should be penalised in this way for something they had nothing to do with? Or, for that matter, the government and people of Denmark? Somebody tell me...

    This is not a normal boycott. If people are not given a choice of whether to buy or not buy a product, but if that choice is made for them by centralized authorities like the Dubai Chamber of Commerce, then the unfairness is compounded.

    What kind of government would take all goods from a particular country off the shelves? Is it really fair to liken the UAE to England as Bush did?

    And exactly what is the UAE government's official position on the boycott, anyway? Has anyone from our Chamber of Commerce or State Department asked? (And is it paranoid to wonder whether there might be problems with future shipments of Danish goods through UAE-controlled American ports?)

    Glenn Reynolds has a comprehensive roundup, and astutely notices that it's tough to see the Dubai flap in isolation from the cartoon response:

    When you combine the Dubai thing with the administration's very lame reaction to the Danish cartoons...well, I'm one dissatisfied customer.
    I think that's part of what's going on here. That limp response cost them credibility that they need now.
    I'm no expert in foreign affairs or terrorism, and far be it from me to offer a compromise. But Bush brought up the "fairness" issue, and in my view, if the UAE wants fairness, then it should behave in a fair manner.

    So should Bush.

    I think this whole mess presents an opportunity for Bush to reassert the moral authority and credibility his administration lost, and ask UAE to show a little fairness to Denmark.

    MORE: Here's how I see the debate: should governments that sponsor boycotts of other countries in an attempt to control the editorial content of newspapers be put in charge of American ports?

    I'm no constitutional scholar, and I don't know whether such an action might have a chilling effect on free speech. But is this the best way for the United States to show moral leadership?

    UPDATE (02/23/06): After speaking with Austin Bay and Jim Dunnigan, Glenn Reynolds has changed his mind on the port deal, and explains why. I admire that kind of honesty and courage -- especially when it comes from someone with a high profile. (That's because there's an irrational rule in some circles that important men are not supposed to ever admit mistakes or change their minds about anything.)

    I listened to the podcast interview which underlies Glenn's change-of-mind, and I understand the bottom line:

    "UAE is our best ally over there."

    While I don't think it's unreasonable to ask UAE to show a little fairness to Denmark, looking over this post, I see that I never specifically opposed the port deal; my concern is with the outrageously unfair nature of the boycott.

    UAE, in my view, is seeking to impose its religious standards on the West.

    Not that anyone in a position of power would give a rat's ass what I think or whether I changed my mind about anything... Or ever made it up to begin with! That's not just my low self esteem talking; it's reality. While I hate to sound like a Decon, the fact is, whether an opinion has consequences depends not on the opinion, but on the importance (and power, ugh!) of the one voicing it. The higher the latter in the chain of importance, the less controversial his opinions are likely to be. (Hence privates -- even colonels -- say things that a general would never dare say, and so on.)

    In any case, we're in a serious war in which our longterm survival may be at stake. Realpolitik is sometimes more important than largely idealistic (if not sentimental) concerns.

    If like me, you're, um, squeamish about the UAE, then BUY DANISH!

    MORE: James Lileks reflects on his thoughts about the port deal, and adds this:

    I hope all my fears turn out to be nonsense. Most will.
    I think it was Norman Cousins (with whose pacifism I disagree) who said that if you write down your daily fears for a week and put them in a box, then wait a week and open the box, you'll find that 90% of them were groundless. (Of course, it's easier to be someone else's Monday morning quarterback.)

    * UPDATE (03/10/06): One of my sharper commenters has pointed out that I accidentally used "Republic" above instead of "Emirates." There's absolutely no excuse at all for such a monumental error. Not only I do know the difference between the United Arab Emirates and the United Arab Republic, and I visited the latter place in 1972.

    This is all vitally important, right?

    posted by Eric at 07:09 AM | Comments (2)

    I have a right to afford your house!

    According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Bryn Mawr Hospital (a local hospital that wants to expand) has been acquiring property by using the old-fashioned, pre-Kelo method of paying people whatever it takes to get them to sell! The most recent price paid by the hospital for what are run-down old rowhouses (I've seen them) was $300,000. The hospital intends to tear them down -- a fact which does not please local activists, who accuse the hospital of destroying something they call "affordable housing":

    The loss of affordable housing in Bryn Mawr, resident Amanda Bergson-Shilcock said, costs "the opportunity to live in safe neighborhoods with good schools and tight community bonds."

    Hank Wilson, president of the Bryn Mawr Civic Association, said that "in one shot," the community would lose 25 percent of its affordable housing in the planned demolition. However, Bob Duncan, director of township building and planning, put that figure at "roughly 10 percent," about 50 of about 450 residences in the downtown area.

    "The real story here," said Bergson-Shilcock, who has stayed in her Summit Grove twin, is that "the teachers, police officers, firefighters and other sorts of community contributors can't afford to live here anymore."

    In the meantime, those who have not left are in a bind. If they eventually sell, they'll likely end up living in less desirable housing and paying higher mortgages and taxes.

    "People want to stay where they are, debt-free, the mortgage paid off," said Central Avenue holdout Nicholas Lyons, organist at St. Francis Xavier the Oratory Church in Philadelphia.

    The hospital notes, and Zelov agrees, that those who left went willingly. "Most were quite pleased with the purchase price," Wells said.

    It was when the hospital doubled its 2001 offer of $125,000 for rowhouses and $145,000 for twins that "people began leaving in the middle of the night," Giersch said, laughing. She said the hospital recently bought a rowhouse across the street for $300,000.

    "Three hundred thousand doesn't get much in Lower Merion," said Giersch, who paid $36,000 in 1979 for her house. "Of the 13... owners who sold on Central Avenue, only two were able to relocate in Bryn Mawr."

    True, $300,000 doesn't get much in Lower Merion -- but a cheap rowhouse is certainly not "much" to begin with.

    While I don't know whether these people are being pressured to sell, I'm glad to see the hospital going about this the way it's supposed to be done. Buy the place legitimately, for what it's worth.

    But that's not my primary question. What I want to know is, what the hell is meant by "affordable housing"? If a house is placed on the market and it sells, or if an owner agrees to an offer to buy it, doesn't that mean that the buyer could afford to buy it -- and that therefore by definition it was affordable? If the word "affordable" means anything at all, then all housing for which buyers can be found is affordable. And, of course, houses that don't sell because the price is too high would be unaffordable. Because it usually isn't in a seller's interest to not sell a house, this generally means that prices of unaffordable housing will be lowered until it becomes affordable.

    Somehow, I don't think this what the activists mean by the term. I suspect that what they mean is housing with a price low enough that certain people can afford it. The article specifically refers to "teachers, police officers, firefighters and other sorts of community contributors." I'm not about to conduct detailed research as to the current salary levels for teachers in the Lower Merion School District, but according to this site, the average teacher salary in 1998 was $64,900, and I'd be willing to bet they've gone up since then. Can a Bryn Mawr schoolteacher afford one of the $300,000 rowhouses? Assuming a 30% of that salary goes towards a mortage payment, such a teacher, if unmarried, could afford to pay around 21,000 per year on a mortgage. With a 30 year loan of $300,000 at 5.75%, the monthly payment would be $1,751, which seems pretty close to me.

    While it's true that Bryn Mawr has become very expensive (according to the last census data, the average Bryn Mawr home cost $472,588), the fact is that $300,000 can buy a much better house somewhere else, within driving distance. (The average price in nearby Norristown was $157,403.) I seriously doubt that any of these sellers would be crazy enough to buy another Bryn Mawr rowhouse for $300,000, though, and I think attaching the "affordable housing" label to them is very misleading. Unless, of course, the goal is for the government to fix prices on real estate. But if it is, why don't they say so?

    Do teachers or police officers (or other "community contributors") have any particular right to be able to "afford" houses in Bryn Mawr?

    For that matter, does anyone? Do I have a right to live in Manhattan at a price I can afford?

    According to the logic of the "affordable housing" people, I guess I do.

    No wonder activists love undefinable communitarian phraseology.

    The problem is, there's no way to make something "affordable" to someone who can't otherwise afford it unless someone else pays. What they're not saying is exactly who'd end up having to pay -- or who'd end up with the privilege of getting an "affordable" house.

    posted by Eric at 04:17 PM | Comments (9)

    Is the Cold War over yet?

    Via Pajamas Media, I found what I consider a must-read post -- "Gramscian Damage" by Eric S. Raymond. His thesis is that the United States intelligentsia is still plagued by pervasive and poisonous memes he calls "suicidalism" -- aggravated by a failure to recognize that they're still dealing with vintage Communist propaganda left over from Soviet psychological warfare ops. Here's a list of the memes:

  • There is no truth, only competing agendas.

  • All Western (and especially American) claims to moral superiority over Communism/Fascism/Islam are vitiated by the West’s history of racism and colonialism.
  • There are no objective standards by which we may judge one culture to be better than another. Anyone who claims that there are such standards is an evil oppressor.
  • The prosperity of the West is built on ruthless exploitation of the Third World; therefore Westerners actually deserve to be impoverished and miserable.
  • Crime is the fault of society, not the individual criminal. Poor criminals are entitled to what they take. Submitting to criminal predation is more virtuous than resisting it.
  • The poor are victims. Criminals are victims. And only victims are virtuous. Therefore only the poor and criminals are virtuous. (Rich people can borrow some virtue by identifying with poor people and criminals.)
  • For a virtuous person, violence and war are never justified. It is always better to be a victim than to fight, or even to defend oneself. But ‘oppressed’ people are allowed to use violence anyway; they are merely reflecting the evil of their oppressors.
  • When confronted with terror, the only moral course for a Westerner is to apologize for past sins, understand the terrorist’s point of view, and make concessions.
  • The core of the problem? Identity politics:
    While the espionage apparatus of the Soviet Union didn’t outlast it, their memetic weapons did. These memes are now coming near to crippling our culture’s response to Islamic terrorism.

    In this context, Jeff Goldstein has written eloquently about perhaps the most long-term dangerous of these memes — the idea that rights inhere not in sovereign individuals but identity groups, and that every identity group (except the “ruling class”) has the right to suppress criticism of itself through political means up to and including violence.

    Mark Brittingham (aka WildMonk) has written an excellent essay on the roots of this doctrine in Rousseau and the post-Enlightenment Romantics. It has elsewhere been analyzed and labeled as transnational progressivism. The Soviets didn’t invent it, but they promoted it heavily in a deliberate — and appallingly successful — attempt to weaken the Lockean, individualist tradition that underlies classical liberalism and the U.S. Constitution. The reduction of Western politics to a bitter war for government favor between ascriptive identity groups is exactly the outcome the Soviets wanted and worked hard to arrange.

    Anyone who dislikes identity politics (long a pet peeve of this blog) owes it to himself to read the whole thing, which is more optimistic than you might think:
    I think there is still an excellent chance that the West can recover from suicidalism without going through a fevered fascist episode and waging a genocidal war. But to do so, we have to do more than recognize Stalin’s memes; we have to reject them. We have to eject postmodern leftism from our universities, transnational progressivism from our politics, and volk-Marxism from our media.

    The process won’t be pretty. But I fear that if the rest of us don’t hound the po-mo Left and its useful idiots out of public life with attack and ridicule and shunning, the hard Right will sooner or later get the power to do it by means that include a lot of killing. I don’t want to live in that future, and I don’t think any of my readers do, either. If we want to save a liberal, tolerant civilization for our children, we’d better get to work.

    I couldn't agree more.

    In my darker moments, I worry that the United States could be headed for a second Civil War over this stuff.

    Logic once saved my life, though, and I like to think it might save the country from such madness.

    (What would be a nice start would be to get the people who believe there's no truth -- and no objective standards -- to simply apply this self canceling logic to their own thinking. The problem is a stubborn belief that their ideas only apply to others.)

    UPDATE: I'm really honored that Jeff Goldstein would see fit to link this post -- because he's the guy who's done the heavy lifting in this very tedious area of deconstructing the PoMo Deconstructionists. I'm like your typical eyeball-rolling college student who knows the PoMos are full of crap and refuses to pay attention to them. Trouble is, that's not enough! When I was involved in Berkeley politics, I noticed that reason the hard left always "won" was not because they were right but because they wore down their opponents with interminable drivel (intelligible only to them) which went on until the wee hours of the morning. Normal people go home and let them have their way. Jeff Goldstein, God bless him, is one of those precious few who refuses to shut up or go home. Slugging through the Decons' deliberately unintelligible and incomprehensible epistemological gobbledygook is hard, thankless work. How Jeff manages to do it I don't know, but just knowing he's there makes it easier for me to sleep at night. Consider this: if what Eric S. Raymond says is true ("if the rest of us don’t hound the po-mo Left and its useful idiots out of public life with attack and ridicule and shunning, the hard Right will sooner or later get the power to do it by means that include a lot of killing") Jeff's work might actually be saving lives. (Not the lives of people likely to say thank you, either...)

    UPDATE: I don't think the fight against PoMo nonsense is helped much by the view promulgated by certain moral conservatives that things like sex education and tolerance for homosexuality constitute a sinister overarching meme they call "Cultural Marxism":

    In 1919, Lukacs asked, “Who will save us from Western civilization?” That same year, when he became Deputy Commissar for Culture in the short-lived Bolshevik Bela Kun government in Hungary, one of Lukacs’s first acts was to introduce sex education into Hungary’s public schools. He knew that if he could destroy the West’s traditional sexual morals, he would have taken a giant step toward destroying Western culture itself.
    There are a lot of unsupported assumptions there. While Lukacs was a Communist, does that make sex education communistic? Hitler and the Nazis liked uniforms and modern roads; are these things "Cultural fascism"?

    ....the Frankfurt School crossed Marx with Freud, taking from psychology the technique of psychological conditioning. Today, when the cultural Marxists want to do something like “normalize” homosexuality, they do not argue the point philosophically. They just beam television show after television show into every American home where the only normal-seeming white male is a homosexual (the Frankfurt School’s key people spent the war years in Hollywood).
    Why is "normalize" in quotes? Any idea? Is the author suggesting that homosexuality is abnormal, but that "normalizing" it is Marxist?

    Gee. Until today I never knew the Greeks and the Romans were Cultural Marxists.


    After World War II ended, most members of the Frankfurt School went back to Germany. But Herbert Marcuse stayed in America. He took the highly abstract works of other Frankfurt School members and repackaged them in ways college students could read and understand. In his book “Eros and Civilization,” he argued that by freeing sex from any restraints, we could elevate the pleasure principle over the reality principle and create a society with no work, only play (Marcuse coined the phrase, “Make love, not war”). Marcuse also argued for what he called “liberating tolerance,” which he defined as tolerance for all ideas coming from the Left and intolerance for any ideas coming from the Right. In the 1960s, Marcuse became the chief “guru” of the New Left, and he injected the cultural Marxism of the Frankfurt School into the baby boom generation, to the point where it is now America’s state ideology.
    "Make love, not war" is an inherently illogical phrase I don't agree with, but according to Marcuse's grandson Harold Marcuse, Marcuse never coined the phrase:
    I am fairly sure Herbert did not coin this phrase, but if he did, power to him!
    To borrow from the PoMo lingo, I guess that means he might as well have said it because he agreed with it.

    Lind concludes:

    The next conservatism should unmask multiculturalism and Political Correctness and tell the American people what they really are: cultural Marxism. Its goal remains what Lukacs and Gramsci set in 1919: destroying Western culture and the Christian religion. It has already made vast strides toward that goal. But if the average American found out that Political Correctness is a form of Marxism, different from the Marxism of the Soviet Union but Marxism nonetheless, it would be in trouble. The next conservatism needs to reveal the man behind the curtain - - old Karl Marx himself.
    Notice the hopeless blurring of distinctions which is accomplished by the creation of a single code phrase -- "Cultural Marxism" -- to describe ideas neither related to each other nor specifically derived from Marx. For starters, Communists never liked homosexuality.... I think the intent is to conveniently lump all enemies together while torturing the meaning of words. In short, what the Deconstructionists do.

    I think it's better to attack bad ideas than lump people into categories and put words in their mouth. For what it's worth, I don't think Western Civilization any more equates with fundamentalist Christianity than does sexual freedom with "Cultural Marxism."

    Perhaps the purveyors of that phrase are interested in waging war over sexuality. I'm not -- and I don't think most Americans are.

    (I'm suprised they didn't mention that old cultural bugaboo of drugs, but I think they're probably aware that recreational drug use is almost as old as recreational sex.)

    MORE: It's probably worth noting that the author of the above piece on "Cultural Marxism" has written extensively about "Fourth Generation Warfare." I don't like to put words in anyone's mouth, so I can't speak for Mr. Lind, but elsewhere this is defined thusly:

    ....war between special interest groups, races, and religions. It is war that seeks to avoid our military power and neutralize it by dividing us from within.

    Sounds like more code language to me. Why can't they just call it "Civil War"? Do I have to choose sides now or can I wait?

    I'd rather hang onto my sense of humor about these things as long as I can, and while I think I've frequently stated the case against the forces of political correctness, I'm increasingly worried by what I can only describe as the forces of penile correctness.

    AND MORE: Wikipedia describes Lind (who writes for Antiwar.com) as "Closely linked to the Libertarian philosophy." (Not close enough for my comfort.)

    And Daily Kos linked favorably Lind's demand for a pullout from Iraq. Elsewhere, Lind declares both the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars lost.

    posted by Eric at 11:32 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBacks (1)

    Taking elections seriously. (A sober reassessment.)

    Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell believes that requiring voters to show ID at the polls constitutes "disenfranchisement":

    With the National Constitution Center as his backdrop, Gov. Rendell used Presidents' Day to announce his veto of a bill that would require all voters to show identification whenever they go to the polls.

    Seated in front of a dozen of the city's African American leaders, Democrats all, Rendell said at a news conference that House Bill 1318 would have the effect of denying some people their right to vote.

    As it happens, the bill Rendell vetoed was itself a watered down version of an earlier bill which would have required photo ID, and blocked felons from voting:
    Democratic opponents in the General Assembly charged that the bill would prevent thousands from voting, particularly minorities, seniors, and low-income residents, by requiring identification and restricting polling places. The original bill would have prohibited felons on probation or parole from voting and would have said that only photo IDs were acceptable. Those provisions were scrapped in a compromise move to ensure the bill's passage.

    "You need identification to get into an office building, to get on a plane, to write a check, to use any sort of government service," said Eileen Melvin, who chairs the state Republican Party. "Why shouldn't it be required for something as important as voting?"

    I'm not much of an ID freak (I vehemently oppose any national ID system), but I think it's fair to point out that in the crazy world we live in, some activities are taken more seriously than others. The more serious the activity, why, the more likely they're going to require ID.

    Take cigarette smoking, for example. It's infinitely more serious than voting. Not only are photo IDs required, Pennsylvania makes a fetish out of it, even spelling out the steps that stores must take in order to show compliance with the law:

    a requirement that an employee ask an individual who appears to be 25 years of age or younger for a valid photo identification as proof of age prior to making a sale of tobacco products; a list of all types of acceptable photo identification; a list of factors to be examined in the photo identification, including photo likeness, birth date, expiration date, bumps, tears or other damage and signature; a requirement that if the photo identification is missing anything, it is not valid and cannot be accepted as proof of age for the sale of tobacco products (a second photo identification may be required to make the sale of tobacco products with questions referred to the manager); and a disciplinary policy which includes employee counseling and suspension for failure to require valid photo identification and dismissal for repeat improper sales.
    There's more, but it's boring unless you run a store.

    Another activity Governor Rendell takes much more seriously than voting is the sale of wine on the Internet:

    Gov. Rendell is opposing direct shipments of wine to Pennsylvania residents, a move sure to disappoint wine aficionados and many of the state's 100-plus wineries.

    "We all want to maintain the state system," said Rendell's spokeswoman, Kate Philips, citing support from Democratic and Republican legislators. To do that, "direct sales... should go through the State Stores," she said.

    Pennsylvanians have the right to special-order out-of-state wines that the state system does not carry, but many consumers see it as a cumbersome and expensive system. They must pay an 18 percent state tax, a 6 percent sales tax, and a $4.50 handling fee and pick the wine up at a state liquor store.

    Forcing Pennsylvania wineries to go through the same system would likely bring the state into compliance with last year's U.S. Supreme Court ruling, which said a state may not allow its own wineries to ship directly to consumers if it prohibits out-of-state wineries from doing so.

    Running all sales through State Stores also would protect a huge source of state revenue. In fiscal 2004-05, the Liquor Control Board generated $380 million in profit and taxes on sales of $1.5 billion.

    Philips described the administration's proposal as "very preliminary" but said sending all shipments through State Stores was necessary to keep alcohol out of the hands of minors.

    One of the arguments used in support of Pennsylvania's antediluvian "State Store" system, of course, is that employees of the state bureaucracy do a better job of ID checking:
    "If you want to have a control system and really do believe you do a superior job of at-the-counter surveillance of underage drinking and also collect every nickel of tax on every bottle, direct shipping knocks the hell out of all of that..."
    The State Store employees' union has almost singlehandedly blocked every effort at privatizing liquor sales in Pennsylvania (and don't get me started on the "beer distributor" nonsense, which requires buyers of beer to buy by the case at specially licensed outlets...)

    But I recognize the reality of the situation. No one who has a government job wants to lose it. Nor do we want to lose people whose valuable skills as ID checkers have been demonstrated. So I propose that Pennsylvania put the employees of the State Store system to work at the polls, doing what they do best. Better yet, close the liquor stores on Election Day, so no one will grumble about lost wages.

    One second thought, that might be too harsh. It's unfair to punish drinkers just because there's an election, so, as a compromise measure, why not allow only people who have actually voted to buy liquor? We'd already have the state store employees on duty at the polls, so it would be easy to supply them with special State Store "I VOTED SO I CAN DRINK!" tickets to hand out.

    We've all heard of the "Motor Voter" laws; why not a "Voter Drinker" law?

    You don't vote, you don't drink!

    Hell, I think this might dramatically increase voter participation -- something we all want, right?

    Isn't that just the opposite of disenfranchisement?

    posted by Eric at 07:43 AM | Comments (2)

    First they came for Piglet . . .

    Glenn Reynolds's republication of the Jyllands cartoons stands in stark contrast to the rank cowardice (and fear) displayed by most of the MSM. I've commented on the fear before, and I admire the Rocky Mountain News and the Philadelphia Inquirer for not caving to it.

    Because once it starts, when and where does it end? As I asked in an earlier post,

    How long will it be before disagreeing with Imams about homosexuality or women's rights will be called "persecution" or "insulting Islam"?
    Not long. In fact, it's already happening.

    Here's Andrew Sullivan, reflecting on on Bob Wright's call for self censorship in the context of Muslim calls for attacking gays:

    The world has been terrorized for decades now by murderers who specifically cite Muhammad as their inspiration. It is completely legitimate speech to point that out. Not to point it out - to remain silent in the face of it - is an act of denial.The reason that so many Muslims are offended is not just because any depiction of Muhammad is taboo; but because the conflation of Islam and murder is now firmly fixed in the global consciousness. I can understand why the repetition of that fact should upset many peace-loving Muslims. But that is not the fault of cartoonists. It's the fault of the Muslim terrorists, and the failure of mainstream Muslims to condemn them sufficiently, ostracize them completely, and prevent them effectively from further mayhem. At this point, in my judgment, further appeasement of these religious terrorists is counter-productive - and actually enables the extremists in their simultaneous intimidation of moderate Muslims.

    To take another example: Would Bob urge the gay marchers in Moscow not to parade, because it offends so many religious people, Orthodox and Muslim? Should gay people censor themselves to avoid offending others? Should women who object to the brutal subjugation of half the human race in many Islamic societies silence themselves? Maybe Bob would indeed argue for self-censorship in these cases. Maybe he wouldn't. After all, Islam is very clear about the fate of homosexuals and the role of women. But self-censorship is a slippery slope. Practising it after acts of mass murder runs a real risk of inviting more of them. As ACT-UP used to say, "Silence = Death." Which is why the Islamists want as much silence as possible.

    (Via Ann Althouse.)

    I'm glad I published the cartoons. I don't know if I got every single one of them, but I think it was enough to give the general idea.

    Let's see.

    Looking back over the stuff I've posted at Classical Values, I'm a bit surprised to see that it all started with a post about Piglet, back in October. That's when I published the first Jyllands Muhammad cartoon. Nobody seemed to notice or care about the latter at the time. People were more concerned about Piglet. That was then. Everybody's forgotten about Piglet now.

    At the time, I contributed my own little cut and paste:


    Months went by before I republished another Jyllands cartoon -- this one showing Muhammad telling the suicide bombers they'd run out of virgins. At the same time, I speculated that the Philadelphia Inquirer wouldn't run the cartoons, and lo and behold they did! So I cut and pasted the Inky's hard copy of Muhammad with the bomb in the turban, plus more.

    What really galled me was to see that the Jyllands cartoons were published by an Egyptian newspaper in September. About the same time as the British crackdown on Piglet.

    So from what I can see, it all started with the Piglet crackdown appeasement.

    What to do now? I guess there are the tiny Muhammad-based emoticons, which seem to be the latest outrage:

    Muhammad (((:~{>

    Muhammad playing Little Orphan Annie

    Muhammad as a pirate

    Muhammad on a bad turban day

    Muhammad with sand in his eye

    Muhammad wearing sunglasses

    Muhammad giving the raspberry.

    Giving Muhammad the raspberry.


    No idea whether the little pictures will actually appear. But it isn't the quality of the depictions. It's the thought that counts.

    Every depiction, however small, is a statement against appeasement.

    An act of love, even.

    Just ask Piglet!


    P(iglet) B(e) U(nto) H(im)

    posted by Eric at 08:25 PM | Comments (1)

    flood of litigation

    The following was sent to me as an email attachment:

    Ray Nagin, the mayor of New Orleans, was asked his views on Roe vs. Wade.

    He said he didn't care how people got back to their houses.


    Well, Mayor Nagin is hardly known for having a dry sense of humor....

    posted by Eric at 01:27 PM

    Anti-reality-based theory?

    When I opined earlier that "vegans have a right to be vegans" but that I have a problem once they try to prevent me from eating meat, I was touching on a problem area surrounding the cultural debate.

    What someone eats is, in my view, as much a personal decision as what someone does sexually. No matter how unwholesome, unhealthy or even ungodly the diet, it really isn't the moral business of anyone or the legal business of the government. Unless, of course, the eating or the sex infringes on the rights of others. There is no more right to steal or commit violence in order to eat (or to eat children) than there is to do these things in order to satisfy one's sexual desires.

    The logic of this has always struck me as so obvious as to not require extended discussion. But in the case of vegans (at least radical vegans) there is an emergent class of diet proseyltizers who believe the diets of others are their business, and whose diets have morphed into what might be called "lifestyles" roughly analogous to those based on sexuality.

    Veganism is more than a diet, and more than a choice; it is a theory. As such, it seeks to justify and self aggrandize in the same way as certain other lifestyle theories. Fortunately, we have not reached the point where laws are proposed forbidding discrimination against vegans, and so far as I know, landlords and employers are still free to refuse housing and employment to people who don't share their tastes in food.* Nor is there any movement to eliminate "carnivo-normative" phraseology from the language. I can freely exclaim "Hot dog!" just as I can assert that "there's no meat in your argument!" without being accused of assuming the superiority of a meat-eating diet. Calling someone a "couch potato" is not seen as a putdown of vegetarianism.

    [Interruptional note: To my horror, I just discovered that "meat-centric" is already in use! Which proves my point.]

    In logic, what's the difference between veganism and constitutionally protected lifestyles based on religious or sexual practices? Is it that veganism is chosen? Actually, vegans assert that only vegetarianism should be chosen because it is man's natural diet, and that it is meat-eating which is artificially chosen -- much to the detriment of the health of the meat-eaters.

