Still No Hope

James Kunstler's blog has a new headshot up. Oddly enough, it makes him look like Al Gore. I know this will sound strange, but I think the look suits him. Gets him away from that unfortunate grinning shroom-devil look. As for any new content of substance, I must regretfully report that I sought in vain for it.

Wind, solar, bio-fuels, tar sands, coal-derived-liquids, used french-fry oil, nuclear fission -- none of these things will rescue American suburbia from the twilight of oil and natural gas. There is a great wish abroad in the land that these alt fuels would come to the rescue, but I believe it will never get beyond the wish stage.

Yeah, yeah, we're still doomed. I hope you're all getting comfortable with that...

We have invented a lot of nifty things in the past hundred years, but it has all been made possible by cheap fossil fuels and cheap electricity, which depends on the cheap fossil fuels. Even nuclear power, which was once (but no longer) heralded as "too cheap to meter," owes its existence to the fossil fuels that make all the mining, construction, and maintenance possible. The truth is, we have nothing better to plug into...

Same old same old. Here he is back in April 2005...

No combination of alternative fuels will allow us to run American life the way we have been used to running it, or even a substantial fraction of it. The wonders of steady technological progress achieved through the reign of cheap oil have lulled us into a kind of Jiminy Cricket syndrome…

And here's January, 2006...

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...

The US is going to run short of its customary supplies for a long time. The idea that these things will not affect an economy of ceaseless mobility is not realistic...

By October, the hurricane season will be ending and the stock market crash season will be underway. It is hard to imagine that companies like WalMart really believe they will keep their profits up when their customers are paying twice as much as they did a year ago to heat their houses and fill their gas tanks.

Glad I'm too stupid to understand economics. Otherwise I might tremble myself to sleep every night. Is there no help on the way? No hope at all?

Perhaps. You may recall that Mr. Kunstler predicted our Pacific coast will be ravaged by Asian pirates. If so, we won't be entirely helpless. DOD's experiments with alternate sources of jet fuel have continued to bear fruit.

Syntroleum, a leader in Fischer-Tropsch (FT) technology, announced today that its ultra-clean jet fuel has been successfully tested in a United States Air Force B-52 Stratofortress Bomber aircraft. The plane lifted off from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., with a 50/50 blend of FT and traditional JP-8 jet fuel which was burned in two of the eight engines on the plane. This marks the first time that FT jet fuel has been tested in a military flight demo, and is the first of several planned test flights...

The jet fuel that was used today was produced from natural gas using Syntroleum's proprietary FT process, but the company believes the fuel can also be produced from the vast domestic coal resources.

So those Asian pirates better just mind their p's and q's. They're going to find it rather difficult to plunder Seattle without their pirate ships. Even better, we'll be able to blow them to bits in a cleaner, more environmentally sensitive way.

Syntroleum's jet fuel has shown superior performance characteristics compared to traditional aviation fuels. Prior testing by the military on the company's FT fuels have shown a reduction in particulate matter and soot emissions of greater than 90 percent depending upon the turbine engine type compared to aviation fuels produced by refining crude oil. The reduced particulate matter and soot emissions significantly improve engine efficiency, performance and overall air quality.

Green death from above. How droll. Is there any other good news? Why yes, more than I actually have time to tell you about. I'm afraid that just a couple of examples will have to suffice. If you'd like more, just search the Classical Values archives for "Kunstler".

HelioVolt has developed the fastest and most effective way to manufacture CIS (Copper Indium Selenide), the most reliable and best-performing thin film material for generating electricity from sunlight. HelioVolt's FASST™ technology can apply efficient CIS coatings in custom shapes, sizes, and tints to create power generating glass, steel, metal and polymers, making possible a new generation of solar power modules and photovoltaic construction materials.

How fun. And it's even greener than the jet fuel. Unlike the following...

Uranium fuel typically is formed into cylindrical ceramic pellets about a half-inch in diameter. The pellets look like a smooth, black version of food pellets for small animals.

In a three-year project completed recently for the U.S. Department of Energy, Hejzlar and Kazimi teamed up with Westinghouse and other companies to look at how to make a fuel for one kind of reactor, the pressurized water reactor (PWR), 30 percent more efficient while maintaining or improving safety margins.

They changed the shape of the fuel from solid cylinders to hollow tubes. This added surface area that allows water to flow inside and outside the pellets, increasing heat transfer.

The new fuel turned out even better than Hejzlar dared hope. It proved to be easy to manufacture and capable of boosting the power output of PWR plants by 50 percent.

Fifty percent? Impressive. So then, assuming it all pans out, with an aggressive retro-fitting program we could acquire the equivalent of one extra pressurized water reactor for each two that we already have. How very sweet.

Thanks, science guys! Thanks for actually knowing what you're talking about.

posted by Justin at 09:10 PM | Comments (0)

Does innocence ever grow old?

In today's Inquirer, I read that a rapist was sentenced to 30-60 years in prison. No ordinary rapist, he's been called "the worst serial rapist in the city's history." Something else is a little unusual -- his age:

A 15-year-old boy who has been called "the worst serial rapist in the city's history" was sentenced yesterday to 30 to 60 years in prison.

Michael Massey, most recently of the city's Logan section and previously of West Philadelphia, pleaded guilty in April in Common Pleas Court to charges of raping or attempting to rape eight girls and women.

The attacks occurred between July and September 2005.

His victims - all strangers to him - were 16 to 32 years old. At the time, he was 14.

Raping women is something we normally think of as an adult activity. So is shooting people.

For that matter, so is driving.

So why is it that if this same rapist had gone online and discussed whatever fantasies he might have with an adult, the law could in theory call him a victim -- of the adult?

At the risk of sounding like a mean, awful, and cynical person, I'd like to posit a hypothetical. Suppose a teen rapes an adult, and it turns out the adult enjoyed it, and comes back for more. Would the rapist become a victim?

Anyone understand why?

Is it because "innocence" is involved?

MORE: I don't mean to be offensive, but considering that Wikipedia has an entry on the subject, what are the legal ramifications of minors sticking their you-know-whats into one of these? Do they become victims, said to be incapable of consenting to the actions of whatever anonymous person might come along? Is age relevant in an anonymous sexual situation where neither party can be seen? Or is there a legal duty to know?

posted by Eric at 12:08 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBacks (1)

Respectful photoshopping

There has been entirely too much disrespectful photoshopping going on in the blogosphere, and I must confess, I have in the past been a part of this out-of-control phenomenon. I even went so far as to photoshop Glenn Reynolds into a picture of Benito Mussolini -- a distasteful outburst aggravated further by my tasteless repetition of it.

In linking this post from The Hatemonger's Quarterly, kind-hearted Glenn was magnanimous enough to allow that photoshopping him into a bikini was "traditional." Now that worries me, as the word "traditional" always does. (Honestly, I'd hate to think that I might have had a hand in carrying tradition too far.)

There must be some way to atone for such excesses of tradition, so now I'm wondering... Can photoshopping be used for good? For the virtuous and the positive, instead of for the sleazy and the negative?

I don't know, but photoshopping often involves changing what people wear into something else, I was reminded of an earlier conversation with Justin, about the unfortunate fact that Iranian President Mahmood Ahmadinejad never wears a necktie, and instead prefers the tacky 1970s leisure suit look.

The blogosphere's fashion mogul Manolo has commented on the atrocious nature of Ahmadinejad's attire:

...the same khaki windbreaker, wrinkled trousers, cheap oxford shirts, scruffy beard and wild eyes favored by the aging high school chemistry teachers everywhere.
I don't know what excuse is offered by high school chemistry teachers, but in the case of Ahmadinejad, it would seem to be religion. The reason most fundamentalist Muslims don't wear neckties is that some (but not all!) Islamic scholars have declared them un-Islamic. Here's the official word according to Grand Ayatollah Khamenei (the guy who made Ahmadinejad sit on the floor during his swearing-in ceremony)
Q1370: What is the view on wearing a necktie?

A: Generally speaking, it is not permissible to wear a tie, or other kinds of clothes that are considered as the attire of non-Muslims, in such a way that their wearing will promote vile Western culture. The ruling is not confined to people of the Islamic Republic.

There's more on the promotion of "vile Western culture" from Dr. K (the source of the above -- whose personal hatred of neckties IMO gives him credibility).

I really hadn't known about the necktie rules, but the mullahs' desire to control Iranians is by no means limited to what goes around a man's neck. Amer Taheri takes a hard look at what none dare call "Iranian fashionism":

Religious minorities would have their own colour schemes. They will also have to wear special insignia, known as zonnar, to indicate their non-Islamic faiths. Jews would be marked out with a yellow strip of cloth sewn in front of their clothes while Christians will be assigned the colour red. Zoroastrians end up with Persian blue as the colour of their zonnar. It is not clear what will happen to followers of other religions, including Hindus, Bahais and Buddhists, not to mention plain agnostics and atheists, whose very existence is denied by the Islamic Republic.

The new law imposes a total ban on wearing neckties and bow-ties which are regarded as "symbols of the Cross." Will Iranian Christians be allowed to wear them, nevertheless? No one knows.

The law also mandates the government to wage a campaign against "expensive attire" without defining it. Some mullahs, for example, wear robes made of pure hand-woven silk that costs several thousands dollars. Nor is it clear whether or not the kind of blouson (long shirt) that Ahmadinejad often wears would be deemed Islamic. (Shops in Tehran are selling the so-called "presidential" blouson for US$3 apiece.)

One aim of the new law is to impose a total ban on imports of clothes and dress designs from the West. The Majlis hopes that all jeans will disappear from the Iranian scene within five years. The boutiques selling haute couture Western gear for men and women will also be closed over the next few years. A total ban on designer items, marked by logos, will come into force by the end of the year.

What that means is that Manolo's very blog might be in danger in Iran.

While I'm sure logic has nothing to do with this, how is it that the necktie could possibly be considered either "un-Islamic," or "Christian," or part of any religion? There was no such article of clothing in Biblical times or when the Koran was written; according to Wikipedia the necktie dates back to the mid 1600s.

An inside source reports that for Ahmadinejad, wearing a necktie would be "unthinkable":

I asked a very savvy Iranian source about it, and here is his fascinating analysis:

This issue goes back to the immediate aftermath of the 1979 Revolution. Before the revolution, all public figures in Iran and all officials wore ties, both domestically and when on visits abroad. Shortly after the revolution however, the tie itself began being associated with "Western imperialism", especially after Ayatollah Khomeini branded a large group of intellectuals (who were less religiously zealous than he would have liked) as "tie-wearing cronies of the West" and essentially branded anyone wearing a tie as being Western influenced. As such, no Iranian official since that time wears a tie, whether in Iran or when on official trips abroad. In fact, for many years after the revolution, the site of a regular person wearing a tie in Iran was so rare that heads would turn on the street and funny comments would be made if someone wore a tie outside. Many people still wore them to parties and weddings and things, but it was very "taboo" during the 1980s.

Gradually, as Khomeini's legacy became a bit less overbearing, regular people stopped caring and the rhetorical plays on people who wear ties as "imperialist cronies" were no longer made, meaning that at least ordinary people now wore ties on a regular basis. I myself for example, always wore tie at work in Tehran, as did many of my colleagues. I would actually make a point of wearing a tie outside as much as possible, to do my bit in making sure that people got used to seeing other people in ties.

On the official side however, wearing a tie is still a no-no and it would be unthinkable for Ahmadinejad, who claims to be one of the "true disciples of Khomeini" to sport a neck-tie under any circumstances.

Disciples of Khomeini or not, I think it's worth noting that the Islamic rejection of neckties as "Western" took place in the 1970s -- the very decade when a similar movement was afoot in the West! Not wearing a necktie was seen as synonymous with hipness, and if this post by Matthew Yglesias is any indication, it still is:
Mahmoun Ahmadinejad has a pretty sweet hipster style. It all starts with a beard not unlike the one I and many of my twentysomething male friends sport. But it goes deeper. The man went without a tie to address the UN General Assembly.
(Via Daniel Drezner, who is unimpressed.)

Doesn't this deliberate flouting of necktie protocols beg the question who's really being Western?

I'm reminded of the recent blogger luncheon with Clinton. While the latter wore a necktie, many of his invitees did not. What might ordinary Iranians -- the man in the Tehran street -- think? That young hip Americans take their fashion cues from Iranian leaders and not American leaders? Is this a good thing?

Considering the genuine danger posed by Iran and Ahmadinejad, I realize that some people might think it's frivolous to focus on what the man wears. But there have been innumerable reactions to the many facets of Ahmadinejad, and considering this blog's penchant for exploring cultural factors, I feel a certain responsibility. Besides, Glenn Reynolds' Ahmadinejad roundup last week included not only the above post from Daniel Drezner, but a fascinating idea from Matoko Kusanagi -- that Ahmadinejad may be suffering from "Short Man Syndrome." (A term said here to define "a short man who is very angry and hostile because he is short and vents his hostility on others.")

By any standard, Ahmadinejad is short (MSNBC says he's 5'4" and the Guardian supposedly measured him at 5'2"). He certainly exhibits many of the Short Man Syndrome features, and he may well be the shortest tyrant in the world today...

But wait! Depending on which news sources are the most credible, Ahmadinejad might be a full two inches taller than Kim Jong Il -- who according to CNN is "only 5 feet 2 inches tall but wears 4-inch lifts in his shoes." If anyone suffers from SMS, it would be Kim Jong Il.

So maybe there's something to this. But Kim and Mahmoud are only two examples, and while we all know about Napoleon, I think the latter might be too distant in time to be be a reliable barometer of short modern tyrants.

What about Stalin? To this day, historians disagree about his height, but that's largely because his coverup machine touched up most of the pictures:

Though Stalin was indeed touchy about his appearance, especially his pockmarked face and shriveled left arm, he was most vain about his height. Perhaps the subtlest touch in nearly all these falsified images is the rendering of Stalin, who was a tad under 5 feet 4 inches, as the tallest man in any group shot.
I think these three examples are enough to lend credibility to Matoko Kusanagi's contention. Might "Short Man Syndrome" dwarf the necktie argument by comparison?

But isn't something being overlooked? Take another look at the three tiny villains -- Stalin, Kim, Ahmadinejad.

Not one of them wears a necktie! Ever!

Coincidence? I think not. While I think the short stature might have played an important part in the rise to power of these men, history is loaded with tall tyrants (from Goliath on down to the 6'4" Osama bin Laden), and short heroes (from David, I suppose, down to the 5'5" Audie Murphy) and I don't think examples are needed. For every short villain, there's probably a tall hero, and vice versa.

But let's stick with the necktie, and my original goal of positive photoshopping. Lest anyone doubt my contention, consider what would happen if tomorrow, President Ahmadinejad decided to put on a necktie.

I don't think it is understatement to say that this would trigger immediate worldwide attention, and unprecedented speculation. Considering the cultural factors, the world eruption might possibly trigger an Iranian uprising. Maybe a coup. Is it too much to suggest it might even lead to world peace?

I don't know, but it is in the interest of peace that I photoshopped the following:


[Seriously, if that isn't respectful photoshopping, then what is?]

As to the man on the left, I can't be sure why he isn't wearing a tie. Maybe he took his off, and gave it to President Ahmadinejad in the interest of improved cultural ties.

Whatever the case, it seems like a laudable, maybe even non-partisan effort.

Maybe we should all send a tie to Ahmadinejad.

UPDATE (10/01/06): Thank you Glenn Reynolds, for linking this post, and welcome all!

I'm not sure whether this is evidence that the necktie is more powerful (or, for that matter, more traditional) than a bikini, and while I'm always hesitant to make sweeping judgments about these things, I think that in historical terms, "bikini blast" is at least as memorable as "necktie party."

posted by Eric at 10:02 AM | Comments (18)

A shame-on-America scoldathon!

Today is looking like a real scoldfest, with Bush getting it from all sides. The reports are just pouring in (a little something for everyone), but the bottom line is that for the terrible things Bush has done, we should all be ashamed.

Here's former president Jimmy Carter:

"What has happened the last five years has brought discouragement and sometimes international disgrace to our great country," he said.
I guess he means the five years since 9/11. I think that what really would have been discouraging and disgraceful would have been to do nothing about the attacks, but that might mean I am part of the disgrace of which Carter complains; I'm not sure. I'm trying not to let it discourage me.

Presidential wannabe Hillary Clinton isn't quite as harsh in her judgment, but she reaches back further in time -- to six years:

"The damage that has already been done to our country in the last six years is incalculable," she said.

"It's going to take an enormous amount of effort to begin to repair and restore American values and to reinstate the kind of shared commitment to common values and common ground that we desperately need," Clinton added.

Oddly enough, there are Republicans who would say pretty much same thing. But they'd blame the Democrats for the lack of a shared commitment. I don't like the polarization that's occurred either. But the way she talks, you'd think the polarization resulted from a Republican invasion of Iraq, over her howls and protests.