    But aren't we talking about human freedom based on individual choices? Why should it matter whether or not something is healthy or unhealthy, or whether someone pronounces it natural or unnatural?

    In the debate over human sexuality, much time (in my view) is wasted debating whether or not individuals are "born that way," and I am sure a similar claim could be made by vegetarians that man is born with an innate preference for vegetables.

    If conduct is legal and up to an individual, why does this matter? If I successfully demonstrated that near-sighted people are "born that way," does that make the wearing of glasses wrong? Does it make doing without them superior? Are deaf people who refuse treatment superior to deaf people who obtain cochlear implants, or hearing aids? Why?

    My concern (which I touched on earlier) is that the obsession with theories can cause people to forget that theories are not dispositive or controlling of human behavior in a free society. At least, I don't think they should be.

    It never ceases to amaze me how much time is spent debating whether or not homosexuality is inborn or chosen. Personally, I think that such conduct can be freely chosen, but that the preference for it is often but not always present from birth -- but what I think is irrelevant, because I see the larger debate as involving human freedom. To seek explanations for something that people do which it is their right to do is to imply that it needs an explanation in order to be done. Or in order to be worthy of protection or respect.

    Thus, according to the logic of this debate, whether or not gay people are entitled to "be that way" depends on whether they were born that way. (And if one engages in homosexual acts, one's existence is subordinated to theory, and one is said to "be" that way, even to have been "born" that way.) This is not said about innumerable other legal activities, and little time is wasted arguing over whether human actions or activities are conditions. Yet in the case of sexuality, considerations of conduct which ought to be based on freedom are often subordinated to theory. Few things could be more condescending.

    From a practical standpoint, I see a larger danger in allowing theory to swallow debates involving rights, as rights can be lost that way unnecessarily. Even constitutional rights.

    A constitutional analogy to the forced "born versus chosen" debate can be found in the competing theories of "the living breathing constitution" which is set up in opposition to the doctrine of "original intent." According to the former theory, the constitution can be amended to say whatever we want it to say without regard to (even in spite of) what it actually says.

    That the founders never contemplated things like automatic weapons or the Internet doesn't bother me at all, even though I favor original intent, but that's not the point here. My complaint is that so much time is spent arguing these theories in opposition that unthinking people tend to assume that they are mutually exclusive, and that one should "win" in a sort of dialectical struggle, because one necessarily negates and cancels out the other.

    That's not necessarily true. Even if we posit that the constitution is a living breathing document which can mean whatever we want it to mean, then if we think the constitution means what was originally intended, isn't that what we want it to mean? Does not living and breathing include at minimum what was originally there? If it can "change with the times," does that mean that such change must occur only in a certain direction?

    I don't see why, but I think confusion is created and reality is swallowed when too much faith is placed in theories as opposed to reality.

    I haven't even touched on race or sex.

    (I'd rather not, because theory gets in the way.)

    * Anyone who thinks my vegan analogy is extravagant should think again. In a case in which a vegan was denied a job which would have required him to be vaccinated, the California Court of Appeal ruled against plaintiff's contention that veganism is not a protected category as would be a religion.

    Not yet..... But at least one law review article proposes that it should be. And the plaintiff's theory is spreading. That's because theory trumps reality.


    I think this may touch on the struggle between communitarianism and individuality. (Control by subordination of the individual to groupthink, even?) I guess that's another essay.

    Um, maybe not.

    A HARD-TO-SWALLOW AFTERTHOUGHT: What most bothers me about the above essay is that I had hoped to use veganism as a hypothetical argument ad absurdum, only to discover that my "absurd" hypothetical is not absurd, but real!

    (I'm glad I don't teach law school.....)

    MORE: Are some "sexual orientations" more protected than others? I don't know about the United States, but in Canada the answer seems to be "NO" (well, so far):

    VANCOUVER, January 5, 2006 (LifeSiteNews.com) - The BC Human Rights Tribunal is being asked to discover a new “sexual orientation.” The Vancouver Sun reported December 30, that a self-described “pagan” is accusing the Vancouver police of discrimination for refusing him a license to drive a limousine because of his involvement in the “bondage and discipline, domination and submission, sadism and masochism” (BDSM) underworld.

    A Vancouver man, Peter Hayes, has accused the Vancouver police of illegal discrimination because of his involvement in BDSM. Hayes says that he lost a potential job as a limousine driver when police refused him a chauffeur's permit and has taken his case to the Human Rights Tribunal.

    The Tribunal’s Lindsay M. Lyster wrote an 18 page preliminary decision saying that the complaint can go forward. She said that while she did not completely understand the “precise nature of Mr. Hayes' lifestyle, practices and preferences,” they ought to be investigated as to whether they fall under the definition of sexual orientation, and therefore of the protection of human rights legislation.

    Lyster wrote that she did not understand the meaning “of the parties' use of the term BDSM or other related terms.” Despite this, she believed “that Mr. Hayes suffered an adverse impact as a result of the respondents' actions is, on the facts alleged, clear, as he was denied a chauffeur's permit and lost the opportunity to work.”

    The police department said, “In our submission, sexual orientation is separate and distinct from preferences or behaviours while engaging in sex. The legislature has not gone so far as to prohibit discrimination on the basis of preferences or behaviour.”

    The issue of legal protection for “sexual orientation,” however, is a vexed one since when such legislation was introduced, a clear definition was deliberately withheld.

    In the United States, such laws might very well be unconstitutionally vague. What is "sexual orientation"? We hear the phrase bandied about, and most of the time people use the term to describe homosexuality. But I don't see why a preference for S&M or B&D isn't as much a preference as anything else. Is there something about the sex of the partner which is more important than the nature of the sex? Why? What about people who care less about the sex of the partners than about age? Or what they want to do?

    If laws forbidding discrimination based on "sexual orientation" are intended to include only homosexuality, why not state that clearly in the law?

    posted by Eric at 09:01 AM | Comments (6)

    An otter disgrace!

    A BBC story claims that the carelessness of cat owners in California is killing off sea otters like this adorable little guy:


    Seems reasonable enough. And this call comes from a genuine scientist:

    The Californian researcher has called for owners to keep their cats indoors.

    Cat faeces carrying Toxoplasma parasites wash into US waterways and then into the sea where they can infect otters, causing brain disease.

    But the culprit, toxoplasma gondi, called a 'cat parasite' by the reporter, is no such thing, and the researcher's theory (presented initially as fact) doesn't seem to me to pass muster.

    It seems rather like a false inference: people are commonly infected while changing kitty litter, ergo cat feces is the culprit. Clearly then the feces of cats out of doors is flowing to the sea and infecting otters.

    But this, from the reearcher, tipped me off:

    "But by keeping the cats indoors, we reduce the chance they're going to get infected by eating infected birds or rodents, and the chance they are going to shed their faeces outdoors."

    Eating infected birds or rodents? I thought it was a 'cat parasite,' or thatcats were necessarily the cause. What birds or rodents might be carrying toxoplasma gondi?

    As it happens, probably all of them:

    Toxoplasmosis is a common disease found in birds and mammals across North America. The infection is caused by a parasite called toxoplasma gondi and affects 10 to 20 out of every 100 people in North America by the time they are adults.

    At this point I'm beginning to wonder if sea birds--let's say gulls--might be infected. And I wonder too whether otters eat gulls. And don't you think gulls might be more populus where there are people and a steady supply of food? Maybe in populated areas, like the urban centers in California mentioned in the BBC article?

    That sounds more logical than this:

    Dr Conrad has found that otters are more often infected with the single-celled parasite Toxoplasma gondii near urban centres with heavy water outflow from the land.

    "What appears to be happening is that cats deposit their faeces - with the parasite - on land. When rainfall comes it washes that into waterways and the fresh water takes it into the ocean."

    Once the parasite reaches the sea, it may be concentrated in mussels, oysters and clams, a major source of food for some otters.

    "For the sea otters we don't exactly know how it gets in," said Dr Conrad, "but it must be through ingestion.

    "Because so many are dying, we are looking for things that concentrate the infection."

    That's a lot of guesswork and not a lot of science.

    My skepticism has found confirmation in the following:

    Cats were accused of spreading toxoplasmosis to California sea otters and dogs were accused of spreading campylobacter bacteria throughout Britain in new studies released in early July 2002­­but while the allegations were quickly amplified by mainstream news media and picked up by anti-feral cat and anti-street dog activists, the research behind each study overlooked key dietary factors in the transmission of the diseases.

    Marine biologist Melissa Miller and colleagues with the Wildlife Health Center at the Davis campus of the University of California claimed in the July edition of the International Journal for Parasitology to have traced an ongoing seven-year decline in the population of endangered California sea otters to the fecal parasite Toxoplasma gondi. They found the microscopic parasite in 66 of the 107 sea otter carcasses they examined.

    As domestic housecats are the only animal known to transmit Toxoplasma gondi in oocyst form, the form in which it could infect sea otters via water pollution, Miller et al concluded that the sea otters are in effect being killed by surface runoff contaminated by outdoor cats and/or untreated sewage containing feces from litterboxes.

    However, Toxoplasma gondi is most often transmitted by ingesting raw meat from another infected animal. Cats typically acquire Toxoplasma gondi from eating mice and birds. Gulls may be the most voracious major mouse predator along the California coast, and California sea otters routinely kill and eat gulls they stalk from underwater, as well as scavenging fresh gull carcasses.

    Miller et al did not even mention the possibility that the sea otters, like cats, may be infecting themselves through their own predatory habits.

    But that was written in September ... of 2002! Can't the BBC check its facts and scrutinize the positions of lone researchers before reporting one person's agenda as the fruits of scientific research?

    It's shocking that the UC Davis researchers are still peddling this nonsense four years after publication of an inconclusive study and a virtual smackdown courtesy of Animal People Magazine.

    Neither I nor Animal People needed research grants to reach that conclusion.

    posted by Dennis at 07:51 AM | Comments (2)

    A convenience I can live without!

    Here's a quick piece of advice for travelers, based on two unpleasant recent hotel experiences.

    Before settling in and getting too comfortable, look around to determine whether your room contains one of these:


    If it does, before you do anything else, UNPLUG IT IMMEDIATELY!

    Twice now, I have been awakened at ungodly hours by these things, which are prone to set themselves off at whatever time the last inane idiot set them for. These clocks are not user-friendly, and trying to un-set them does not always work. (I did that with one, only to discover at 05:00 a.m. that it also had an "ALARM 2" feature!)

    It's a hell of a thing when you think you're going to have a night of peace and quiet only to be rudely awakened by something which is supposed to be a "convenience for our guests."

    Anyway, twice is enough. I've learned the hard way.

    Never again!

    posted by Eric at 10:21 AM | Comments (3)

    no time for anti-theory theorizing

    Are actions increasingly being subordinated to and subsumed by theory?

    More and more I'm wondering....

    I don't have time for an essay right now, so I guess this will have to be an open loose thread.

    MORE: Oh what the hell. I don't have time for an essay, but here's a photo I took earlier:


    posted by Eric at 11:28 AM

    On the road

    I'm in Washington DC right now, and blogging will probably be light for the next couple of days.

    If I'm lucky I'll squeeze a quick post in now and then, and if I'm really lucky Justin or Dennis (or maybe even a special guest) will write something.

    posted by Eric at 11:26 PM

    new standards in accounting

    Does Dick Cheney's decision to talk to a "friendly" news agency (Fox) about his hunting accident have constitutional dimensions?

    ...some Democrats and competing broadcasters charged that Cheney chose to speak only with Fox News because of a perception that the cable channel is sympathetic to the Republican administration. They called for the vice president to hold a news conference with the rest of the media.

    "Now that he feels forced to talk, he wants to restrict the discussion to a friendly news outlet, guaranteeing no hard questions from the press corps," Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., said in a statement.

    On CNN, commentator Jack Cafferty called the interview "a little bit like Bonnie interviewing Clyde. ... I mean, running over there to the Fox network -- talk about seeking a safe haven."

    Safe haven it may be, but absent a subpoena, is there any obligation on the part of Dick Cheney to talk to anyone? About anything?

    Considering that his daughter's sexuality became fair game in the last election, I really can't blame Cheney for giving the media wide berth. But is there any legal obligation on the part of public officials to talk to the media? One can argue that there is morally, but legally?


    In a recent column restating the obvious, Thomas Sowell takes an old-fashioned view of the Constitution:

    There is nothing in the Constitution or the laws that says that the media have a right to be in the White House at all, much less to have press conferences.
    I guess that makes Sowell a "strict constructionist," but if the Constitution is a living, breathing document, shouldn't the media have some sort of "right" to be in the White House? Should the White House maybe be constitutionally required to hold press conferences?

    I need to play the Devil's Advocate occasionally, but I'm having trouble with this one, because the First Amendment imposes no duty upon anyone to speak to the press, nor does it impose any duty on the press to speak to anyone, or to be fair or balanced; it only restrains Congress from abridging free speech or freedom of the press.

    The right to report events or comment on them does not include any right to make anyone talk. While there is a right of access to public information, that is not a special right possessed by members of the press corps, and in theory, I have just as much right to ask Dick Cheney about his hunting accident as does CNN, and Cheney has just as much right to blow me off as he does CNN.

    There is no First Amendment right to be told anything by anyone. The remedy against recalcitrance, evasion, or nondisclosure by officeholders is to find the information elsewhere and publish it, criticize the people who withheld it, and (ultimately) vote them out of office.

    Cheney has as much right to talk only to Fox News as he does to talk to no one. That doesn't mean it's a good idea politically, but I think some people are confusing the First Amendment with the issue of accountability.

    The First Amendment is there to protect free speech, not guarantee accountability.

    If anything, there's a certain tension between free speech and accountability, as claims involving the latter are often used as a covert tool of silencing speech which would otherwise be off limits to government censorship. Accountability can be infinitely more complex than the simple right to speak one's mind freely. In the case of a politician, what he says can be controlled by the constant threat of losing his office. Admittedly, this doesn't loom large as a threat to Dick Cheney, as he'll probably never run for another public office, and while I may be wrong, I seriously doubt that this hunting accident flap will have much of an effect on the Republican Party as a whole.

    Accountability is another ill-defined concept, and it can take various forms. As an accounting term, it's fine. But as a political term, "accountability" means as many things are there are people to define it. Obviously, a high elected official like Dick Cheney is held to a higher standard of political accountability than someone who is unelected. A media figure like NBC's David Gregory is not held to the same standard, because he is not elected. As Dan Rather and Howell Raines showed, even the highest media figures can be fired. But as Bill O'Reilly argued about bloggers, they "work for no one" and thus "can't be fired." (Ironically, I suspect that Bill O'Reilly would have been less likely to answer emails from me than I would from him, despite his pronouncements about accountability.)

    In a political context, the word "unaccountable" is often used to indicate a refusal meet various demands, which often have nothing to do with real accountability, but simply politics. The AFA and GLAAD would probably each call the other unaccountable; all it would mean is that they don't answer each other's claims or engage in serious dialogue.

    In the blogosphere, not talking about something after being told that you are to talk about it can lead to a charge of "unaccountability." I'm still trying to figure out the standard for commenters these days. If you don't have them, you're censoring people. If you do have them you're responsible for them if you're LGF (but not, apparently, if you're Atrios). If, however, you're silent in the face of comments that disagree with you, you're not being accountable!

    Fortunately for me, I'm not running for anything, I can't be fired, and I'm not important enough to be "held accountable." (And as to comments, a post I wrote about the Danish cartoons has now drawn well over 300, and I don't have time to read them all, much less agree or disagree with them. One thing is sure: there's no accounting for comments.)

    Once again, here are my, um, standards:

    IN THE INTERESTS OF FULL DISCLOSURE, I think I should make the following points clear:

  • 1. To all liberals who dislike my thoughts and want to resort to accusatory ad hominem attacks: I hereby disclose that I am a conservative with a hidden agenda.
  • 2. To all conservatives who dislike my thoughts and want to resort to accusatory ad hominem attacks: I hereby disclose that I am a liberal with a hidden agenda.
  • 3. Anyone who disagrees with any cause I support can feel free to consider me a "lobbyist" working on its behalf -- whether in secret or openly! I confess!
  • How much fuller can my disclosure get than that?

    Well, I don't know. (I've been repeatedly accused of being financed by Republicans.)

    Let me make one thing perfectly clear: I refuse to say whether Dick Cheney paid me to write this post!

    posted by Eric at 09:14 AM | Comments (2)

    Another day, another war

    Speaking of "Culture War," Sean Kinsell links to a remarkable piece of anti-gay advocacy by one Linda Harvey, who claims that "homosexuality is a faith issue" and that people expressing tolerance for homosexuality ("views supporting homosexuality" she says) "should not be involved with youth in any way, period." That's because, she asserts, homosexuality is caused by people who accept it -- and prevented by militant theological opposition to it. A remarkable view -- and one which is belied by Sean's experience:

    Not a week went by at church when the threat homosexuality posed to society was not held up as a reason America was in deep trouble. From the moment AIDS was first identified in the early '80's, my parents reacted to news stories about it by saying that it was God's punishment for sinful behavior;


    ....I do very much mind having my biography rewritten by ignoramuses--or rather, people can think whatever insulting things they like about me, but I mind the implications for the people I grew up around. You can't say that irresponsible parenting leads to homosexuality in the abstract without, necessarily, saying that the individual parents of individual homosexuals fell down on the job. Well, my parents did not.

    There's a lot more, and it's well worth the read for people interested in the war over proper penis placement.

    As to the statement that "homosexuality is a faith issue," I guess it is. But aren't there Christians on both sides of that issue? Or is there an emerging class of Christians who claim the right to declare other Christians to be "un-Christian"?

    Linda Harvey also runs a website called "Mission America," which is primarily devoted to homosexuality. But she doesn't like Barbie dolls either -- or Halloween:

    It had to happen. Riding the commercial wave of Harry Potter, Buffy and Sabrina, Mattel has launched Secret Spells Barbie, just in time for Halloween. Appropriately adorned in a pink brocade cape-gown, the all-American schoolgirl figurine is now empowered with a wand, cauldron, spell book and "magic" potions.


    Today's modern witches, who tend to be anti-Christian, continue to commemorate Halloween - called Samhain - as their highest holiday, holding moonlight ceremonies and attempting to contact spirits that are said to be more accessible at this time of year.

    As an adult, I learned the origins of Halloween. I also read passages like Galatians 5, which tells us sorcerers will not inherit the kingdom of God, and it became clear that God takes this stuff very seriously. And it's not like Christmas or Easter heathen traditions that have been eclipsed by the big events of Christ's birth and resurrection. God trumped those holidays, and still does in spite of pagan trappings like Christmas trees and Easter eggs. But Halloween, God has let stand alone, perhaps as a test.

    Come to think of it, have you ever known a witch who didn't start with Barbie dolls?

    Look, I have no problem with advocacy for or against anything, as it's a free country. If only they'd be content with advocacy, and the right to voice their opinions.

    Vegans have a right to be vegans. My problem begins when vegans seek to prevent me from eating meat . . .

    Linda Harvey has as much right to say Barbies are bad as she does to say homosexuals are bad. What I'm troubled by is her stated goal of preventing those who disagree with her away from being "involved with youth in any way."

    (There are plenty of people who disagree with her who have children, for God's sake.)

    posted by Eric at 08:27 AM | Comments (4)

    Latest Gag


    That very scary Drudge headline links to an equally scary story with eye-opening claims about polar icecap melting from a scientist named Jim Hansen -- who claims the Bush administration is trying to muzzle him.

    There are two issues here -- one involving the muzzling (something NASA disputes, pointing out Hansen's 20 year history of reckless outspokenness), and the other involving Hansen's reliability.

    Jim Hansen flawed methodology is taken to task here by an Autralian scientist who points out that the NASA GISS data is flawed because it measures "growing urban warming, not global climate change."

    World Climate Report notes Hansen's long history of distortion and outright lying, and asks why anyone should believe the guy:

    Sorry. Once a distortionist, always a distortionist.

    Why should we believe him now? What evidence does he have to offer that his opinions and statements about climate change are suddenly true, when he admits that exaggerations were necessary. Was the public being “honestly informed” then?

    And it wasn’t just “the public.” He distorted in front of the U.S. Congress.

    See also World Climate Report's "Hansen Revisited" for a longer catalog of "Hansen’s political activities, his recent findings, and his philosophy on the reporting on the global warming issue."

    World Climate Report seems to have done their homework on this guy, and he appears very unreliable.

    But I'll say this for him; he knows how to get a headline.

    (If only I could figure out how to get Bush to gag me....)

    posted by Eric at 09:38 PM | Comments (4)

    Best way to shut down the blogosphere, by far . . .

    At the risk of sounding painfully naive, here's a worrisome thought:

    Without electricity, the country would shut down.
    So would the blogosphere, which is an even worse prospect. Every time I've experienced a power failure, I am unable to blog or read blogs, and it's been very annoying. In the event of a national emergency, this would be more than annoying -- especially if shutting down the Internet was the whole idea. (A couple of years ago, an ordinary power shutdown screwed up ebay big time. Imagine what could be done intentionally.)

    I don't mean to make light of this, nor do I mean to get all greenie weenie about "alternative energy sources," but wouldn't it be nice to have solar backup or some other redundancy factor built into the Internet?

    The technology would seem to be available. Solar powered computers like these strike me as a no-brainer:

    All of the Solar Utilities Network's web pages are built and maintained on a solar-powered computer. Why? Because, just between us (don't let them hear) we don't trust our beloved local electrical monopoly to supply us with an unbroken stream of within-spec electrons …and NEITHER SHOULD YOU.

    We use an industrial strength uninterruptible power supply because out here at the end of the grid, power outages are so common that we would lose work a couple of dozen times a year. In the last two years, we would have lost two weeks of work to power outages. Our power company is a little more candid than most, and they admit that the situation will get worse, because they have had to defer maintenance and cut crews to keep between the rock of rising fuel costs and the hard place of the state public utilities commission.

    Decentralization being the original idea of ARPANET, I'd like to hope that there are enough solar-powered nodes to keep information alive even in the event of a massive power grid shutdown.

    I'd like to do more than hope. Does anyone know? I did see this report, which cheered me somewhat:

    Dateline: 8/14/2003

    A major power outage that occurred at approx 2pm MST (4pm EDT) effected most of the north-eastern coast of the United States including major cities such as New York, Detroit, and parts of Canada. The impact on the Internet (in regards to server availability) was not nearly as dramatic as the UUNet/Worldcom backbone problem, due to almost all data centers having their own backup power systems. On the flip side, it is widely reported that user traffic did decrease noticeably while power was out.

    How long would the backup power systems last? My concerns are more about the Internet survival during a possibly prolonged emergency than a temporary loss of traffic....

    Is "pulling the plug" a feasible form of censorship?

    Let me outline a nightmare scenario, based on a plausible nightmare.

  • A group of terrorists manages to sneak in a nuke, and trigger it in Manhattan, causing millions of American casualties.
  • Under the guise of "preventing hysteria," an emergency coalition consisting of well meaning (but power-crazed) people inside and outside government decides to shut down the Internet by simply turning off all electricity in the United States, or at least in most urban areas, "until further notice."
  • My question is not whether this would be legal, but whether in theory it would work.

    I hate it when people end the game by overturning the board, but mean people sometimes suck.

    MORE: A Defense Tech post argues that terrorists would be unable to shut down the power grid. But does that mean that it couldn't be shut down by the government?

    My concern is that the existence of centralized power to "protect the infrastructure" might tend to include the power to destroy it.

    posted by Eric at 11:45 AM | Comments (6)

    Whoa is me!

    (Why I should stop braking for Cultural Hallucinations . . .)
    The bus came by and I got on, that's when it all began. There was Cowboy Neal at the wheel of the bus to never ever land...
    -- Grateful Dead

    A primary reason I find the "Culture War" so endlessly annoying is that so many of the arguments involve bitter haggling over artificial constructs. Superficial things like depictions in movies and on television which are said to influence something called "the culture." But that puts the cart before the horse, as what is called "the culture" is usually defined by these depictions. People who believe Americans are hopeless victims of monkey-see-monkey-do behavior see "the culture" (film, music, TV, and to a degree, print media) as a sort of vehicle controlling how people think and how they live their lives. In their view, "winning the Culture War" means taking control of the wheel and putting their people in charge, thus making the culture (and of course, the world) a "better" place.

    By stating the case this way, I don't mean to single out the people on either side. The people who are seen as being "in control" of "the culture" (and attacked by self-styled Culture Warriors) are equally irritating -- at least to me. Not for wanting to remake the world as they'd like it to be, for who doesn't want the world to be a better place? Rather, there's a certain arrogance in the assumption that there is or should be any sort of Great Steering Wheel of Culture, that they're behind it, and that they're running (or "changing") people's lives.

    Yes, I hate both sides of this mentality, and I freely admit it. It's one of the tragedies of my personal life, and it is a major motivating force behind this blog.

    Manipulative language, which drives me crazy, is almost everywhere I look. I can't even pick up a newspaper or a magazine without some manipulative snippet staring me in the face. Attempting to read about someone's accomplishments earlier today, "granddaughter of slaves" was the first thing I read. I suppose her daughter could be called a "great-granddaughter of slaves," and so on, as if this is something that belongs on a CV. Injecting the slavery argument into places it does not belong, while minor as these annoyances go, is just one example. (Almost makes me want to put "descendant of invaders" on mine.) There are endless similar examples, and I think I've provided more than a few in previous posts.

    At the heart of the Culture War is an assumption that people can be manipulated, and that they should be. For the most part, the cultural manipulators and their "countercultural" counterparts are the ones clinging to this assumption -- as if for dear life.

    I think the Internet is a dire threat to those who want to control or to seize control. It is inherently a force for individualization, and decentralization, of culture.

    If you dislike turning on the TV and seeing crass attempts to steer your mind, why, you can find thousands of alternative views, left and right, right and wrong, sane, or insane, on any subject. Or contribute your own. Or not. If, like me, you think there's cleverly dissembled manipulation in a film like "Brokeback Mountain", you can say so, and you might discover that a few kindred spirits agree with you. (Likewise, you can ridicule the view that such a film means the end of Western Civilization.)

    Fortunately, there is no Minister of Culture. There's no official "wheel" for anyone to seize. That's because the people who produce TV shows and make music or films have no tangible constitutional power. They're limited by market forces, and if people don't like what they crank out, they'll lose money. They have no more legal right to tell anyone what to do than even the lowliest blogger. (Or "highliest" blogger, for that matter...)

    The people who want to grab "the wheel" need to understand that there's no wheel to grab, and that even if there was, they'd need an attractive product. (How do you counter a successful niche film like "Brokeback Mountain"? With another niche film showing the Marlboro Man dying of AIDS? Good luck getting people to line up.)

    In light of the decentralizing cultural force of the Internet, I'm wondering . . . As the very idea of a cultural steering wheel (much less who controls it) becomes increasingly irrelevant, might there be some kind of ratio?

    The more loss of the ability to control, the higher the volume of noise made by people who want to be in control?

    Decentralization of control means loss of ability to control. This means more attempts to struggle to control by those imagining they're in control, and more attempts to "seize" the ever-more-dysfunctional controls by those who aren't.

    The more noise that's made, the more people tire of the noise.

    I'm afraid that will mean an increase in the volume of the noise.

    Battle fatigue sucks. Especially in an increasingly irrelevant "war."

    AFTERTHOUGHT: What worries me a lot more than the issue of "who controls" are attempts to reestablish systems of control by people who correctly perceive this overall loss of control. The reinstitution of the "Fairness Doctrine," the regulation of speech as "campaign contributions," UN controls over the Internet, and calls for government limitations on "offensive depictions" are but a few examples. The ability to impose culture by government force -- that's the Culture War people should be worried about.

    posted by Eric at 08:30 AM | Comments (8)

    Secret campaign courts secret voters behind the scenes . . .

    I just found out that there's apparently a ban on campaign reporting going on in New York, and the whole thing is barely mentioned in the MSM:

    The Clinton campaign ban on any mention of Hillary's likely challenger, John Spencer, slipped a bit last night on Hardball.

    WOLFSON: We have an opponent. John Spencer, the former mayor of Yonkers, is running against her.

    MATTHEWS: Careful, it`s going to be a rough ride for you guys.

    This is about the most daylight Spencer's campaign has gotten yet. Oh, aside from accusing an Iranian exile of dispensing Mullah Moolah, which got him linked on the Drudge Report.

    Intriguing, but is it true?

    Sure enough, I found confirmation at NewsBusters, which claims there's a near-total blackout on Spencer and his campaign:

    The New York Times published an article on Tuesday concerning an annual Conservative Party conference held in Albany, New York, on Monday. Reporter Jennifer Medina addressed issues raised by some of that state’s Republican candidates for governor and attorney general. Yet, Medina and the Times chose not to report in its print editions statements made at this meeting by John Spencer, the likely Republican candidate to oppose Hillary Clinton (D-NY) for senator this November.

    At about 1PM EST on Monday, the Associated Press ran an article (hat tip to Drudge Report) about Spencer’s comments at this conference with the headline “Spencer: Clinton aids and abets our enemies.” According to the article, Spencer said “the New York Democrat's criticism of the Bush administration ‘aids and abets our enemies’ in the battle against terrorism.” Yet, for some reason, the Times chose not to report this part of the meeting to its readers, and didn't address Spencer's attendance at this conference at all.

    A LexisNexis search identified few media outlets that covered this report. In New York, Newsday placed a 251-word watered-down version of this AP story on page A17. That was better than the Daily News who, like the Times, didn’t report this at all. Why should they, as Spencer had some strong language for Hillary and her husband:

    "‘I wish we had [the Patriot Act] before 9-11,’ said the former mayor of Yonkers. ‘And, I wish we had an administration in Washington that wasn't an appeasing, liberal, whining administration in the 90's that allowed the terrorists to build up the way they built up.’"

    Also according to LexisNexis, neither CNN nor any of the broadcast networks have reported this with the possible exception of their websites.

    On top of that, Newsmax reports that Karl Rove is helping John Spencer in his campaign.

    I think Rove likes being ignored, and ignoring Rove has always worked before, hasn't it?

    Personally, I hope they continue the non-reporting. Sounds like a good strategy.

    posted by Eric at 05:30 PM | Comments (4)

    Another day, another pretext

    As if the attacks on Ronald McDonald weren't enough, I now see that the angry mobs have turned their wrath towards Kentucky Fried Chicken.


    As I try to leave no stones unturned in my quest for answers, I wondered whether Colonel Sanders might have done something to offend Islam.

    While I could find no connection between him and the cartoons, I discovered that in Pakistan, Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets tend to be blamed for anything that certain people don't like. (Except I don't think "blamed" is really the right word....)

    On May 31, 2005, an angry mob sacked and burned another Pakistani KFC outlet, and burned six Pakistani employees alive. Reason? "A suicide attack on a Shia mosque" by Sunni Muslims:

    The fast-food restaurant was targeted in overnight rioting after Monday's attack on the Madinatul Ilm Imambargah mosque. Three assailants clashed with police at the mosque before exploding a bomb which killed two attackers, two policemen, one worshipper and wounded 26.

    Four of the victims at the restaurant were burned to death while the two others died after taking refuge in a refrigeration unit, senior police official Manzoor Mughal said. The six bodies were recovered this morning, bringing the overall death toll in the southern port city to 11, he said.

    Sunni Muslim extremists were suspected in the mosque attack, and it was unclear why KFC was targeted in retaliatory rioting, which included arson attacks on vehicles, shops, three bank branches and three petrol stations.

    However, the restaurant is heavily associated with the US and rioters in Pakistan have been known to attack American symbols.

    Then there was a bomb blast at another KFC in September:
    Rauf Siddiqui, interior minister of southern Sindh province, said the explosions were linked to a nationwide strike called by opposition parties on Friday, but the opposition denied any involvement.

    "We have very strong suspicions that the blasts were in connection with the opposition strike call," Siddiqui told AFP, adding that no one had been arrested yet in connection with the attacks.

    "Eight people were injured, mainly by flying glass," Siddiqui said.

    Seems to me that either the Colonel is getting blamed for for a lot of things over which he doesn't have much control, or else he and his business aren't the real targets.

    What about the reason? Does this guy look like he needs a reason?


    Satire like the last post aside, the companies that are targeted aren't the real targets, and the "reasons" they're targeted aren't the real reasons.

    Sure, the cartoons are the pretext right now.

    But there's a big difference between a pretext and a reason.

    In my opinion, having the West blame the months-old cartoons of Muhammad is exactly what the enemy wants to accomplish right now. The West would be very foolish to fall for it.

    posted by Eric at 04:00 PM | Comments (3)

    The plasticity of fascism and blowing things up . . .

    My first reaction to Muslim persecution of the wholesome Ronald McDonald was shock and awe.


    "Next, They Came for the Plastic Clowns" opined David Bernstein, joined by clown defender Glenn Reynolds.

    Can we get serious?

    I mean, shouldn't we be asking why the crowd is so upset at the clown? I didn't know what to think, and I was reduced to the status of a pitiful crybaby, asking questions like "Why do they hate us?"

    I figured that either all clowns are Un-Islamic, or else Ronald McDonald is un-Islamic, and un-Islamic Clowns are bad. Or both.

    Clearly we need to understand. There must be an explanation. A bit more research convinced me that there were other things leading up to this.

    Not long ago, there was this incident:


    The link goes to stuff I don't understand, but which is obviously true. That's because people don't do these things without a reason!

    Don't clowns bring the bad karma down on themselves by doing things like this?


    As professor (and out of politeness I won't call him "perfesser") Juan Cole observes, Nazi tactics like the above (also known as "eliminationist rhetoric") are not funny.

    No they're not! (Especially, I might add, when coupled with mutability of mobilizing passions.)

    The real issue, of course, is not whether a clown is plastic or not. It's what it does. And (as Mark Steyn revealed recently), some of the things that plastic clowns do are indeed shocking to contemplate.


    Hier klicken!

    "Hier klicken"? Is that fascist code talk for "Achtung baby"?

    While I'm all for freedom and everything, I hope things don't have to come to this:


    MORE: Sean Kinsell has a thoughtful post on the cartoon irreverency in which he touches on Egg McMuffins eaten with "exaggerated relish."

    That definitely sounds like a religious affront -- as well as an affront to the senses. (For starters, relish doesn't belong on Egg McMuffins!)

    UPDATE (02/21/06): Via Maggies Farm, the mystery of who benefits the most from these attacks on Ronald McDonald appears to have been solved:

    I don't know why I'm so slow to figure these things out....

    posted by Eric at 10:22 AM | Comments (4)

    Happy Valentine's Day Everyone

    I'll be occupied most of the evening, but Coco insisted that I include her in today's celebrations.

    I had no choice but to, um, "draw" a card:


    (In her majesty's honor, of course....)

    posted by Eric at 04:30 PM

    Fear of fear of fear

    That last post brings to mind an ugly language problem I'm having. A couple of words have been ringing in my ears lately.

    "Racist" and "Islamophobic."

    As I am not entirely sure what these words mean and I hate manipulative or code language, I thought I should take a second look. A recent op ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer used both of these words in the way they're typically used:

    As a person of faith, I found the cartoons published by the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten to be racist, base and grossly offensive.
    And later in the piece:
    in an environment in which the Muslim community feels besieged by the very real Islamophobia that exists today, Muslim extremists have an incentive to inspire hate, and the Muslim masses sometimes join in the us-vs.-them struggle. They may find it easier to take to the streets in a rarely allowed public expression of their anger - justifiable anger that loses its ground when it manifests itself in violent attacks.
    The writer is talking about the cartoons, which mostly depict Muhammad, although one depicts suicide bombers, and a couple of others also caricature the cartoonists themselves. If the word "racism" is to mean anything at all, it would have to involve some sort of racial prejudice. Is it the race of Muhammad that's at issue? Or is it the race of the suicide bombers? Or both?

    Exactly what race is involved here?

    "Islamophobia" is one thing, but doesn't racism require at least some degree of racial specificity? Or is the idea that Muhammad is not "white"? Well, what is white? Was Jesus "white"? Both Jesus and Muhammad have been depicted with Asian features, but does anyone know the races of the actual historical figures? Assuming Muhammad's descent from Abraham, wouldn't that make him technically the same "race" as most Jews? Would a cartoon depicting Abraham be racist?

    Clearly, I'm missing something here. Might it be that "racism" has come to include all criticism of any person who isn't of white European descent?

    As a matter of fact, Juan Cole thinks the cartoons reflect racism of the Nazi variety:

    the same themes of Aryan superiority and Semitic backwardness in the European 'scientific racism' of the 19th and early 20th centuries ... led to the Holocaust against the Jews. ... A caricature of a Semitic prophet like Mohammad with a bomb in his turban replicates these racist themes ...

    "Semites were depicted as violent and irrational and therefore as needing a firm white colonial master for their own good," Cole wrote.

    I guess, according to that view, depicting Muhammad with a bomb is the same thing as Julius Streicher's depictions of subhuman Jews. (I'm familiar with Streicher's rabid work, and I just don't see Cole's analogy.)

    What I'd like to know is, if the cartoons are racist and Islamophobic, then how are we to interpret a statement from a Muslim Reuters labels a "self-styled Muslim dissident":

    BERLIN (Reuters) - A Dutch politician and self-styled Muslim dissident urged Europeans to stand firm on Thursday in an international crisis over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, saying it was "necessary and urgent" to criticise Islam.

    Ayaan Hirsi Ali praised newspapers in many countries which have printed the cartoons, considered blasphemous by many Muslims, but said others had held back for fear of criticising what she called "intolerant aspects of Islam".

    "Today I am here to defend the right to offend within the bounds of the law," she told a news conference organised by her publisher during a visit to Berlin.

    "It's necessary and it's urgent to criticise Islam. It is urgent to criticise the teachings of Mohammad."

    I'm still puzzled by Reuters putting "self styled" before "Muslim dissident." I mean, if Ayaan Hirsi Ali isn't a dissident, then who is? Could it be that Reuters is hinting that she isn't a Muslim? I don't know whether she is or is not a Muslim*, but if by dissenting she is not, then what are the implications as to race?

    And what about Islamophobia? (According to Wikipedia, it's a neologism -- the definition of which is in dispute.) In the clinical sense, the suffix "phobia" means fear. Does that mean that people who are afraid of Islam have a disease for which they need treatment? Does it mean that they are bigoted? If the intent is to attribute the disease model, wouldn't that tend to supply a medical excuse for resultant bigoted attitudes?

    I don't know. But others obviously do. And I get the impression that these definitions vary according to the whims of the people who use them.

    Makes it tough to have any sort of rational discussion.

    I haven't even addressed the issue of what to do in cases where phobias collide..... ("Instead of sowing division and promoting homophobia, the Muslim Council of Britain should be working with gay organisations to challenge the twin evils of homophobia and Islamophobia.")


    What do you do when language evolves faster than definitions of words? When new words to label people are created faster than they're defined, and the definitions are off-limits to the people being labeled?

    I don't know.

    (If I weren't trying so hard to avoid going crazy, I'd suggest we could start by finding a new Islamohomophobophobia niche market for "heteronormative" sex toys like this....)

    *Ayaan Hirsi Ali describes herself as an apostate from Islam, which would mean that she is not a Muslim. If Muslim status is a race, does that mean she changed her race?

    MORE: An upcoming film called "In the Name of Allah" will explore the clash of "phobias":

    Sandi Dubowski, who won the Teddy gay and lesbian award in 2001 for his controversial doc "Trembling Before G-d," may cause an even bigger stir with "In the Name of Allah," which explores the struggles of homosexual Muslims.

    Gay Indian Muslim helmer Parvez Sharma is directing the pic, which looks at gay, lesbian, and transgender Muslims across the Muslim and Western worlds.

    "The world right now needs to understand Islam, and these are the most unlikely storytellers of Islam," Dubowski said, who is producing 'Allah.'

    Doc will undoubtedly prove an even thornier film to export than "Trembling."

    Sharma and Dubowski plan to submit the pic to all major festivals in the Muslim world as well as in the West, but if it's rejected, Dubowski said, "We'll find ways of screening it in every Muslim nation, even if it's underground."

    I should point out that using the "phobia" suffix is not my idea, but that of others. I don't think "fear" is the right word to describe these things, but whatever...

    posted by Eric at 08:24 AM | Comments (6)

    Turkey shoot at the Oscars?

    Must be time for Turkey bashing in the media. (Really now. Couldn't I have picked a better time for that last post?)

    But if "the most expensive film ever made in Turkey" is any indication, the United States would use a PR boost in Turkey right now. And the image of our country isn't getting much help from American actors, least of all Gary Busey. (He plays an evil Jewish doctor who makes money harvesting organs from murdered Iraqi prisoners, but Michelle Malkin says I shouldn't question his patriotism. I should waste my time that way?)

    (The BBC has more on what I guess isn't light comedy.)

    Director Bahadir Ozdener defends the film, admitting it's only partially true:

    "Our film's a sort of political action, Maybe 60 or 70% of what happens on screen is factually true. Turkey and America are allies, but Turkey wants to say something to its friend. We want to say the bitter truth. We want to say that this is wrong."
    A relatively new director (at least I'd never heard of him before), Ozdener previously made a Turkish TV series involving some of the same characters.

    So far, there don't appear to have been any riots in the Turkish street, although I don't know how accurate this remark is, I do hope it reflects the general trend:

    "There isn't going to be a war over this," said Nefise Karatay, a Turkish model lounging on a sofa after the premiere. "Everyone knows that Americans have a good side. That's not what this is about."
    I'm glad everyone knows we have a good side.

    So, in the interest of peace and harmony, I should reflect my good side!

    I hereby refrain from calling the film "racist" and "Christophobic." (It'll have to earn Oscars without my help.)

    posted by Eric at 07:51 AM | Comments (1)

    Erasing a decadent past

    I'm seeing more and more essays like this one, asking a question which won't go away: Is Islam Evil?

    Why is Islam exempt from critical analysis? In Western society, there is no shortage of critics of Christianity. Indeed, on many college campuses it is open season on anything that has the faint odor of Western Civilization -- Christianity included -- even though Christianity, like Islam, originated in the Middle East . One might wonder why Islam, which sees itself as a continuation or fulfillment of Judeo-Christianity, is not subject to the same intense criticism. Instead, multi-culturalism treats Islam as a protected species -- an indigenous ethos inseparable from a people. Consequently, self-appointed Politically Correct thought-police stifle debate on Islam by shamelessly playing the race card -- even though Islam is not a race.

    We Americans are incredulous to hear the vilification of our country, our traditions and our principles. Yet, we hesitate to publicly condemn Islam as evil when that is far more plausible. Or even raise the question! Yet, it is clearly on people's mind. So much so that it is often answered in a pre-emptive manner. "Don't blame Islam for the acts of a few", we are told. "Islam has been hijacked by militants," say our leaders. No discussion. No one explicitly asks the question. No one dares. We must not allow ourselves to be deterred by this intimidation. The question is both legitimate and important: "Is Islam evil?"

    While I am certainly no apologist for Islam, I find myself unable to take the position that Islam is evil. To do that requires seeing Islam as a single monolithic force -- something akin to Communism. While it might be possible to regard Wahhabist Islam in this manner, to so regard all Islam requires a deliberate disregard or distortion of history.

    Unlike Communism, Islam has a long history. Seen geopolitically, the largest chunk of this history consisted of the Ottoman Empire. Because it lasted from the 13th to the 20th centuries, it is tough to engage in generalizations about the Ottoman Empire. Certainly, there were many ruthless conquests and slaughters, invasions of peaceful areas, but I don't think most historians would dispute that under Ottoman rule, there existed for centuries a well-established phenomenon which can only be called moderate Islam.

    Despite history, many people decry the existence of such a thing as moderate Islam. Ironically, it still exists right where it existed for centuries and where it once held sway over most of the Islamic world -- in the former center of power of the Ottoman Empire. (Turkey.)

    Unfortunately, Turkey is more and more isolated as a voice of Islamic moderation. I'm worried that it's becoming a lost or endangered relic of a once moderate past.

    As lost as this once endangered Ottoman citadel?


    It's no longer endangered. It's gone! But it stood there for centuries overlooking Mecca, where the Ottomans built it to guard the place. In 2002, ignoring international protests, the Saudi government tore it down. Reason? They hate the idea that their religious places were once ruled by forces of moderate Islam.

    Here's Sadik H. Kassim, writing about the recently demolished al-Ajyad Palace pictured above:

    During our ride out of Medina Airport my uncle queried our Wahabbi driver about why people in Saudi Arabia do not wear seatbelts. Our driver immediately went into a grand bit of histrionics declaring the seatbelt to be a bid’ah (religious innovation) and therefore impermissible for all true Muslims to use. He continued his tangent by suggesting the seatbelt to be an American/Israeli invention intended to subvert basic Islamic principles. Our driver’s fatwa, although not legally binding, serves to illustrate the paranoid and irrational world outlook of the Wahabbi school of thought. This worldview, in addition to contributing to the intellectual retardation of the Ummah, has been used to justify the destruction of some of Islam’s most sacred and important historical and cultural sites. This decimation remains an ongoing process scarcely reported in either western media outlets or the media of countries with a Muslim majority population.
    Well, I'll report it. We heard all about the Buddhist statues, probably because people are less afraid to defend Buddhism than moderate Islam.

    I shouldn't say that no one in the West reported this. A Texas art historian specializing in Ottoman art was most upset at the time:

    The al-Ajyad castle stood on a hill overlooking the grand Mosque and was built in 1780 by the ruling Ottomans to keep the Wahhabi Islamic sect out of Mecca. Carel Bertram, a historian of Ottoman art at the University of Texas described the demolition as a “very sectarian move”. Denouncing Saudi plans as an “erasure of the past” she said the demolition was part of a wider effort by Saudi Arabia’s dominant Wahhabi elite to expunge the Islamic world of any remaining element of cultural and religious diversity. “It is a way for the Wahhabi sect to show that there is no form of Islam—on the ground, in the past, or in people’s memories—other than their own”.

    Motivated by religious zealotry the Saudi authorities carried out enormous demolition campaigns in Mecca and the nearby port city of Medina after coming to power in the 1920s, and again in the 1970s. In 1924, they demolished the majority of historical mosques and monuments in Mecca and Medina. Despite protests from other Muslim countries and UNESCO they even destroyed the Prophet Mohammed’s house in Mecca and hundreds of mausoleums belonging to his companions. The al-Ajyad castle survived those decades of mass demolition, until now.

    This latest act of cultural vandalism by Riyadh follows a similar pattern of destruction by Saudi-funded charities and aid agencies in the Balkans, not to mention the bombing of the Bamiyan Buddhas by the Saudi-backed Taliban. In Bosnia and Kosovo “humanitarian” agencies funded and financed by the Saudi royal family are demolishing Ottoman-era mosques and other monuments to promote their Wahhabi vision of Islam.

    Turkey protested, but for the most part, the world didn't care. I don't even know how widely this was reported in the West. On the ruins of the Ottoman citadel, there is now a hotel for wealthy, Wahhabi-approved pilgrims.

    While I hate to see historic buildings destroyed, the goal here is not merely to eradicate buildings. It is to eliminate an idea.

    That idea, I believe, is that there ever was such a thing as moderate Islam. I'm a bit concerned that the "Islam is evil" meme fits right in with the campaign against moderate Islam, because if enough people believe there is no such thing as moderate Islam, and the guys in charge of Islam believe the same thing, well, pretty soon there will be near-unanimous agreement that there is no such thing as moderate Islam.

    The very history of Wahhabism is a war waged by radical Islam against moderate Islam, and in particular it involved a struggle to the death between the virulently Wahhabist Saud dynasty and the Ottoman rulers. This began in earnest in the late 18th century, and was aided and abetted by clueless Europeans often guided by the principle that idealism (often taking the form of support for "nationalities") is better than imperial decadence.

    Couple this facade of idealism with the very real presence of huge oil deposits, and it's not surprising that moderate Islam would tend to be relegated to the dustbin of history.

    Radical Wahhabi Islam, of course, is not only the leading enemy of the West, but the number one enemy of moderate Islam. That's because moderate Muslims are infidels too -- every bit as much we in the West. Back to Mr. Kassim:

    In 1801, the Saudis-Wahabbis waged a campaign against the Muslim “polytheists” and “heretics”. The outcomes of the campaign “shocked the entire Muslim world…by brutally destroying and defacing the sacred tomb of the martyr Hussein Bin Ali (Prophet Mohammad's grandson) in Karbala, Iraq, a particularly holy shrine to Shia Muslims1.” It was during this raid that the Saudis-Wahabbis “mercilessly slaughtered over 4,000 people in Karbala and stole anything that was not nailed down. It took over 4,000 camels to carry the huge loot (1).”

    Later, in 1810 during a pillaging campaign that swept the Arabian Peninsula the Saudis-Wahabbis “attacked and desecrated Prophet Mohammad’s Mosque, opened his grave, and sold and distributed its valuable relics and expensive jewels (1)”. The Wahabbis had intended to raze the green dome of the Prophet’s Mosque in pursuit of the golden globes and crescents surmounting it in those days. Yet, as Sir Richard Burton notes in his Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and Meccah, “an accident prevented any further desecration of the building…Two of their number [Wahabbis], it is said, were killed by falling from the slippery roof, and the rest, struck by superstitious fears, abandoned the work of destruction.” The siege of the Prophet’s Mosque did however injure “the prosperity of the place [Madinah] by taxing the inhabitants, by interrupting the annual remittances, and by forbidding visitors to approach the tomb (2).”

    (More here, plus a petition.)

    Wouldn't want anyone to think that the prophet or any of his descendants might have ever been buried in a heretical manner, would we? That might mean that moderate Muslims once existed -- or even that the Prophet himself wasn't entirely the way the Wahhabists want him depicted. But history is written by the victors, and the fact is that the Ottoman Empire lost Hejaz Arabia in the 1920s, and the House of Saud (with lots of help) has ruled since.

    It's tough to make the case for moderation in anything, much less Islam. Especially when anything moderate is increasingly seen as decadent. And decadence is evil, isn't it? Culturally rich empires like the Ottoman Empire would seem to epitomize it. Who the hell am I to maintain that their Islamic moderation was a virtue?

    Besides, if Islam is evil, there is no such thing as moderation in evil, so moderate Islam would still be evil. (Unless you're a moderately evil pragmatist.)

    It's always tough to make the case for decadence. Might as well try to save the Ottoman citadel.

    Pragmatically speaking, however, America might need an evil empire to fight -- which would make it wrong to attempt any resurrection of moderate Islam in history.

    That's an awful thought. Because for starters, there's no consensus on whether radical Islam is evil.

    (The Danish cartoons are merely one way of posing the question.)

    UPDATE: As a counterweight to Saudi influence, Dean Esmay offers a round-the-world view of moderate Muslim countries, reminding us of examples such as Indonesia, and I agree it should be kept in mind that things are not as bleak as this post might make them appear. (Although articles like this worry me.)

    Bear in mind that the focus of this post was not on the entire Muslim world today, but on the Ottoman Empire (which represents a pretty large chunk of Islam over time) in contrast to growing Saudi hegemony. Having the holy places plus oil wealth gives the Saudis, in my view, politico-religious leverage beyond their numbers.

    posted by Eric at 09:59 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBacks (1)

    Dick Cheney Wants to Murder Me

    That's what Brady Bunch patriarch Jim Brady said in a press release yesterday:

    James and Sarah Brady made comments today related to Vice President Cheney's reportedly accidental shooting yesterday in Texas.

    "Now I understand why Dick Cheney keeps asking me to go hunting with him," said Jim Brady. "I had a friend once who accidentally shot pellets into his dog - and I thought he was an idiot."

    "I've thought Cheney was scary for a long time," Sarah Brady said. "Now I know I was right to be nervous."

    All this over a little pepper spray.

    First they came for my handgun ... then they came for my bird shot. Then they tackled the knife culture and at last we danced beneath rainbows, and the lion lay down with the lamb.

    But the left eats this up while pretending it's the right that resorts to public inflammatory rhetoric. Does anyone really believe that Dick Cheney wants to murder Jim Brady?

    Jim Brady doesn't, but watch the lemmings on the left. They've grown accustomed to following asses.

    posted by Dennis at 08:27 AM | Comments (2)

    Now is the winter of our discontent

    Ironically enough my nephew happens to be a Richard III and yesterday was his birthday. I think he's rather enjoying the snow, but I just spent a few minutes trying to take my girlfriend to a babysitting gig and after two blown stop signs and subsequent skids aided by the comfort of snow banks (more forgiving than parked cars or pedestrians), we decided that the money wasn't worth the risk of a wreck.

    Though it isn't all bad.

    Scratch the title of this post. I'm sure the snow was a birthday wish come true for my nephew, and my girl and I get to spend the evening together.

    Gosh ... after making a return to Classical Values with a post like this I'd better pack the next one with double the salt and vinegar.

    posted by Dennis at 06:29 PM | Comments (1)

    invasion of the brokeback heartbreak

    I don't know whether Islam officially hates love, but I do think that a major difference between Islam and Christianity -- at the most basic level of each -- involves a primal dispute over man's relationship to God. Christians and Jews are supposed to love God, while Muslims are supposed to fear god. Islam means submission. (By its nature, "submission" involves fear.)

    Donald Sensing has a must-read post on Islamic attempts to stamp out Valentine's Day:

    Muslims keep redefining what is objectionable. They “dumb down” offensiveness. Such as Valentine Cards: A radical Kashmiri Islamic group, Dukhtaran-e-Millat, sent nearly two dozen black-veiled Muslim women to burn Valentine’s Day cards and posters showing couples together in the main city of India’s Kashmir. They women protested that the day imposes Western values on Muslim youth.

    (Via InstaPundit.)

    (Read the whole post, which also discusses Yehudit's Winds of Change post about a hypocritical standard of artistic bravery.)

    If Valentine's Day imposes Western Values on Muslim youth, then doesn't Ramadan impose Islamic values on Western youth? This is about as logical as pronouncements I used to hear about Howard Stern "invading" people's homes.

    I guess I shouldn't compare Valentine's Day to Ramadan. The former is an optional day, while the latter is a mandatory month.

    Donald Sensing ends with a few questions:

    Does Saint Valentine’s Day “impose Western values on Muslim youth,” as the two dozen protesting women claimed? Well, I devoutly hope so. Is observing the day really “against Islam’s teachings?” I don’t know and I’m not persuaded that the protester really knows, either. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. Either way, I don’t care.
    I think the first question is answered. Anyone who thinks Valentine's Day is "imposed" on anyone belongs in the funny farm. However, it might be that people accustomed to having every facet of their lives dictated by higher authorities (to which they must constantly submit) might very well be unable to handle the mere existence of anything which emanates from outside, and which is not obligatory, but optional. People steeped in authority might not be able to perceive that there is any such thing as an "option." People who do not believe in love (which is the essence of Valentine's Day) might see it as an invasive and threatening force.

    Interestingly, in one recent attempt to combat the co-called "cultural aggression" posed by Valentine's Day, Iranian authorities attempted to create an alternative, based on the "the wedding anniversay of Fatima, Prophet Mohammad's daughter." I don't know whether the idea gained ground, but elsewhere I read about a crackdown on "heart-shaped goods".