Well, at least Oliver Stone sharpens the focus, and is more dutifully ashamed:

"The far greater conspiracy occurred after 9/11 when basically a neo-cabal inside our government hijacked policy and went to war. That was as broad a conspiracy as we can get and it was about 20, 30 people. That's all, they took over and all these books are coming out and they are pointing it out," said Stone.

"This war on Iraq is a disaster. I'm disgraced. I'm ashamed for my country," he said. "I'm also ashamed that America has attacked itself with its constitutional breakdowns. I'm deeply ashamed."

I may be a cold and aloof person, but none of these remarks work. They all fail to shame me.

Not even the huffings and puffings of Ayman al Zawahiri seem to have any effect:

CAIRO, Egypt - The deputy leader of al-Qaida called President Bush a failure and a liar in the war on terror in a video statement released Friday, and he compared Pope Benedict XVI to the 11th century pontiff who launched the First Crusade.

"Can't you be honest at least once in your life, and admit that you are a deceitful liar who intentionally deceived your nation when you drove them to war in Iraq," Ayman al-Zawahri said in a portion of the video released by the Washington-based SITE Institute.

The latter is what's called a rhetorical question, and if asked in court, it would probably not survive an objection on the basis that it was argumentative. Zawahiri's argument is so lame it sounds as if it might have been scripted by Cindy Sheehan. This is not to suggest that any of the other people I quoted are the moral equivalent of the terrorist leader Zawahiri; it's just that I'm so callused and insensitive that I thought maybe I could find someone who could manage to shame me, even if only a little bit. Because Castro's been sick, and Hugo Chavez already exhausted himself, I had to look.

There's a lot to absorb all in one day, but none of the remarks have instilled in me even the slightest feelings of shame. I already knew Bush wasn't perfect, but we were attacked, the war is ongoing, and I see no shame in trying to win it.

I am concerned about one thing, though, and I'm wondering...

Where's Michael Moore?

He hasn't been quoted on Bush since September 12, when he complained about roads in Iraq:

"Here we are three-and-a-half years [into the war] and we are not able to secure the road from the airport to downtown Baghdad. It's absolutely f***ing ridiculous,"


Moore added, "We don't want to secure that road, because we don't want that war to end yet because we want to bring a sense of fear to Americans."

Fear? But I thought the issue was shame. Maybe the idea is that "we" should all be ashamed of the fear that Bush has brought to America. Or is that afraid of the shame?

I may never know.

But at least I'm not the only one missing Michael Moore! Matthew Sheffield links to a report that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a huge Michael Moore fan, and has been drooling to meet the big boy:

Mr. Ahmadinejad held a 7:30 a.m. breakfast meeting, again at his hotel, with American academics and journalists. Earlier, he had expressed some interest in having Michael Moore attend, and although attempts were made to reach him (even by myself, since I was asked), they were unsuccessful. I was seated between Gary Sick (of Columbia University) and Jon Lee Anderson (of The New Yorker), and three hot issues were covered: nuclear power, Israel and the Holocaust.
How charming of the Iranian president. A sincere invitation, through more than one channel. Why Moore didn't rise to the occasion, I don't know.

When rich Americans snub people from Third World countries, shouldn't that be a source of shame?

Now I am finally ashamed! What Michael Moore has done might very well have set back international relations for decades.

Should I maybe write to President Ahmadinejad and apologize on Michael Moore's behalf?

(You know. "Dear President Ahmadinejad: Michael Moore made me feel ashamed to be an American...." Something like that.)

posted by Eric at 06:17 PM | Comments (4)

Interview with Lieberman

I've mentioned the Pajamas Media interview of Senator Joseph Lieberman by Roger L. Simon, and it can now be streamed live here.

I'm listening to it as I write this post, and it's a real scoop.

Great work!

MORE: You must watch this interview! Of particular interest is the discussion of independent-mindedness in voters. Roger Simon specifically addressed the topic of Tuesday night's Pajamas Media panel discussion ("How partisan is too partisan?"), as well as the crucial distinction between "moderates" and independents. Asked about the existence of large numbers of voters who just don't fit into the conventional spectrum at all (such as for the war and for gay marriage), Senator Lieberman was very sympathetic.

The message is finally getting through. (It certainly has to Lieberman.)

I'm amazed.

posted by Eric at 01:26 PM | Comments (0)

How many is too many? Says who?

Friday is traditionally considered to be cat blogging day, but with the exception of an occasional visit with cats, I've almost never engaged in cat-blogging. That's because I own no cats, and I'm allergic to them. I'd buy one of those new hypoallergenic cats, but they cost nearly $4000.00, so it'll have to wait for a major market correction. At the rate cats breed, though, you'd think that wouldn't take too long:

One cat and her litter can produce 420,000 cats in seven years - 10 million in 10 years!
And I'm sure they're starting with more than one....

Is there such a thing as having too many cats? We've all heard about so-called "animal hoarders" who are found living in squalid conditions with hundreds of cats, but woman in this area was recently cited for having fifteen cats in her home:

The Health Department and Borough Council say Smith and her 15 cats are in violation of an ordinance prohibiting residents from keeping more than four cats - and the fourth has to be approved.

Smith, who is a volunteer for Furrever Friends Rescue and Volunteers, a cat-rescue organization, describes herself as a foster "mom" to her cats. She has been rescuing cats and kittens since 2005 and says the rescue group is doing the town a service by taking them in.

So far, she has provided foster care to 19 felines as a Furrever Friends volunteer. In April, she was part of a team that took in five kittens found in a beer box sealed with duct tape and thrown into a garbage dump. Those kittens have been placed in homes, she said.

In July, after receiving a letter from the borough saying she had to remove the excess cats, she took her cause to the Borough Council, to no avail.

"He has no comment," Borough Clerk Barbara Lewis said yesterday, speaking for Mayor John Soubasis. "The ordinance is staying like it [is], and that's how it was decided."

She's fighting it, though.

Putting aside the question of the fine line between "animal rescue" and "animal hoarding," how might most libertarians analyze this? Clearly, the woman should have a right to conduct her life any way she sees fit, and, psychological judgments aside, if she isn't creating a health hazard or annoying the neighbors, I don't know whose business it is how many cats she has.

Besides, if they can limit the number of animals, why not other things? Like guns, perhaps? Why not people? In the area surrounding the university I live near, local zoning laws prohibit more than three unrelated students from living together.

Did the cats who wrote the "man's home is his castle" doctrine take into account zoning?

MORE: In Saudi Arabia, the sale of cats has been banned as a "Western influence," even though the prophet Muhammad loved them -- "in one instance letting a cat drink from his ablutions water before washing himself for prayers."

Now why would they pass a clearly un-Islamic law?

posted by Eric at 11:13 AM

Moderating backwardness?
"For everything in this world, for civilization, for life, for success, the truest guide is knowledge and science. To seek a guide other than knowledge and science is a mark of heedlessness, ignorance, and aberration."

-- Mustafa Kemal Ataturk

I have a question. Would Mustafa Kemal Ataturk be considered a moderate Muslim?

Or not a Muslim at all? He's been called an atheist, and in this biography he's called a "nominal Muslim" who accomplished great reforms, abolished the Caliphate, and brought Turkey into the 20th Century:

On October 29, 1923, mostly by Kemals engineering, the provisional government in Ankara created the official Republic of Turkey. Kemal immediately began his long-dreamed-of program of modernization. Against the resistance of conservative elements of the government, he implemented many reforms from his place of power as President. First of all, he abolished the Caliphate the office of the head of the Muslim religion as unfitting for a modern republic. He introduced a new alphabet, switching from an Arabic system to a Roman system. The legal system was completely reworked, giving full rights to all citizens and eliminating Islamic law. To modernize the culture, he forbade the wearing of the traditional Turkish hat, the fez, and did not allow women to cover their heads in Islamic fashion while in the Parliament building.
By recognizing the backwardness inherent in an Islamic government, did Ataturk become "un-Islamic"? [To say nothing of Nasser or Sadat, and the resultant malignant rise of Qutb....]

Was he right? Might Ataturk's secularization of the state account for Turkey's success? If it does, what are the implications? Is "moderate Islam" an individual thing or a government thing?

Or am I engaged in "Western arrogance" by daring to cite Ataturk's successful model?

(The answers aren't exactly staring at me.)

posted by Eric at 09:47 AM | Comments (1)

Good gets better!

Get a load of this:

...nobody covers events from more perspectives and with greater nuance than Pajamas Media.
And that's coming from major MSM figure Michael S. Malone, writing for ABC.

I liked PJM from the inception of the idea, and I couldn't be more delighted by the fact that they just keep getting better.

posted by Eric at 10:16 PM | Comments (0)

Unnecessary division over unnecessary divisions?

This is a painful post but I'll try to crank it out rather than sit on it and let it get more painful. The "blogostorm" between Dean Esmay and Michelle Malkin has little to do with me personally*, but everything to do with the national debate this country has been having since 9/11 when we were attacked by suicidal Saudi Salafists.

Were the 9/11 attackers Muslims? Even that isn't necessarily clear, and it depends on how Islam is to be defined. The problem is, they claimed to be acting on behalf of Islam, and enough Muslims support their cause to make many Americans wonder. For some people, it's a lot easier to conclude that "we were attacked by Islam" than to face the reality that some Muslims -- even millions of Muslims -- are not all Muslims.

I think this is terribly mistaken thinking, but I do not think it is treason. The problem is, once you conclude that the United States is at war with Islam a lot flows from that. (Including the belief that Muslims are suspect Americans, and are akin to Communists during the cold war. Or analogous to the way many 19th Century Americans regarded Indians.) Such a view of Islam as the enemy is wrong. Ali Eteraz (via Mutnodjmet) put it quite well:

wrong pragmatically; wrong in relation to the Enlightenment; wrong morally.
I, too, get very sick of hearing that Muslims are the enemy. Indeed; if we are at war with Islam, we have no business rebuilding Iraq and trying to help establish democracy; we should be leveling the place and populating it with Americans.

I see the enemy as jihadists. (And I don't mean jihadists in the sense of playing the piano well or getting straight As or doing a fine job as a teacher; I mean it in the sense of waging holy war in the name of Islam.) That sounds easy enough, but try putting it into practice in the United States today. One of the great ironies of the post-9/11 period is that while violent Islamic jihadists attacked this country, there is a constantly growing network -- both organized and unorganized -- of in-place apologists at virtually every level of society all ready to defend them. Criticize jihadists, and people on the left will call you a racist. An Islamophobe. A bigot. I have seen this too many times to count, and the reason I call it ironic is that before 9/11, feminists routinely criticized the veil. Gay activists did not hesitate to condemn Islamic homophobia. Atheists condemned Islam the same way they condemned Christianity. After 9/11, the PC crowd suddenly included a group which they'd previously neglected, and it seemed to me that the 9/11 attacks helped the image of radical Muslims with the left in this country. And in most newspapers, and on many campuses.

This network of PC critics is not only defensive in nature, but offensive. Hence, few American newspapers would dare print cartoons that would probably have been printed before 9/11 without so much as a passing thought. Before 9/11, few cared about the Supreme Court's image of Muhammad, or the many images of Muhammad (such as Salvador Dali's 1960s version). Now, even operas have to be careful. Lest they "offend." I'm tired of that crap, and a lot of people are. I don't agree that 9/11 supplied anyone with an excuse to be insensitive or act like a jerk. But then again, why in the world should a horrible attack like that make us more concerned with (what's the phrase?) "Islamic sensibilities"?

There's a large group of Americans (perhaps the majority) who never really thought about Muslims before 9/11. And now that their country is under attack by a group of Islamist maniacs, is this the right time to suddenly start lecturing them about sensitivity? Like it or not, that's what's happening. I think it is entirely unreasonable, and violates the most basic American common sense. Scolding Americans about how ignorant they are about Islam and how they "need to learn more about it" implies that they now have some duty -- now that they're under attack -- to understand their attackers. That's not the way wars are normally fought, and it doesn't surprise me that some people find it unacceptable. Hence the backlash, and hence the "screw them all!" position of the more fervent and loud members of the Michelle Malkin crowd.

I'm not saying that "screw them all!" any more characterizes Michelle Malkin than "Let's have peace and understanding with Islamists now!" characterizes Dean Esmay. Rather, these are tendencies, and they touch on colliding schools of thought that are aggravated by years of war and rapidly coming to a head.

Yet in fairness, it should be recognized that both "screw them" and "understand them" are very American positions, just as American as Dean Esmay and Michelle Malkin.

I think the two ways of looking at the same facts symbolize a growing, possibly intractable debate, and I'm worried that it may be as hopeless as the debate over guns (in which vicious drive-by shootings are seen by one side as an argument against guns, and by the other as an argument to own guns).

Unfortunately for me, I live close to a Saudi madrassa that I've complained about in a number of posts. They're not only too close to terrorism, they're too close to me. Yet the damned local government pays for school buses to take kids in and out of there for their indoctrination with what the half-Jewish neighborhood has every reason to suspect is anti-Semitic, anti-Israel, anti-West hatred. (The "damned local government," of course, is funded with my tax dollars.) In violation of zoning regulations, they operated a school illegally, ran an unlicensed "halal" meat market, unlicensed restaurant, and summer jihad camps -- contemptuously violating their pre-9/11 covenant with the neighbors. Neighbors complained, and were treated by the bureaucrats with barely concealed contempt, as if we were an annoying group of bigoted crackpots. (Complaints of terrorist connections were dismissed as "irrelevant," for example.) The Zoning Board, however, couldn't ignore the blatant code violations, and hearings were held, but guess what? Over the objections of the neighbors, the madrassa got the "special exceptions" it had requested:

In a 25-page order released last week, the board granted most requests by Villanova's Center for Islamic Education to expand operations, over neighbors' strong objections.

Although the order includes numerous restrictions and conditions, neighbors who waited until the end of a lengthy board meeting Thursday night to hear the twice-delayed decision were dismayed. They say the center, which holds religious services and monthly lectures on topics related to Islam, not only has consistently violated township restrictions and an agreement with neighbors since it opened in 1994, but broke the rules this summer, even while the application was pending.

While the zoning board said it "understands those frustrations," it found that it could not, as a matter of law, deny the requests, which include permitting operation of a school for students in kindergarten through eighth grades, a summer camp for children and increased attendance at some religious services.

Not so for a Christian school in a nearly identical situation before the same board:
The Lower Merion Zoning Hearing Board voted Aug. 18 to deny the American Academy's requests for zoning relief to continue meeting at Gladwyne Methodist Church.

In a case members deliberated throughout the summer, the board found that the organization is operating as a school and does not qualify for an extension of the church's special exception as a religious use in a residential zone. The group had argued that its Christian-based instruction is a form of religious expression.

If it is bigotry to want a Saudi madrassa to be treated the same way a Christian school was treated, then call me a bigot. I am getting sick and tired of this politically correct nonsense, as are a lot of people. And no; it is not all Muslims. Many Muslims, I am sure, don't want their kids indoctrinated in Wahhabist hatred. Many are tolerant of gay rights and stuff like that. It just seems to me that they'd be a little less afraid of speaking up if Americans weren't also so intimidated.

For the umpteenth time, I do not condemn Islam. Our war is not with Islam. Islam did not declare war on us. I am all for moderate Muslims. The problem is that the head of the local madrassa calls his brand of Islam "moderate" and describes his congregants as "mainstream moderate Muslims." Radicals have a history of becoming the mainstream. (And the more the left pushes, the more mainstream the Jihadists become.)

Thus, the whole thing is ugly, mean and bitter. Writing this blog post makes has been little more than an experience in bitterness, and I'd just as soon have had a few beers, and forgotten about it.

The worst part of it is that Dean and Michelle are both right -- each in their own way. Michelle may have failed to properly recognize the distinctions between Islam and Islamism, while Dean may be failing to understand the social dynamics of how the left is undermining this distinction, or Michelle's reactions to that.... FWIW, I think they're both on solid ground as Americans, not that it really matters right now in the debate.

It has all the makings of tragedy.

* I said this has "little" to do with me personally, but I should point out that Dean Esmay has been a huge inspiration from day one, and I think he's a prince of a guy. Michelle Malkin is someone I've long admired for standing up to the left, and she has been very generous in linking to me. So while the argument between them is not personal, my feelings towards them are.

UPDATE (09/29/06): My deepest thanks to Glenn Reynolds for linking this post with such kind words. (Much too kind, really. Trust me, I don't belong in the dictionary next to the word "decent"!)

Not to return the compliment, because I'd say this any day of the week, but I think now is a good time to point out that bloggers (myself included) are just too full of themselves. In general, I think we take ourselves way too seriously. Glenn is major exception, and I think it accounts for his huge success. There's a huge difference between making it clear what you think and absolutely knowing you're right and waving the flag of ideological purity at all who disagree. I have never known Glenn to do the latter, and there's a lesson for all of us in that. If I am as decent as Glenn says, it's only because I try to remember the possibility that I might be wrong, and that I'm not worth taking as seriously as I might like to think.

If we consider the ironic situation that the more a blogger's traffic increases, the more seriously he takes himself, then Glenn Reynolds should be taking himself about 200 million times more seriously than most "successful" bloggers. In fact, he takes himself less seriously. He's one of the most self-effacing guys in the blogosphere.

The more you do this stuff, the more it can go to your head. Developing a big head will not only cause you to butt heads with other big heads, but if your head is big enough, you'll just be in your own way. The reason (I think) for Glenn's success is that he isn't standing in anyone's way, and thus isn't in his own way. (A good thing to emulate.)

Hope that wasn't too moralistic, but it's what I think.

posted by Eric at 07:58 PM | Comments (66) | TrackBacks (1)

Activists say "buy!" (But people aren't buying.)

Even though the activists are telling people to buy the book, Sean Kinsell is not terribly impressed by New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey.

One wonders whether this joker has any deep convictions at all.
Well, at least he was secretly for gay marriage before he said he was openly against it (but only because he "had" to).

According to Monica Yant Kinney (whose previous column on McGreevey I praised), the McGreevey book is doing more poorly than expected, and I don't think it's because of "mean-spirited homophobia," but because at least as many people find McGreevey's opportunism distasteful as find the details of his sex life boring.

McGreevey conned everyone, and now he's trying to con them again. Why a corrupt ex-governor should morph directly into a "gay leader" in spite of his corruption escapes me completely.

People aren't buying. No surprise.

Then there's Senator Lieberman's ten point lead. I wonder.... Might this be the Schwarzenegger factor again? Might that be a phenomenon that isn't limited to either party? Might it arise spontaneously as a result of seething discontent over conventional politics? Whatever is happening, the voters aren't buying what the activists want them to buy:

Lieberman, a three-term Democrat running as an independent after losing the party nomination in a primary, is favored by 49 percent to 39 percent over Lamont in the three-way race. Republican Alan Schlesinger trails with 5 percent.

The race has tightened slightly since an Aug. 17 poll that showed Lieberman leading 53 percent to 41 percent.

"Ned Lamont has lost momentum," said poll director Douglas Schwartz said. "He's gained only two points in six weeks. He's going to have to do something different in the next six weeks or ... Lieberman stays in for another six years."

The race is seen as many as a referendum on President Bush's handling of the Iraq war.

Really? I don't think it's a referendum on the war so much as a referendum on political partisanship. More and more ordinary Americans are sick to death of of activist-dominated politics (characterized as it is by vicious infighting and ad hominem attacks) and it strikes me that this is one of the few times they've been given a chance to say so.

A recurrent theme in American politics is that people don't like being had. But they're also wary of being told that they've "been had," because that's just one more way of being had. More than one huckster has been elected by exploiting anti-incumbent sentiments, and I think Connecticut voters see through the latest variation on this theme.

MORE: Roger L. Simon has an interview with Senator Lieberman. (It's been linked by Drudge, so keep trying.)

posted by Eric at 03:44 PM

More laws and less enforcement? Why?

With all the hullaballoo over guns in the Philadelphia Inquirer, you'd think a success story in the war against illegal gun trafficking would merit more attention than an inch and a half of text buried in a longer column on page B-7.

I mean, what better way to demonstrate the effectiveness of law enforcement in preventing illegal gun sales than placing this story on the front page? Even the headline -- "West Phila. imam convicted of selling guns illegally" -- seems compelling:

A federal jury convicted an imam from 52d Street Mosque yesterday with selling handguns and assault weapons from a clothing stand he operated in West Philadelphia.

Wayne Hogue, 47, of West Philadelphia, also known as Imam Wadir and Shahdeed Bay, sold 11 firearms between May 2003 until March 2004, according to prosectors. Evidence presented at the trial included numerous audiotapes of Hogue selling firearms to a confidential informant. He is scheduled to be sentenced in December.

Imagine, a man of the cloth, selling guns illegally! Isn't that the sort of thing that used to at least be considered a scandal?

Considering that the Imam was already a convicted felon, the "one gun a month" law would not have stopped him from buying or selling guns, because it only covers purchases by legally qualified buyers.

Maybe Philadelphia needs more enforcement of existing laws than lobbying for new ones which simply place more restrictions on the law abiding.

The paradox here is that laws do not decrease crime, for the simple reason that the more laws are passed, the more crime there is. Is it necessary to be an economist to understand why?

posted by Eric at 02:25 PM | Comments (3)

frightened out of my pajamas!

I wasn't going to write a post about Tuesday night's Pajamas Media-Politics Central panel conference, but attendee August J. Pollak made me feel a certain sense of obligation.

To their credit, PJM is smart enough to keep their big-name hyper-partisans out of the public eye. Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds, notorious for his self-proclaimed "moderate" position by way of merely linking to right-wing blogs on a daily basis instead of offering the viewpoints himself, served as moderator (Reynolds' money quote of the evening was his description of his nonpartisanship: "My dream is a world where happily married gay couples have closets full of assault weapons," which... yes, I believe is still frightening.) The extremists who might have, you know, made the hypocrisy of the events premise embarrassingly blatant were kept in the shadows...
I'm wondering who these extremists were, and why and how they were "kept in the shadows." There was a room full of people, and my biggest problem was that I couldn't meet everyone, as I'm not much of a human party navigator. Plus, not everyone had a name tag, and I don't have an encyclopedic memory of which names go to which blogs, so I may very well have spoken to bloggers whose blogs I know but whose names I didn't connect with their blogs. Either I'm too shy -- or it's just too awkward -- to ask "What's the name of your blog?" to everyone whose name I didn't recognize.

How to spot the extremists? I have no idea. Considering that Mr. Pollak seems to feel that Glenn Reynolds is a clever extremist who passes himself off as a moderate, I must have been in pretty extreme company.

Hell, I'd be willing to bet that I'm an extremist myself!

And a scary one at that. No really. If gay couples with closets full of assault weapons are "frightening," then this was definitely an extremist extravaganza -- and not because the attendees were gay or had closets full of assault weapons. (There's really no way to know these things, and if I didn't even ask people what their blogs were you can be damned sure I wasn't getting around to sexuality or weaponry. Nor did I volunteer that my pit bull understands how to safely handle a Kalashnikov.) No; the reason I'd have to concur that this was an extremist extravaganza was that the room exploded in laughter when Glenn made the remark about gay couples with closets full of assault weapons.

Yes, they laughed. And at a "frightening" statement.

As if it wasn't enough to be laughing at frightening things, the extremists came up with an extremely frightening topic -- "How partisan is too partisan?"

The question itself is so frightening that I can't answer it. I don't honestly know what is too partisan, although I enjoyed the discussion. There was discussion of the difference between a partisan and an ideologue, and during the question and answer period I was tempted to interject the word "activist," but nearly a third of the room had their hands up, and I didn't want to be seen as an activist basher, because there are good people who believe in activism on behalf of good causes, and the type of activists I deplore (and, hence, use as a definition of the word) might not be at all like the people who'd consider themselves "good" activists. No, I will not say "the only good activist is a dead activist." Not only would that be real extremism, I don't think it. But the inability to define commonly used words is one of the things that makes discussion of these topics problematic.

Partisanship in journalism exists, though. There are even activists involved in journalism, and probably ideologues. What was on my mind as I listened to the panel was the the Philadelphia Inquirer's coverage of the gun control issue. There's partisanship, and then there's partisanship, but when sensationalized, emotional lobbying is passed off as reporting, to my mind it's beyond the point of merely being partisan. It's out-and-out ideologically-driven activism, and it is dishonest to call it news reporting.

For those who like journalistic activism, though, my position would make me an extremist. Funny thing, though; I'm too liberal to call them extremists. I don't object to being called "extremist" or "right wing," as these terms are just labels, and they have no meaning when they are used without explanation in the pejorative sense. I could call someone "left wing" or "right wing," but because the overused words have no meaning anymore, I generally prefer to discuss specific issues. In general, though, I have noticed that "right wing" is hurled not so much as a descriptor, but as an insult. Often in the context of words like "frightening" or "extremist." [The idea may be to evoke images of death squads in El Salvador or something, but I can't be sure.]

I only took a couple of pictures, as my camera doesn't work that well indoors at night, but Pam at Atlas Shrugs has plenty. And from what Bill at INDC says, I think August J. Pollak might have gotten it wrong. Far from impersonating a "moderate," if Bill is correct ("no visible antennae, wires or other electronic components.. warm and remarkably flesh-like [grip] .... optics tracked movement with reptilian smoothness") then Glenn Reynolds is actually impersonating a human being. Aren't there activist groups trying to make such extreme things illegal?

Bill concluded that the people at the event were "nice folks" and "surprisingly not abnormal for a group of bloggers." I'd gotten a surprisingly similar impression. Among the people I met and spoke with were Matthew Sheffield, Fausta (great pics there too), Tiger Hawk, Ace of Spades, Judith Weiss, Michael Totten, Baron Bodissey, Pam from Atlas Shrugs, Neo-neocon, Cliff May, Nick Gillespie, and of course, PJM's organizers and hosts, Roger Simon, Gerard Vanderleun, and Nidra Poller. Definitely all nice folks (well, in Glenn Reynolds' case, appearance-of-niceness machines who might as well be real folks.) Without exception, everyone I spoke to was delightful and charming.

Isn't it frightening that extremists and mindless robots can manage to pass themselves off as nice people? It would be easy to attribute this to pajamas, but I only saw one actual pair being worn, so I don't think that's it.

Besides, I neither own nor wear pajamas. One of the alleged humans took a picture of me standing in the shadows while actually not wearing the pajamas I do not own, and I offer it as proof.


NOTE: The above list of people that I met is from memory, which is not perfect. Hope I didn't leave anyone out!

UPDATE: Oxblog's David Adesnik (someone I've love to have met, and may have met without knowing) was there too, recognizes the inevitable reality of partisanship, but tries to offer smart partisanship:

Smart partisanship is partisanship that keeps the interest of the other side. Smart partisanship is something you disagree with, but feel that you have to read because you want to know what the best argument is for the other side.

That's the ideal I keep in my head when I blog. When I write, I keep an imaginary not-me on my shoulder that has the opposite opinion about everything. My goal isn't to get him to agree with me, but to prevent him for saying "This is a waste of time."

(Via Glenn Reynolds.)

A lofty, desirable, goal, to be sure, and one which would, if implemented, tend to foster the development of ideas over than the mindless parroting of them.

When blogging, I also try to keep the "imaginary not-me" with the opposite opinion on my shoulder, and sometimes I have to literally imagine the hell out of my "imaginary not-me."

"This is a waste of time" is a mindset and a feeling I know all too well. (If anything is really frightening, that's it.) It's been a starting point for more blog posts than I care to admit. Sometimes, battling with that "waste of time" feeling can be good.

But should I ever let the "imaginary not-me" win?

MORE: By the way, I absolutely hate it when stuff like this happens, and I don't know what to say when it does. (Dammit!) Perhaps Dean and Michelle could make love not war? Nah, that's too mushily surreal to imagine. But I'm reminded, "when reality sucks, time out for the surreal!"


Perhaps everyone can sit down and draw happy pictures.

(Of what? Muhammad?)

UPDATE: Admitted extremist Baron Bodissey (who seemed for all the world like a nice guy) links this post, and argues that August J. Pollak is right:

...its better for all concerned if the Bushitler Halliburton Neocon Theocrats are kept muzzled and leashed at such events.
Muzzled and leashed? Those are fighting words for Coco. I'll try not to let her read this.

UPDATE: I don't think N.Z. Bear made it from my memory into this post, but I met him too. (Doesn't look at all like the picture at the top of his blog, either!)

posted by Eric at 11:27 AM | Comments (5)

News that isn't there?

The Brussels Journal's Paul Belien reports serial rioting in Brussels, in a post titled "Third Night of Ramadan Rioting in Capital of Europe":

....Around 8:30pm last night violence erupted again in Brussels, the capital of Europe. The riots centered on the Brussels Marollen quarter and the area near the Midi Train Station, where the international trains from London and Paris arrive. Youths threw stones at passing people and cars, windows of parked cars were smashed, bus shelters were demolished, cars were set ablaze, a youth club was arsoned and a shop was looted. Two molotov cocktails were thrown into St.Peters hospital, one of the main hospitals of central Brussels....


The immigrant youths claim that they are upset by the death of Fayal Chaaban, a 25-year old criminal, in a Brussels prison last Sunday. Yesterday morning the authorities announced they would hold a meeting with the youths to hear their grievances about security in prison, but the meeting, which was due last night, could not take place because of the riots.

The authorities are especially nervous since the Belgian municipal elections are being held on Sunday October 8th. It is likely that the elections will be won by anti-immigrant, islamophobic parties. Since ramadan will not be over on October 8th and many immigrants might perceive a victory of the indigenous right (as opposed to their own far-right) as an insult, Muslim indignation over the election results in major cities may spark serious disturbances. According to a poll published today the Vlaams Belang party is set to win 38.6% of the vote in Antwerp (compared to 33,0% in the previous municipal elections six years ago).

Via Michelle Malkin, who said that her Yahoo search revealed nothing, but who links EU Referendum's "When is a riot not a riot?" (Such questions tend to attract me as the smell of meat attracts a dog.) Apparently, a riot is not a riot when it:
  • "involves Muslims in Brussels, at Ramadan";
  • occurs on the eve of an election; and

  • is "in its third day and has spread to torching shops and other buildings, including firebombing the local hospital."
  • Whether this non-reporting is understandable in Europe can be debated. Perhaps those "in the know" don't want the rioting to have an effect on the election, and perhaps they consider it the business of the news media to decide on what should be allowed to influence people's thinking, and what should not be. I don't think that's the role of those entrusted with keeping the public informed about current events, but then, I grew up in the American tradition of fearless investigative journalism, Watergate, and all that stuff.

    I mean, there's no way to keep things out of the paper in this country with all its fearless journalists, right? That's why I was so surprised that Malkin's Yahoo earlier search had turned up nothing.

    Anyway, as of today there is a Reuters report which has now made it into the Washington Post as well as Yahoo. However, the apparent news blackout earlier reminded me that I had read nothing about the riot in the Philadelphia Inquirer over the past few days. Hmmm...

    I thought maybe I had missed it (I did spend a day traveling to DC to attend the Pajamas Media panel on partisanship), so I gave them the benefit of the doubt. But when I searched "Belgium" at their web site, nothing came up.


    So now I have to ask a basic question.

    What is it that would make a riot -- in the EU capital, shortly before an election -- unworthy of being considered news in this country?

    I'm trying to be fair here, but I'm realizing that the question I just asked looks like a rhetorical question. Should it be? Or should we have a right to assume that relevant news will be reported?

    Who in hell gets to decide if and when things get reported?

    I know I've asked this before, and I know I'll ask it again, but whose news is it?

    I'm still trying to figure out why there's zero reported information on the identity of a bearded man with acne who took female hostages in a Colorado school and killed one plus himself. Considering that the shooting took place yesterday and the gunman is dead, seems highly probable that there are reporters who know the details but aren't providing them. I don't see how this could involve privacy, as they've identified the victim of the shooting, but not the shooter. More here.

    Not knowing is frustrating. Maybe I should just assume everything will eventually be reported, and chalk it all up to the slowness of the news cycle.

    UPDATE: The shooter has been identified as Duane Morrison, a 54 year old man who lived in his car. It would not surprise me if the man has had a long history of mental illness. (He obviously has some sort of record, as the picture is a mug shot showing the man in the usual orange jumpsuit.) Plenty of people like that who used to be in hospitals now fester on the streets until they explode.

    posted by Eric at 07:42 AM | Comments (0)

    Gibson's thoughts revealed!

    And transcribed!

    And.... interpreted?

    (Well, I can't promise anything that fantastic, but I'll try.)

    In an earlier post about statements attributed to Mel Gibson in news reports, I said that had "looked in vain for a detailed explanation of what Gibson means." Thanks to this link from Justin (to an mp3 recording of the actual question-and-answer session between Gibson and the audience at the "Apocalypto" screening), I was able to transcribe the relevant portions of Gibson's remarks. Because I think it's a serious thing to make movies with a stated goal of prophesying the end of our civilization, I'm presenting them for their cultural value (such as it may be).

    As it turns out, the two remarks were made approximately fifteen minutes apart, in response to two separate incidents of audience interaction.

    The first remark was reported this way:

    In describing its portrait of a civilization in decline, Gibson said, "The precursors to a civilization that's going under are the same, time and time again," drawing parallels between the Mayan civilization on the brink of collapse and America's present situation.
    Here's what I transcribed (as accurately as possible) as I listened to the recording:
    QUESTION (reread for audience benefit, as it was apparently inaudible): Was it his [Gibson's] intent to show such a difference between sort of the tribal out in the forest people and the civilized Mayan?