    Oh come on!


    As it's the Sunday before Valentine's Day, and I'd rather avoid the backbreaking experience of show shoveling, I thought it was time for me to offer something more heartbreaking.....


    The official Classical Values Islamic Valentine.

    It's my labor of love for this special day!


    Can't we all get along?

    UPDATE: Little did I know when I lovingly made that Valentine that it would be just in time for the "Happy Mullahcracy Party" celebrating the 27th Anniversary of the Iranian Revolution (but via Glenn Reynolds I found out.)

    The Saudi King sent his personal greetings.

    (Honest, I had no idea I was being so thoughtful.)

    posted by Eric at 08:24 AM | Comments (6)

    And it's still coming down . . .

    Thick white blanket at sunrise:


    Coco attempted to do her business, but found herself unable to walk because as soon as she stepped off the porch the snow enveloped and trapped her body, so she hightailed it back into the house as best she could. Walking is tough, as it's up to my knees.

    I'll have to excavate.

    MORE: The depth of the snow on that table (in the middle of the yard) measures 17 inches. It's still snowing hard, and the driveway's about 100 feet long . . .

    (I could use a few strong teenage sons right now!)

    posted by Eric at 07:31 AM | Comments (1)

    "fearful fatalistic apathy"

    By making a "raghead" remark , Ann Coulter has managed to do what she does best (and which I do poorly), which is to generate traffic, interest, publicity. Via Ryan Sager, here's what she said:

    "Rag-head talks tough, rag-head faces thunderous consequences."
    In heat of emotion (and sometimes in cold, calculating rage) many of us say things that we wouldn't say in public, or say things to ourselves that we might never articulate.

    Insulting someone on the basis of attire is one of those illogical things I generally try to avoid, but hell, sometimes you just want to let loose and yell about the "damned burkas" or "hideous niqabs," which, while allegedly there to protect privacy, just seem so proselytizingly public.

    For some reason, burka belittling is considered fair game, but making fun of male Arab headgear, well, that's just not cricket!

    And "raghead." While I don't think it's racist (because turbans and keffiyeh scarves are by no means limited by race), "rag" has a certain implication that the people wearing them might not be able to afford anything better. Howard Stern used to say "towelheads." Maybe that's more fair and neutral. Nah, that's insensitive too, as it implies kids playing dress-up games in the bathroom or something.

    Unhappy as he is with Ann Coulter, I notice that even Ryan Sager has no problem poking fun at "conservatives in their little conservative monkey suits." As a conservative monkey suit wearer (who isn't conservative enough or liberal enough to suit the standard bearers), shouldn't I be offended by that?

    Maybe I should consider this slanderous attack on my conservative monkey suit to be an attack on all the traditions I hold dear! Never will I ditch my conservative monkey suit, which is part of my ethnic pride, if not my white Christian American identity culture!

    I'm very, very offended by this slur, and I think thought should be given to the legal question of whether it constitutes "fighting words"!

    And what about the "monkey" smear? We all know about that, don't we? Is that not a far worse slander than the deprecation of the cost or origin of headgear cloth? (Well? Can I call a keffiyeh an "Islamic monkey scarf"?)

    I don't know. These things are so damned complicated.

    I try to avoid ad hominem language, inflammatory rhetoric, and even hyperbole in metaphors to the extent I can, but I admit, many times it's all very tempting, because (as Ann Coulter and others prove) inflammatory rhetoric can ultimately translate into fame and fortune.

    You'd think I'd have learned this lesson the hard way. My most popular posts were not the ones on which I spent hours performing careful research and supplying lots of interesting links. Far from it! Overall, my most popular posts by far were the ones involving beheading videos. (I'll get traffic just for saying "beheading videos" again.) And now, the Muhammad cartoons. A post I wrote last month has drawn thousands of hits, from all over the world, and will set a new record for the number of comments on a single post. There are already 200 or so, and they are without a doubt the most inflammatory comments I've had in this blog's history. (The comments will close soon, but I'm leaving them as a sort of "hate museum.") Hell, I suppose if you really wanted traffic to spike for its own sake, you could produce a "Muhammad beheading video cartoon" of some sort.

    But like it or not, traffic is what it's all about. While I think there are always people who appreciate thoughtful, well-researched posts and polite writing, let's face it; it's the controversy that brings traffic. And being inflammatory is a shortcut to controversy. If the story isn't all that interesting, yell at the world, and hurl insults.

    For people who feel strongly about the horrendous nature of something, there are ways, of course, to express even the most powerful and controversial emotions while remaining articulate. American Thinker provides a perfect example with the following passage from Winston Churchill on Islam:

    “How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity.

    The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property, either as a child, a wife, or a concubine, must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceasedto be a great power among men. Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities – but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science, the science against which it had vainly struggled, the civilization of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilization of ancient Rome.”

    -Sir Winston Churchill (The River War, first edition, Vol. II, pages248-50 (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1899).

    Now, that's a real mouthful. More powerful and articulate than "raghead," as well as more likely to withstand the passage of time. Whether we agree with it or not really isn't the point. Winston Churchill will be more remembered for the above than will Ann Coulter for her "raghead" remark.

    And he'll remain in more trouble. Nearly a century later, Thabo Mbeki (excoriating Churchill by reading the above in Sudan of all places) is still upset.

    I doubt Ann Coulter will score as many points with future Mbekis.

    It's all very easy for me to say. I'm no Churchill. (Ward or Winston.) And despite the compliments disguised as insults which some of the leftie commenters have leveled at me, I don't think I'm much of a Coulter either.

    I don't know what my problem is. Perhaps I suffer from fearful fatalistic apathy.

    What, I'd do better in rag time?

    AFTERTHOUGHT AND DISCLAIMER: I do not mean the above post as an attack in any way on Ann Coulter, a cute blonde bombshell who keeps rust from gathering on the First Amendment, or Ryan Sager, who if I said he was cute might take offense but whose writing I've always enjoyed and agreed with, or on Winston Churchill, one of the greatest dead white men of all time.

    UPDATE: A commenter below claims the above quotation from Churchill was later retracted. He argues:

    If Churchill wrote it and then thought better of it, it’s incumbent upon bloggers, political columnists and those who forward email messages to everyone in their address books to do the same before quoting him.
    Fine. My central point -- that Churchill was more articulate and reasonable than Coulter -- remains the same. His innate rhetorical skills are in no way diminished by any later deletions.

    Furthermore, if the above quote evidences Churchill's self-expurgated dark side, that means he had second thoughts. Am I supposed to be upset if Churchill turns out to be more reasonable than Thabo Mbeki maintains?

    Quite the contrary; it only makes me like the guy all the more.

    (Of course, I'd say that even if he were alive and decided it was time to dust off what had been deleted!)

    MORE: I think it's fair to point out that the prestigious Churchill Center still features the above quote. More about that organization here.

    AND MORE: Glenn Reynolds has a very thoughtful post on the whole Ann Coulter "raghead" flap. He wasn't there when she spoke, but now he's being condemned for having been "silent."

    But of course!

    Why, come to think of it, it was from the "silent" Glenn Reynolds that I first learned about Coulter's inane remarks. (Geez. To think that I actually linked to a "silent" post! That's a new first for me.)

    UPDATE: More condemnation of Glenn Reynolds's "silence" here.


    I think Glenn has done a great job of first reporting the Ann Coulter remarks, then discussing them, and now discussing quite openly the mysterious attacks on his "silence."

    I must ask: What if Glenn really had been silent?

    How would we have ever known?

    UPDATE (02/16/06): Ann Coulter has elaborated on her remarks, which she admits are offensive:

    If you don't want to get shot by the police, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, then don't point a toy gun at them. Or, as I believe our motto should be after 9/11: Jihad monkey talks tough; jihad monkey takes the consequences. Sorry, I realize that's offensive. How about "camel jockey"? What? Now what'd I say? Boy, you tent merchants sure are touchy. Grow up, would you?
    (I'd still prefer she say "fearful fatalistists of apathy," but there's that First Amendment thingie....)

    posted by Eric at 11:27 AM | Comments (21)

    Friday pop quiz

    The following came to me via an email, and I thought I'd pass it along here.

    Titled "World's easiest quiz," a passing score requires 4 correct answers.

    (No peeking!)

    1) How long did the Hundred Years' War last?
    2) Which country makes Panama hats?
    3) From which animal do we get catgut?
    4) In which month do Russians celebrate the October Revolution?
    5) What is a camel's hair brush made of?
    6) The Canary Islands in the Pacific are named after what animal?
    7) What was King George VI's first name?
    8) What color is a purple finch?
    9) Where are Chinese gooseberries from?
    10) What is the color of the black box in a commercial airplane?

    All done? Scroll down to check your answers below.

    Continue reading "Friday pop quiz"

    posted by Eric at 02:50 PM | Comments (4)

    The Emperor's Tailor has no more clothes!

    As if I needed a reminder after the earlier post, a story in the Philadelphia Inquirer reminded me how old -- how truly old -- I am.

    A nearby costume shop is going out of business, and they're having an online sale. As it happens, I used to go there when I was a teenager. I remember the owner.

    "Sorry, we're closed," said the owner, Joyce Williamson. "We're shutting down. I'm retiring. The doors are only open for prospective bidders."

    Bidders like Patricia Ries, who owns O'Byrne Costumes on the 7200 block of Frankford Avenue in the city's Mayfair section. Ries was at Stern's checking out the inventory that goes on sale today - via the Internet only - through next Thursday.

    All 8,000 square feet of custom-made costumes and accessories must go: latex ear tips, teeth and scars; smoking jackets and Victorian capes; robes to outfit Greeks and Romans, monks and witches, cardinals, nuns and popes.

    The shop's basement storage area, which runs the full length and twice the width of the store itself, is stuffed with fur suits and enough Elvis outfits (fringed and not) to outfit a Vegas stage show. There's one entire room just for hats, and another with nothing but heads: dogs, dwarfs, bulls and bears; chickens, pandas, mice (three blind) and bunnies - 41 white, 4 pink, 8 floppy-eared.

    (Auction is here.)

    Your typical "when I was a kid" story, right? Read on:

    Rack after rack of authentic military uniforms are still here from 1900, the year that Irvin Stern, a former tailor for the Emperor Franz Joseph and the Austrian royal family, opened his Theatrical Costume House, the shop's original name.

    Ian and Joyce Williamson, transplanted Britons, bought Stern's shop in the 1980s after he died at the age of 106.

    The owner, Irvin Stern was your proverbial "little old man" -- and I remember him well. A marvelous eccentric, he used to run around the store (at its former location in Media) with a huge grin and a goofy looking beret. While I knew he was old, I didn't know until I read today's piece how really old he was.

    The guy died in 1980 at the age of 106. That means today he'd be 132. I didn't know he'd opened the original place in 1900, nor that he'd been a tailor to the Emperor Franz Josef.


    Does that mean that in my flaky teenage years I actually met a guy who knew and worked for Franz Josef, Austro-Hungarian Emperor? Such a factoid does more than make me feel old; it makes me feel positively ancient. Why, Franz Josef was born in 1830 for God's sake!

    Here he is, in his prime:


    From the looks of the guy, I'd say he'd have been able to keep a tailor pretty busy.

    Franz Josef was the uncle of Archduke Ferdinand, the man whose assassination started World War I, and the next to the last of the Hapsburg Emperors. He died at 86 in the middle of World War I, a major result of which his empire was broken up.

    Austria Hungary was not perfect, but it included a lot more than what we think of as Austria and Hungary. It united (more or less) a vast swath of territory which was simply and rather thoughtlessly chopped into various pieces. The following is a list of countries today whose territory was located -- all in part -- inside Austria-Hungary by the time of the breakup:



    Czech Republic



    Bosnia and Hercegovina


    Poland (voivodships of Silesia, Lesser Poland and Subcarpathia)

    Ukraine (oblasts of Zakarpattia, Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, Ternopil and Chernivtsi)

    Romania (region of Transylvania and the county of Suceava)

    Serbia and Montenegro (autonomous province of Vojvodina in Serbia and the bay of Boka Kotorska in Montenegro)

    Italy (autonomous regions of Trentino-South Tyrol and Friuli-Venezia Giulia)

    It's tempting to ask why, and while there's no single reason, the French, Clemenceau, Woodrow Wilson, and the Treaty of Versailles loom large.

    While the latter is most often remembered for its extremely punitive terms towards Germany (resulting in the rise of Hitler and World War II), the ruination of the Austro Hungarian empire is often forgotten:

    It is often forgotten, that with the energy put into the punishment of Germany, other countries fought on her side and, equally, had to be dealt with. These countries were Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey.

    Austria-Hungary had to sign two peace settlements, indicative of the fact that this state was shortly to be divided into two.

    Austria signed the Treaty of Saint Germain.

    Hungary signed the Treaty of Trianon.

    Austria and Hungary were treated as two completely new countries after these treaties were signed. Both lost land to neighbouring countries; the new state of Czechoslovakia was effectively created out of this carve up of land; large blocks of land went to Poland, Roumania and Yugoslavia. Part of Austria went to Italy.

    Both new countries had to reduce their military capability and both states had to pay reparations for war damage. However, the figures involved were nowhere near as high as the figure imposed on Germany.

    Bulgaria had to sign the Treaty of Neuilly. Bulgaria lost land to the new state of Yugoslavia, had to reduce her military capability and had to pay reparations.

    Ditto for the Ottoman Empire -- which led to the present situation in the Mideast.


    This ought to be two, three, four essays. I'm being really superficial, and my bias is showing. I hope readers will forgive this bias, but I'm not feeling very charitable towards Woodrow Wilson or the French right now. The point is, my Monday morning quarterback (while nearly 90 years too late) thinks the breakup of Austria Hungary did more harm than good. While it was packaged as idealism at the time, it was more motivated by French (and Clemenceau's) fear of Germany having Austria Hungary as a powerful ally than anything else. But in the long run having a bunch of little contrived countries made it easier for Hitler to make his moves as the mood struck him. (To say nothing of Stalin and the Iron Curtain.)

    I know an elderly woman whose family had lived for years in the Austro-Hungarian empire, and she maintains that it was a more stable solution than anything since. After the breakup, her family didn't know which "country" to live in, and they were forced to run back and forth between countries, none of which (because of newly emerged nationalities and religio-political associations) were now suitable for the family. Her father was killed by the Nazis, and finally she made it to the United States.

    There are so many "but for" causes of World War One that it's mind boggling to contemplate. The mess could have been prevented but for this, and but for that, and "what if" alternate history scenario games can be played forever.

    Obviously, the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand was a major precipitating event. But there was an earlier assassination which, had that been prevented, would have prevented Archduke Ferdinand from ever being targeted for assassination.... Only it's not really settled that the earlier assassination was in fact an assassination.....

    This was all on my mind as I listened to the Glenn and Helen Show's latest podcast interview with James Swanson, author of Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer. While a secondary question is whether women should stay away from actors (this has nothing to do with George Clooney, of course), what most fascinated me about the interview was the endless intrigue and conspiracy theories generated by the assassination. Unlike Ferdinand's, the assassination of Lincoln didn't trigger a war, as the country had already been exhausted by one. But who was really behind John Wilkes Booth, the endless romanticizing of him, these are perplexing questions.

    Often, historical puzzles are not pieced together until everyone connected with the events is dead. That's because old emotions die, and the ability to see historical events objectively grows over time.

    Reasons for coverups tend to fade.

    While it's unlikely to captivate the public interest and generate conspiracy theories the same way that the Lincoln assassination did, I think history needs to take a much closer look at the "suicide" of Franz Josef's only son, Crown Prince Rudolf. I don't think it was a suicide, but an assassination. While the death occurred in 1889, the long-term fallout was World War One:

    Following the death of the emperor's only son, the marriage of Franz Josef and Elisabeth collapsed completely, with the empress spending much of her time abroad, particularly in England and Ireland where she loved to hunt. The new heir presumptive to the Austrian, Bohemian and Hungarian thrones was Archduke Karl Ludwig, eldest surviving brother of the emperor. After Karl Ludwig's death, his oldest son, Archduke Franz Ferdinand became heir presumptive. His assassination in 1914 led a chain of events that produced World War I.

    Had Rudolf lived, it is possible that Emperor Franz Josef would have abdicated as had his uncle, passing the thrones to an emperor who was much more liberal in outlook and opposed to Austria's military alliance with Kaiser Wilhelm II's Germany that played such a part in triggering the First World War.

    The official story was that Rudolf went crazy, killed his paramour by shooting her through the head, and then shot himself. This is all contradicted by evidence from later exhumations:
    The German note [the Papal Nuncio had expressed serious doubts about the official story], as well as the forensic evidence found in Vetsera's [the paramour's] body, are just many of the proofs challenging the official version of Rudolf and Marie's death. Many have alleged that Rudolf's body showed signs of a violent confrontation before death. Lacerations were discovered in several parts of the body. His hands showed signs of struggle, which might demonstrate that the poor Crown Prince tried desperately to fight off his would-be assassins. It also seems that the revolver used to kill both Rudolf and Vetsera was not the one owned by the Crown Prince, and that all six bullets were fired. In this case, Marie Vetsera was not the foul victim of a tragic love affair, but the unwilling witness of one of the most daring political assassinations ever achieved.
    Not that any of this will revise history, but what is history except a process of revisionism? Anyway, Zita (the last Austrian Empress, who died in 1989) maintained for her entire life that there had been a French conspiracy:
    Zita alleged that Clemenceau was conspiring to overthrow Franz Joseph and place germanophobe Rudolf on the throne. This would allow Austria to break away from her allegiance to Germany and sign an alliance with France. Rudolf, Zita believed, refused to partake in the conspiracy and was killed to secure his silence.
    We'll never know for sure, but the evidence is utterly intriguing. If the assassination arose out of a French plot, I wouldn't be surprised if there's an ongoing historical coverup!

    (Wish I could have run this past the Emperor's tailor.)

    posted by Eric at 08:34 AM

    Huzzah !

    James Kunstler has repaired his archives!

    The Krispy Kremer werewolf quote is restored to all its former glory...

    September 19, 2005

    Take a good look at America around you now, because when we emerge from the winter of 2005 - 6, we're going to be another country. The reality-oblivious nation of mall hounds, bargain shoppers, happy motorists, Nascar fans, Red State war hawks, and born-again Krispy Kremers is headed into a werewolf-like transformation that will reveal to all the tragic monster we have become.

    And glad it is that I am to see it. My faith in his punditly integrity, weakened nigh unto death, waxes strong again.

    So what's he been chatting up lately? Anything new and noteworthy? Nah. But, ignoring the content, there's an interesting increase in the stridency of his tone. Here, let's look at a brief, de-contextualized excerpt from January 23rd...

    Now, why on earth would Mr. Reich believe that China can possibly keep behaving the way it does for another two or three decades?...

    There is no way that China can put another one half percent of its population behind the wheel of a car without sending its army and navy out to seize foreign oil fields...

    Note to Mr. Reich and the rest of the people he is smoking opiated hashish with: you've got it backwards. Over the next twenty, thirty years America gets to be more and more like Chinese peasant life in 1949.

    Why? Because neither America nor China (nor anybody else) can continue running industrial economies the way we have been, or even a substantial fraction of that way, in an energy-starved world. Nor will anybody come up with a miracle technological rescue remedy to keep all the motors humming.

    Our second peckerhead of the day is David Brooks of The New York Times. Actually, Brooks could qualify for peckerhead of the decade among mainstream news pundits, since his fantasies about America diverge so extravagantly from the realities our nation faces...

    Peckerhead, eh? More later, but first let me point to the crux of my disagreement with the Kunstlerian Vision...

    Nor will anybody come up with a miracle technological rescue remedy to keep all the motors humming.

    I believe that they will.

    Almost all of my disagreement with the man flows from that particular example among his many other unsupported assertions. Here's a slightly different version of his hellfire and brimstone schtick...

    No combination of alternative fuels will allow us to run American life the way we have been used to running it...The wonders of steady technological progress achieved through the reign of cheap oil have lulled us into a kind of Jiminy Cricket syndrome, leading many Americans to believe that anything we wish for hard enough will come true...

    Wishing has nothing to do with it. It'll take brains, money, and gut-busting hard work, as ever.

    Wishful notions about rescuing our way of life with "renewables" are also unrealistic. Solar-electric systems and wind turbines face not only the enormous problem of scale but the fact that the components require substantial amounts of energy to manufacture...
    and the probability that they can't be manufactured at all without the underlying support platform of a fossil-fuel economy...

    What do industry representatives have to say about that?

    Danish turbine manufacturer Vestas undertook a life cycle assessment of their latest wind turbine...according to their research...one of the company’s V90, 3.0 MW offshore wind turbines has to generate electricity for approximately 6.8 months before it produces as much energy as is used during the manufacturing lifetime. This, they say, means the turbine model earns its own worth more than 35 times during its energy production lifetime.

    Lousy Danes. Somebody get Mr. Kunstler a fact checker, stat.

    We will surely use solar and wind technology to generate some electricity for a period ahead but probably at a very local and small scale.

    Virtually all "biomass" schemes for using plants to create liquid fuels cannot be scaled up to even a fraction of the level at which things are currently run.

    What's more, these schemes are predicated on using oil and gas "inputs" (fertilizers, weed-killers) to grow the biomass crops that would be converted into ethanol or bio-diesel fuels. This is a net energy loser...

    That conclusion is not so clear cut as he would have you believe...

    "It is better to use various inputs to grow corn and make ethanol and use that in your cars than it is to use the gasoline and fossil fuels directly," said Kammen, who is co-director of the Berkeley Institute of the Environment and UC Berkeley's Class of 1935 Distinguished Chair of Energy.

    Clearly not a reliable source. Back to Kunstler...

    ...you might as well just burn the inputs and not bother with the biomass products.

    And the Berkeley Boffins say?

    "The people who are saying ethanol is bad are just plain wrong,"..."But it isn't a huge victory - you wouldn't go out and rebuild our economy around corn-based ethanol."

    The transition would be worth it, the authors point out, if the ethanol is produced not from corn but from woody, fibrous plants: cellulose.

    "Ethanol can be, if it's made the right way with cellulosic technology, a really good fuel for the United States," said Farrell, an assistant professor of energy and resources. "At the moment, cellulosic technology is just too expensive. If that changes - and the technology is developing rapidly - then we might see cellulosic technology enter the commercial market within five years."

    Hopelessly unworldly academics that they are, you just want to chuck them under the chin and tranquilize them with milk and cookies.

    Kunstler, on the other hand, is a worldly, wisecracking, shoot-from-the-hip kind of guy. College audiences love him. In terms of presentation, imagine Bruce Sterling with an impaired IQ and mild Tourette's. Sure, he may not have all his facts straight. But then, facts are for losers. What he has (with apologies to Stephen Malcolm Anderson), is style. Too bad I'm immune. He just irritates me.

    If you're looking for an antidote to his clownish melancholy, try Green Car Congress. I would challenge anyone to scroll through their archives and not notice that a lot of unwatched pots are starting to boil. Here, check out December, January and February. Or check out The Energy Blog. Delve into their blogrolls and banish those doomsday blues.
    Before you know it you'll be nattering on about Fischer-Tropsch Processes, coal-to-gas, coal-to liquid, IGCC, and who knows what all else.

    I suppose that's well and good, but saved or not, I don't want to leave you on such a mundane note. Coal power. Huh. Dirty, dangerous, archaic...I'd been hoping for fusion generators.

    Let's look at a couple of blue sky concepts, notions with some zip.

    The first one has been floating around the blogosphere for a few weeks now, but you might have missed it. It's a tethered airship/wind turbine/pinwheel thingy. Floating hundreds to thousands of feet overhead, as the wind blows the device rotates, generates power at its hubs, and sends the resultant electricity down the tether cable to you, the consumer.

    Sure, there's no prototype. Sure, at this stage it's all just pixelware. But the audacity of the notion can't help but earn my admiration. Thinking outside the box, I believe they call it. What an imagination...

    Treehugger has an interview with the inventor, and I really hope his clever idea can take flight.

    Next up is a notion that I was initially reluctant to mention. Being a liberal arts major, I have only the dimmest comprehension of the laws of physics. F equals mA? Whatever. What I do remember from my long ago high school classes can't help me much with this one. It seems counterintuitive, to say the least.

    The developers call their notion "Atmospheric Cold Megawatts" and I shall quote liberally from their website...

    ACM is a system for the generation of energy based upon differences in the atmospheric pressure at geographically spaced sites, and comprises at least one long conduit - in the order of many miles long.

    In operation, the air flow in the conduit will accelerate to a high velocity wind without the consumption of any materials and without the use of any mechanical moving parts. A power converter, such as a wind turbine, in the conduit converts the high wind velocity generated by even small pressure differences into energy of any desired type.

    The opposite open ends of the conduit are located at geographically spaced sites, selected on the basis of historical information indicating a useful difference in barometric pressure. A plurality of conduits, each having open ends in different geographically spaced sites, may be interconnected to maximize the existing pressure differences, and will produce higher and more consistent levels of energy production. The ACM conduit configuration of the invention can transform even barometric pressure differences in the order of one tenth pound per square inch into wind velocities in the sonic range.

    Dear sweet Jesus. This one really blindsided me.

    No fuel is required or consumed to produce the power. No pollutants are introduced into the atmosphere as the result of the generation process. The cost per KWh is a fraction of traditional (and alternative) generation methods. Because there are few moving parts, maintenance costs are minimal and the projected lifespan of installations is considerably longer than any other generation method.

    Yikes. It's like cold fusion, but without the fusion. Modestly sized pipelines that, instead of transporting oil or natural gas for eventual combustion, transport nothing but thin air. But is it too good to be true?

    Here's their patent (pdf).

    I've thought about this for awhile now, and I'm coming around to the point where I think it might work. I had to sidle up to it crabwise, with frequent rest stops. First, it's not perpetual motion, no more than a windmill or a waterwheel is. There's a moving fluid or gas energized by the sun, and the machine just extracts some energy from it in passing.

    Consider a breezeway as a humble example. As wind is channeled through the space between two buildings, it picks up speed. Very refreshing on a hot, muggy day. If you've ever walked through a big city on a breezy day, you may have noticed the same phenomenon on a larger scale. The skyscrapers can channel and focus a fairly innocuous zephyr until it's downright blustery. The effect is often local, and sharply delineated.

    This pipeline business seems to be a similar effect. Why wouldn't air flow from a high pressure zone to a low pressure zone? It does it every day. What's clever is the notion of trapping and channelling it (as in a breezeway) but then continuing to taper the channels so as to increase the wind velocity even further.

    From a wiki article on the company...

    Anyone who has seen a weather report has seen maps with high pressure systems on one part of the map, marked by a large, bold H; and a low pressure systems on another part of the map, marked with a large, bold L. Between these pressure systems, there are the isobars – those wavy white lines that lie across the space between the two different pressure zones, indicating equal amounts of pressure, which create a pressure gradient (hill) that allows wind to flow naturally from high pressure to low pressure.

    To imagine how Cold Energy, LLC's technology would work, just think that if you could run a pipe between the high and the low pressure areas, you could tap into a tremendous amount of energy as the air rushes from the high pressure area to the low pressure area, and spin an electric generating turbine from the flow of air between the two locations.

    So, why am I still uneasy?

    With two to three decades of data from NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) at their disposal, the company has run analyses over a number of different locations, and with the help of interns hopes to have modeling for two to three locations for most countries of the world soon...

    For example, studying five years of atmospheric readings from Flagstaff and Tucson, Arizona, with an elevation difference of 3,700 feet, separated by 260 miles, they found the pressure difference to be in the range of 0.5 to 0.7 psi (pounds per square inch) on a daily basis, never going below 0.5 psi...