    GIBSON: Well yeah.


    And I think you know, even when you look into Cortez, um, coming into Mexico, the Aztecs? Um, he didn't have very many people. So I think that there were lots of people in the society who were discontent with what was going on, and like all societies, you know, when you get corruption in pow- in governments and manipulation and use of fear as a kind of a means to manipulate the, the masses. You know, I think um, uh-

    QUESTION: Well, thank God that doesn't happen now!

    GIBSON: No!

    (Audience laughter)

    I'm so happy that doesn't happen now.

    So that that, that's what I'm trying to show I mean it uh I think and the other thing, I just want to draw the parallels between I mean the earmarks that, the precursors to a, a civilization that's going under are always the same, time and time again. And I think that we displayed, I just looked up and I thought, you know? Uh, we display those things now. Um, here. And, I don't mean to be a doomsday guy but uh, the Mayan calendar does end in 2012 boys and girls!


    Have fun!

    The other remark occurs during a discussion in which Gibson mentions the film's environmental aspects and asks the audience whether they noticed the connection between the Mayans burning lime and the problems with their crops, and ultimately, with their civilization:

    GIBSON: Other aspects concerning civilization and where its taking us.

    Did anyone get what was happening with the lime, the trees and stuff?


    (To audience): What do you think it was?

    MAN IN AUDIENCE: To destroy their own civilization, tearing up the forest.

    SECOND MAN IN AUDIENCE: They're using more than they need!

    GIBSON: Conspicuous consumption yeah.


    And then, it, it had a real serious effect. This happened in the Middle East too cause the guy who's doing the sound "Komni," he's from the Middle East and he was telling me that the history there was the same that they were, they had to, in order to get the lime they had to pulverize the rocks into this powder so they could use it, and they used to have to use enormous amount of wood to heat it hot enough and then they'd make temples and things out of it. ' course the rain would come, wash the clay into the arability of their crops and next thing you know they'd be starving to death, there'd be disease, there'd be, and. Oddly enough in 1502 there was a locust plague as well. And um, uh, 1502 was the year Columbus rocked up off the shore of Honduras with four ships and, uh, the first people he bumped into was Mayan trading canoes. So, I figured hey, close enough! So um uh, and, and, in order to appease the gods for all the bad luck the were having, then they'd build their temples even bigger and start their sacrifice out of them. And the like, you know, human sacrifice.

    And what's human sacrifice if, if it's not sending guys off to Iraq for no damn reason? You know? I don't, I can't figure that one out.


    My fix on the interview is that Gibson thinks there are a number of ways in which we are behaving like the Mayans. We are destroying the environment, sacrificing young guys in Iraq, and when we consider that the Mayans predicted the end of the world in 2012, well....

    Have fun!

    The 2012 hysteria is neither new or original, and it seems to satisfy some deep human psychological human need for catastrophe.

    Gibson's historical analysis fails to persuade me. What I can't figure out is whether Gibson susbcribes to the end of the world hysteria or he's just pandering to it to make money.

    I'm skeptical. But might the 2012 remark be evidence of a certain consistency in Gibson's thinking? In Signs Gibson played a former priest restored to his former calling as a result of crop circles.

    Might there be an, um, connection?

    The crop circle connection to the Mayan end of the world is fully explained here:

    The grid seems related to a "map" called "Psi Bank Warp and Holonomic Woof" mentioned in a book called "Earth Ascending," by Jose Arguelles (page 121). The "map" consists of eight Tzolkins joined together showing relationships between the Mayan calendar, the "I Ching" and the 64 DNA codons. Arguelles researched the Mayan calendar, physics, philosophy, geomancy and the "I Ching," and concluded that mankind is creating a "noosphere," or mind layer, around the Earth, which is evolving towards the "Omega Point of Planetary Awakening" in 2012, according to Teillard de Chardin.
    I didn't know that, but I learn something every day.

    Anyone know Tom Cruise's 2012 plans?

    posted by Eric at 03:17 PM | Comments (9)

    Let's be rational about monthly rations!

    I'm back from a trip to DC, but the Philadelphia gun issue did not go away in my absence.

    Here's today's Inquirer:


    Obviously, there's a lot in there. Too much to cover in a single blog post. (Someone could build an entire blog around the Inquirer's coverage of the gun issue, though.) On the bright side, veteran reporter Larry Eichel has researched the effectiveness of "one gun a month" laws. Not surprisingly, they don't seem to be effective in stopping "gun violence":

    One-gun-a-month laws sound attractive to gun-control activists and draw broad public support in polls. But it's not clear that such statutes have had much impact on gun violence.

    A study published last year in the journal Injury Prevention found that the laws restricting purchases had had no measurable impact. The study was done by a team of doctors from the University of Washington, using data from 1979 to 1998.

    Another study, done in 2001 by the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, found evidence of a slight decrease in gun violence associated with Maryland's one-gun law.

    With only California, Virginia and Maryland having such laws, there isn't much evidence to be had. What is available raises questions about the effect of limiting individuals to one handgun purchase every 30 days.

    Last year, all three one-gun states had homicide rates above the national average - slightly above in California and Virginia, well above in Maryland.

    And Richmond, Va., and Baltimore had homicide rates among the highest in the country. Both cities reported well over 40 homicides per 100,000 residents, compared with about 25 for Philadelphia.

    Yes, but Philadelphia is always in the midst of an "epidemic."

    It should not surprise anyone that limiting law abiding citizens to one gun a month has no effect on the criminal misuse of guns. It would make about as much sense to limit computer sales in order to deter criminal computer hackers.

    Guns are one of the many tools used by criminals, but the focus on this tool -- which can also be used for good -- never ceases to amaze me.

    As an example of gun violence, the Inquirer's special section on the subject links Monica Yant Kinney's account of a mysterious, professional hit-style slaying which has been unsolved for five years.

    Well, the police might never solve it. They never solved the even higher-profile murder of Philadelphia mob boss Angelo Bruno. But I don't recall anyone ever citing the Bruno killing as an argument for limiting the number of guns law-abiding citizens can buy.

    Yet consider for a moment that Bruno's murder is still unsolved. It's not too late to bring it up at the State Capitol. Had it not been for the easy availability of guns, Angelo Bruno (who was born in 1910) might just still be alive today!

    Hey, don't laugh! This is supposed to be a serious argument.

    While I'm baffled over how professional hit men would be deterred by any gun law at all (much less the one gun a month proposal), such examples are as good as any, because they highlight the nature of the problem. When criminals use guns to commit serious crimes, gun laws aren't even a nuisance factor in their thinking. Can anyone sit there with a straight face and maintain that a hit man (precisely what most drug-related killers are) is going to be deterred by even the most stringent gun control measures? The idea is absurd on its face, but the argument's persistence suggests to me two possibilities:

  • the goal really is disarming law abiding citizens; or
  • the criminals (even hit men) really aren't all that bad, but the guns make them bad.
  • Disarming law abiding citizens violates the human right of self defense as well as the Second Amendment, and I don't think it should be taken seriously as an idea. I'll try to be fair, though, and stick with the possibility that disarming all criminals might in theory make it tougher for them to kill each other. This might be reflected in the prison murder rates, although I haven't researched the matter. If the prison murder rate is lower than it is on the outside, that might be evidence that total gun confiscation "works." The problem is, to do that you'd have to turn society into a prison, and the result would be that the strongest, toughest people would be able to rule over the rest of society, and the weaker individuals would be unable to protect themselves, which is tyranny. Unless the goal is to create a society like England's, where home-invasion burglaries and strong-arm robberies are rampant because no one is armed and the criminals know it, I see no theoretical advantage to a totally disarmed society. It would be more dangerous.

    I don't know anyone who seriously suggests that the "gun a month" proposals actually disarm criminals (who are already barred from possessing or purchasing guns), and I am not even sure it does that much to disarm the law abiding majority. That's because right now, law abiding citizens are divided into two groups: existing gun owners, and citizens who own no guns. The former group will continue to own whatever guns they have, while the latter group would still be allowed to acquire them, at a slower rate. How criminals would even be slowed down by this escapes me. There's a large market in stolen guns, and it is already illegal to transfer guns to felons. The people referred to as "straw purchasers" are simply illegal gun traffickers who haven't yet been caught. The idea of "one gun a month" is to slow down their ability to buy guns from a particular source -- licensed gun dealers. Street dealing and gun theft would not only be unaffected, but according to normal market rules, could only be expected to increase to fill the needs of the criminal demand. I think the reason the "gun a month" laws don't work is that there's an erroneous assumption that there aren't more than enough illegal guns in circulation to supply demand.

    The bottom line is that criminals are already prohibited from having guns and that any purchase or transfer by them is illegal, so it would be unreasonable to expect limiting the law abiding to one a month to have any effect at all.

    It would be about as effective as a law making it an additional crime for criminals to commit more than one crime a month.

    So what's with this law, and why is it considered so vital? I think it's because the gun control people are fighting an ideological battle, and they just don't like the idea of anyone buying more than one gun a month. In their mind, if guns are a moral evil, the more guns there are, the worse the moral evil.

    What kind of person would want more than one gun a month, anyway?

    (Only a psychopath, obviously.)

    Thus, built into the very discussion of the "gun a month" proposal is moralistic scolding. How could you be for such a thing? What's wrong with you? Do you really need that many guns? And who even "needs" a gun a month? Shouldn't it really be a gun a year?

    Yet no one would ask these "need" based questions about cars, telephones, computers (or numbers of blog posts). And I doubt they'd ask them about other things -- even hot button moral issues like abortion or sex acts.

    What normal man needs more than 100 condoms a month?

    Seriously, shouldn't there be a limit?

    I don't mean to be facetious here. Maybe it's better to find another logical analogy.

    Gun-a-month proponent Tom Ferrick brings up spinach:

    [New York Mayor] Bloomberg reminded everyone (including, later, in a private meeting, State Sen. Vincent Fumo) that his city has effective gun-control measures but is being bedeviled by imports. Eighty percent of the guns used in crimes in his city come from out of state, Bloomberg said.

    Making a point

    Lining up the mayors was showmanship, but it was effective showmanship. So was the line by the Rev. William J. Shaw of Philly's White Rock Baptist Church, who pointed out that when a handful of people died because of tainted spinach, all of America's spinach was pulled off the shelves. So, he asked, why doesn't anyone do anything about guns when 3,000-plus people in America are victims of homicide?

    On the other hand, as the pro-gun folks would put it: Spinach doesn't kill people, people kill people.

    Good point! I never thought about it before, but spinach is at least as similar to guns as condoms. And there are similarities between condoms and spinach:
  • Both are sold in stores;
  • Both can be good for you;
  • The FDA regulates condoms as well as spinach;
  • Sailors like Popeye need both, so they can be "strong to the finish."
  • The FDA, however, does not regulate guns.


    I think the gun a month law is silly, but I do think that considering the danger involved, maybe some serious thought should be given to transferring regulation of condoms and spinach to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

    After all, spinach grows in the ground, just like tobacco! And condoms are often used for smuggling by drug kingpins, who also buy illegal guns, so there's considerable bureaucratic overlap. Furthermore, if eating spinach does make people "strong to the finish," do we really want criminals emboldened by eating it? Wouldn't it be a good idea to make it harder for criminals to get?

    "Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, Explosives, Spinach, and Condoms" has a more effusive-sounding ring to it, and I think many criminals would be deterred just by the name.

    Can anyone say they wouldn't? How do we know if we haven't tried?

    MORE: I have to say that I was surprised to see it, but much to its credit, the Inquirer did quote some gun owners quoted yesterday:

    These folks, mostly from rural areas in central and western Pennsylvania, see gun rights as a bedrock constitutional issue.

    And they came armed with reasons not to change things.

    "The highest rate of crime occurs in cities with the toughest gun laws," said John Brinson, chairman of the Lehigh Valley Firearms Coalition. When you allow people to carry concealed weapons, crime goes down, because criminals don't know who's carrying a gun," said Mike Cancel of Washington, Pa.

    He and others blamed Philadelphia for its problems and resented efforts to abate them by forcing stricter laws on the state. "It's their children that they didn't raise right, who don't know who their father is," said Cancel. "The children are out of control. We have tons of laws already. The laws are not being enforced."

    The gun owners also said they don't accept the argument that gun restrictions would make the streets safer. Criminals, they said, would still have guns, and citizens wouldn't.

    Cancel, 53, an engineer, contended that the Second Amendment is essential, that America is spiraling out of control, and that it is vital that citizens possess firearms to fight tyranny, foreign and domestic:

    "The population has to have parity against the standing military, man for man."

    Another gun owner wore a T-shirt: "The Second Amendment: the original homeland security."

    Gun supporters, visiting legislative offices, found support for their arguments.

    There's more, but I wish they'd spoken to a few more of the 32,000 legally armed Philadelphians instead of making this appear to be an urban versus rural issue. A mention of heroic Philadelphians who have used guns to stop criminals might be nice too.

    But I guess I can't ask for everything.

    posted by Eric at 07:43 AM | Comments (1)

    Air travel sucks....

    That's what a lot of people are saying.

    And as I've learned, other forms of public transportation aren't much better.

    That's why I'll be on a long drive today, and I'm getting ready to leave now.

    It would be nice to have one of these:


    Whatever happened to the future?

    MORE (09/28/06): A friend emailed me this futuristic nostalgia (should that be nostalgically futuristic?) picture:


    Incredibly cool. But why isn't the man wearing pajamas? Didn't he know that the futurists of the future would be known for them?

    posted by Eric at 11:32 AM | Comments (3)

    Jeff Cooper, R.I.P.

    I'm sorry to hear about the death of Jeff Cooper, a legendary gun firearms instructor who was more than a spokesman for Second Amendment. He lived it.

    The Prescott (Arizona) Daily Courier remembers him:

    America lost a national treasure Monday, but most Americans will never know it.

    Yet many of those Americans may be alive today because of John Dean "Jeff" Cooper, who died Monday afternoon at the Sconce, his beloved home near Gunsite, the shooting training center he founded about 10 miles north of Chino Valley.

    Most people who know anything about guns and shooting know who Jeff Cooper was. They rightly called him "The Gunner's Guru." He was the world's foremost expert on small arms (rifles, shotguns and handguns).

    He was born John Dean Cooper on May 10, 1920. He earned a master's degree in history and taught history. He also served in the U.S. Marine Corps in World War II, Southeast Asia and Korea. He separated from the service as a lieutenant colonel and most who knew him called him "The Colonel."

    In the course of his military combat experience and shooting contests he organized in Big Bear, Calif., in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he developed the "modern technique" of using a handgun for personal protection.

    In 1976, he founded the American Pistol Institute or Gunsite, near Paulden in 1976. Since then, nearly 18,000 people have received training there in how to use handguns, rifles and shotguns to protect their lives and the lives of others.

    Read it all. (I've quoted his definition of hoplophobia in this blog more than once, and now I'm wishing I'd gone into more detail about the man who coined the term.)

    There's too much hoplophobia in the world today, and one less voice against it.

    Rest in peace, Colonel Cooper.

    UPDATE (09/27/06): Glenn Reynolds remembers Jeff Cooper, as does Samizdata's Jonathan Pearce. And Marc Danziger has a personal tribute as moving as it is interesting.

    posted by Eric at 10:43 AM | Comments (2)

    A few thoughts on blog bias

    I complain far too much about the relentless anti-gun bias in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Not only does this risk boring readers, but it's a major pain in the ass for me. I don't think of myself as a gun blogger, nor do I start out pissed off at the Inquirer every day. Often I wake up cheerful and happy, because it's a nice day. And then I pick up the Inquirer...

    Seriously, folks, the paper might as well be edited by Sarah Brady.

    Take a look for yourself. Yesterday, they surrounded their editorial with pictures of handguns:


    Today, lobbying for gun issue is headlined as "a plea for peace" (right underneath a reminder of an anti-gun lobbying rally in Harrisburg):


    If you read the story (ys, it's supposed to be news), it becomes clear that the Inquirer sees guns as an inherent evil and inherently violent objects which prevent peace, and that therefore community activism against violence becomes inseparable from anti-gun activism. Therefore, it seems that common decency, civic-mindedness, and even morality dictate that citizens who want peace -- all who wish to "do something" about "violence" -- should contact anti-gun groups and get involved. These groups are dutifully listed, in what the Inquirer probably considers a public service.


    The unmistakable message is that getting rid of guns is a pressing matter involving civic virtue. I think it's highly significant that this is not in an editorial where it belongs, because that means the Inquirer believes it's not a matter of opinion, but of right and wrong. Analogous to a public health, life and death issue. Guns=death. Gun control=life. Guns=war. Gun control=peace.

    Isn't self defense a life and death issue too?

    But none of this is new. I've discussed this in too many posts to count, I've complained about the Inquirer's John Lennon-"Imagine" mindset, and I've offered just about every logical argument I can think of to rebut the folly of this kind of thinking.