    "That is sufficient to generate a wind of 2,500 mph (miles per hour), which is 3.5 times the speed of sound,"...

    The pipes would be about 2.5 meters in diameter, and the air flow would be enough to generate around 1,000 to 1,400 megawatts of electricity...

    The conduits are designed to be unidirectional in flow, tapering gradually to a smaller diameter to increase the air flow speed. Hence, in a flatland scenario such as Kansas, there would need to be two pipelines to allow for flow in either direction.


    Time to come down from the clouds. To cushion our re-entry here are some parting thoughts from Mr. Kunstler, regarding the SOTU speech the other night...

    I hate to keep harping on this, but Mr. Bush could have announced a major effort to restore the American railroad system. It would have been a major political coup. It would have a huge impact on our oil use. The public would benefit from it tremendously. And it would have put thousands of people to work on something really meaningful. Unlike trips to Mars and experiments in cold fusion, railroads are something we already know how to do, and the tracks are lying out there waiting to be fixed.

    So it's public transit he's wanting then? Well, he need seek no further.

    Click on this link. Words don't do it justice, so just go have yourselves a look. Clearly, some people are powerfully moved by such possibilities, but I'm afraid I'm not one of them. The romance of rail never really clicked with me, being as I'm more of a giant airship man. I mean, as long as we're wishing...

    No matter how fancy the coach you're in, at whatever altitude, you'll still have to "Present your papers, please". Better even than airships, I'll take a flying car, thank you.

    posted by Justin at 08:27 AM | Comments (4)

    But criminals can add and subtract!

    Should cops be able to understand simple math? Apparently, the Justice Department doesn't think so.

    VIRGINIA BEACH - The U.S. Justice Department has found that the math portion of the Virginia Beach Police Department's entrance exam discriminates against black and Hispanic applicants.

    In a letter to the city released Wednesday, the Justice Department said its findings were based on results of a math test administered to all entry-level police officers.

    A math test? How can testing simple math -- the ability to add, subtract, multiply and divide -- discriminate on the basis of race?

    I know that there's a movement to dumb down math, but's not as if math is a race issue. Might this be part of "whiteness theory"?

    Actually no. The contention isn't even made that math is racially biased; only that there's a disparate impact:

    The city requires all recruits to score at least 70 percent on all parts of the written exam – the National Police Officer Selection Test.

    Between 2002 and mid-2005, about 59 percent of black applicants and 66 percent of Hispanic applicants passed the math test, compared with 85 percent of white applicants, according to the Justice Department letter.

    First administered to Virginia Beach candidates in 1998, the test is designed to assess basic skills of a police officer. It is offered to prospective officers in 20 other states, according to the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police.

    “This is not a test we developed,” Jacocks said. “We are not looking for rocket scientists. This is a basic math aptitude test.”

    One sample question framed a problem in the context of police work: “On Tuesday, Officer Jones worked the 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift. At 10:55 p.m. he was called to the scene of an accident where he remained until 1:30 a.m. How long past his regular shift did Officer Jones work?”

    I'm sorry, but if an applicant can't figure out answers to problems like the example above, I don't think he should be working as a police officer, because the criminals will bamboozle him! This is crazy. Officers should be physically fit too, and I'm all for tests that have a "disparate impact" on blind or paraplegic applicants.

    Furthermore, the test -- known as the National Police Officer Selection Test -- is not unique to Virginia Beach. It's used in a lot of cities including Washington DC, Boulder, CO, and Providence, RI, and it is designed to be fair and non-discriminatory.

    If for whatever reason someone is unable to perform simple math, it's either because he is stupid or else he's had a very poor education. In either case, why should everyone else be made to suffer?

    Years ago, I ate lunch with a couple of law professors who got into a ferocious argument over how to grade essays written by law students who were "unable to write an English sentence." One professor thought it was unfair to penalize a conscientious law student for what he should have learned in the seventh grade, but the other thought it was equally unfair to inflict an illiterate attorney on his clients, and on society.

    Cops should know math. I think it's a public safety issue having nothing to do with fairness. Frankly, if that question about the overtime is any example, I don't think the test is hard enough.

    If they keep this nonsense up, the only "disparate impact" will be on public safety.

    MORE: j.d. at evolution (commenting below) highlights what may be part of the problem -- a growing "educational" trend to declare math a form of oppression:

    ....traditional mathematics — the mathematics taught in universities around the world — is the property of Western Civilization and is inexorably linked with the values of the oppressors and conquerors.
    I suspect that the people who can afford to experiment with these theories make damned sure their own kids master traditional math!

    posted by Eric at 07:53 PM | Comments (4)

    Keeping cockroaches away from funerals is a good idea

    Here's a photo from Coretta Scott King's funeral:


    CAPTION: A dozen members of the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church from Kansas protested at Coretta Scott King’s funeral on Feb. 7, saying her advocacy for gay rights meant she was doomed to hell. (Photo by Dyana Bagby)

    FrontPageMag.com has an essay -- The "God Hates Fags" Left -- about Fred Phelps, the career bigot behind the above signs. Contrary to the popular assumption that he has to be an official member of the "ascendant Republican theocracy," Phelps actually has a long career as a Democratic activist and plain old crook.

    several states are now considering legislation banning demonstrations at funerals. He is their main and probably only target.

    He is Pastor Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. And his "God Hates Fags" theme has earned him an unending stream of media attention over the last 15 years.

    Media have commonly described Phelps as a "Baptist pastor" and "anti-gay activist," with the implication that he was simply a more aggressive component of the Religious Right. Nation magazine included Phelps in a profile about the "The Radical Right After 9/11."

    Phelps celebrated the 9/11 attacks and the more recent al-Qaeda strikes in London as the just recompense of Western decadence. He supported Saddam Hussein and has been appreciative to Fidel Castro. Phelps is probably more appropriately described in psychiatric than political terms. But his political roots are in the Democratic Party, having run for office in Kansas five times, and actively supported Al Gore in 1988 and 1992 before turning against him.

    More careful media coverage acknowledges that Phelps’ ostensibly Baptist church is "unaffiliated" and comprised of only his family members, whose compound of houses is assembled around the church and its swimming pool used for baptisms.

    Phelps, now age 76, has demonstrated outside the Bush Ranch in Crawford, Texas. He has demonstrated against conservative religious activists James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson. He has demonstrated against the Southern Baptist Convention. His targets span the full political and theological spectrum. Anyone who does not share his insistence that God reserves a special hatred for homosexuals is worthy of the Phelps treatment.

    Very amusing essay. The whole thing is worth reading, and if you enjoy it, Agenda Bender has more on the man's former career of selling stolen candy (no, really) to children.

    Perhaps I lived in Berkeley too long, but I spotted this guy as an agent provocateur long ago, and frankly, at this point he's so tired that he'd be little more than a target for ridicule were it not for the fact that he harrasses grief-stricken people when they're most vulnerable, and there's nothing funny about that.

    I'm as much of a free speech champion as anyone, but I have no problem with time, place and manner restrictions, especially at funerals.

    Cockroaches scurry away from the light, so I think the more information is made public about Phelps, the better.

    Too many people take him seriously.

    There's only one thing which still puzzles me about Phelps, and that's whether he's he a mere demagogue or whether he actually believes the nonsense he spouts. Not all agents provocateur are demagogues, and while I'd find it reassuring to discover that Phelps was taking money from GLAAD or some other group under the table, it is theoretically possible that he's a true believer. I doubt it, though.

    (I happen to think true believers are more dangerous than demagogues, but that's another topic.)

    posted by Eric at 12:13 PM | Comments (10)

    singular wireless

    I don't know whether to call this post "singular wireless" or "the singularity of being," but news like this makes me feel old:

    Researchers at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) weren't concerned with such weighty questions when they developed a chip that allows you to listen to an iPod using your forearm as the transmission wire for the audio signals. The chip was detailed in one of several presentations during a session called "Silicon in Biology" at the International Solid State Circuits Conference (ISSCC) here Thursday.

    Low power consumption was a common design thread throughout the several different chips presented by university researchers. The need to reduce power consumption of chips has become a mantra for the PC and server processor industry, but low power consumption takes on a new meaning when referring to chips that will be used inside the human body or on skin.

    KAIST has built a prototype chip it thinks solves some of the problems encountered in setting up personal-area networks that take advantage of the body's ability to conduct electricity. Computer scientists have long envisioned connecting the numerous personal electronic devices the average technology fan carries around each day, but wiring those devices together is impractical, and Bluetooth connections are prone to interference, said Seong-Jun Song, a professor at KAIST.

    Other groups have explored ways of using the body itself as the networking cable, but early chips consumed too much power or used data rates that were too slow for effective communication, Song said. KAIST's chip uses wideband signaling to reduce power consumption while boosting data rate. The chip sends low-power impulses across a wide swath of frequencies, rather than sending a high-power signal down a narrow frequency.

    Yeah, I know we're all headed for various forms of robotdom, but to see it happening, and realize that I'm just a bit too old to take full advantage of it is more than a little daunting.

    I say "too old" because while I'm only 51 and can expect to live maybe 30-40 years if I don't abuse my body to excess the way I once did, I will never have had the advantage that today's kids (probably including some of my readers) have. If you grow up with a technology that's meant to become part of you, it becomes a better "match" with your biological makeup than if you try to adapt to it after a life spent under the assumption certain things just can't be.

    Sure, I remember all the hippy-dippy "I-feel-the-vibrations-radiating-from-you!" stuff from the 1960s and 1970s. But that was largely drug induced fantasy. This is techological reality.

    Unless the NeoLuddites stop us, it will give new meaning to depictions of old, um, memes.

    Like this:


    And that's just for starters!

    (Of course, in light of the point I'm trying to make, the old guy on the right would probably have to be considered the recipient.)

    DISCLAIMER: By defacing and republishing the above depiction, no disrespect or offense is intended against advocates or opponents of creation. Or Allah God.

    All depictions are intended to be coincidental only, and bear no relation to anything real or imagined, or unreal or unimagined.

    posted by Eric at 08:09 AM | Comments (3)

    Legality is not morality

    The editor of Denmark's Jyllands-Posten has decided to print Iran's Holocaust cartoons:

    February 8, 2006 (NEW YORK) - The Danish editor behind the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad that ignited deadly riots in the Muslim world said Wednesday he's trying to coordinate with an Iranian paper soliciting cartoons on the Holocaust.

    "My newspaper is trying to establish a contact with the Iranian newspaper, and we would run the cartoons the same day as they publish them," Flemming Rose said Wednesday in an interview on CNN's "American Morning."

    The Iranian newspaper Hamshahri said Tuesday it would hold the competition to test whether the West extends the principle of freedom of expression to the Nazi genocide as it did to the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.

    I have a question: would your average American newspaper be more willing to publish Iran's Holocaust cartoons than the Danish Muhammad cartoons?

    I think so, and I think so would many bloggers. Once again, I think it's primarily because of fear.

    While most bloggers who might publish Iran's Holocaust cartoons would be doing so as a way of expressing disgust and disagreement, the fact is, they wouldn't be afraid of publishing them. In the case of the Danish cartoons, whether they're published in order to express disagreement isn't considered relevant; the general idea seems to be whether or not they dare to be published.

    In my earlier discussion of Iran's Holocaust cartoon festival, I didn't mean to suggest any moral equivalency between Holocaust cartoons and the Danish caricatures of Muhammad or logical relationship between the subject material of the cartoons; only that they're both forms of speech. (Legally, at least in the United States, both types of cartoons are protected by the First Amendment, which is generally blind to the moral implications of free speech.) Meryl Yourish has a lot more on the merits and the moral implications, pointing out not only that there isn't any logical relationship between the Holocaust cartoons and the Muhammad cartoons, but that the moral context is completely different:

    Jews had absolutely nothing to do with the publication of the cartoons. The fact that the Iranians plan to hold a Holocaust cartoon contest is utterly irrelevant to the issues at hand. But not to the AP, which will turn itself into pretzels trying to explain how the issues are similar.

    They use the phrase “in a new turn” to describe this ridiculous notion. This is not a new turn to the story, it is an attempt by the Iranians to turn Muslim protests of the Western values of freedom of speech into something hateful about Jews. The fact that many European nations have laws against Holocaust denial is not hypocrisy; some of these same nations have laws against “defaming” a religion. This also ignores the context of exactly why European nations — the nations that conducted the Holocaust — have laws against Holocaust denial. It is because these nations saw firsthand the destruction of European Jewry — were, in fact, a willing part of it — and laws were enacted to prevent it from happening again.

    This is the context that the AP ignores, as well as the simple fact that cartoons about the Holocaust and cartoons showing Mohammed are two completely different issues. Look how the Islamists conflate the two: They pretend to raise the Holocaust to the level of religion (in spite of the fact that they insist it never happened), and if Western newspapers don’t reprint the cartoons, it doesn’t matter — the Islamists will claim that there is no free speech, only anti-Muslim sentiment, and the media will parrot their claims without context.

    (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    They are presented without context, and the context is of course vital to understanding the moral implications. The European laws against Holocaust denial (which I disagree with) were enacted to prevent a resurgence in Nazi activities, and it isn't fair to compare them to purely religious laws.

    I think the reason they're getting away with it is because of an open season on Jews. There's nothing to fear.

    In logic, Holocaust denial is about as relevant to depictions of Muhammad as would be pornography. The only thing it has in common is that both touch on the applicability of laws regulating speech. But suppose the Iranian mullahs held a "child rape cartoon contest," and then dared the Western press to print the results lest they be guilty of "hypocrisy." Wouldn't that be dismissed out of hand as an irrelevant and ridiculous argument? I suspect it would.

    (Now that I think about it, that hypothetical is not so far from the mark, as I'd be willing to bet that the Iranian cartoons will include the old blood libel about Jews murdering children to drink their blood. Which means, I guess, that the hypothetical would only be seen as ridiculous if non-Jews were depicted as the rapists. Violence against Jews, of course, is usually given a pass. "That's just part of the Arab culture. We have to be understanding.")

    The First Amendment does protect free speech, of course, which includes the right to insult the prophet, deny the Holocaust, and maintain the earth is flat.

    That's a far cry from saying these things are the same.

    What about that great religious leader, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem?

    He visited the death camps, and obviously thought Hitler was doing God's work. [Or would that have been Muhammad's?] Here he is, meeting with Adolf Hitler:



    Maybe the Iranians are unwittingly making a moral equivalency argument after all.

    MORE: Via Pajamas Media and Solomonia, I see that an Egyptian Newspaper published the cartoons! In October -- and not a word of protest.

    Talk about manufactured outrage!

    Here's one of them:


    Almost feel like saying "Heh."

    Rarely have I seen such rank hypocrisy.

    The Grand Mufti would be proud.

    UPDATE: In what's starting to seem like a bizarre comedy, now it's no Iranian Holocaust cartoons! The Culture Editor has been overruled by the Editor in chief of Jyllands-Posten:

    The top editor of the Danish newspaper whose caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad sparked rage throughout the Islamic world said Wednesday the daily would not reprint Holocaust cartoons being solicited by an Iranian newspaper.

    Editor-in-Chief Carsten Juste said his newspaper Jyllands-Posten "in no circumstances will publish Holocaust cartoons from an Iranian newspaper."

    A prominent Iranian newspaper has said it would hold a competition for cartoons on the Holocaust to test whether the West extends the principle of freedom of expression to the Nazi genocide as it did to the Muhammad caricatures.

    Earlier, culture editor Flemming Rose said of the Iranian cartoons: "We would consider publishing them, but we will not make a decision before we have seen the cartoons."

    "I have committed an error," Rose said later in an interview with Danish television. "I am 100 percent with the newspaper's line and Carsten Juste in this case."

    It's looking like just about everyone has been had in one way or another in what Austin Bay correctly spotted as an information war operation.

    I'm glad they're showing some spine.

    posted by Eric at 05:29 PM | Comments (5)

    Fear becomes unspeakable

    The last post touched on the role of fear in the context of free speech. I think what's being lost in the debate over the cartoons is not so much the wisdom of printing them, or even the right of any given newspaper to print them.

    It's the role of fear.

    While I'm too old to have experienced things like "hate speech codes" in the university setting, a younger person told me that it's been a big deal in many universities for years. There are things like "review boards" dedicated to hearing "charges" involving allegedly "hateful" remarks, and allegedly "offensive" remarks made between students. Students know that "offensiveness" is taken very seriously, and they are intimidated.

    I think that's fear, by any definition.

    The images of Muhammad, I was told, would be deemed "offensive" by virtually any university with rules against hateful or offensive speech.

    Now, I realize that this does not constitute censorship in the legal sense, because the government is not involved. But it was the contention of this former student that an entire generation of today's intellectuals had their psyches shaped by such intimidation. They were, simply, trained to kowtow to it the way a soldier is conditioned to salute an officer. Almost by instinct.

    "Huh?" was my reaction. "What about the Constitution?"

    Totally, laughably irrelevant to this argument.

    We're not talking about freedom here.

    We're talking elemental fear.

    (I just hope it's not becoming a cultural thing.)

    MORE: Baldilocks reviews the long history of Western and Islamic Muhammad depictions, noting the highly inflammatory nature of some of them:

    Many painters, including William Blake, Gustave Dore, Auguste Rodin and Salvador Dali, have depicted Mohammed in illustrations of Dante's Inferno, where the Muslim prophet ends up in hell with his entrails hanging out.
    The list of artistic depictions in the West is quite long; with hardly any research I found the following images listed in this catalogue:

    Mahomet, split in half, speaks to Dante and Virgil -- Yan D'Argent.

    "Mahomet" speaks to Dante and Virgil -- after Doré.

    Mahomet approaches Dante and Virgil while the Sowers of Discord are smitten by a demon with a sword -- A Razzolini.

    Muhammed holding open the sides of his chest cavity -- Barry Moser.

    Muhammed holding open the sides of his chest cavity; headless man in the forefront -- 1864 Milano after an ed. of 1491

    Muhammed torn apart -- Benjamin Martinez.

    Muhammed torn apart -- Gilippo G. Macchiavelli.

    Muhammed torn apart, his body parts nailed to the ground, his flesh between his teeth -- Dali.

    Baldilocks asks a very appropriate question: what has changed?
    So what is different now than, say, in 14th century Turkey or in the mid-twentieth century of Salvador Dali’s portrait? Two things: the obvious fact is that information is transmitted infinitely faster than ever before, even though the Danish cartoons in question were published in September of last year. Noting this 'delay in outrage' over the portrayals leads to the other obvious fact: it points to the present-day virulence of Islamo-facism.
    I this virulence is encouraged by fear.

    Oddly enough, Dali was intrigued and inspired by fear, and of course paranoia. His painting of "Mahomet" is certainly no exception:


    The above was part of Dali's Divine Comedy series from the 1950s and 1960s. Is it more offensive today than it was then?

    Or are people just more fearful?

    posted by Eric at 08:58 AM | Comments (1)

    Oh, the irony!

    A comment to the Confederate Rainbow flag post below reminded me that the issue of fairness is often more complicated than it seems:


    It certainly is comical to read your harumphing, if humorous outrage at Julian Bond... given your sidebar ads featuring Hillary and Kerry et al as Stalinist/Soviets... Oh, the irony.

    Godwin's Law needs to be expanded to Stalinist/Soviet comparisons, and Al qaeda comparisons -- that one's worn out too.

    My initial reaction was surprise, because, while I still have the "Communists for Kerry" link and logo (which I love), I've never seriously believed John Kerry was a Communist. It's obvious satire, albeit of a deliberately provocative right wing variety.

    Was Julian Bond engaged in satire with the "Confederate swastika" remark? I never would have thought so, because everything about the man seems so serious.

    As to "my" Hillary-as-Stalinist ad, I've never seen such a thing on this blog, and I'm not seeing it this morning but I don't control the new ad bar; did someone sneak it through? (I doubt it, because the ads appear pretty mainstream.) I just looked through the ads very carefully, and I see nothing of the sort. True, there's that picture of Dianne Feinstein holding the machine gun, but that's obvious satire. (Does anyone think she really likes machine guns?)

    For what it's worth, I agree with the premise of Godwin's Law. I think it needs to be pointed out, however, that Godwin's Law is not violated by discussing a person's membership in the Nazi party, friendships with actual members of the Nazi Party, or genuine Nazi sympathies.

    Dave Kopel offers this Wikipedia quote:

    Godwin's Law does not dispute whether, in a particular instance, a reference or comparison to Hitler or the Nazis might be apt. It is precisely because such a reference or comparison may sometimes be appropriate, Godwin has argued, that hyperbolic overuse of the Hitler/Nazi comparison should be avoided. Avoiding such hyperbole, he argues, is a way of ensuring that when valid comparisons to Hitler or Nazis are made, such comparisons have the appropriate impact.
    While I have never seriously stated that Kerry or Hillary Clinton are Communists, I have no problem with extending Godwin's Law to Communist/Stalinist comparisons.

    The problem is that in real life, there are Communist Party members and sympathizers just as there are Nazi Party members and sympathizers. Thus, if despite Godwin's Law I point out someone's membership in the Nazi Party and I am right, most people will be properly disgusted with that person. If the evidence is beyond dispute, they might offer excuses (the way Byrd's past membership in the Klan was minimized), but there'd be no debating the serious nature of the charge.

    Yet, if I pointed out someone's membership in or work with the Communist Party, a lot of people would be outraged -- even if I was right. The difference is that the outrage wouldn't be directed at the Communist or Communist sympathizer; it would be directed towards me. I'd be called a "red baiter" or a "McCarthyite."

    Things like Communist associations are generally not mentioned in the mainstream media. A good recent example was the death of Betty Friedan; none of the MSM accounts mentioned that she was "a long-time participant in the American Communist movement." (More here, and my previous discussion is here.)

    It's easy for people prone to paranoid conspiracy thinking to imagine that this is because the MSM is sympathetic to the Communist Party or working assiduously for the left, but I think that's about as simplistic as it would be to conclude they're Islamist sympathizers for refusing to print the Danish cartoons.

    More likely, they're just frightened of activists.

    It's not accurate to call such fears "sympathy."

    But what happens when people allow themselves to be led by fear?

    (As I say, it gets complicated.....)

    posted by Eric at 08:04 AM | Comments (5)


    Took this earlier today:


    I don't know whether it's all or nothing.

    MORE: The above is not a conscious depiction of Muhammad. (Even if it were, without a label, how would anyone know?)

    posted by Eric at 10:49 PM

    Blank T-shirts are boring!

    And Americans hate being bored.

    Americans also hate being told what to do.

    Or what they can't wear. That's why I when I got bored I enjoyed designing the PINO-CHE "T", which looked like this:


    But imagine how lifeless and colorless life would be if no one allowed us to display designs on T shirts that might cause someone to get offended.

    All you'd be able to buy would be T-shirts that looked like this:


    Not much to look at, is it? In fact, it's so boring that it's almost inviting a design of some sort, although I'm just not feeling particularly creative right now. Just the act of moving a simple image onto that blank T-shirt* seems like such a strain.

    Maybe later in the week I'll feel more inspired. . .

    Nah, why bother? Anything I can think of, someone else will have probably thought the same thing. (Even as I say this, I'm thinking they already have.)


    Original ideas are harder and harder to come by these days.

    *Is that a T-shirt? Or is it simply a line which appears to be a T-shirt? Would the act of drawing such a line around something else transform its nature or alter its idea?

    UPDATE (02/10/06): The blank has been filled!

    It didn't take long for someone else to show a little imagination:

    (PRWEB) February 8, 2006 -- To see the latest creation from conservative t-shirt maker MetroSpy some would think the Muslim world had every right to be upset. MetroSpy's new t-shirts depict an unflattering caricature of the prophet Mohammed with a bomb on his head.

    The controversial cartoon, which first ran in European newspapers, has outraged Muslims around the world because Islamic tradition forbids a graphic depiction of the Prophet Mohammed.

    Many in the U.S however, are angered by the violence being displayed by extreme Islamic protesters -- torching buildings, desecrating flags and in some cases even killing people. Annoyed by the violent images broadcast from the Middle East, MetroSpy decided to sell t shirts with the controversial caricature emblazoned across the front.

    “We can't let the terrorists win. We can not encourage this uncivilized behavior by caving in to their wishes,” said Nate Thomas, product manager for MetroSpy

    On their website (http://www.shopmetrospy.com/), MetroSpy denounces the tactics of Islamic extremists and encourages its customers to stand up against terrorism. "Failing to print these images mean the terrorists have won", the site says.

    At the rate things are going, it'll probably turn out that they've been selling them in Egypt for months.

    posted by Eric at 08:41 PM

    Cartoons your newspaper (except the Inquirer!) won't let you see!

    Via Pajamas Media and Michelle Malkin, I see that the Philadelphia Inquirer has received praise from the New York Times for daring to publish one of the forbidden Danish cartoons.

    Here's how it appears in the Inquirer's hard copy:


    In a post which has drawn comments from all over the world, I had originally chided the Inquirer for not publishing the cartoon, and said I'd apologize for my post's title -- ("Cartoons your newspaper won't let you see") if they did. Much to my surprise, the Inquirer first linked to the cartoons, then ran the hard copy above, which I scanned and put into the post. Despite the fact that the post continues to draw comments, it's no longer on the front page of the blog, hence the need for a new post. With a new title! (As Michelle notes, the Inquirer is joined by the New York Sun, the and the Riverside Press Enterprise.)

    It was very brave of the Inquirer to do this and I agree with Michelle:

    The point that needs to be hammered again and again is that the newspaper did not publish the cartoon to deliberately offend Muslims or to make an anti-Islamist statement, but to inform. Which is what newspapers, may I remind them, are supposed to do....
    The Inquirer explains the editorial decision:
    To us, this was a moment for newspaper journalists to do what they are uniquely qualified to do in this country - to lay out all sides of the issue for a well-informed public to debate and discuss. The Inquirer published the image to inform our readers, not to inflame them. Before we published it, we interviewed a wide range of people, from Muslim theologians to experts in journalistic ethics. We considered the publication of the image in the same way we have previously considered publishing difficult or troubling images. Other such examples include the burned bodies of contractors hanging from a bridge in Fallujah, and artistic works that included disturbing Christian imagery.

    We published the Danish cartoon as part of a rich offering of coverage on the whole issue. We not only covered the protests, we also examined the issues behind the protests. We have run stories on why Muslims might find the images offensive and on why the American media found this such a difficult choice. We plan further coverage on a variety of topics, including satire in the Middle East. We also have invited members of our local Muslim community to contribute pieces for our op-ed page.

    This is what newspapers are in the business to do. We educate people, we inform them, we spark discussion. It is not only our profession, it is our obligation.

    Good work!

    I feel truly blessed to have such a good, principled, newspaper.

    And remember, this is coming from someone who disagrees with the Inquirer all the time (as any regular reader will confirm).

    UPDATE: My apologies for not including the Rocky Mountain News on the list of exceptions!

    (I hope I can keep on apologizing....)

    MORE: Editor and Publisher has more on the Inquirer protest.

    Accoring to the NYT, the protesters are demanding an apology by this Friday. (Why Friday, I can't imagine...) I can't help notice this comment from CAIR's Ibrahim Hooper:

    Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington, said that despite The Inquirer's decision, he had seen restraint on all sides of the issue within the United States. "I think The Inquirer's move was the exception that proves the rule," Mr. Hooper said.
    I didn't know the United States had such a "rule."

    (Remember, that's coming from a guy whose organization wants to sandblast a sculpture from the wall of the Supreme Court.)

    MORE: Obviously, I hope the Inquirer does not apologize.