    So why do this? Why write another blog post on this redundant, endless topic?

    There is a reason.

    It's not because I have any illusions of winning a debate on the merits. The gun debate is intractable and hopeless, and as unwinnable as a debate on abortion or gay rights.

    What bothers me is to see blatantly shrill partisanship routinely passed off as "journalism" day after day after day. It makes me very angry. Ironically, the thing that makes me so angry is that the Inquirer does not do this with other issues. If, for example, they run a piece on abortion or gay rights, they'll at least quote spokespeople from both sides.

    You know; issues have two sides?

    The way the gun issue is presented, you'd think there was only one side, and that the other was so marginal as to be unworthy of even a mention. Perhaps the NRA is considered too evil to be quoted. Seriously, you'd think the NRA was a mindless lobbying machine for an evil product, like "Big Tobacco." (I'm being generous there, as I suspect the Inquirer writers see the NRA as more akin to NAMBLA.) Why? The suspects who commit the shootings are quoted routinely along with their families, and the Inquirer goes out of its way to give them a fair shake.

    Is the NRA more terrible than the criminals?

    I can't recall the last time I saw a serious statement on the issue from any NRA spokesman or gun group representative in any Inquirer article on "gun violence." When the NRA is mentioned, it is only to characterize the inflexible nature of their opposition. Yet what gun owners and the NRA are saying is, simply, don't take away this important constitutional right.

    In fact, it's a human right.

    Yet you'll never see that argument presented.

    All I can do is present it over and over again in my blog, like countless other bloggers. I wonder how many blog posts (and even blogs) might be rendered unnecessary if the Inquirer and other newspapers simply presented the other side.

    So yes, on this issue I am more "partisan" than I'd like to be, but the Inquirer's relentless, emotionally sensationalized reportorial partisanship makes me feel obligated.

    I am not saying the situation is completely hopeless, though. It was encouraging to read a piece about women learning to shoot, and today the Inquirer ran an op-ed by John R. Lott. Letters to the editor from gun owners are also run with some regularity. Obviously, the Inquirer editorial staff is aware that there's another side, thinks about it from time to time.

    How I wish that even a glimmer of editorial fairness could filter down into the reporting from the street!

    (After all, it is supposed to be "the news.")

    posted by Eric at 10:05 AM | Comments (5)

    Angry satyr, part II

    In a previous post I commented on Bill Clinton's oddly satyr-like demeanor. I see I am not alone in noticing or wondering what was going on. Via Pajamas Media, here's WILLisms:

    Clintons best assets in personal appearances are his charm, his coolness and collectedness, and his command of the space around him. All of that went out the window, writes Ken McCracken. Mr. Personality showed a truly ugly side of himself, and one wonders what other issues he has churning in rage just below that othewise calm exterior.
    I don't think a pro like Clinton would "lose it" on national television, nor do I think his super-pro wife would allow such a thing. I think it was calculated. Via Glenn Reynolds, so does Ann Althouse:
    ...I'm convinced that Clinton went on the show planning to act the way he did. It wasn't Chris Wallace's specific question that set him off. He decided in advance to go on Fox News and unleash an attack on Fox News as soon as when he saw an opening. But he jumped too eagerly at what wasn't really an opening and he jumped weirdly. That he thought he was doing well suggests that he has surrounded himself with people who are pulling him out of the calm, rational center -- what Arianna mocks as a "bipartisan love-in."

    But this country is full of people who aren't hotly partisan, who are put off by that strong stuff, and who need to see a demonstration of calm rationality. Now his over-the-top performance is being praised by those people who crowd around him -- that's the real love-in -- and he may succumb to their fawning inducements to hardcore partisanship.

    Pandering to the hard left, while driving the hard right bonkers?

    I'd say that's a twofer.

    (I suspect it won't be Clinton's last "angry satyr" performance.)

    AFTERTHOUGHT: No, I am not going to PhotoShop cute little Pan Priapus horns on the president! This is serious satyr stuff; not satire!


    ("AS-IS" picture from Pajamas Media's "All Eyes On Bill" roundup.)

    posted by Eric at 09:21 AM | Comments (2)

    Undefinable RINOs rage without T-Shirts!

    I didn't realize it until today, but as Rachel at Tinkerty Tonk points out, the RINOs still don't have an official T-shirt.

    She offers a great suggestion from Don Surber, which I will not spoil. You have visit the carnival to look. And while there, check out the great posts. I liked them all, but of course I'm partial to definitional issues. (My hypersensititivity to "definitionitis" is one of the reasons I'm proud to call myself a RINO and a "Goldwater liberal.")

    Anyway, here's a sample:

  • Don Surber (although he doesn't blame Clinton for 9/11) nonetheless has some interesting thoughts about Bill Clinton:
    ...his rabbit ears belie the truth that Clinton holds himself to blame.
  • Gary the Ex-Donkey argues convincingly that if Democrats are elected, taxes will go up. (I'm shocked to hear that. Shocked, I tell you!)
  • Pigilito offers a classic example of how radicalism becomes moderate as extremists become more extreme.
  • Digger has an important roundup of House immigration legislation.
  • Barry at Enrevanche touches on the perplexing question of whether and how bloggers might describe their blogs:
    Carrie (my long-suffering wife) and I were talking about blogs tonight, and how some blogging concepts can be summed up easily in a single sentence, while other blogs eluded easy description...
    Barry's wife offered an "intersection of the following sets":
    geek/Southerner/pedant/sentimentalist/libertarian, with maybe a few more ovals in the Venn diagram as well.
    I'm afraid there are already too many ovals in my Venn diagram, and if I tried to define myself I'd end up fighting my own definitions, and be defined out of existence.
  • RINOs as usual refuse to be defined.

    Go read em all!

    posted by Eric at 04:21 PM | Comments (0)

    Forgotten "milestone"?

    While Clinton's finger-waggingpoking moment speaks for itself, I'm surprised that he'd think the public is so dumb as to forget the crucial role played by al Qaida operatives in Mogadishu.

    Is Clinton counting on the so-called "short memory" of "the public"? If he is, maybe he ought to revise his thinking, as the public memory is not as monolithically short as it once was. I'l leave it to others to decide whether bloggers are lengthening the public memory life or merely acting as memory storage facilities, but Mickey Kaus is one member of the public who remembers Mogadishu:

    My impression--from Mark Bowden's book, Black Hawk Down--is that al Qaeda operatives had taught Somali warlord Aideed's men how to bring down U.S. helicopters with RPGs. (See, e.g., here.) Did Clinton misspeak, or does he really not know of this Al Qaeda connection? Or does he have information that Bowden's claim really is "bull"?
    (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    Well, assuming that Clinton says Bowden's claim is "bull," he'll have to do better than that, as the Bowden book is not the only source.

    In Bin Laden -- The Man Who Declared War on America, Yossef Bodansky devotes an entire chapter ("Triumph over the Paper Tiger") to al Qaida's Somalian operations, including movement of "Afghan" fighters to Mogadishu, commanded by none other than Ayman al Zawahiri. Bin Laden considered the triumph over the Americans as a milestone in his evolution:

    In several interviews and statements, Osama bin Laden has said that he considers his experience in Somalia a milestone in his evolution. Somalia was the first time he was involved in a major undertaking at the leadership level, exposed to the complexities of decision making and policy formulation. He established working relations with the intelligence services of Iran and Iraq that would prove useful in his rise to the top. Although he did not actually take part in the fighting in Mogadishu, his contribution to the Islamicist effort and ultimate victory was major and decisive. Bin Laden still defines the fighting in Mogadishu as one of his major triumphs against the United States.
    Id, page 89. (Emphasis added.)

    The Bodansky book is pre-9/11 (written in 1999), and it was intended as a wake-up call to the reality of bin Laden. I read it in 1999, and my reaction at the time was that had Clinton stood up to bin Laden in 1993, he might not have decided we were a "paper tiger." But that's of course Monday-morning quarterbacking; the important thing is to recognize and deal with the realities now.

    However, the idea Clinton promotes -- that "the right" didn't want him to get bin Laden -- is simply not borne out by the facts as I remember them, and I don't think it's helpful to the country or to the war on terrorism.

    UPDATE (09/26/06): Ilya Somin has more.

    UPDATE (09/27/07): Greyhawk has a damning replay of Osama bin Laden's interview with John Miller:

    John Miller, ABC: Describe the situation when your men took down the American forces in Somalia.

    Osama bin Laden: After our victory in Afghanistan and the defeat of the oppressors who had killed millions of Muslims, the legend about the invincibility of the superpowers vanished. Our boys no longer viewed America as a superpower. So, when they left Afghanistan, they went to Somalia and prepared themselves carefully for a long war. They had thought that the Americans were like the Russians, so they trained and prepared. They were stunned when they discovered how low was the morale of the American soldier... America assumed the titles of world leader and master of the new world order. After a few blows, it forgot all about those titles and rushed out of Somalia in shame and disgrace, dragging the bodies of its soldiers. America stopped calling itself world leader and master of the new world order, and its politicians realized that those titles were too big for them and that they were unworthy of them.

    Via Glenn Reynolds.

    Do they really think we can't look this stuff up?

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

    Antidote to bureaucratistas

    Via Alan Sullivan I found something I never thought I'd see in my lifetime -- a specially bred hypoallergenic cat!

    US biotech firm Allerca says it has managed to selectively breed them by reducing a certain type of protein that triggers allergic reactions.

    The cats will not cause the red eyes, sneezing and even asthma that some cat allergy sufferers experience, except in the most acute cases.

    Despite costing $3,950 (2,104), there is already a waiting list to get one.

    I'm allergic to cats, but Coco wants one, and she's not alone.

    The market for these cats (which are genetic standpoint "naturally divergent") is huge:

    The BBC's Pascale Harter says there could soon be a global market for the kittens - in the US alone 38 million households own a cat, and around the world an estimated 35% of humans suffer from allergies.
    I'm too tired to research the issue but I'm sure the animal rights activists will find a reason to complain.

    [Yes, they have. Plus, the hypoallergenic cats would be illegal in California!]

    By the way, Alan is still blogging up a storm despite some very serious health problems, and if there's one thing I admire, it's such sticktuitiveness. (No, that's not a word, but I just felt like inventing one for Alan, who has been a daily blogger since 2002.)

    By the way, Alan also discusses a very disturbing trend -- "violent versions of Islam recruiting in American prisons":

    Is it rehabilitation when a crackhead robber becomes a disciplined fanatic? No, its something else altogether. IMO, there should be no religious freedom for felons. Muslim outreach should not be permitted in prisons. But what about Christian outreach? The results of that are arguably more constructive.
    As usual, activism and bureaucracy work hand in hand to defeat their worst enemy, which is common sense.

    If you like common sense, and find yourself allergic to bureaucratic activism, check out Alan's blog.

    posted by Eric at 09:43 AM | Comments (2)

    Searching for the right "precursor"

    When Mel Gibson made his bizarre anti-Jewish remarks, many of his defenders assumed it was the alcohol talking.

    Was it?

    If we assume he stopped drinking, to what can the latest remarks be attributed?

    In describing its portrait of a civilization in decline, Gibson said, "The precursors to a civilization that's going under are the same, time and time again," drawing parallels between the Mayan civilization on the brink of collapse and America's present situation. "What's human sacrifice," he asked, "if not sending guys off to Iraq for no reason?"
    I try to be fair, but I looked in vain for a detailed explanation of what Gibson means. Historians do not agree on the causes of the Mayan collapse. There are several theories, some ecological, some non-ecological, ranging from bad agricultural practices to cultural decline, foreign invasion, and volcanic activity.

    What "precursors" are we talking about? Human sacrifice was an inherent part of Mayan culture -- practiced so frequently that it makes no sense whatsoever to attribute it to the "fall" of their empire. But that seems to be what Gibson is saying. Otherwise why would he try to conflate American soldiers in Iraq into Mayan sacrificial victims?

    I hate to judge the man before all the facts are in, but at this point it's looking like Gibson's historical analysis suffers from the same kind of incredibly bad logic as his claims about "the Jews."

    Might the man still be drinking? I mean, really. He might as well claim that because the Mayans practiced homosexuality that this was the real reason for their decline. (As it will be for ours, and so on.)

    I kid you not; they even had gay gods! And (according to more than one site) gay marriage!

    Chin (Mayan) Chin, a small child or dwarf god, introduced homoerotic relationships to the Mayan nobles. The nobles obtained youths of the lower classes to be the lovers of the noble's sons. Such unions were considered legal marriages under Mayan law.
    Far be it from me to advise Gibson, but if he was looking for the right rhetorical "precursor" I think he'd have been on safer ground with whatever "base" he's courting had he blamed the Mayan fall on gay marriage.

    If he's courting the M.A.D.D. people, Gibson might even blame alcohol, for the Mayans used booze to induce clairvoyant states:

    The use of alcohol in Mayan rituals was particularly used for divination purposes in which the shaman was to foretell future events, misfortune, reasons for illness, and many more issues otherwise not understood. The shaman used alcohol as a vehicle in which to alter his consciousness and take him to another plane of reasoning in which he could physically see the spirits and communicate with them.
    Hmmm.... Physically see the spirits? That's what I'd call practicing what you preach. Not bad. (And not unlike a certain co-blogger.)

    It's tough to be serious about this but I'm trying. The bottom line seems to be that if serious scholars do not know what caused the Mayan fall, it is unreasonable for Gibson to extrapolate from their experience to ours. Calling our volunteer soldiers sacrificial victims is even more unreasonable. While it would be a cheap shot to ask what he's been drinking, his whole argument strikes me as a cheap shot.

    (And, historically speaking, an incredibly bad one.)

    posted by Eric at 07:47 AM | Comments (8)

    Dogs these days are growing up too fast!

    Coco has been watching too much television. (Hell, for all I know she's been watching too many videos like these.) I suspect that she may have internalized some of the tabloid trash they put on TV, and I thought it would be nice to get take her on a nice trip to a wholesome, family-oriented event.

    A dog show seemed like just the ticket. You know, promoting canine family values and all.

    The show was for pit bulls only, and here's the only picture I have showing Coco in the judging ring (she's on the far right in the distance, looking directly at the camera while her clueless master looks at the judge):


    This was the "judge's pick" category, and there were plenty of good dogs. Coco didn't win, but I didn't expect her to, as she's not show-quality material. (For starters, she's not in peak athletic condition, plus she's bi-eyed.) But this was for fun and socializing.

    Here's a picture of the winning dog of the show:


    And the winning dog in Coco's category (note that she's very "buff"):


    Of course, no report on a pit bull show would be complete without a gruesome photograph of a child being terrorized by these killer dogs:


    There was more to the show than walking the dogs in circles and having them judged, however. They had a strength and endurance test in which each contestant was placed on a treadmill which measured the "distance" a dog could travel in two minutes. (Obviously, the dogs are going nowhere, but why tell them that?) Coco had never been on a treadmill before, and while I thought there was a good chance she'd refuse to move at all once I placed her on the stupid thing, in the spirit of fun I entered her in the contest. When it was her turn I lifted her up, she was fastened in, and then I called her to come. At first she fought the moving belt (a bunch of slats) and kept trying to reach the non-moving edges for traction, but eventually she got the hang of it, and before long she actually started making tracks!


    She didn't win (as there are dogs that run on these things daily), but they told me that for a first timer, she did great.

    But for Coco, the main event proved to be interaction with the opposite sex. A very precocious five month old puppy named "Trey" took a shine to her, and Coco more than reciprocated. (Like I say, it's the tabloid TV.)

    Their initial meeting consisted of the usual doggy sniffing and tail-wagging:


    Very much the evil temptress, Coco seemed to care not at all that this puppy was far below the legal age for canine consent. This was further aggravated by the fact that Trey is a humongous pup, already approaching Coco in size. His father weighs 92 lbs., which is huge for a pit bull, and from the looks of him now, Trey could end up being larger than dad.

    As Coco and the pup at last succumbed to the culture of canine carnal corruption, they began a shameful dance, which I am presenting not to shock my readers, but only to demonstrate their similarity in size:


    Things got even more snuggly and cuddly, and one thing led to another:


    Eventually, they were dancing cheek-to-cheek!


    Modesty forbids displaying photos that might get me in trouble with the canine cultural police. Seriously, it's happened here before, so I really have to watch my step. But the fact is, that little guy was trying hard to be a stud! He was actually humping away at Coco, who has only been out of her heat cycle for a couple of weeks. His instincts and attitude were extremely precocious, and while it might have seemed she was encouraging him, singling out Coco under the circumstances strikes me as highly judgmental.

    They say the parents are to blame in cases like this, but I disagree.

    I blame television!

    posted by Eric at 04:18 PM | Comments (4)

    Coo coo? Or coup coup?
    Chavez also said Bush may be seeking to kill him for calling him "the devil" at the U.N.