    UPDATE: Via InstaPundit, NRO's Jim Geraghty also praises the Inquirer:

    I’m a fan of the Philadelphia Inquirer, and not just because they sometimes run my column or quote this blog. They’re proving they’ve got guts (or some other part of the anatomy associated with courage and fortitude), as the first major paper to publish the infamous cartoons.
    If only the praise from the New York Times had sounded more like that! (But I'm trying not to be percieved as insulting the New York Times...)

    MORE: Mark Petrelis takes a harder line with the recalcitrant Times:

    Too bad Keller, Calame and others at the Times lack the moral and journalistic courage of Amanda Bennett, editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, and her publication which ran one of the cartoons on Saturday.

    Reading the lame excuses from Keller, and Calame's lazy support of Keller's weak arguments, I am more impressed today with the strong spine of Amanda Bennett and her news room in Philadelphia. Keep up the great journalism, Ms. Bennett!

    I hope they do!

    MORE: In a comment below, Callimachus asked whether there was a "small version of the bomb-head caricature [] in a Tony Auth cartoon on their editorial page a few days ago."

    Yes, there was! And it was so good I had to pull it from the recycling bin and scan it.

    Here it is:


    MORE: The Inquirer's editorial page editor Chris Satullo interviews Tony Auth about the cartoons:

    Satullo: How do you deal with upset people who say you use stereotypes and depict their religion or ethnicity as all uniformly terrorist, and they feel you are painting with a too-wide brush? What is your response?

    Auth: I would disagree. The cartoon was about the tolerance of mass murders, not the accusation that all Muslims are mass murderers. What is the underlying message here? To me it is of a particular concern - Muhammad with a bomb in his turban is not so much an assault on Muhammad but is raising the question: Is this now what has happened to Islam? And if it is, shouldn't there be an uproar about that? Isn't that what we should be complaining about? And in fact the Jordanian editor that Trudy Rubin pointed out in her column raised exactly that question - what is more an assault on Islam, a beheading of a hostage on the Internet or these drawings? And he was fired for just raising that question

    - I think that is the problem.

    Regarding the role of political cartoons generally, I enjoy this quote from "Boss" Tweed:

    In perhaps the best known example of the force of the political cartoon, Thomas Nast’s images in Harper’s Weekly played an important role in the overthrow of the Tweed Ring in 1870s New York City. An exasperated Boss Tweed is recorded to have demanded of his henchmen, “Stop them damn pictures. I don’t care so much what the papers write about me. My constituents can’t read. But, damn it, they can see pictures.”
    Perhaps they're afraid the message will resonate.

    posted by Eric at 04:38 PM | Comments (2)

    Multiculturalism is a multisplendored thing

    Julian Bond seems to have a fanciful view of the Confederate flag, which he has morphed into an increasingly famous alternate history symbol he calls "the Confederate swastika."

    Noting that it's a "comment that he makes often," Brendan Loy cites a speech Bond made in Fayetteville, in which he said:

    "Their (Republicans) idea of equal rights is the American flag and the Confederate swastika flying side-by-side,"
    (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    "Comment that he makes often" is no understatement, because I have an additional report, with more from New Orleans. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Julian Bond made an identical remark in Indiana in 2004:

    NAACP chairman Julian Bond, speaking to lawmakers and business leaders in Indiana last month, said Bush and other Republicans appealed to a racist "dark underside of American culture."

    "They preach racial equality but practice racial division," Bond said. "Their idea of equal rights is the American flag and Confederate swastika flying side by side."

    At the 2001 NAACP convention in New Orleans, Bond said Bush "has selected nominees from the Taliban wing of American politics, appeased the wretched appetites of the extreme right wing, and chosen cabinet officials whose devotion to the Confederacy is nearly canine in its uncritical affection." (Emphasis added.)

    When I spotted the "Confederate swastika" remark in the Inquirer, I commented on its silliness, but it seemed like such a typical thing for an admirer of communists to say that I spent more time with his rather delicate evasion of the gay marriage issue.

    I think Brendan Loy is correct that the evocation of Nazi imagery results from the fact that the confederacy and the Nazi Holocaust have been the subject of endless rhetorical linkage. With that implanted in people's minds, when you say "confederate swastika," people will nod their head in profound agreement. Add "Republican" and, well, not only is the case closed, it's time for major outrage!

    Whether there is any such thing as a Confederate swastika is beside the point -- because there might just as well have been! And the Confederate swastika might just as well have included Republicans!

    I know this is old ground, but I believe in standing on old ground, and if Julian Bond can make links, so can I!

    So, forget the Confederate swastika. (For that matter, forget the Pink Swastika!)

    Once again, what we need most is not a false flag or a Confederate flag posing as a swastika.

    We need a symbol to unite us.

    The Confederate Rainbow Flag!


    Because bigotry comes in all races, sexes, sexualities, and yes, even creeds!

    UPDATE: I tried unsuccessfully to locate an image of a Confederate swastika. But I did find at least one very New Agey Rainbow swastika. Perhaps Julian Bond was trying to balance the, um, karma?

    posted by Eric at 02:57 PM | Comments (10)

    If only the mullahs could be logical and reasonable!

    In an obvious attempt to muddy the water, Iran is planning to host a Holocaust cartoon festival:

    IRAN'S largest selling newspaper announced today it was holding a contest on cartoons of the Holocaust in response to the publishing in European papers of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed.
    "It will be an international cartoon contest about the Holocaust," said Farid Mortazavi, the graphics editor for Hamshahri newspaper - which is published by Teheran's conservative municipality.

    He said the plan was to turn the tables on the assertion that newspapers can print offensive material in the name of freedom of expression.

    "The Western papers printed these sacrilegious cartoons on the pretext of freedom of expression, so let's see if they mean what they say and also print these Holocaust cartoons," he said.

    I think "they" should go ahead and print the cartoons just to show the Iranians how lame their claim of a "double standard" is. But whether they do or not isn't the point. If, say, the Danish press refused to print the Holocaust cartoons, that's an editorial judgment wholly irrelevant to their right to do so.

    What's more, the Iranians' argument is specious because they are demanding that "Western papers" do something reciprocally that they will not do themselves. Only if they printed both the Holocaust cartoons and the Muhammad cartoons would the Iranians be able to press this demand under cover of "fairness."

    I suppose an argument can be made that the laws in some European countries (making it a criminal offense to deny the Holocaust) render all European claims of free speech hypocritical. But that's not logical either. Goering made a similar claim at Nuremburg: that the murderous Soviets had no right to sit in judgment on the Nazis. Yes they did. It is an elementary legal and moral principle that one's guilt is not determined by reference to the guilt of other people. Otherwise, I could beat a speeding ticket were I able to show that the traffic court judge was speeding too.

    (The problem is, when dealing with Iranian mullahs, I'm afraid that logical arguments are a waste of time....)

    UPDATE: Actually, in light of what's already standard fare in so many Mideast newspapers, if they gave a Holocaust cartoon festival, how would we know it?

    posted by Eric at 08:33 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBacks (1)

    Who propheted from Cartoongate?

    A brief word on an irony which shouldn't go unnoticed.

    More and more stories have confirmed the truth of what I believe was pointed out first by Gateway Pundit: that the worst of the cartoons are not "the cartoons." The really bad ones (the ones which show Muhammad as a pedophile, with a pig face, and having sex with a dog) were never published in the Jyllands newspaper.

    And now it appears that they were inserted and circulated by a Danish Imam who admires bin Laden and has a major grudge -- and whose highly questionable past includes working as a translator for Ayman al Zawahiri.

    . . .Vidino pins much of the responsibility on Ahmed Abu-Laban, the head of the Danish Islamic Community who made the cartoons an international issue.

    "He has a very shady past but has managed to become the face of moderate Islam in Denmark," Vidino said.

    In presenting the cartoons to Islamic leaders in Cairo in November, Abu-Laban created the impression that the Danish paper published even the pornographic images, according to Vidino and Danish journalists who read the document that the imams took to Egypt.

    "The imams manipulated Arab opinion by misinforming them and showing them drawings that never even appeared in our newspaper, making them believe that we are continuing to publish the caricatures," Flemming Rose, the Danish editor who commissioned the cartoons, told Agence France-Presse news agency.

    The exact origin of these cartoons doesn't yet appear to have been established. That may never be known. (Anyone with a computer can generate anything like that, of course.)

    I'm reminded of numerous incidents involving things like swastikas on gym lockers, phony death threats, and false incident reports which generate huge controversy and are later shown to have been fake. And of course, this leads to the old "fake but accurate" counterclaim. (Except I'm not sure "accurate" is a word I'd use, for that might tend to compound the irony.)

    I'm just curious; if it were established that the "extra" cartoons were a hoax, then who should be punished, and according to what law?

    I mean, I'm no Islamic scholar, but I'd like to know, under their own rules, are Imams allowed to create and distribute "fake but accurate" insulting depictions of their prophet?

    Irony aside, I'm all for free speech. But it helps to know whose speech it is.

    UPDATE: Gateway Pundit continues his investigation, and has identified the pig faced man. "Two more to go!" (Via InstaPundit.)

    posted by Eric at 07:53 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBacks (1)

    Did it almost happen here?

    Unless this 1997 report is incorrect, the statue of Muhammad on the United States Supreme Court building triggered riots on the other side of the world nearly a decade ago:

    March 14, 1997

    No sooner had the United States Supreme Court rejected a petition from domestic Muslim groups to remove a 66-year-old depiction of the prophet Mohammed from its courtroom than riots over the issue broke out half-way around the world in the Kashmiri capital of Srinagar.

    At issue is a marble sculpture on the walls of the high court's chamber depicting Mohammed as one of 18 historical law-givers. The piece was crafted in 1935 by Adolph Weinman (1870-1952) whose other works include the Lincoln Memorial in Madison, Wis., and the facade for the Post Office Department building in Washington, D.C. Weinman also designed the dime and half dollar for the 1916 coin issue, and he executed the bust of Horace Mann which is displayed in the American Hall of Fame.

    Hey! That's the same "fascist" dime I dropped the dime on back in 2004!

    Last December, Islamists noticed the depiction of Mohammed, and declared that the display violated Muslim law which prohibits the showing of any countenance of the "prophet." A coalition of Islamic groups lobbied to have the image sand blasted, and even offered to pay for the project and to replace it with a marble inscription bearing quotations from the Koran.
    Hey, isn't that a coverup of our own history they demanded?

    The nerve!

    Fortunately, Rehnquist didn't go along with it:

    On Wednesday, Chief Justice William Rehnquist said that altering the frieze would damage the artistry of the work. "It is part of the architectural and aesthetic unit that has been in place more than 60 years," wrote Rehnquist adding, "Altering the depiction of Mohammed would impair the artistic integrity of the whole."

    But a member of the Council on American-Islamic Relations told Reuter news service that "The image remains, so our concerns remain. It is a matter of principle for us." He said that the coalition was consulting with other groups, and added that "We are in it for the long haul." The coalition also said that it objected to the specific depiction of Mohammed who is shown with a sword in his hand; he is standing between images of Charlemagne and the Emperor Justinian.

    The more things change, the more they stay the same?


    What baffles me is that I have not been able to verify the above story, which was written by Conrad Goeringer, described as "Senior Staff Writer for American Atheist Magazine, and Director of Online Services for the organization."

    Why didn't I hear about this, and why isn't it appearing elsewhere? Might it be fictional?

    UPDATE: Eugene Volokh has more on CAIR. (Apparently the group believes that potrayals of religious figures "in a way that many adherents of the religion find blasphemous" above should be constitutionally prohibited as "hate speech" or "incitement.")

    I think CAIR should remember that this is still the United States.

    MORE (02/07/06): The story is confirmed in this anniversary report at CAIR's web site, on page 22.

    (Via this WorldNetDaily article, datelined today.)

    posted by Eric at 06:47 PM | Comments (1)

    Unimaginable appearance?

    In matters of idolatry (and, I suppose "graven images,") is it the image that counts, or the label assigned to the image? The concept is bothering me, and I hope my readers will forgive me if I attempt to use this blog to figure it out.

    Let me see if I can get this straight. No one who is alive has ever seen the prophet Muhammad, who was never known to have sat for any sort of portrait, right? In logic, except for a few details (such as the fact that the man had a large head, dark eyes and wore a beard), that means that no one is in a position to know what he looked like, and therefore no one can declare that any particular drawing either does or does not look like Muhammad. We have only an artist's depiction of a person whose appearance is totally up to the individual artist's imagination.

    In other words, whether a particular image of a bearded man with dark eyes dressed in 7th century attire is Muhammad depends on whether the label of "Muhammad" is affixed onto it. Even then, how are we to know that this is the Prophet Muhammad, unless the word "prophet" too, is affixed?

    This means, does it not, that the argument is not over a depiction, but over the fact that a given depiction has been given a certain label? How can an image of something unknown have an appearance of being anything without a label?

    Christians have very little idea what Jesus looked like. The stereotyped image so often seen in religious paintings and icons is little more than an image cooked up by the medieval (mostly European) Christian imagination.

    Earlier Roman depictions of Jesus (and Rome was where Christianity was put on the map) show him as clean-shaven, with short hair cropped in the Roman style, and wearing a Roman tunic. Korean Christians depicted him with Asian features, while African denominations (as well as certain African American churches) have portrayed a black Jesus.

    The complexion of Jesus's skin, how wore his hair, whether he dressed in the traditional Jewish manner, the Hellenistic Jewish style, or even the Roman style is open to dispute, because details of the historical Jesus are sketchy.

    Here's one of the earliest known depictions of Jesus, from the Roman Catacombs, mid Third Century A.D.


    I don't think that settles the matter of how the historical Jesus looked, but in matters of idolatry, the accuracy of the depiction is irrelevant. In theory, a depiction of a clean cut man wearing a modern business suit could just as reasonably be called an image of Jesus Christ as could a medieval man with Nordic features.

    I don't know how many people have examined Zombietime's Mohammad image archive in detail, but I just can't stop thinking about the fact that our own government features a depiction of Muhammad -- right smack on the the United States Supreme Court building itself!

    Here it is -- the North Frieze:


    Muhammad (that's the Prophet Muhammad himself, folks) stands on the wall of our beloved United States Supreme Court building -- holding the sword and the Koran.

    Not wanting to be caught with its hand in the proverbial cookie jar, our government seems to have made a deliberately sloppy effort to muddy the waters and declare that this depiction of Muhammad really does not depict Muhammad at all:


    [The Supreme Court website pdf states: Muhammad (c. 570–632) The Prophet of Islam. He is depicted holding the Qur’an. The Qur’an provides the primary source of Islamic Law. Prophet Muhammad’s teachings explain and implement Qur’anic principles. The figure above is a well-intentioned attempt by the sculptor, Adolph Weinman, to honor Muhammad and it bears no resemblance to Muhammad. Muslims generally have a strong aversion to sculptured or pictured representations of their Prophet.]

    Really? If no one knows with any certainty what Muhammad looked like, then how does the United States Supreme Court know what he didn't look like?

    At the risk of arguing with the Supreme Court, I feel compelled to repeat, it's not the appearance that counts; it's the label.

    To more fully demonstrate my point, I'll close with a couple of images.

    From Zombietime, here's Muhammad:


    And from another site, here's, well I'll let you guess:


    Give up?

    OK, that last one is Jesus.

    But if you ask me, I'd swear that the Jesus looks quite similar to the Muhammad.

    If I switched the labels, would anyone care?


    * The prophet Moses, who lived many centuries before Muhammad, is also depicted. The Supreme Court website, however does not say that the sculpture "bears no resemblance to Moses."

    AFTERTHOUGHT: Is Google going to get in trouble for displaying any of these images in Mideastern countries? Just thought I'd ask....

    UPDATE: j.d. at evolution asks some good questions:

    The central issue in all of this is, I feel, the question of who controls the meaning of words and symbols. Is it individuals who control them, each interpreting them for themselves and leaving others to determine their own interpretations? Or should some group control them instead, defining “acceptable” interpretations that the rest of us either look to for guidance or are compelled to accept?
    I think the question of "who controls" is in a state of flux. The very ability to control these things has been losing steadily, but at an ever more rapid pace. The first major blow was the Gutenberg press, which triggered the Enlightenment, then the industrial revolution, and the beginning of modern freedom. The ability to maintain this control soon came under attack by new advents in communication; telegraph, then telephone, radio, and finally television, until finally the Internet arose to challenge control's last vestiges. (Not a pretty picture for control.)

    Perhaps this accounts for the resurgence in primitivism -- both here and abroad.

    I hope not.

    posted by Eric at 01:31 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBacks (1)

    Imagination war?

    The "first they came for" premise of this video from Michelle Malkin is absolutely correct. Here's Roger L. Simon, last summer:

    I have written frequently on here about the curious silence of my Hollywood colleagues about the assassination (for his art) of their fellow filmmaker Theo Van Gogh by an Islamist psychokiller. I'm not sure if it's willful ignorance or just plain ignorance, but the crime has been persistently ignored by the film community, as if it never happened. No mention is made in today's Variety either of the trial of the murderer Mohammed Bouyeri who, this morning in Amsterdam, was sentenced to life without parole. Perhaps I am being hasty and something will appear tomorrow, but I doubt it.
    The silence was deafening.

    Historical parallels are obvious, as Roger made clear yesterday:

    ...this is no joke. We're already living in a rerun of the Middle Ages with religious-motivated hordes streaming through the streets, loaded for bear and screaming for the end of democracy. Only back in the Middle Ages people had an excuse. Most back then thought the world was flat. What do we do now? Many still think the way to deal with these lunatics is to apologize for these obscure cartoons, say "nice doggy," pat them on the head and hope they will go away. Similar techniques were tried in the 1930s when there were nowhere near as many Nazis as there are followers of radical Islam today (no matter how you count them) . Frightening thought that, isn't it?
    Hoping they'll go away didn't work in the 1930s, and it didn't work in the 1990s, and it sure as hell isn't working in the emerging "post-Free Speech" Era. That's why I think it's a good idea to watch Michelle's video.

    As Austin Bay (via Glenn) said earlier,

    The imagination is a battlefield.

    posted by Eric at 08:57 AM | Comments (1)

    R.I.P. Grandpa Munster (1910 - 2006? Or 1923 - 2006?)

    I don't know why (perhaps it's riot fatigue), but I'm fascinated by the controversy over Al "Grandpa" Lewis's date of birth.

    I'm very sad to see that the actor who played Grandpa Munster in the 1964-1966 TV series has died, but what really surprised me was to read that he was only 82. He played an old man in the show, but in 1964 he'd have only been 41. I grew up watching that show, and he sure as hell didn't look or act 41. It's possible that he was, but they'd have had to use a lot of makeup, and they could have, but in those days, why waste time? Why not just get an actor of the right age for the part?

    Here he is in a studio still from the mid 1960s:


    Does that guy look 41? I just don't think so.

    Anyway, both Wikipedia and the IMDB go with 95, listing his DOB as April 30, 1910. So does the New York Times, the BBC, and NPR.

    But CNN, along with the Philadelphia Inquirer, the NY Daily News, and the AP go with 82 -- information which comes from his son:

    The actor was widely reported to have been born in 1910, but his son Ted Lewis said Saturday that his father was born in 1923.
    You'd think a little thing like this wouldn't be too tough to figure out.

    Surely there's a birth certificate somewhere.

    Well, according to Dead or Alive and "Who's alive and who's dead," there is, and he's been lying about his age for decades:

    Q. Wasn't Al Lewis really born in 1910?

    A. No, he was born on 23 April 1923. This has been documented on his birth certificate and college application. These documents were shown on an episode of "A&E Biography" in 2000. I know, he claims to have been in the circus in the 1920s and in the merchant marine in the 1930s, but he wasn't really. He lied about his age to get the part of Grandpa, and he's been lying about it ever since.


    I think he's done such a good job of lying that he ought to be allowed to officially change his age.

    Well, they change sexes, don't they?

    MORE: I really should stop making off the cuff remarks like that last one, as there are many people who don't believe there is such a thing as a "sex change" -- to the point where there's a lot of pressure on Wikipedia to remove its entry on the subject. Reason?

    Sex Change is an inaccurate term often used for gender reassignment therapy, that is all medical procedures transgendered people can have, or specifically to sexual reassignment surgery, which usually refers to genital surgery only.
    Gee. I thought the idea was that "gender" was to be used as a synonym for "sex." I guess I was wrong. Or maybe I'm just not supposed to talk about it.

    posted by Eric at 07:28 AM | Comments (12)

    The Great Aztec Revival

    A commenter on these pages has given me some food for thought...

    It is such a simple matter, really. It was rude. It was in bad taste. It was intentionally hurtful and designed to spit on a culture's sacred icon.

    Someone may have "a right" to write and publish cartoons that insult a billion people. That doesn't mean they should do it. A gentleman would never do a thing like that. Only a cad and a scoundrel would. And I'm not so sure I like living on the same planet as scoundrels.

    Doesn't validate the threats, but it certainly makes me understand the anger. This is something terribly sacred to these people and I don't think it is asking much to get people to respect that. I'm asking. I'm not going to bring out my buddy Big Brother to do it. I just want to call upon people to be a little more human, maybe--and a little less cavalier about exercising their free speech, when maybe they could be a little more liberal in exercising common sense and respect for the sacred icons of others.

    First, let me say that I admire the calm, humane, reasoned tone of the request. I wish that more people held to such a civilized standard of discourse.

    Second, let me fully agree with the proposition that it's wrong to insult someone's faith. Why, when I was growing up, my parents made it clear that even talking about religion was impolite, as was talking about politics, or asking a person who they voted for, or asking how much money they made. It simply wasn't done.

    So, I can't help being sympathetic to the notion that we can all get along with each other if only we're willing to try.

    Here's the thing. I'm starting to think that we've tried enough.

    Respect is a two way street, and it can't be bought, it has to be earned. That's something else that my parents drummed into me, along with "sticks and stones can break my bones..."

    It's simple, but true. David Deutsch, shortly after 9-11 had a more adult formulation of what I'm getting at...

    People wring their hands and say that there must be "better ways of finding solutions" than warfare. Of course there are. We have already found them.The nations and people of the West use them all the time.

    They are openness, tolerance, reason, respect for human rights — the fundamental institutions of our civilisation. But no way of finding solutions is so effective that it can work when it isn't being used.

    And when a violent group defines itself by its comprehensive rejection of all the values on which problem-solving and the peaceful resolution of disputes depend, and embarks instead on a campaign of unlimited murder and destruction, it is morally wrong as well as factually inaccurate to represent this as a case of our needing "better ways of finding solutions".

    That is why we have to insist, by force if necessary, that everyone else in the world also respect, and enforce, the minimum standards of civilisation and human rights. Western standards.

    Can a tolerant society tolerate intolerance? Must it? Even when that tolerance is cynically used as a tool for political advantage? I would say no.

    On the other hand, there seem to be plenty of people saying yes, yes, yes. Any criticism of certain groups or topics, particularly non-Christian religions, is deemed illegitimate, bigoted, an assault on our precious freedoms. My question for those critics would be, "When does it become okay to criticize or mock a religion?"

    Must all faiths be given the kid glove treatment? Doesn't our constitution demand as much? Well, no. Not really.

    Just ask a Mormon. After many unpleasant travails, they trekked across half a continent, looking to practice their faith unmolested. For the most part, that much distance proved to be enough, but you won't find the local laws reflecting all of their heritage. Actually, I believe the Feds will still arrest practicing polygamists, especially the conspicuous ones. Where's the freedom of religion in that?

    We could also ask a non-Mormon. Both perspectives would tend to support the notion that untrammeled exercise of faith is not constitutionally guaranteed.

    Or what about those southwestern tribes that use peyote as a sacrament, and have done so for millennia? They may still do so, under proper regulation, but depending on which state you live in you probably can't. It hardly seems fair, but it supports my point. The U.S. government's support of religious freedom is conditional, selective, discriminating. It always has been.

    Let's go to a ridiculous extreme. Let us imagine that certain immigrants decide to stage an authentic Aztec Revival. At first, the city fathers are delighted. Many new restaurants open, purveying fascinating cuisine. The traditional costumes are a colorful addition to civic parades. Indeed, the neo-Aztecs prove to be hard working and thrifty, with a genuine flair for aquaculture.

    We all know where this is going, don't we?

    It starts with an innocent request for a zoning variance, permitting the construction of a two hundred foot step pyramid. Neighbors are concerned about noise and property values...

    It ends with hundreds of citizens marched up the pyramid and sacrificed to Coatlicue and Huitzilopochtli. CNN is reluctant to show the footage. Popular sentiment holds that voluntary relocation to Utah is not an appropriate response. The revivalists claim they're constitutionally protected, and hey, the victims were all volunteers anyway, kinda sorta.

    What is to be done?

    Sure, it sounds ridiculous. It is ridiculous. But only because it exaggerates our current problems for comic effect. The underlying dilemma is all too real. A vocal minority of Muslims is advocating religiously mandated murder, and they are not receptive to discussion. I wish they were, but early indicators seem discouraging.

    They're doing God's work.

    I don't think turning the other cheek is an option anymore. In fact, it shouldn't even be on the table. We've only got so many cheeks, and they've already been turned. Any more would just encourage them.

    So what's left to do? I suppose we could wait for the vast majority of sane, peace-loving Muslims to correct their minority of errant brethren and help them channel their energies into more productive pursuits.

    We do satire here.

    posted by Justin at 03:44 PM | Comments (9)

    Oh, the misogyny!

    (I know, it's a bit crass to echo Justin's title. But hey, this is a thought, not an echo.... A ripple, actually.)

    Salman Rushdie (still unsilenced despite the many calls for his death by cultural NeoLuddites like Cat Stevens) thinks that fear of women's sexuality is a major cause of Islamic extremism:

    BERLIN: British author Salman Rushdie said the West had failed to grasp the extent to which Islamic extremism was rooted in men's fear of women's sexuality, in an interview to be published Thursday.

    Rushdie told German weekly magazine Stern that his latest novel, "Shalimar the Clown," dealt with the deep anxiety felt among many Islamic men about female sexual freedom and lost honor.

    When asked if the book drew a link between "Islamic terror and damaged male honor," Rushdie said he saw it as a crucial, and often overlooked, point. "The Western-Christian world view deals with the issues of guilt and salvation, a concept that is completely unimportant in the East because there is no original sin and no savior," the author said, in comments printed in German.

    "Instead, great importance is given to 'honor.' I consider that to be problematic. But of course it is underestimated how many Islamists consciously or unconsciously attempt to restore lost honor."

    This finds confirmation in the views of a man considered the godfather of al Qaida, one Sayyid Qutb:
    "The American girl is well acquainted with her body’s seductive capacity. She knows it lies in the face, and in expressive eyes, and thirsty lips. She knows seductiveness lies in the round breasts, the full buttocks, and in the shapely thighs, sleek legs and she knows all this and does not hide it…Then she adds to all this the fetching laugh, the naked looks, and the bold moves, and she does not ignore this for one moment or forget it!"
    NPR has more:
    As for Qutb's revulsion over American sexuality, Fandy says there is no evidence that Qutb ever had a sexual relationship in his life.
    Well there was one woman -- a drunken American temptress -- who is known to have tried to seduce him. But the attempt failed:
    Everything changed in 1948 when he was sent to study education in the US. It was a fateful decision. Perhaps those who sent him thought that it would broaden his horizons. What happened was that on the voyage out he decided that his only salvation lay in an unswerving allegiance to Islam. Almost immediately his newfound resolve was tested on the liner, as a drunken American woman attempted to seduce him. Qutb did not succumb, nor was he later won over by the charms of the American way of life.
    I guess he kept his "honor."

    Many Americans would assume a guy who acted like Qutb was probably gay, but these days they wouldn't hold a little thing like that against him.

    (Small comfort that must be for those who think like him.)

    posted by Eric at 02:23 PM | Comments (3)

    Oh, The Humanity!

    I'm sitting in a coffee shop, trying to crank out a post, and the management has put on an old Cat Stevens album.

    At this very second, I'm enduring "Peace Train".

    The irony.

    posted by Justin at 01:35 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBacks (1)

    Traditional South Park Values!

    I'm probably missing something, but I just discovered (via WND, which discusses the Danish cartoons here) that an episode of "South Park" depicted Muhammad, and has been shown -- for years -- without complaint.

    An episode of South Park, the controversial American cartoon show, which featured a visual portrayal of the prophet Mohammed, has been screened on British television twice and can currently be viewed on the internet.

    The episode, entitled The Super Best Friends, did not attract a single complaint from Muslim clerics when it was aired by Channel 4 in 2002 and 2003. The lack of protest is in stark contrast to the controversy over the recent newspaper publication of cartoons depicting Mohammed.

    The episode casts Mohammed as a Muslim super-hero who joins forces with Jesus and Moses, both of whom are considered prophets in the Muslim faith.

    Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the show's creators, gave each of the religious figures a set of special powers to take on a rival Church founded by David Blaine, the American illusionist.

    In one scene Mohammed is shown rising in the air so he can do battle with the Lincoln Memorial, which has been brought to life by Blaine. The prophet, who is swatted away by the statue, cries: "Is it too powerful, Jesus?"

    Here's an image from the show (which can be streamed here):


    Does this mean we can all get along?

    posted by Eric at 11:10 AM | Comments (3)

    Ownership, not authorship

    Speaking of rules, I've pretty much ignored whatever rules for commenters I might normally tend to uphold in the case of this post. The comments just keep piling on, and I haven't deleted any of them, even though as I said in one comment, a lot of them belong in a museum of some sort.

    As I've never before gotten getting so many comments in any post (at least not in a post that wasn't linked by Glenn Reynolds), it's probably a good idea to issue a disclaimer of some sort.

  • 1. I'm only responsible for the comments actually written by me.
  • 2. No one has any right to leave comments.
  • 3. I have the right to ignore or delete (or do neither) whenever I want or don't want.
  • I reserve the right to reimpose the Official Classical Values Rules for Commenters at any time.

    posted by Eric at 09:56 AM | Comments (2)

    The rules, they are a-changin'

    Jeff at Beautiful Atrocities had a wonderful post last summer called "IN THE FUTURE, EVERYONE WILL BE HITLER FOR 15 MINUTES" in which he catalogued 40 or so notable Hitler comparisons (as Jeff noted, the Bush = Hitler meme is so vast that this entire gallery had to be devoted to it.)

    As it happens, I haven't yet been considered worthy of my fifteen minutes of Hitlerdom, but now I see that the bar has been raised by Hugo Chavez (one of Jeff's featured Hitleristas).

    Merely being a Hitler is now passe, according to Chavez, because there's a new standard. To really stand out on today's bell curve requires being worse than Hitler.

    "The imperialist, genocidal, fascist attitude of the U.S. president has no limits. I think Hitler would be like a suckling baby next to George W. Bush," Chavez said from a stage decorated with a huge red image of himself as a young soldier.
    I don't know whether the guy had lessons in hyperbole from Cindy Sheehan, but I hate it when standards are raised arbitrarily like this.

    I think it's unfair that being a "mere Hitler" would become a standard of mediocrity.

    MORE: Googling Hitler these days is probably a Nazi like activity, so I used Yahoo. Anyway, it's probably worth reporting that "worse than Hitler" is considerably more popular than "just like Hitler."


    AFTERTHOUGHT: Perhaps the intent of Chavez wasn't so much to malign Bush as it was to rehabilitate and soften Hitler by comparing him to "a suckling baby."

    I might not be looking deeply enough into the inner workings of Chavez's mind.

    (At least he didn't compare Hitler to an unborn fetus.)

    MORE: While Chavez is in a position to grab headlines, his thought really wasn't original. According to Daimnation, at least one blogger beat him to it years ago.

    posted by Eric at 08:54 AM | Comments (2)

    Taking a crack

    Rick Moran has written the best serious essay about the cartoon issue that I've seen so far. Excerpt:

    The hysteria being whipped up by Muslim religious leaders against the west (and shamelessly exploited by Islamic political leaders) is a glimpse into the soul of Islam itself and how it is a cultural imperative for the guardians of that faith to prevent at all costs this supposed slur from going unanswered. To do so would allow a tiny crack in the wall that separates Islam from the modern world. And like the unbending dogmatic faiths that have ended up in history’s dustbin before, it has always been a tiny crack which proved to be the impetus for cataclysmic change, sweeping away the old order and bring on the new.

    Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the wall of a church was much more than the act of a tortured conscience rebelling against the corruptive influence of absolute power by the Roman church over the individual. It was a harbinger of the modern world itself, a clarion call for the needs of an independent mind to triumph over the slavery imposed by history, by dogma, and by a tradition that made some men masters over others thanks to their selection by the Almighty as conduits through which ordinary people might achieve paradise. Luther’s complete rejection of this cultural bête noire started a revolution he neither sought nor, in the end, supported. But his simple act cracked open a door to a brave new world that led directly to a political revolution that created more secular nation-states in Europe that were independent of Rome.

    Similarly, near the end of the 20th century, the leaders of Soviet Communism were desperately trying to maintain their total control of a restive populace by trying to limit contact with western values and ideas. Enter Mikail Gorbechev who mistakenly thought he could reform communism by importing a few western concepts about freedom. To Mr. Gorbechev’s amazement, his reform measures rather than tamping down dissent actually let loose a flood of discontents that eventually led to the destruction of the Soviet state as well as his own personal downfall. Gorbechev made the mistake of thinking that he could control the forces of change that, once unshackled, swept the dogmatic Soviet system away.

    All it takes is a crack.

    In many ways, I think it was a crack which was inevitable. If it hadn't been these cartoons, it would have been something else. Something otherwise trivial to free Westerners would have crossed a line which was begging to be crossed.

    Why do I say begging? There's something about an ideology for which people are willing to kill innocent people and kill themselves that invites scrutiny. What matters is not so much whether the people doing the killing are in fact "real" or authentic Muslims. What matters is that they claim they are!

    The killers assert that Islam is precisely such a religion which countenances murder, suicide and wholesale butchery, and that they are the true inheritors of the mantle of Muhammad, in whose name they proudly claim to kill.

    They dare the West to do anything about it.

    Along with the responsible Muslims (those not involved in murder and suicide), they also claim Islam is the religion of peace.

    And they claim that anyone who insults their prophet is to be killed.

    Is it any wonder that someone, somewhere, would insult this prophet? This same prophet in whose name thousands of innocent Americans were slaughtered? They get to slaughter in his name, but we are told "No cartoons!" Because that would provoke outrage?

    Maybe such a prophet deserves to be tested.

    While I was raised Christian, I do not consider myself a good Christian. For starters, I'm a quasi-Pagan, and I don't believe in that "turn the other cheek" business. So I am probably not qualified to speak on behalf of Christianity the way a good, practicing Christian -- the type who goes to church and all that important stuff -- might.

    But I'm wondering....

    Suppose a large movement of fanatical Christian terrorists were to emerge, and they believed in reinstating the Inquisition, the Crusades, the whole nine yards. If their victims ridiculed Jesus Christ in cartoons depicted him sitting as a Grand Inquisitor, would other Christians howl in outrage over this "insult"? Would they feel that their religious principles had been threatened to the core? I doubt it. I think they'd be quick to understand, and there'd be a chorus of Christians who'd be quick to condemn the terrorists who claimed to act in the name of Jesus, and quick to explain that "the real Jesus" never would have tolerated things like terror and torture.

    Why am I not seeing much of that among Muslims?

    Is this just a question of the cartoons being in bad taste, or, as Hugh Hewitt says, "vulgar and stupid"? Sure, some of them are. But a lot of them, like the one I republished showing a somewhat bewildered Muhammad telling suicide bombers* that they'd run out of virgins, are not vulgar or stupid, but the essence of thoughtful political satire. As I said in a comment,

    ...in the cartoon, Mohammad is shown as a voice of surprise, restraint, and maybe even remorse. If that gives pause to people who might think they'd go to heaven by killing innocent people, well, that's the whole idea. If it doesn't, well, how best might suicide bombers be debated?
    Actually, it might be a stupid idea to try to debate the suicide bombers themselves.

    But what about the idea behind suicide bombing? I think it's a squalid, bloody, murderous idea, but is it a political and religious idea, or is it not? What do we call it? Are we even allowed to call it what they call it? Is it "jihad"? Is that sanctioned by Muhammad?

    Exactly how are we to debate that idea? Its practitioners choose to debate by blowing themselves (and us) to smithereens.

    Are they right? Does Muhammad approve? Or might they be wrong, and might Muhammad disapprove? Or might he even be having second thoughts about the implications of some of his words?

    If non-Muslims are not allowed to have this debate, if we're not allowed to ask what are legitimate political questions, and pose them according to our own traditions, then I think it might take a crack.

    *What would Muhammad tell the suicide bombers?


    I think I have a pretty good idea what Jesus would tell them, but let's stick with Muhammad. What would he say? Can anyone tell me?

    MORE: Is this the answer to my questions?


    A lot of people seem to think so, and I hasten to add that as an answer, it's certainly nothing new.

    The questions are well worth asking.

    (Not that they all have to be posed in a serious manner, of course....)

    MORE: Here's Christopher Hitchens:

    if Muslims do not want their alleged prophet identified with barbaric acts or adolescent fantasies, they should say publicly that random murder for virgins is not in their religion.

    UPDATE (02/05/06): Does the current "cartoon rage" represent the dying gasp of something we used to take for granted -- the ability to have dialogue?

    Jeff Goldstein has two excellent essays (the earlier one is here) which patiently explain how identity politics has led to the present "outrage" mess -- especially the cluelessness in the West:

    ....this lack of balance between the freedoms—rather than being exploited by the west to make its case for free speech and its necessity as the guiding principle of liberalism—is instead being exploited by neophyte identity politicians in the Muslim world, who have learned to play the victim card so quickly that our own State Department has bought into their affected outrage at victimization and religious “intolerance."¹

    Somehow, it seems to escape those raised on westernized Orientalism that by calling the intolerance of intolerance “intolerant,” they have reduced the concept of tolerance itself to a cruel semantic joke—the idea being that groups formed around cultural similarities, once they have honed their group message and excommunicated the dissenters—own the narrative. Outside criticism is therefore inauthentic—always tainted by the gaze of the Other, and so only to be considered secondarily (if at all) as a valid critique.

    From there, it is a short journey to asserting the absolutism of a cultural paradigm—and this happens necessarily where universality (or, for postmodernists, social contracts that rely on the trappings of what is metaphysically untenable) is surrendered to competition between identity groups over primacy of “rights” in the global sense.

    This battle over the Danish cartoons highlights all of these philosophical dilemmas (which I have argued previously are the result of certain linguistic misunderstandings that are either cynically or idealistically perpetuated); and so we are brought to the point where this clash of civilizations—which in one important sense is a clash between theocratic Islamism and the west, but in another, more crucial sense, is a clash between the west and its own structural thinking, brought on by years of insinuation into our philosophy of what is, at root, collectivist thought that privileges the interpreter of an action over the necessary primacy of intent and agency and personal responsibility to the communicative chain—could conceivably become manifest over something so seemingly trivial as the right to satirize.

    Almost anything could have sparked this.

    What's being deliberately kept under wraps is the inevitable clash of these balkanized identity groups (at least, those not silenced or marginalized by things like "whiteness theory"), who have become so steeped in their own group identities that they can't see that their culture war will lead ultimately to numerous culture wars between groups rendered incapable of coherent communication, much less engaging in dialogue.

    What happened to the feminists who used to scream "NO TO THE VEIL!"? Why are most gay activists more devoted to the "right" to a marriage license than the right not to be executed in Islamic countries for being gay?

    Oh well. All revolutions eventually devour their own.

    MORE: Tim Blair touches inimitably on the above concern:

    Odd that this concern over maintaining the peace doesn’t limit Muslim commentary on other religions or communities. The Islamic Bookstore in Lakemba, for example, sells vicious anti-Semitic tract The Protocols of the Elders of Zion as well as various anti-Christian titles (Crucifixion – or Cruci-FICTION?). Sheik Khalid Yasin, a regular guest lecturer in Australia, declared that “there’s no such thing as a Muslim having a non-Muslim friend” and denounced modern clothes as the work of “faggots, homosexuals and lesbians”; Christians, he said, deliberately infected Africans with AIDS. Yasin wouldn’t merely draw cartoons of homosexuals—he’d have them put to death in accordance with Koranic law. One Imam told Australian students that Jews put poison in bananas. Local Iraqis voting in their country’s elections were shot at and otherwise intimidated by Islamic extremists whose banners announced: “You vote, you die.” These friends of free speech were also observed photographing those who dared to vote. Sheikh Feiz Muhammad told a supportive Bankstown crowd last year that women deserve to be raped if they wore “satanical” garments, including anything “strapless, backless, [or] sleeveless”, and also “mini-skirts [and] tight jeans.”

    All of this is far more hateful and moronic than those twelve Danish cartoons, not one of which depicts the Prophet eating babies, poisoning fruit, or infecting Africans with AIDS.

    (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    How long will it be before disagreeing with Imams about homosexuality or women's rights will be called "persecution" or "insulting Islam"?

    MORE: I am sorry to see the traditionally-minded Catholic Church apparently siding with the PoMo multiculturalists on this. Eugene Volokh worries that the Church "still seems not to have accepted free expression about religion, or for that matter religious freedom" and opines:

    This is not a marginal issue; it is at the core of the rights of free speech and religious freedom. Under the position the Vatican sets forth, large zones of religious debate, political debate, and art would be outlawed.
    It makes me nervous to see the apparent emergence of pro-censorship sympathies from opposite camps in the "Culture War" -- and I don't think it bodes well for freedom.

    UPDATE (02/09/06): Almost as if in answer to my prayers, cartoonist Tony Auth has supplied an answer to my question:


    posted by Eric at 03:14 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBacks (1)

    No fudging this Savage smear!

    Now that Arianna Huffington (link via InstaPundit) has joined in the attacks against Chris Matthews, I feel obligated to defend the guy. (Not on all counts; I'm sticking with one smudgy, particularly fudgy, smear.)

    Whether you like Matthews or not, he's always spoken his mind, and because of his background, he shares inside insights into the political process that many TV pundits simply don't have.

    This is not to say I agree with him all or even most of the time. But there's something about the way this guy gets it from all sides that would incline to like him whether I liked him or not. He's gotten plenty of abuse from conservatives, for he's anything but a "real" conservative. But right now, he's really getting it from liberals.

    Some of it may be deserved. But right now, at a lot of leftie blogs, I'm seeing a professionally done, apparently well-funded attack ad.

    Here's a screen shot of it, the top of the Atrios ad section:


    (It's also running at Daily Kos, and I don't think either blog's ad space is cheap....)

    The ad directs readers to a blog called "Open Letter To Chris Matthews." Naturally, I went there, because Chris Matthews never struck me as the type of person who'd use the term "fag." Frankly, even if he's a closet bigot, I think he's too politically savvy to talk that way. Reading through the blog, I'm unable to find a single instance in which Matthews makes an actual "fag" joke. Nowhere is it documented that he ever used the word "fag." Instead, all the blog can do is point to his sarcastic recital of Michael Savage's rather lame (for Savage, at least) reference to "Brokeback Mountain" as "Bareback Mountain." :

    MATTHEWS: Well, the wonderful Michael Savage, who's on [WTNT AM] 570 in D.C., who shares a station with you at least, he said -- he calls it -- what's he call it? "Bareback Mounting." That's his name for the movie.

    IMUS: Right. Of course, Bernard calls it "Fudgepack Mountain," but that's probably --

    MATTHEWS: You know what? I'll bet it wins. It's either that or Good Night, and Good Luck. [Warner Independent Pictures, 2005] who'll win for an Academy Award, I think, this year. I think it's the mood. Everybody likes the movie, who's seen it, so.

    That's supposed to be a "fag" joke?

    Even Arianna Huffington had concede that there wasn't much to this. "Clearly being ironic" she said.

    A fag joke? Hardly.

    But now that I've looked into this, I feel like suing Michael Savage! Because I said it before he did!

    And I'm sure Savage got the idea from me.

    Michael, I think it's time to pack it in, as you'll never fudge your way out of this one (and changing "Mountain" to "Mounting" won't help!) I've been onto you from the start.

    posted by Eric at 11:10 AM | Comments (2)

    Sing it, Sting!

    In Europe and America,
    there's a growing feeling of hysteria.
    Conditioned to respond to every threat,
    In the terrorist speeches on the internet.

    Zarqawi says "We will behead you."
    I don't subscribe to this point of view.
    It would be such an impolite thing to do.
    If the Muslims looooove their children too.

    How can we save our little boys from mad extremists sickly joys?
    There's is a definite shortage of common sense,
    On their side of the theological fence.

    We're sons of monkeys, sons of pigs,
    While they're self-righteous killer prigs.
    Believe me when I say to you
    I hope the Muslims loooove their children too

    There's no such thing as "permitted" free speech,
    Just try it and watch it slip out of reach.
    It's only okay for them to preach.
    I hope the Muslims loooove their children toooo...

    We share the same biology
    Regardless of nutso theology.
    But what will save us, me and you
    Is that the Muslims loooove their children too...

    posted by Justin at 09:15 AM | Comments (4)

    Doggone outrageous

    Amidst the huge collection of pictures taken during yesterday's "INTERNATIONAL DAY OF OUTRAGE" was this one:


    "Denmark dogs"?

    Hey, that's what the sign says.

    And in light of her previously announced support for Denmark, Coco's now thinking along the lines of an "INTERNATIONAL DAY OF SOLIDARITY WITH DENMARK DOGS."

    And one dog at a time, the outrage is spreading.

    Maybe we're all Denmark dogs? (Well, hopefully not this kind....)

    Regarding yesterday's "Day of Anger," Jeff Percifield asks, "How would you tell?" Determined to find out, Jeff takes a humorous look at outrage, in a stylish mission calculated to get to the bottom of things and see how much "out" there is, um, behind the rage.

    Style to die for! Like this:


    I shrunk the above, because you really should go there to see the original (and even hotter stuff). (Plus, I better not outrage Jeff by pirating a full-size picture of his art. Hate to think what he might do to retaliate.)

    There's a lot more over at Beautiful Atrocities, and Jeff has more than lived up to his blog's name. It's hilariously inflammatory. As Sean Kinsell warns:

    Since this is Beautiful Atrocities we're talking about, it goes without saying that it's not safe for work. Not safe for play, either. I'm a big proponent of civilized discourse, but there are times when targeted offensiveness makes a point that can't be made any other way.

    I know I just said that I didn't want to spoil Jeff's art, but now Coco has chimed in. She thinks there's something missing from the dog picture. Perhaps it just saw too much, um, "action," but that silly pink figurine standing on the couch in the background just looks tired and worn out.

    No chic. No savoir faire!

    "Out with the pink effigy!" declares Miss Coco.

    Which means it's time to redecorate, and I dare not disappoint her!


    (My PhotoShop skills are not what they should be, but I hope the State Department finds the above acceptable.)

    MORE: In the interest of fuller disclosure, I think I should point out that Coco did a little partying last night. With a little French-speaking friend and a bottle of "DANZKA" Danish vodka. (More on the brand here.)


    It's great vodka with a very smooth taste. But I'm afraid there's not much left.

    MORE: Sean Kinsell is having thoughts about supporting the boycott by buying Royal Copenhagen China.

    I'm not sure I'd want Coco modeling that stuff. (Something about a pit bull in a china shop....)

    posted by Eric at 08:32 AM | Comments (4)

    Friday pit bull blues

    Craig Ceely, author of The Anger of Compassion sent me a link to a wonderful piece in the New Yorker about pit bulls and profiling. I don't agree with everything the author says, but as gems go, this one's unbeatable:

    It can even be argued that the same traits that make the pit bull so aggressive toward other dogs are what make it so nice to humans. “There are a lot of pit bulls these days who are licensed therapy dogs,” the writer Vicki Hearne points out. “Their stability and resoluteness make them excellent for work with people who might not like a more bouncy, flibbertigibbet sort of dog. When pit bulls set out to provide comfort, they are as resolute as they are when they fight, but what they are resolute about is being gentle. And, because they are fearless, they can be gentle with anybody.”

    Then which are the pit bulls that get into trouble? “The ones that the legislation is geared toward have aggressive tendencies that are either bred in by the breeder, trained in by the trainer, or reinforced in by the owner,” Herkstroeter says. A mean pit bull is a dog that has been turned mean, by selective breeding, by being cross-bred with a bigger, human-aggressive breed like German shepherds or Rottweilers, or by being conditioned in such a way that it begins to express hostility to human beings. A pit bull is dangerous to people, then, not to the extent that it expresses its essential pit bullness but to the extent that it deviates from it. A pit-bull ban is a generalization about a generalization about a trait that is not, in fact, general. That’s a category problem.

    Yeah, I'd say so. And to think it was in The New Yorker! I'm always glad to see the much maligned pit bull acquire eloquent and civilized advocates wherever they appear.

    Of course, I'm a partisan defender of pit bulls, but even if saving pit bulls isn't your thing, be sure to check out Craig's plan to save the world:

    Pave the planet. Asphalt the arroyos.

    Now that pit bulls and the world are saved, I'd like to wish a slightly belated Happy First Birthday to a favorite blog and longtime link, Maggie's Farm! Unpredictable in nature (which is why I like it), the blog features all sorts of interesting stuff -- like this piece about the 70% failure rate of anti-depressants. The problem, of course, is that depression seems to be as individual a disease as there are individuals with depression:

    1. there are many kinds of depression besides major depression; 2., the personality type, and personal strengths and weaknesses can effect the way depression occurs, and whether it occurs at all, and, 3. life circumstances have a real impact on the ability to improve depression with medicine (if your business is going bust, or your child dying with cancer, no antidepressant will make you merry).

    I'll try to keep it brief. The generic term "depression" runs the gamut from the heavily-inherited form that occurs in Bipolar Disorder (which is probably a brain-wiring abnormality), to the grief-like depressive reactions to life-events, especially loss, which occur in vulnerable people. In between are sad-sack people with chronic mildy depressed mood, and many people with chronic mood problems due to personality disorders or neurotic problems. My point is that there is not one "depression". The word refers to a group of symptoms, not a diagnosis.

    "Depression" is a depressing catchall. Another overused word which probably does more harm than good.

    So check out Maggies Farm -- a great, hard-working blog, with lots of links!

    And with that, I'm off for the evening.

    posted by Eric at 05:11 PM

    What you can't say, your newspaper can?

    In light of the recent arrest of a Connecticut Taco Bell patron on a charge Drudge calls "ridicule on account of race, creed or color," I wanted to know whether the state law says that.

    Apparently, it does.

    According to Yale Daily News, the law prohibits more than race-based ridicule:

    Connecticut defines a hate crime as the "deprivation of rights of others, desecration of property, ridicule on account of race, creed or color," or "intimidation based on bigotry or bias."
    Does that mean it would be a crime to print the cartoons ridiculing Mohammad and Islam in Connecticut?

    Or do journalists enjoy an exemption not shared by ordinary people?

    UPDATE: Here's the state law:

    Sec. 53-37. Ridicule on account of race, creed or color. Any person who, by his advertisement, ridicules or holds up to contempt any person or class of persons, on account of the creed, religion, color, denomination, nationality or race of such person or class of persons, shall be fined not more than fifty dollars or imprisoned not more than thirty days or both.(1949 Rev., S. 8376.)
    Anyone see an exception for journalists?

    MORE: Eugene Volokh sheds light on this incident, arguing that the "fighting words" doctrine does in fact allow face-to-face insults (as opposed to "speech that isn't directed to a particular hearer") to be prohibited, but that the "ridicule on account of race" prohibition would be unconstitutional.

    posted by Eric at 10:13 AM | Comments (5)

    Anyone feeling centered these days?

    Glenn Reynolds links to Daniel Henninger's thought-provoking piece in the Opinion Journal, the thesis of which is best expressed in the subtitle:

    "Today's voters crave ideology."
    Actually, I think the following title would be more accurate:
    "Today's "base" voters crave partisan ideology."
    While Mr. Henninger's piece is well thought out, I think it's a bit short on analysis of the people who dislike (even detest) the Michael Moore, moveon.org ideology as much as the Pat Robertson, AFA ideology. Far from being on the fringes, the people who feel this way tend to be in the majority. Are they they guilty of the "pragmatism" which Henninger characterizes as dominating the mainstream media?

    Like most political analysts, Henninger identifies the spectrum as right wing, left wing, and (ugh) "middle":

    People who crave the middle are simply going to be disappointed in 2008. The Democrats have abolished the middle, and the Republican middle has discredited itself. There is a reason John McCain markets himself as more right than center; he knows ideology matters just now. So do George Allen, Rudy Giuliani, Sam Brownback and the rest.

    How Hillary Clinton triangulates in the current atmosphere is the Rubik's Cube of our time. But for the Web Democrats and GOP refugees from the Congress they thought they controlled, the puzzling is over. They're looking for candidates "who represent my ideas." Ideologues.

    What's missing in the discussion of ideology-versus-pragmatism is any mention of libertarian ideology, and that's because the Republican base and the Democrat base both tend to abhor libertarianism in favor of communitarianism.

    Libertarians like me are quite accustomed to being ignored by communitarians. I can't speak for all libertarians, but I get awfully sick of hearing people yell about how what they want is being ignored when I've been used to it for years. There is something degrading about hearing the outrage of people whose vociferous demands have been ignored when my ideology doesn't count at all.

    I mean, imagine if I worked myself up to a full scale rant about how "it's high time that the president discussed the need to relegalize drugs!"

    It would be laughable, and it doesn't matter at all how strongly I might want it to happen.

    So, it's not that I don't have an ideology; it's that I'm asked to select between two ideologies I find morally abhorrent. And then, on top of that, I am now told that "ideology" has to be defined as either liberal or conservative.

    With all respect to Mr. Henninger, it's a bit much.

    If I seem like a pragmatist, it's not because I lack ideology. It's because I see no place for my ideology.

    Does that place me in "the middle"? I don't see how. If I don't like communitarian thinking, but I am asked -- no, forced -- to choose between the communitarian left and the communitarian right, and I don't like either side, is it fair to paint me as being in the center?

    (The problem may be mine. I may have become too accustomed to feeling off center. . .)

    posted by Eric at 09:04 AM | Comments (4)

    Try not to think of our feature as a bug . . .

    What is bias? What is racism? What is bigotry? No matter who they are or what their background, most people have a general idea what these things are, and they don't want to be accused of them. I can't speak for everyone, but whether or not I am being fair to a person involves whether I would allow his skin color or ethnicity to affect my evaluation of him as a human being. How I react to words on paper or words floating on a screen has very little to do with how I might feel about human beings, and I suspect other people are the same.

    As a matter of fact, words make me immediately suspicious, because they are so often used to manipulate. I get my guard up at anything -- whether words or images -- which seem contrived or calculated to direct my thinking. While not everyone would share my almost paranoid suspicion about words, I think most people like to think of themselves as fair minded, they get their guard up at anything which might make them look otherwise.

    Something like this, perhaps?


    That's how the "IMPLICIT ASSUMPTIONS TEST" (IAT) looks. (There are more screenshots below.) The idea is to choose as rapidly as you can by associating the bottom word with either the left side (by clicking "e") or the right side (by clicking "i"). After getting through the test by labeling the words at the bottom as "good" or "bad," the pattern reverses itself, with "good" and "bad" positions reversing from right to left. How biased you are depends on how fast you have to think about it.