    -- Via

    I hate to say this, because it may be taken the wrong way, but I think Hugo Chavez's apparently psychotic attacks on Bush constitute political astuteness of a higher level than is commonly believed.

    Were I in Chavez's position I'd do the same thing, and I'll explain why. Chavez has many political enemies, and his regime is by no means secure. It is not unreasonable to expect that some sort of a coup may have been in the offing for a long time now, nor is it unreasonable to assume that it would be supported by the U.S. (I'll say right now that I'd support it.) What that means is that if you're Chavez, you have a vested interest in discrediting those who would mount a coup (as well as those who might support it) by linking the coup to Bush in advance of the coup.

    Merely saying that Bush (or Pat Robertson) wants a coup is not enough. That's just preaching to the crowd. The extraordinarily vicious attacks in my view change this equation -- by providing Bush with a direct, compelling, "motivation" to launch a coup as a matter of "honor." This is not to say that Bush would be so gullible as to respond to such a dare, but what matters in any propaganda operation is the perception, not the reality.

    Chavez has taken care of the perception factor. Any coup now will be a Bush coup. Every man in the street in Venezuela will "know" that it's Bush getting even.

    For that matter, so would many Americans. The Anchoress touches on why:

    There are some on the left who are suggesting that Hugo Chavezs remarks are simply an indicator that the world disrespects President BushwellI wonder who gave them the idea that they could? Was it John Kerry calling him a fucking liar, and not having to answer for that rudeness to anyone while the press shrugged it off? Good heavens, Bush calls terrorism evil and he was mocked and criticized for using that word, but the press never had a problem with fucking liar, fucking crooks and thieves or with adolescent musings about the presidents name and female genitalia. It was alllllll soooooo funnnnneeeeeee, newsreaders could hardly deliver the spite without grinning, themselves.
    (Via Glenn Reynolds' link to Stephen Spruiell.)

    While the left has now been forced to abandon its support for Chavez (previously led locally by Philadelphia politicians working with the Kennedy clan), at any hint of a coup, they could be counted on to scream that Bush was behind it, and was carrying out a personal vendetta.

    Makes the coup a rather difficult political undertaking, I'd say.

    Of course, I could be wrong about Chavez's political astuteness.

    (He might just be taking rhetorical marching orders from Castro.)

    posted by Eric at 02:23 PM | Comments (1)

    Was this a war against bin Laden?

    Or is it a war against jihad?

    That depends on whether bin Laden is dead. If he's dead, the "war" is over. If he's alive, then Bush is an idiot and we're in a war we'll never win but which the Democrats would have won by really going after bin Laden.

    The Anchoress has an excellent post on this debate:

    The ugly truth no one wants to admit, particularly within the left, is that this enemy is going to keep coming and coming at uswhen we take one out, another will -for a while yet - be able to step up into his place. When we foil one ring, another will be just about ready to attack. While were cleaning out one rats nest, three more are being formed. That is why this is going to be a decades-long effort, no matter WHO gets into the WH in a few years, and no matter how much some would like to pretend that all of this is simply George W. Bushs doing, because - you know - terrorism never existed before he got into office, or before he went to Iraq.
    (Indirectly, via Glenn Reynolds' link to Stephen Spruiell.)

    Little wonder that Kerry wanted to narrow the focus of the war to bin Laden. As a focus-narrower for people who'd prefer to wish the war out of existence, bin Laden is merely convenient. If he's alive, Bush isn't prosecuting the war because he's doing the NeoCons' bidding by chasing imaginary demons in Iraq. And if he's dead, not only is the war over, but the whole thing was a big waste of time.

    Whether he's actually dead, who knows? I rejoiced in the death of Zarqawi, and I'll be delighted by the death of bin Laden. But these are not ancient Nazis hiding in the jungles of Brazil. The deaths of individual jihadists do not end their murderous "religious" philosophy. Until that philosophy is defeated and discredited, guys like Zarqawi, bin Laden, and Zawahiri will be as replaceable as copies of Sayyid Qutb's rantings.

    MORE: The debate over "who did more" -- or who "should have" done more -- about capturing bin Laden (typified by the fuss over the Clinton interview with Chris Wallace) serves to perpetuate the idea that this war is all about bin Laden.

    UPDATE: Thank you Glenn Reynolds, and welcome all. I'm especially delighted to be Instalanched in the same post which links these trenchant observations (from a "libertarian and former atheist"):

    The leader of AQ, cowering in fear off in some godforsaken place, dies of an easy to treat ailment. I don't know if it's true, but it does seem fitting.

    May his heart have turned before he died and may his followers turn theirs as well.

    If he did die that way, it's not all that unlike the ignominious drowning death of Josef Mengele. While I'd prefer to see justice being done by way of executions, it's also true that such evil people do not deserve any arguable hint of martyrdom or glory. Typhoid fever is about right.

    MORE: The full video (a portion of which I linked above) is here. (Via Glenn Reynolds, who has a roundup of links and reactions, and wonders aloud, "why did he respond the way he did?"

    I don't know, but I'll hazard a guess. Instead of looking angry in the ordinarily emotional way, I think Clinton looked angry in a deliberate, almost satyr-like way. Coupled with the personal insults and deliberate finger poking at Wallace, I think his target audience might have been the people Bill deems unstable, and in need of a psychological push over the edge in the hope that they'll miscalculate. You know, the folks who think Hillary is worse than Satan, whom he knows will be watching Fox. (Context, indeed!)

    Not that any tantrum -- real or theatrical -- would work with the text-and-link oriented blogosphere, but that's another, far more complicated issue.

    (I agree with Glenn Reynolds that the outburst will prove unwise.)

    posted by Eric at 08:01 AM | Comments (16)

    I'm probably only adding confusion

    Ann Althouse wrote a very fun post about Alice Cooper which not only recalls her fondness of his music, but which discusses his ongoing nonconformism -- especially of the political variety. I very much enjoyed it, as I used to love Alice Cooper but haven't thought much about him lately. (I originally learned of him via Frank Zappa, who I loved from the early MOI days.)

    Cooper was in full throttle when I was a high school senior, and I still have some of his albums somewhere.

    "I'm embarrassed that I was embarrassed to go see Alice Cooper back then," says Althouse. Actually, I think it's incredibly cool that she admits to liking him at all -- once embarrassed or not. Looking back to the 1970s, I can't imagine the number of things I should be embarrassed to have been embarrassed about! (As a former Marxist who was basically embarrassed to be alive and ashamed of my existence, my embarrassed-to-have-been-embarrassed quotient would, I suspect, be off the bell curve... Why, I'm even embarrassed to think about it!)

    But I just can't resist chiming in about Cooper's relationship with Salvador Dali -- who loved the musician so much that he created a holographic portrait of his brain. That last link features Cooper's recollections of the meeting:

    In early April of 1973, a mind-melding of sorts took place in New York City. Over the course of about two weeks, shock-rocker Alice Cooper and Dali, fabled surrealist, ate together, drank together, and basked in the glow of each other`s exceptional freakishness. And Lo, it was beautiful. In the light of the recent publication of Meredith Etherington-Smith`s biography, The Persistance of Memory, (Random House)- and the fact that Alice`s and Dali`s coming together is mentioned however scantly - the time seemed right to query Alice about just what, exactly, happened.

    How Alice Met Dali

    Dali invited Alice and his manager Shep Gordon, over to the St. Regis Hotel. "We met in the bar. Gala (his wife) comes first. She`d dressed in a full tuxedo. She looks exactly like Fred Astaire - top hat, cane, spats. I went "Wow!" Then about six boys and girls - or whatever they were - about 16 or 17 years old, came in. These creatures he had with him were like something out of Satyricon. They were dressed in a lot of silk. Flowing things, loose things. They didn`t say anything but they were real pretty. I had this vision of Count Dracula and his wives. They kind of floated around the room. Then Dali comes in. He said, "I am the great and grand Dali!" And I said "Hi, I`m Alice Cooper." I felt like Jerry Lewis, you know."

    Reading the account is a fantastic exercise in nostalgia.

    During the course of their artistic endeavors, the pair had great difficulty in communicating. But to Dali, confusion was the whole point:

    "I was sitting there wearing all black and my eyes are all smeared and I`m drinking a tall can of Budweiser and he`s all in white and looks like some kind of saint. He`s explaining on and on and on and they ask me, "What do you think of this?" And I said, "I haven`t understood one word he`s said since I met him." And he jumped up and said: "Perfect! Confusion is the greatest form of Communication."


    It all seems quite logical to me.

    That's because I take pride in logical confusion.

    (I'm sorry if that's confusing logic. My confusion embarrasses me regularly.)

    MORE: In a somewhat sympathetic review of last year's Dali exhibit, Time Magazine raised the Alice Cooper collaboration in the context of kitschy media whoring:

    In the same spirit he is being re-examined by academics and curators as a pioneer of the artist as public performer, role model par excellence for Andy Warhol and Koons. It might not seem like a good thing to re-emerge as the original media whore, but there's no denying Dali's role in making showmanship an art-world career tactic.

    But is there more than that? Is it truly possible to look at the later Dali, at the endless recyclings of his Surrealist mannerisms or his hologram of Alice Cooper, the '70s rock nuisance, and not shrug? The well-argued Philadelphia show says it can be done--just pick your way carefully among the works.

    Frankly, I don't think Cooper was "rock nonsense" and I liked the Cooper hologram, the "First Cylindric Crono-Hologram" ever made.


    It spins!

    UPDATE (01/27/07): Check this ebay listing out!

    an autographed photo of Salvador Dali and Alice Cooper together from 1973. Alice has signed the photo with, "Confusion is the greatest form of communication - Dali. Alice Cooper" (his favorite Dali quote). Also, this photograph is the actual and original production print used by "16" magazine for their special "Alice Cooper & Freak Rock" issue. Attached to the BACK of the photo (this does not affect the photo or image at all) is an editor's / printer's notes that this photo will go into the magazine on page 14 and will measure 3 inches. This print came directly out of the "16" magazine storage files. Also, this print was made in 1973 from the ORIGINAL film. The autograph was done in 2007.

    posted by Eric at 06:21 PM | Comments (1)

    And poverty is violence!

    Anyone remember the slogan "FOOD NOT BOMBS"?

    Pennsylvania gun control activists have come up with one of their own, and a T-shirt to go with it:


    Outside a busy Sneaker Villa store downtown, Qayyum, wearing a T-shirt that read "Jobs Not Guns," addressed a crowd of men milling around the neighborhood.

    "This walk is to call attention to the number of men who are jobless in Philadelphia and around Pennsylvania, which is one of the engines driving gun violence," he said.

    Qayyum, cochairman of Men United for a Better Philadelphia, left Philadelphia on Wednesday on a march called Walk for Jobs not Guns.

    About 60 percent of young, African American men - the group most likely to be victims or perpetrators of gun violence - are unemployed, Qayyum said.

    The walk is set to coincide with a rally Tuesday at the State Capitol in Harrisburg. It is being organized by the Coalition to End Handgun Violence, a consortium of community, civic, labor, law enforcement and industry groups opposed to gun violence.

    The group wants to pressure the state legislature to take steps to combat gun violence. The legislature is scheduled to spend the day in a special session focused on issues related to gun violence.

    "We are totally convinced that if we can get these young men jobs, we can seriously reduce gun violence, particularly homicides in Philadelphia," Qayyum said. "We're calling on the governor and the state House and state Senate to initiate an employment program.

    Will Wilson Sr., a store detective at yesterday's rally, said Reading has had a problem with guns for at least two years.

    "It's terrible with guns around here," Wilson said, noting that two police officers have been shot and killed in the last two years. "The youth here feel peer pressure and the drugs create the gun problems here."

    I guess the emotional appeal of "FOOD NOT GUNS" would have been slightly tarnished by the obviously imitative nature. But the logic is the same, which is none at all. There's a host of social problems which have no relationship at all to the Second Amendment, but the goal is nonetheless to conflate the constitutional, individual right to bear arms with something that doesn't involve rights (the availability of jobs). To see the latter as a "right" involves redefinining rights as government obligations.

    It's apples-and-oranges thinking (yes, I'm being charitable there) which makes sense only to people who want it to make sense.

    If this were just a small group of "community activists" it wouldn't be worth more than a passing observation about the misuse of logic. But the group has major support from Mayor Street, who is to be joined by New York's Mayor Bloomberg and other notables:

    Yesterday, Mayor Street said the event will send a message to state legislators that the status quo is not acceptable.

    Street said 11 other mayors, including Mayors Michael Bloomberg of New York and Anthony Williams of Washington, would join him at the rally.

    Mayors from across the state, including Reading, Lancaster, Scranton, Bethlehem and Allentown, will also be at the rally.

    Bloomberg. I just read about him. He's a Republican mayor who's not only against the Second Amendment, but whose city commissions combat free speech in video games! Why not add a slogan?


    (Well, as long as we're playing logical suspense, why not? We could even throw in the arts! "ART NOT GUNS!" Something for everyone. "JOBS NOT PORNOGRAPHY!" Be creative! Is "BUNS NOT GUNS" too risque?)

    Back to the Inquirer:

    "We're going to send a sense of urgency that hasn't happened," Street said at a news conference in his City Hall reception room. "I don't think we've had such an organized effort like this."

    Events are planned throughout the day in Harrisburg on Tuesday. At noon, a prayer vigil is scheduled to be held on the Capitol steps. At 2 p.m., in the Capitol Rotunda, a large forum will be held with speakers including elected officials, victims of violence, Town Watch leaders and block captains.

    Elected officials? Town Watch? But I thought gun control was a loser of an issue -- at least for the Democrats. Hasn't anyone told these people?

    There's also something about a "committee of the whole," which I don't understand:

    The state House of Representatives will convene all day as a committee of the whole to discuss a multitude of legislative proposals, including limits on the sale of handguns to one per month; a ban on military-style assault weapons statewide; additional funding for police and police equipment; and a requirement that gun owners report a lost or stolen firearm within 24 hours.

    The special legislative session will allow all 203 members of the House to cast votes that won't count as part of their voting record. The votes will gauge support of possible legislation.

    The Inquirer seems to be promoting the event, and links to the web site.

    As I don't imagine the Inquirer plans to present the other side of the argument (much less link to the NRA), I thought I'd present the NRA's side (from an NRA-ILA email):

    September 26th - Committee of the Whole Meeting: On Tuesday, Sept. 26, the House of Representatives will resolve itself for one day into a "Committee of the Whole" to focus on crime and violence in Pennsylvania. The Committee of the Whole is a rarely used legislative mechanism designed to allow for a more informal, free-flowing public debate of a particularly critical issue facing the Commonwealth. Topics expected to be addressed include "One-Gun-a-Month" legislation, elimination of statewide preemption, semi-automatic firearm bans as well as other anti-gun legislation that would limit your rights as law-abiding gun owners. The time is NOW! NRA members across Pennsylvania must call or write their State Representatives and send the message that stiff punishment of criminals who commit crimes with guns is the key to stopping gun violence. Please contact your State Representative at (717) 787-2016 and State Senator at (717) 787-5920.
    I'd love to hear my rep explain the "JOBS NOT GUNS" logic.

    My favorite of these apples-and-oranges slogans has long been "POVERTY IS VIOLENCE."


    (Yeah, I know... IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.)

    MORE: This might not be the moment everyone's been waiting for, but I found an online picture of the "JOBS NOT GUNS" T-shirts.


    I share because I care!

    ADDITIONAL NOTE: Considering that lead activist Bilal Qayyum is elsewhere described as an official with Philadelphia's Department of Commerce (a job he apparently still holds), as well as the fact that Mayor Street is involved to the hilt with the anti-gun campaign, might this whole junket be financed with taxpayer dollars? Why do the Inquirer and other papers present Qayyum solely as a grass roots activist, and fail to disclose his official status?

    What about the taxpayers on the other side of this issue? Why isn't there any government official charged with protecting their constitutional rights?

    posted by Eric at 07:18 AM | Comments (3)

    We're here to help you!

    I found the following signs posted in a Daily Mail article about so-called "viral emails":



    I'm skeptical about the first one, which strikes me as a deliberate parody of inane legal antics, and not a sign anyone would actually post.

    But the second one strikes me as downright possible.

    That's because an ever-growing number of activist bureaucrats believe that the remedy for traffic congestion is to actually encourage congestion, as a disincentive to drive at all:

    ...increased traffic capacity causes people to drive more--a lot more--such that half of any driving-time savings generated by new roadways are lost in the short run.
    Lest anyone think I am making this up, it started in Berkeley, and is now spreading like a virus -- even infecting red states like North Carolina:
    Traffic calming advocates intend only to use these measures in a manner destructive to automobiles. This is because of the "Living Streets" philosophy which believes that automobiles violate the streets, owned exclusively by pedestrians. A similar philosophy is based on the book "Livable Streets" written by Donald Appleyard (1928-1982), a professor of urban planning at the University of California-Berkeley. Appleyard's plan called for recruiting activists named stakeholders to sell traffic calming to unsuspecting neighbors on "streets where residents requested help to reduce speeding and accidents" (2). After the neighborhood streets are calmed, the techniques are applied to busy corridor streets, leading to traffic congestion madness and eventually the ultimate goal of calmers: create cities completely free of automobiles, leaving walking, cycling, and government-controlled mass transit as the only means of transportation.
    The resultant economic chaos will undoubtedly create millions more jobs for the bureaucracy, because government-created problems demand government-created solutions. Because bureaucratic "solutions" can be depended on to make bureaucratically-created problems worse, it is always in the interest of bureaucracies to create problems. But only in the name of solving them.