    What if you're trying to show that you're not biased? Remember, this is a test, and you are told to move through it rapidly. That's easier said than done, because it's testing not reality, but appearances. (In this case, the appearance of how we react to words.)

    Anyone who has ever tried not to think about elephants will understand the mechanics behind what I think amounts to a cheap parlor trick.

    But the test, it is claimed, shows that Republicans are bigots:

    For their study, Nosek, Banaji and social psychologist Erik Thompson culled self-acknowledged views about blacks from nearly 130,000 whites, who volunteered online to participate in a widely used test of racial bias that measures the speed of people's associations between black or white faces and positive or negative words. The researchers examined correlations between explicit and implicit attitudes and voting behavior in all 435 congressional districts.

    The analysis found that substantial majorities of Americans, liberals and conservatives, found it more difficult to associate black faces with positive concepts than white faces -- evidence of implicit bias. But districts that registered higher levels of bias systematically produced more votes for Bush.

    "Obviously, such research does not speak at all to the question of the prejudice level of the president," said Banaji, "but it does show that George W. Bush is appealing as a leader to those Americans who harbor greater anti-black prejudice."

    Vincent Hutchings, a political scientist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, said the results matched his own findings in a study he conducted ahead of the 2000 presidential election: Volunteers shown visual images of blacks in contexts that implied they were getting welfare benefits were far more receptive to Republican political ads decrying government waste than volunteers shown ads with the same message but without images of black people.

    Anyone can take the Implicit Association Test (IAT) here. According to the authors at the web site, the test

    Race ('Black - White' IAT). This IAT requires the ability to distinguish faces of European and African origin. It indicates that most Americans have an automatic preference for white over black.
    No, I don't think it does. I think it indicates how well they respond under this "try not to think about elephants" principle applied under the pressure of a test setting.

    Mick Wright has some questions:

    Why, for instance, does it focus only on whites, or only on racial attitudes? Why isn’t the study interested in the racial attitude of black partisans, and why doesn’t the study look at the way religious biases affect political decisions?

    When you realize that the study is biased, and the researchers are biased, it’s a little easier to imagine that perhaps the study’s results aren’t 100% certain.

    I'd go so far as to say the silly thing is about as scientific as a Ouija Board, although I do grant that the principle could be used as a way of influencing consumers to buy products. In fact, it is used in marketing, and I'm wondering... might that be where these Harvard professors got the idea? Implicit assumptions are of great value in marketing, and in advertising they are constantly exploited. But I don't see how such trickery can ever determine what's in a person's heart.

    Psychologist Dr. Helen Smith expresses skepticism in a very thoughtful post:

    The test takes a bit of time--try it for yourself. But I remain a skeptic of this silly biased test--especially since the researchers are giving money to the Democratic Party--including Howard Dean. Doesn't that fact tell you all you need to know about the reliability and validity of their "unbiased" research? And where is any research done by conservative psychologists about liberals? Or is conservative and psychologist an oxymoron?
    Or how about "conservative journalists"?

    Back to the WaPo:

    For their study, Nosek, Banaji and social psychologist Erik Thompson culled self-acknowledged views about blacks from nearly 130,000 whites, who volunteered online to participate in a widely used test of racial bias that measures the speed of people's associations between black or white faces and positive or negative words.
    "Self acknowledged?"

    If we put aside the argument of whether the test is of any value, its stated purpose is to determine what is unconsicious, and by definition not acknowledged. From the web site:

    The IAT was originally developed as a device for exploring the unconscious roots of thinking and feeling. This web site has been constructed for a different purpose -- to offer the IAT to interested individuals as a tool to gain greater awareness about their own unconscious preferences and beliefs.

    Many years ago, Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote: "Every man has reminiscences which he would not tell to everyone but only his friends. He has other matters in his mind which he would not reveal even to his friends, but only to himself, and that in secret. But there are other things which a man is afraid to tell even to himself, and every decent man has a number of such things stored away in his mind."

    No doubt that is true, and no doubt there are many Americans who hide things in the inner recesses of their mind. That's the stuff that these psychologists designed the test to find. If you're trying to prove you're not a bigot in a test designed to show you are and the elephant principle gets in your way, at what point does "self acknowledgment" enter the picture? Once the test defeats you? So why does the Washington Post call it "self acknowledged"? (The WaPo has more on the test here, and I don't think they're looking at it as critically as they should. Instead, they defer to the findings of "science"!)

    Not all scientists are convinced, however.

    The problem lies with the IAT lies in how it measures and draws inferences based on the information that it collects, Blanton says. The "metrics" of the test are not tied to real-world events, which could make them less subjective, he points out. The term "metric" refers to the numbers that the observed measures take on when describing individuals' ratings on the topic of interest, he explains. For instance on a scale measuring a person's attractiveness, a metric might range from the lowest possible rating of 1 to the highest possible rating of 10.

    "Matters of metric arbitrariness are of minor consequence for theory testing and theory development, but they can be important for applied work when one is trying to diagnose an individual's absolute standing on a dimension or when one wishes to gain a sense of the magnitude and importance of change," Blanton says.

    For me, it's as inherently unnatural to see all people as good or all people as bad as it is to see all Muslims as good or all Muslims as bad. Yet this test forces the taker to engage in sweeping generalizations all the while under constant threat of being labeled bigoted. Again, it's the elephant principle, magnified tenfold, almost malevolently so. I think this test's primary "flaw" (I'm not convinced it isn't built in) is to set up people to be haunted by a negative mirror image of themselves as racist, and the harder they try to correct it, the more they stumble and the worse they appear.

    Which is why I compare it to trying not to think about elephants.


    Go ahead. Take the test. Maybe if you see it as simple entertainment you'll improve your score.

    And of course, if you don't like the test, we'll know why. . .

    Continue reading "Try not to think of our feature as a bug . . ."

    posted by Eric at 07:12 AM | Comments (5)

    Once Were Psychic

    I still really, really miss Steven Malcolm Anderson. Every once in a great while someone comes along who always gets it, without any need for me to explain anything.

    Steven was that and more.

    Not long after he died, I had a very strange dream directing me to investigate the hitherto-unknown (to me) phenomenon of Maori culture, and I wrote a post about it. Two favorite commenters advised me to see the film "Once Were Warriors," which I rented, and sure enough, it was a great film.

    Never had a chance to write a review, but there are a lot of things I never have the "chance" to write about.

    Now I see that the director (a New Zealander of Maori descent) has been arrested in Los Angeles. On January 8. (I was in Nassau at the time; why it took so long for the story to appear I don't know.)

    It's a shame, and every time I read about talented people getting busted for basically nothing I get annoyed.

    Like I say, I still miss Steven.

    (The lesson, if any, is that you don't know what you have till you lose it. Small comfort that is.)

    posted by Eric at 08:59 PM | TrackBacks (1)

    Welcome to cartoonland! (A lesson in free speech....)

    The worldwide uproar over cartoon depictions of the Prophet Muhammad raises a point which shouldn't be lost.

    Free speech includes offensive speech.

    Right now, a storm is brewing over a cartoon many Americans find offensive:

    The Toles cartoon shows a soldier, a quadruple amputee, in a hospital, being visited by a Dr. Rumsfeld who is scribbling on a form. Rumsfeld says, "I am listing your condition as battle hardened." At the bottom a smaller figure of the doctor adds, "I'm prescribing that you be stretched thin. We don't define that as torture."
    In a move which is almost unprecedented, all six members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff strongly protested the cartoon.
    The letter, written on Tuesday, charges that the six military leaders "believe you and Mr. Toles have done a disservice to your readers and your paper's reputation by using such a callous depiction of those who have volunteered to defend this nation, and as a result, have suffered traumatic and life-altering wounds. ... As the Joint Chiefs, it is rare that we all put our hand to one letter, but we cannot let this reprehensible cartoon go unanswered."
    I've looked at the cartoon (which Michelle Malkin has posted here), and I agree that it's offensive and disrespectful. (Via InstaPundit.)

    I have said so here in this blog.

    If I subscribed to the Post, I might consider writing a letter to the editor. Maybe canceling my subscription.

    But demanding worldwide censorship?

    That approach is so silly that it reminds me of King Canute.

    (Maybe that's why Danes seem to be ahead of the learning curve.)

    I think this calls for a cartoon:


    And no; the Canute cartoon is not intended as a moral equivalency argument involving the Prophet Mohammad.

    It's a depiction.

    UPDATE: Here's a way to fight idolatry with IDOLATRY! Yes, in a well-deserved come-uppance, infidel Glenn Reynolds has now been depicted as a Pez dispenser -- his head has been severed and attached to a little machine dispensing little candies to children for all eternity.

    Such is the fate of all liars.

    MORE: If you don't like the cartoon, rewrite it! (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    UPDATE: When I said "demanding worldwide censorship," I was referring to the response of many Muslim countries to the Danish cartoons. In stark contrast to the letter from the Joint Chiefs, which I think is eminently reasonable.

    (I thought it was obvious what I meant, but I guess I shouldn't have.)

    MORE: According to Yahoo News, the U.S. "sides with Muslims in cartoon dispute":

    "These cartoons are indeed offensive to the belief of Muslims," State Department spokesman Kurtis Cooper said in answer to a question. "We all fully recognize and respect freedom of the press and expression but it must be coupled with press responsibility. Inciting religious or ethnic hatreds in this manner is not acceptable."

    "We call for tolerance and respect for all communities for their religious beliefs and practices," he added.

    Tolerance, of course, includes tolerance of free speech (whether or not the latter is deemed "acceptable.")

    MORE: To illustrate how little control our government has over speech, the State Department is coming under fierce criticism by commenters here.

    AND MORE: If this photo is any indication, the Danish Ambassador isn't very popular with the Indonesian street right now:

    Danish Ambassador2.jpg

    And here are a couple of donkeys in Lebanon.


    I hope the Lebanese crowd doesn't do to the donkeys what the Indonesian crowd would like to do to the Danish ambassador....

    MORE: Glenn Reynolds speculates that the State Department's wimpy reaction might be "payback for European non-support on other topics," but calls it a "dreadful mistake."

    What ever happened to the idea of the U.S. leading (what was the phrase?) "the free world"?

    "We will choose to act confidently in pursuing the enemies of freedom – or retreat from our duties in the hope of an easier life."

    (Or was that just rhetoric intended for domestic consumption in one of those preach-to-the-choir State of the Union speeches?)

    On the other hand, maybe the above wasn't rhetoric at all. Maybe the president hadn't yet decided. . .

    UPDATE (02/04/06): Noting the contradictory nature of the stories LGF asks a good question, "What in the world is going on with the story about the State Department condemning the Danish cartoons?" But there is no coherent answer. Maybe there's no there there.

    posted by Eric at 09:11 AM | Comments (10)

    Is censorship a lost cause?

    According to Aljazeera, the uproar over the cartoons has turned into an international showdown:

    Armed groups in the Palestinian territories have threatened to attack Danish, French and Norwegian nationals after cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad appeared in European newspapers.

    Two militants groups released a joint statement on Thursday that said: "All nationals and those who work in the diplomatic corps of these countries can be considered targets of the Popular Resistance Committee and Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades."

    Abu Mudjahid, a spokesman for the "joint command" of the two factions, said the threat was serious and extended to the nationals of all countries that had published the caricatures.

    "We demand that the offices and consulates of the three countries concerned close, otherwise we will not hesitate to destroy them," the statement said.

    In the Gaza Strip, a dozen gunmen from the militant group Islamic Jihad and an armed faction of Fatah known as the Yasser Arafat brigade surrounded the EU compound and fired into the air. They demanded an apology within 48 hours over the cartoons.

    Gunmen have surrounded the almighty, all-powerful EU?? Who'd have ever thought that a few cartoons could be so, so clarifying?

    According to the LA Times, the list of "offender" countries now includes "France, Germany, Italy and Spain."

    At the rate things are going, the world will be divided into two camps; one believing in free speech, the other believing in censorship. If "all nationals" of all countries in which someone runs these cartoons are to be considered targets, because of the nature of information flow, that will mean every European.

    Reading this news, I admit to a growing respect for Europeans, but I do have one question:

    "What about the Americans?"

    These cartoons have appeared in so many places here that there'd no way to count them all, much less demand individual apologies.

    What's going on? Are we considered so hopelessly free that we're a lost cause?

    MORE: It should be pointed out that not all Muslims are in favor of censorship. Safiyyah Ally (host of "Let the Quran Speak") thinks the overreaction to the cartoons is making Muslims look stupid:

    Those up in arms don't seem to understand that the newspaper is not government owned or produced. It is an independent newspaper, and as such the guarantee of freedom of expression allows it to do what it did. It may be in bad taste and it may be insensitive, but the newspaper has a point: freedom of expression allows individuals to express themselves in ways that may upset or offend others. Yes, that freedom is to be balanced with freedom of religion, but even so, adherents of any faith cannot expect that they will never be offended. That is the price we pay for the freedoms we enjoy. Some may claim this is a good time to bring out those old blasphemy laws, but I disagree. In fact, I would argue there are no justifiable grounds for blasphemy laws in liberal democracies.

    In any case, why these Arab countries would see fit to demand that Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen apologize is beyond me. If one wanted to protest the publication of those cartoons, one could always cancel one's subscription to the newspaper. But to boycott products from the country? Burn Danish flags? Remove ambassadors to express one's displeasure? Those sorts of responses are just nonsensical. The government is not to be blamed for the idiocy of a private newspaper.

    Why are we so exciteable anyway? Why even care what a newspaper thinks? The cartoons, horrendous though they may be, need not affect a Muslim's impression of the Prophet, for our tradition clearly shows him to be a man imbued with dignity, morality and goodness. The Prophet was ridiculed from the moment he started receiving revelation in Mecca more than 1400 years ago. The mockery - even the threats on his life - are well documented in the Quran and hadith literature. A few cartoons will do little to harm him - or us.

    Some might argue that Islam bars any depiction of the Prophet. Even so, we Muslims cannot force other people to appreciate the Prophet the way we do. We live, for the most part, in free societies, and there are countless opportunities to share with others our own vision of the Prophet and to convince others that he is a man to be honoured and dignified. We can do so by living like the Prophet did, by behaving and speaking in the noble manner of the Prophet himself, and by showing ourselves to be the rightful followers of this blessed man.

    The over-the-top reaction just shows me how much excess energy and strength the ummah retains worldwide. Frankly I wonder if Muslims are not doing a greater disservice to the Prophet when we close our eyes to the suffering and oppression in the rest of the world. There are bigger problems to tackle than the publication of 12 silly cartoons. Now, if we could only put our efforts to better purposes...

    And here's the New York Times:
    The newspapers' actions fed a sharpening debate here over freedom of expression, human rights and what the culture editor of Jyllands-Posten, the paper that first published the cartoons last September, called a "clash of civilizations" between secular Western democracies and Islamic societies.

    Indeed, the culture editor, Flemming Rose, said in an interview: "This is a far bigger story than just the question of 12 cartoons in a small Danish newspaper.

    "This is about the question of integration and how compatible is the religion of Islam with a modern secular society....

    The cartoon I republished below takes issue with the idea that suicide bombers are "rightful followers" of Mohammad, and not only disputes the "religious" notion that they'll be rewarded with 72 virgins, but speculates that so might Mohammad.

    But what causes offense is not the debate over what Mohammad might think, but any depiction of Mohammad at all. Perhaps it is being forgotten that Islam forbids idolatry, which includes any and all depictions of God or any of his prophets. This includes Jesus Christ. Thus, a crucifix is seen as blasphemous, and whether an artist (like Andres Serrano) depicts it in a disrespectful manner is secondary.

    How many Americans even know that many Muslims consider a crucifix to be idolatry as well as blasphemy? The crucifix is blasphemous because it denies the Koran by depicting the crucifixion of the prophet Issa -- an event the Koran claims never happened.

    (But these are all matters of religious doctrine, which Americans for hundreds of years have been free to follow or disregard.)

    MORE: Wikipedia has now published the cartoons.

    MORE: On Andres Serrano's "Piss Christ":

    the ability to apply criticism and ridicule are the basic rights of anyone living in a western democracy. As a society we should expect citizens and artists alike to apply a measure of good taste. It is very hard to argue that the Jyllands-Posten's cartoons were offensive, but a case could be made that Serrano's "Piss Christ" was testing the limits of that somewhat arbitrary 'taste measure'. But we didn't kill Serrano, we didn't destroy his career, we didn't ask him for damages and a rectification, no, we debated it and we are still debating it today, twenty years on. That's freedom, that's democracy.

    (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    UPDATE: The Netherlands is now added to the stew.

    MORE: The Drudge Report is now displaying one of the inflammatory cartoons.


    AND MORE: From Hezbollah, as inane a statement as I've seen so far:

    In Beirut, the leader of Lebanon's Shi'ite Hizbollah said the row would never had occurred if a 17-year-old death edict against British writer Salman Rushdie been carried out.
    Oh, yeah?

    I think it might have made it happen sooner!

    MORE: Zombie Time's Depictions of Mohammed Throughout History is a remarkably comprehensive collection of Mohammed imagery. Amazingly enough, many of the depictions were rendered in Muslim countries by Muslims.

    AND SPEAKING OF CRUCIFIXIONS.... Via Pajamas Media, here's Stephen Pollard:

    On further reflection, the Danes should surely apologise for the cartoons and for their media in general. The Islamic press would never, ever publish a cartoon which might conceivably offend another religion's believers. Never, ever.

    This cartoon, for instance, would never, ever appear in Al-Quds:


    God forbid that anyone's religious sensibilities might be offended.

    UPDATE: Postrel to Islam: grow up. (HT Justin.)

    UPDATE (02/03/06): Add Spain to the growing list:

    MADRID (Reuters) - Spain's leading newspaper El Pais on Friday became part of a growing international row by publishing a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad on its front page.

    The cartoon, originally published by France's Le Monde, portrayed the head of the Prophet Mohammad made up of lines which say "I must not draw Mohammad" in French.

    Newspapers in France, Germany, Spain, Switzerland and Hungary have reprinted caricatures originally published in Denmark, arguing that press freedom is more important than the protests and boycotts they have provoked.

    Did the Madrid bombings create a Spanish backlash? Hamas's promise to "take back" al Andalus?

    MORE: Indonesia? According to that article, an Indonesian newspaper printed the cartoons:

    A Jakarta-based newspaper was criticized by hundreds of protesters on Friday for showing cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad originally published by a Danish newspaper.

    About 200 members of the Islam Defender Front (FPI), a radical Muslim group reputable for vandalizing nightspots, gathered in front of the office of the Rakyat Merdeka (independent people) newspaper to vent anger over the cartoons on its website Thursday.

    Protesters demanded that the newspaper withdraw the cartoons and make a public apology, Detikcom on-line news service reported.

    They've apologized, but Indonesia is a Muslim country.

    posted by Eric at 07:12 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBacks (2)

    "Good stuff all around"

    So says Jay, whose blog, The Radical Centrist (a longtime favorite of mine), is hosting this week's RINO Sightings Carnival.

    Jay does a great job with all the posts; here are a few that stood out:

  • Dean Esmay has a very thoughtful post on commenters.
  • Tom Rants argues that abortion is worse than terrorism. I doubt most people would agree, and I don't think I need to write a long post explaining why. (A similar "numbers" argument could be made about cigarettes or even fast food.)
  • So Cal Lawyer has an interesting post about a lawyer who thinks he's entitled to collect damages because a book that he read contained lies. (Now why didn't I think of that? I've read a wealth of lies in my lifetime -- and I've nothing to show for it.)
  • Digger's Realm has a real sidesplitter: United States Army soldiers are apparently dressing up as Mexican soldiers so they can move aliens and drugs into the United States, and then presumably go to war against themselves. (It makes a lot of sense if you think Bush planted charges in the Twin Towers.)
  • j.d. at evolution is having an argument over thermodynamics with an emailer who believes man was created "6,000 years" ago. (I think jd won, except there's no real winning debates with people who confuse beliefs with facts.)
  • And speaking of inane arguments, Respectful Insolence takes on the illogic of a nameless woman who claims her unborn baby is "pro choice." (Talk about putting words in someone's mouth! Glad she's not my mom....)
  • One of the reasons I love the RINO carnivals is that whether you agree with the posts or not, they're usually interesting and polite. (Must have something to do with the way RINOs evolved....)

    MORE: Digger has more on the outrageous border situation. Hudspeth County deputies and their families are now being threatened. Says Digger,

    This has nothing to do with President Bush's weak policy regarding illegal aliens. This is homeland security and threats against people protecting us.

    This is just an outrage!

    Did I mention it's an outrage yet? Well it is!

    I agree.

    posted by Eric at 12:27 PM | Comments (2)

    But I thought there were only 2,245 . . .

    John Beck of Incite (who was kind enough to guest blog here while I was on vacation) is hosting the 4,897th Carnival of the Vanities. Wow! I didn't know there had been that many, and I feel like Rip Van Winkle because of the many thousands I've missed.

    Great carnival! There are so many posts that I don't know how John got through the Carnival, much less managed to do so in such a witty manner. The graphics alone are worth the visit, so even if you hate reading carnivals, don't miss it. As to my own entry, I failed to submit one, so I'll forgive John for not including it. (Besides, it might have been blasphemous. . .)

    Speaking of blasphemy, a very happy blogiversary to Jeff Goldstein at Protein Wisdom!

    posted by Eric at 10:57 AM

    BUY DANISH ! !

    If there's one moral crusade I can get behind, it's free speech.

    So I'm all too glad to support the growing movement urging people to buy Danish! (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    I can't think of a more worthy cause right now, and I'm adding this icon.


    By way of disclaimer, I should point out that not only am I of Norwegian descent, but I have visited Denmark repeatedly -- most recently last summer. It's a wonderful place, and not only do I advise buying Danish, I also suggest traveling there!

    UPDATE: Because I don't want this to be just a linking campaign, I thought I'd remind readers that buying Danish does not require much work, shopping, or even imagination. If you like to drink (which I suspect a lot of readers do), please remember that Denmark is a major brewing country. And by all means consider the many fine Danish beers.




    And best of all, please remember that beer contains alcohol!

    Which means that certain countries make it illegal to drink.

    So get with the, um, spirit of this campaign!

    LATER THAT DAY . . . Well, I put my money where my mouth will soon be! On a case of Carlsberg beer which I persuaded Coco to graciously model:


    If Coco looks a little peeved, it's because I had to tell her that in certain countries, female dogs who drink beer are frowned upon.

    MORE: While interpretation is one thing, I have a strict ethical rule against putting words in my dog's mouth. However, when Coco heard me read Theron Marshman's comment below, she assented quite vocally, and I felt duty-bound to help her get it on the record.


    I had to! I mean, what kind of master would deprive his own dog of her free speech rights?

    posted by Eric at 10:03 AM | Comments (21)

    I am not a bigot -- because you are!

    I've long been fascinated by the fact that in their haste to condemn what they call "the gay agenda," a lot of social conservatives forget the political opportunity this creates to mainstream the very thing they condemn. (The major push for gays in the Boy Scouts, for example, does not come from gay activists, but from otherwise boring middle class heterosexuals who embrace the exciting opportunity to certify themselves as non-bigots.)

    I found an interesting criticism of "gay fetishism" by Katie McKy, and while I disagree with her apparent contention that conservatism is inherently "homophobic" (as well as her apparent approval of identity politics), she has an interesting point about homosexuality supplying easy access to "permanent" moral purity:

    ....[I]f one is straight and frames homosexuality as sin, it's the sweetest sin, for it's not one's sin. This gives homosexuality an infinite shelf life. It's never grows stale, for whereas it demands change of others, it requires no personal change. No sacrifice. So long as one is straight and heterosexuality demarcates purity, one is permanently pure.
    Good point.

    But does this really invest the left with "moral authority"? Isn't it all too easy to slam the fundamentalist right wing for a "homo fetish"? It is, and in honesty, I think there's an element of truth there, because it is always very easy to remain morally pure when the moral impurity you're condemning consists of something you'd rather not do anyway. (That's why it's safe for me to condemn golf!)

    But, in logic, how does that convey moral authority to the defenders of the alleged moral impurity?

    It might be better to illustrate with a less emotionally charged example, so let's try divorce. If we divide the electorate into the ranks of the divorced and the married-but-undivorced, let's suppose that the undivorced couples declared that divorce was one of the most grievous sins in the Bible. That Jesus had specifically condemned it, that no biblically pure country should allow it, and that "history showed" that all countries allowing divorce eventually collapsed. Clearly, this would create a false appearance that the undivorced were morally pure, and I suppose it could be exploited politically if divorce weren't so common. (Exclusive homosexuality, of course, is practiced by a much smaller percentage of people than divorce.)

    A fundamentalist "divorce fetish" stigma (coupled with the automatic moral purity this would convey on the undivorced) would set up a political opposition consisting of the divorced people along with their undivorced defenders.

    Would they gain any moral authority by their simple refusal to condemn the divorced?

    If something like this "divorce fetish" scenario happened I would defend divorced people just as I defend sexual freedom, cigarette smokers and drug addicts but I don't understand how that entitles me to the broad claim of moral authority so often invoked by the saintly heterosexuals who defend gays against religious bigots:

    Queer people are the divine other, for homo-bigots believe that they have Biblical clearance to hate.

    "Yes, uh, Flight 2002," they imagine God saying, "you have clearance to land on the civil rights of your fellow homosexual citizens. On final approach, you might run into some Constitutional interference, but tune that out and when you taxi over to the tarmac, we'll, uh, amend that Constitution."

    The homo-fetish also serves an ancient purpose. It's no longer safe to publicly articulate racial hatred. But there remains a deep desire to define and elevate oneself by what one isn't. With God's green light, the fundy Right references gays everyday. However, with only 3 gay references in the Bible, and a hundred times that number of warnings against wealth, the arithmetic suggests that the real work of being a Christian is casting off wealth. Jesus told one story about a man going to Hell. That man was a rich man, a man who lived on the sweet side of a wall while a poor man suffered on the other.

    Can't it also be argued that this "deep desire to define and elevate oneself by what one isn't" applies every bit as much to those who seek "certification" that they are not the bigots by pointing out the obvious shortcomings of those who are?

    Does the cry of "I am not a homo!" invite people to say "I am not a bigot!" and then claim moral purity? Isn't claiming you're pure because you're "not a bigot" almost as easy as claiming you're pure because you're "not a homo"?

    And if "the real work of being a Christian is casting off wealth," are the certified non-bigots doing that with their own wealth?

    On the contrary, I think many of them simply hate the wealthy, and advocate government confiscation of their wealth.

    So how come I don't get to say I'm not a bigot if I defend the wealthy?

    posted by Eric at 09:48 AM | Comments (2)

    Who will defend the morally bankrupt?

    By cooperating with Chinese Internet censorship, Google has (as Glenn Reynolds says), "lost a lot of moral capital."

    This makes it very tough for bloggers like me who might otherwise defend them against the use of copyright laws to thwart the free flow of information:

    The WAN, which represents 18,000 newspapers and 73 national newspaper associations, said it would examine whether new standards and policies could be drafted to create a commercial relationship between publishers, search engines and content aggregators.

    Mr O’Reilly singled out Google for criticism, saying: “As a general rule, Yahoo, MSN and Ask Jeeves seem more open to constructive dialogue. It’s only Google which seems to have this absolute view [that all information should be available for free].” Google could not immediately be reached for comment.

    Mr O’Reilly likened the initiative to the conflict between the music industry and illegal file-sharing websites and said it was not a sign that publishers had failed to create a competitive online business model of their own.

    The irony is that I'm sympathetic to Google's "absolute view" and I think the this country's founders would be too.

    Google, unfortunately, does not extend its "absolutist" thinking to countries like China.

    Which means they'll have fewer and fewer defenders.

    posted by Eric at 07:52 AM

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