    With any luck, no one will suspect that a slogan like "traffic calming" is actually as much of an oxymoron as "Consumer Advocate."

    (I'm sure the latter can be depended on to advocate relentlessly on behalf of the former. If you don't like it, pray.)

    posted by Eric at 11:38 AM | Comments (3)

    Little red Jesus Camps?

    Some Pentacostalists are running a fundamentalist-based Christian camp, which has been featured in a current film called "Jesus Camp." The film has many critics upset -- not so much about the film, but about the subject matter.

    Stephen Holden's "movie review" in the New York Times is hardly that. Without pausing to glance at style or technique, the film is regarded as a simple presentation of fact, and Holden dives directly into a long editorial about the subject matter:

    Ms. Fischer understands full well that the indoctrination of children when they are most impressionable (under 13 and preferably between 7 and 9) with evangelical dogma is the key to the movements future growth, and she compares Kids on Fire to militant Palestinian training camps in the Middle East that instill an aggressive Islamist fundamentalism. The term war, as in culture war, is repeatedly invoked to describe the fighting spirit of a movement already embraced by 30 million Americans, mostly in the heartland.

    At Kids on Fire we see children in camouflage and face paint practicing war dances with wooden swords and making straight-armed salutes to a soundtrack of Christian heavy metal. We see them weeping and speaking in tongues as they are seized by the Holy Spirit. And we see them in Washington at an anti-abortion demonstration.

    Filmed during the Senate confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., the movie visits a church at which the congregation prays in front of a life-size cardboard cutout of President Bush.

    Praying in front of Bush? Now that intrigued me, because it evokes images of Bush deification -- something most fundamentalists would be wont to do, but which many BDS suffers would like to imagine them doing.

    Say Anything has at least two posts about the film -- one opposed to the camp and one more or less in defense of it. This led me to a longer review, which offers an additional insight on what might be going on with the Bush prayer:

    The part about worshipping George Bush is going to seem that strange, and would be indeed if that were what was going on, but I don't believe it was. There is something we do when we are praying for a person (or if someone else is standing in for the person who couldn't be there or whatever) and that is we lift our hands in the direction of the person and pray. For example, in a camp setting there would be far too many people to gather round and lay hands on someone while praying, so we, as a congregation, would lift hands in the direction of the person as a kind of substitute. I am not sure why it was necessary to have a cutout of the president as a visual reference; growing up we prayed for our leaders (Reagan, Clinton, the other George Bush) and the speaker would maybe tell us to lift our hands towards the front or towards a person standing in for whoever we were praying for as a way of unity while we prayed, but there were no cardboard cutouts... Whatever the case, it wasn't worshipping. I'm sure it looks pretty bad to anyone not raised in this. I admit to being unsure about the use of a cardboard cutout. I don't believe it had anything to do with worshipping George Bush. I grew up praying for Clinton and I can assure you there was no worshipping going on.
    Fascinating. I'm wondering about something. Had this same film been shot in the 90s, with the kids praying before Clinton, might that have been given an equally ominous interpretation -- as if they were praying for a demonic "anti-Christ" president to be saved?

    Considering some of the anger that is directed towards Bush for selling out his "base," I don't think it's at all unreasonable to imagine that the idea was to pray for him, as opposed to with him. The idea that they might be praying to him I find so logically untenable as to be almost humorous.

    (But what's funny as an idea for me might be red meat for the BDS crowd.....)

    While I don't like to accuse Holden of pandering to "fundyphobia" (is that a word?), I got the impression that he really wants his readers to be afraid -- be very afraid -- not of the film, but of fundamentalist summer camps and their ultimate agenda. Lest there be any doubt that these people are dangerous, Holden leaves his readers with a comparison evoking mass murder:

    It wasnt so long ago that another puritanical youth army, Mao Zedongs Red Guards, turned the worlds most populous country inside out. Nowadays the possibility of a right-wing Christian American version of what happened in China no longer seems entirely far-fetched.
    As most readers here know, I am adamantly opposed to the idea of fighting an American "culture war," and to the extent kids are being indoctrinated to believe in the concept, I'm against it. But I am not their parents, and the decision to send their kids to such a camp is up to them. But are they being trained to kill people in the name of God? I think if they were being trained in anything more deadly than fundamentalist proselytization, someone would be saying so. And loudly.

    For this reason, I think the Red Guard comparison is unfair. If we consider that millions were murdered and imprisoned during the Red Guard period, I think that's a pretty strong charge to make against fundamentalist Christians. Outrageous, even. And in a movie review? (Well, at least Holden didn't make an al-Qaida comparison. Wouldn't want to "offend" anyone...)

    I don't mean to pooh-pooh threats of religious violence, and I know that Christianity served up the Inquisition and the Crusades. But I just don't see anything remotely like occurring today -- least of all in these "Jesus Camps."

    Nowadays (especially around here), I'm more worried about a thing called "Jihad camp." Yes, my local madrassa has been running one, and finally it was shut down after the FBI became involved.

    If someone managed to make a documentary about the "Jihad camp," would it generate scary reviews in the New York Times? Would such a film even be reviewed?

    Or would its producers be scolded for "Islamophobia"?

    PLEASE NOTE: I do not mean to imply any moral equivalance between Jihad camps and Jesus camps, as there's a vast difference. As I said a couple of years ago,

    ....the fact remains, no matter how they have tried to spin it over the centuries, "Christian war" will always have an oxymoronic ring to it. "Islamic war," on the other hand, goes by the name "Jihad."
    I shouldn't be so stuck in the past. What we really need to worry about are Mao's Red Guards.

    AFTERTHOUGHT: Maybe it's because I'm getting old, but "Red Guards" came out of my keyboard so fast that I nearly overlooked the possible double meaning which now inheres in the word "red." (Red State Guards, of course....)

    And to be fair to the other side, what are the Blue Guards going to do? Start their own camp?

    How about "Camp Beat-Around-The-Bush"?


    Now isn't that more powerful than prayer?

    posted by Eric at 09:46 AM | Comments (4)

    Sneak preview of a good book

    Be sure to check out T.J. Marshman's new book, Jacob. Chapters 1-3 were posted last week, and today up went chapters 4-6.

    It's looking great!

    But hmmm....

    What if people don't believe me?

    Oh hell, here are a couple of paragraphs, just as a tease:

    Eight plastic surgery operations had transformed Salahuddins face and body, including his fingertips, so that he could travel freely in the west using Mohammeds identity. The match was nearly perfect. This was most likely overkill. But it would not be enough for Salahuddin to complete the attack. He had to succeed and make certain that Mohammed and those he worked for were blamed for the attack. The Americans might retaliate with nuclear weapons.

    Salahuddin undressed and sighed. It would take four or five hours to get Mohammed bled out, dismembered, and separated for transport. He unrolled the tarp until it covered the entire bathroom floor, including the bathtub, and dumped Mohammeds body atop the tarp inside the bathtub. He taped the tarp high along the bathroom walls, then slashed a gash in it so blood would flow to the bathtubs drain. Later he would use the acid to scour the tub and clear the pipes of evidence.

    That's all!

    Now go read it.

    posted by Eric at 10:58 PM | Comments (2)

    Garden variety spin

    Splendor in the grass!

    On my lawn I noticed a little wispy tent-like structure which closer examination revealed that it tapers into a funnel resembling a tornado. Peering deep inside, I saw a bug of some sort, so I ran inside for my camera. By the time I got outside, a spider had emerged, and stayed there long enough for me to get a half-decent photograph:


    It turned out to be a funnel weaver spider -- Agelenopsis pennsylvanica. The one in my yard is about the size of a quarter.

    The spider was so feminine and graceful in appearance that it reminded me of Salvador Dali's painting of the half human spider Arachne:


    The above is one in a series of illustrations of Dante's Divine Comedy, which Dali was originally commissioned to do for the 700th anniversary of the poet's birthday, in 1950.

    The spider is Arachne, and here's Dante's text (from Purgatory 12):

    O fond Arachne! thee I also saw
    Half spider now in anguish crawling up
    Th unfinishd web thou weavedst to thy bane!

    Dante populated the infernal regions with actual as well as mythological classical figures, and he's thought to have been sympathetic to Arachne, whose perfection got her in trouble with the gods. (Hence, she's in Purgatory and not in Hell.)

    Arachne was a embroiderer whose cleverness at weaving finally led to a spinning contest with the goddess Minerva, and Arachne's affront to the gods, which led Minerva to turn her into a spider:

    Arachne wove a picture designed to show the failings and errors of the gods. One scene showed Leda giving the swan a massage, the swan was really Jupiter in disguise. Another scene depicted Danae, in the brazen tower where her father had imprisoned her, but where the god effected his entrance in the form of a golden shower.

    Minerva could not stand the insult that Arachne had weaved, so she took her shuffle and tore the weaving to peices. Then she touched Arachne's forehead to make her feel her guilt. Arachne could not stand the guilt any more so she hung herself. Minerva took pity for her and turned her into a spider to let her live.

    (More here.)

    We've been calling spiders "arachnids" ever since.

    And then there's that fear thing. According to Wikipedia, female American arachnophobes outnumber their male counterparts by two to one. I'm wondering.... If the fear is an ancient one (after all, there's the Tarantella) it might represent a classical vestige funneling down over the centuries and taking the form of a modern phobia.

    This is the second time I've written about spiders, so I must be some sort of closet arachnophile.

    (Spin it any way you like.)

    posted by Eric at 07:02 PM | Comments (0)

    Imagine all the martyrs....

    A post by Clayton Cramer titled "The Death Worshippers" has forced me to entertain very peaceful thoughts. Here's Cramer:

    A recurring difference between Islam and the West is that Islam worships death. If you think that I am painting with too broad a brush, consider this recent question of textbooks:
    As if things weren't crazy enough already in the Middle East, here's the officially sanctioned message in sixth-grade Palestinian textbooks for 11- and 12-year-old kids: "The noble soul has two goals: death and the desire for it."

    The goal isn't to build magnificent skyscrapers or write brilliant novels or to work on cures for the world's most lethal diseases. The noble goal for the noble soul is as simple as strapping on a dynamite belt and blowing oneself into a million pieces in an Israeli pizza shop.

    The "death-and-the-desire-for-it" line is from a poem by Abd al-Rahim Mahmoud. Along with other writings that glorify child martyrs, the quote is included in "Our Beautiful Language," a standard text for sixth-graders after the Palestinian Liberation Organization took control over education in the Palestinian territories.

    As officially stated, the underlying ethos of the Palestinian curriculum is "built on the principle of breeding the individual on the basis of serving society as a whole." Translated, that means breeding kids who believe suicide and murder are noble, who believe it's noble to create a society where the individual reaches his highest stage of development by extinguishing his own individualism, his own existence.

    It's Jonestown, writ large, a cult of suicide for the collective, for Palestine. Israel isn't on the maps in the Palestinian textbooks.

    Abdullah Qura'an, a 12-year-old Palestinian boy, carried a 13-pound bomb in his school bag into a checkpoint near Hablus. He didn't die, because a cell phone rigged to set off the bomb didn't work. The unwitting youngster was told he was carrying car parts.

    Shortly thereafter, a 16-year-old suicide bomber, Amar al-Far, outfitted for self-destruction by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, killed three people in an open-air food market in Tel Aviv.

    Said the boy's mother: "Why did they choose my son? He was just a child. It's immoral to send someone so young. They should have sent an adult who understands the meaning of his deeds."

    The boy's father told of his last encounter with his son: "I was asleep when Amar woke me up. He kissed me and asked for two shekels, 45 cents. He left the house and I went back to sleep."

    Cramer also quotes Sam Harris's LA Times piece on the different perceptions of religion as a cause of conflict:
    I am here to report that liberals and conservatives respond very differently to the notion that religion can be a direct cause of human conflict.

    This difference does not bode well for the future of liberalism.

    Concludes Cramer,
    It is a rather strange situation where leftists and many liberals, who should have the most to worry about from the increasing dominance of a fiercely homophobic, male chauvinist, anti-freedom of expression, and religiously intolerant worldview, are clearly more afraid of George Bush and Dick Cheney than they are of our common enemy.
    There's nothing new about this death cult. Nor is there anything new about the response to it by many Americans. Instead of dealing with reality, people of the pacifist mindset tend to think in terms of utopian denial, and they preach touchy-feeling communitarian nonsense about how we should all learn to get along.

    The enemy worships death and wants to kill us, and these people (I can't say "we" because I am not one of them) seem stuck in a permanent replay of John Lennon's "Imagine." It's a major difference in perception, one which will not go away, and I don't need to go far to find it. Just today, for example, Inquirer editor John Timpane opined that women can stop war and violence by withholding sex:

    Indeed. The force of the strike lies not really in the withholding of sex; it lies in the heroic protest of women denying themselves something they want, too, to get their men to wake up. "This is our way to say to our spouses that we don't want to be left widows and that our children do not deserve to grow up without a father by their side," said Ruth Macas, 18, mother of two and a leg-crosser.

    So there are at least two legs to the response to violence. They have to be crossed at the same time. One is what government can do - and it can do much. Last year, the U.S. violent-crime rate rose a little, but it has been falling for years, thanks to more spending and tougher policies. But the other leg is civic action by you, me, and the other guy. And gal. No one lives apart from the spectacle of human violence; we're all involved simply by being human. And if there's something we can do, we should.

    Again, I felt as if I was listening to John Lennon's "Imagine." I could almost imagine the lyrics, floating through my mind as I thought about the reality of suicide bombers.

    This philosophical impasse goes to the root of many hopeless disagreements, and a perfect example is the way some people will blame guns for shootings, while others blame the people who did the shooting.

    But considering Plato's maxim that an unexamined life is not worth living, for once maybe I should depart from my usual "Imagine" bashing, and try to imagine (hypothetically, at least) what would happen if we actually put into practice real Lennonist proselystization. Perhaps if the suicidal death cultists who want to kill us only listened to the song's lyrics, they'd see the evil of their ways:

    Imagine there's no Heaven
    Um, 'scuse me, but I see a problem right there. Isn't imagining heaven the whole point of murderous suicidal martyrdom? I'm thinking that maybe the first line might not make it past the censors in countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Hamasstan (aka the "Palestinian Authority"), as well as our close ally Pakistan which harbors bin Laden and Company. (Even in secular Turkey, liberal teacher Michael Dickenson ran into religious objections when he played the song for his English class.) So if we can't get the song to the people who most need it, how will we know whether they'll ever start imagining that there's no Heaven?


    Wouldn't that be unimagining Heaven? I mean, isn't Heaven a pretty big part of their existing collective imagination?

    I'd hate to think that the ultimate international peace song might be considered blasphemous, and I'm wondering whether my hypothetical goal of converting the imagination of the enemy is even possible in theory, much less in practice.

    But I started this, so let's continue to imagine:

    It's easy if you try
    No hell below us
    Above us only sky
    Imagine all the people
    Living for today

    Imagine there's no countries
    It isn't hard to do
    Nothing to kill or die for
    And no religion too
    Imagine all the people
    Living life in peace

    Again, this business of no religion, no hell, telling people to imagine that, it really is proselytizing against Islam. And "nothing to kill or die for" -- isn't that a direct attack on the theory of jihad, on martyrdom?
    You may say that I'm a dreamer
    But I'm not the only one
    I hope someday you'll join us
    And the world will be as one
    "Join" "us"? If that isn't proselytization, then what is?

    Imagine no possessions
    I wonder if you can
    No need for greed or hunger
    A brotherhood of man
    Imagine all the people
    Sharing all the world
    The most hardline Islamic countries not only allow possessions, but they criminalize theft, and even human beings can be treated as chattel. Imagining no possessions, I think, would encourage countenancing wholesale violations of the Shariah, and probably the Koran. More heresy. The only country I can think of which actually put the "no possessions" theory into practice would have been Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. A death cult, to be sure, but not an Islamic one. At least as heretical as it was un-heavenly.
    You may say that I'm a dreamer
    But I'm not the only one
    I hope someday you'll join us
    And the world will live as one
    That's the chorus, repeated twice. Clearly, the song is meant as an invitation, and while I see nothing wrong with the idea of promoting its values in all Islamic countries (especially as an alternative to the Islamic death cult), I don't see it receiving wide play. Has it been translated into Arabic?

    As a matter of fact, in my quest to be thorough, I did find an mp3 version [link removed], but I can't vouch for the content of the Arabic lyrics. The post in which I found it claims Algerian musicians were murdered in the 1990s for singing similar lyrics, and credits Algerian performer "Khaled" with great courage for singing it.

    If it takes that much courage for a single Muslim performer even to sing the lyrics (assuming he did so in Arabic), I think the song (to say nothing of its ideas) has a long way to go in stopping suicidal death cultists.

    Hey, at least I tried.

    Why does the song say it's easy?

    MORE: Much as I try to be fair, it occurs to me that I may not be the right person to apply "Imagine" principles to the logic of jihad, because I don't agree with the lyrics. But perhaps we could imagine a social experiment in which the true-believing imaginers could actually go into the madrassas and teach the children to imagine that there's no heaven. What better way to find out whether the theory works?

    UPDATE: Link to song removed with my apologies for linking. (See comment below.)

    posted by Eric at 09:08 AM | Comments (5)

    Blogger becomes Second-Class Citizen for a Day!

    In the years I've spent being bicoastal (a category which neither finds legal protection nor elicits much sympathy) I've noticed that a primary difference between the coasts lies in the ability to get around. In California, driving 350 miles is not all that big of a deal; on the East Coast, driving the same distance can easily become a harrowing, all-day ordeal. Getting from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh is a perfect example; it's nowhere near as easy as getting from, say San Francisco (or Sacramento) to Los Angeles.

    Now that I'm back from Pittsburgh (a really wonderful city), I thought readers might enjoy the details. Not about Pittsburgh, but about the getting there part.

    I know, I know. This sounds boring, but please bear with me; I don't blog about mundane unless there's a good reason, and in this case, the ugly realities of traveling "second class" made what should have been an uneventful trip worth a post.

    There are four ways to get from here to Pittsburgh:

  • Drive;
  • Fly;
  • Take the train;
  • Ride the bus.
  • I decided I didn't want to drive because the PA Turnpike is not much fun (it resembles a winding cattle chute through mountains), and the five hours wasted driving would be better spent doing something like reading, or relaxing. On top of that, I saw that heavy rain was predicted. Flying anywhere is a major hassle, and it will turn a short commuter flight into a long one because of long security check-in lines, and baggage claim, plus the need to rent a car at the airport to get to your final destination.

    The train would have been my first choice, but the only Amtrak train from Philadelphia arrives in Pittsburgh at 7:05 p.m. (too late -- and that's after a seven hour trip!) The Greyhound bus on the other hand takes only five hours to get to downtown Pittsburgh, and arrives earlier in the afternoon, so Greyhound seemed like a no-brainer.

    The first problem I encountered was getting from the trolley station to the Greyhound station (the one nearest me is in King of Prussia, PA). It's less than a half a mile walk, but along a hellish road with zero sidewalk, but with a primitivistic path through rocks and tall weeds:


    Why there's no sidewalk there I don't know. It's a major road, and if you continue past the Greyhound station, the sidewalks start, and there's plenty of room to walk. If I didn't know any better, I'd almost swear that someone deliberately wanted to discourage foot traffic between SEPTA and Greyhound, but why?

    The wait was uneventful until the bus showed up. Almost immediately, local police in black jackets stenciled "NARCOTICS" came running up to the bus and stood by the door as people got on. After everyone had boarded, they announced loudly they were "part of narcotics enforcement and Homeland Security," and walked to the back of the bus, slowly making their way forward. Passengers were questioned, and some of them were asked whether the cops could look inside their bags. I was sitting in the middle of the bus and I didn't turn around to look, but after they passed me (without so much as a hello or a single question) it was impossible not to notice they they were paying more attention to young black passengers than the other passengers (whites, Asians, and a few Latinos). When one young black man told them he had no identification, they told him sternly, "you have to have ID in order to ride the bus!" and asked him to come with them. Outside the bus, frisked and questioned him in full view of the passengers, and this is how it looked from my seat:


    The whole incident took about twenty minutes, and while they were still talking to the man without ID (he was obviously pleading with them to let him back on the bus), the doors closed and the trip began. It wasn't until the bus was moving that they handcuffed the man, whom I assumed was being arrested. For what, I do not know. So far as I know, it is not illegal to not have identification. No one at Greyhound ever asked me for ID, nor did the cops.

    Obviously, I don't know anything more than what I saw, and it is possible that the cops were looking for a specific person, and found him. However, they weren't behaving as if they were looking for a specific person; instead they were questioning whomever they felt like questioning -- male or female, but the black passengers got the lion's share of the attention. It occurred to me that they were just on a fishing expedition looking for dope. If that is so -- and if local police are boarding Greyhound buses like this routinely and looking for drugs in the name of "Homeland Security" -- I don't like it. It has a way of bringing out my whining ACLU leftist side. I'm all for the war on terrorism, but this guy was no terrorist, and the people being questioned did not fit any terrorist profile.

    If you ask me, the police would not have dared behave this way on an Amtrak train. It reminded me of the "let me see your papers!" stereotype that we used to laugh at in World War II movies, except I'm not laughing. The more I think about it, the more irritated I become, and it's especially irritating because I have friends who would derisively say "What did you expect, riding a Greyhound bus?"

    I expect the same standards I'd expect in any other common carrier. Not that I'm blaming Greyhound, because the driver had nothing to do with this, and the company has no control over local police. But these cops just had an attitude. It was as if they thought they were dealing with scummy people. Second-class citizens.

    I'd like to advise curious bloggers to go Greyhound, and investigate this further, but there's another problem.

    Greyhound prohibits "Laptop computers."

    In every station I walked through hangs the following list of "Prohibited Items":


    I had my laptop, of course, and I immediately freaked out, because I'd miss the bus if I had to take it home. So I crossed my fingers and hoped they'd never open my bag, which they didn't. Amazingly, another passenger not only had a laptop, but at one of the stops he was using it right in front of the driver, who didn't care. I reread the list, and I saw "jewelry" and "watches" were also on it. And I was wearing a watch, which probably qualifies as both, and many passengers were wearing watches and jewelry. Probably had 'em in their bags too.

    The sign is confusing, and I think the purpose of it is not so much to prohibit laptops as it is to discourage claims. The days of "AT YOUR OWN RISK" are long gone, so I think it's a bit like posting a sign saying "NO SWIMMING" instead of "SWIM AT YOUR OWN RISK." That way, whoever takes the risk has violated the rules, and is in a weaker position from a litigation standpoint.

    Returning on Amtrak, there were no such signs, and no "Homeland Security" narcotics nonsense. (Much better! And at the same price oddly enough, so I can't say "you get what you pay for.")

    I guess I'm feeling properly deterred as a result of my inadvertent detour into second-class citizenship.

    Let this be a lesson to me!

    posted by Eric at 04:37 PM | Comments (10)

    Raging at dark days

    I'm going on a long trip for the next couple of days, and the problem with traveling is that it interferes with blogging. Might check in if I have time, but meanwhile there are several things worth reading.

    This week's RINO Sightings Carnival is hosted by longtime favorite jd at evolution, and the theme is how the tyranny of identity politics destroys freedom. And even life:

    The foriegn minister of Pakistan, noted bastion of religious tolerance and freedom, says of the Pope: Anyone who describes Islam as a religion as intolerant encourages violence. Got it? The Pope made bands of Islamist militants murder a nun in Somalia.
    It's an old and tired theme, but (as jd oberved in an ealier post) just as a rape victim is blamed for the rape, the West is to blame for the violence inflicted against them because they gave offense:
    most Westerners these days will twist themselves into impossible pretzel shapes to avoid giving offense, and in some places the freedom from offense (which I do not believe exists) has been codified.
    jd asks whether there is any hope for a unity among people who enjoy freedom, and points to Judith Weiss's look at an alternatives to the UN.

    As Mark Coffey observes, a nuclear attack is more likely than ever. (But I guess we deserve it, for we have supported Israel, and tried to interfere with Iran's right to nuclear self determination.)

    Did you realize that you might be considered offensive and in need of political correction by a review board for dating members of the wrong race? I didn't either, but Digger has a great post on the subject of white men who get involved with Asian women. Unbelievable.

    jd did a great job with his analysis, and all the posts are worth reading.

    For more insight into the psychological mechanics of the metastasizing war against the West, Paula R. Stern has an excellent op ed titled "Where Synagogues Burn":

    The lesson of history, learned over the centuries, is that where synagogues burn, so too will churches. Just a year ago, the abandoned synagogues of Gaza were desecrated and burned. There was little condemnation, except by those of us who knew that a society that burns a synagogue, will also kidnap, murder and terrorize.

    There was little was mourning for the beautiful houses of worship that were attacked by rampaging mobs, except by those of us who knew that what was born in Gaza that day was a people who believed they had won. They saw our withdrawal as the beginning of their victory; our weakness as their strength. What they did to the synagogues of Gaza, they would do to churches given "cause."

    What came out of Gaza, out of Iraq, out of Afghanistan, is a movement to bring Islam to rule the earth. So intolerant is this religion, that a picture is enough to incite murder; an errant word enough to justify rioting and the burning of holy sites. The Christian world and the Jewish world shy away from these truths because they are as abhorrent to the world we wish to believe exists as ethnic profiling. We don't like the idea that it is possible to determine the threat someone poses based on his or her ethnic appearance. It is racist. It is wrong.

    There's a crucial difference between the West and its attackers:
    the bottom line is simply that we in the western world don't act that way. We don't riot when insulted; we don't burn when inflamed.
    That difference is what we in the West naively call civilization. We tend to assume that all people want to be civilized. The enemies of civilization don't. They want to kill us. For things like looking at the wrong pictures. For quoting obscure Byzantine emperors. And what do we do?

    We apologize, because among civilized people, an apology is seen as the civilized thing to do when someone is offended. The problem is, uncivilized people see apologies as weakness. No number of apologies is ever enough. Which means one is too many.

    jd is right to call these "dark days."

    LINGERING QUESTION: Is it civilized to be unable to recognize the fact that some people are uncivilized? Seriously, it strikes me that merely posing such a question is no longer acceptable in "civilized society." As I see it, either that makes me uncivilized, or civilization can be carried too far. (An inability to recognize the existence of barbarity strikes me as going too far.)

    posted by Eric at 06:18 AM | Comments (0)

    Is anti-Americanism becoming un-European?

    On Friday I opined that the demonstrations against the Pope might help the Republicans, but I couldn't explain why.

    To my mind, the very fact of the Pope's apology explains why. Regardless of what anyone might think about his naivitee or lack of political acumen (perhaps he's a lot smarter than he appears), the fact is that he will be seen as having been forced to apologize. Forced to grovel to the same metastasized multiculturalist political correctness that is perceived as making everyone apologize (or remain silent, lest they too be forced to apologize).

    It doesn't look good to see the Pope, once the very symbol of infallibility (and with a doctrine to go along with it), having to grovel in this way, not for something he said or believed, but for quoting a medieval emperor for purposes of discussion, even though he didn't agree with him.

    Nothing I have seen to date goes further to prove Jeff Goldstein's central theses right than this fiasco.

    Now, why would it help the Republicans? Because like it or not, the Democrats are perceived as the party of apologists, and the average American thinks it has gone too far. Not that the Pope rules their hearts and minds; he doesn't need to. He's a symbol. And a big one.

    If the Pope can be leveled by this contemptible bullshit, is anyone safe?

    I think that's going to be on many people's minds, and I don't think it is going away anytime soon (certainly not in the next couple of months).

    As a matter of fact, anti-Westernism is starting to so closely resemble anti-Americanism that the latter might be on the verge of becoming a subspecies of the former. Fancy that! If stuff like this keeps happening, I could envision ordinary Europeans and ordinary Americans finding common ground. There's been confusion between anti-Americanism and anti-Westernism, with anti-Westernism often being mislabeled and pawned off to Europeans as anti-Americanism. Meanwhile, Americans who are anti-Western in their philosophy pretend that they're just siding with Europeans who obviously cannot possibly be anti-Western. If ordinary Europeans wake up to this con game, all bets are off. (I'd feel sorry for the post-modernist American left, for they'd be stuck having to hate Western Europeans the way they've only had to hate certain stubborn allies like Poland!)

    Might have to revise this bumpersticker...


    MORE: Glenn Reynolds cites this letter to the LA Times from liberal author Sam Harris, who doesn't like the war in Iraq, and who'd "like to see taxes raised on the wealthy, drugs decriminalized and homosexuals free to marry":

    ....liberalism has grown dangerously out of touch with the realities of our world specifically with what devout Muslims actually believe about the West, about paradise and about the ultimate ascendance of their faith.

    On questions of national security, I am now as wary of my fellow liberals as I am of the religious demagogues on the Christian right.

    This may seem like frank acquiescence to the charge that "liberals are soft on terrorism." It is, and they are.

    Of course, now that author Sam Harris said that, he'll be called a "right wing extremist." Shame on him, and all who tilt towards Lieberman deviationism!

    posted by Eric at 04:50 PM | Comments (1)

    Not keeping abreast of current affairs

    Bill Clinton did not invite me to the famous Harlem blog party that got all the attention last week. And I retaliated by not blogging about it! Nyaah Nyaah!

    But there's been a huge amount of attention focused primarily on the breasts of one particular blogger, Jessica something or other.

    I carefully examined the picture, and yes, Jessica has breasts. Whether she was "showing them to her advantage" depends, I guess on whether there was any advantage to showing them, or whether an advantage was given in return.

    I'd hate to say "tit for tat," because I'm sure someother blogger probably said it by now, and I might be accused of not giving credit to whoever it is by using Technorati to find out whether I'm permitted to say what someone else has most likely said. Such a burdensome process is so unfair that I just won't say it! No tit for tat here!

    Now that that's out of the way, I'm worried about whether the breast issue, if laid bare, might actually be a smokescreen for something else. The issue might not be sexism, but racism:

    What does it mean though that there are 20 bloggers invited to this lunch and not one is black or latino? What does it mean for this group of bloggers to be patting themselves on the backs for being with Clinton when they are all in Harlem and not one of them is a person of color? What does it mean for these people to be there and have not one of them raise this issue in their blogs?
    Don't ask me what it means; I wasn't invited. Not only am I neither black nor latino, but I lack breasts.

    I try to make up for what I lack, though, not that Bill would care (Ann Coulter's protestations to the contrary notwithstanding).

    The thing is, Bubba (aka Bill) did invite Atrios (aka Duncan), and the latter doesn't seem terribly grateful. In fact, unless I am missing something in the comments, he hasn't discussed his own presence at the event at all; instead he seems to think that the fact that Dr. Helen Smith (Glenn Reynolds wife) has breasts is more important than meeting the president of the United States (to say nothing of what Dr. Helen said.) True, Atrios has posted a picture of Dr. Helen in a damningly sexy T-shirt, which reveals that yes, she too has breasts.

    I'm shocked. Shocked I tell you!

    Considering the nastiness of posts like the one Atrios linked, it would seem to be self evident that all women with breasts are guilty of "hypocrisy" for suggesting that Bill Clinton likes breasts or that women might want to show theirs off to him. Does that mean only men can complain about breasts of Clinton? Nah, that can't be it either.

    At the risk of sounding like a horrid sexist, I'll stick my neck out here and say that I don't think breasts are so much the issue as the propriety of certain attire. Pandagon makes much of the burkha analogy, but I don't think that's apropos. If I may put aside the groper issue for a moment and switch to another area of the body, does anyone remember the controversy over the girls who wore flipflips to meet President Bush? I think a good case can be made that wearing flipflops to meet a president is analogous to wearing a tight-fitting T-shirt. It can be seen as disrespectful to the office -- even the former office.

    Let's look at the picture:


    Notice that the woman who has drawn all the criticism is not the only woman in the picture. I'm probably a bit old-fashioned where it comes to attire but if I'd been invited I'd have definitely worn a suit. [Right! I'm about as old fashioned as Glenn Reynolds and Markos Moulitsas Zuniga.]

    I notice only a few of the men are wearing suits. For his part, Bill Clinton is, which means that he wasn't considering this a casual, shirtsleeves, wear-a-T-shirt, barbecue type of event. It's a professional lunch at a professional location, with a former two-term President of the United States who is still actively involved in politics. Like him or not, that's what he is. To not wear a suit to that is just violative of the most basic protocol. If you ask me, a higher percentage of the men in that picture are worse dressers than are the women.

    I can't see their feet, though, so I don't know whether they are wearing flipflops. If they are, I'd feel about the same way I do about the tight fitting shirt. As to Dr. Helen's hypocrisy, show me a picture of her meeting any president in a tight-fitting T-shirt and I'll concede the point.

    This all strikes me as very odd, and I'm now even more mystified over why Atrios has gone out of his way to focus his attack Glenn and Helen as "wankers."

    From reading the posts in the Atrios archives for the period before and after the luncheon, you wouldn't know he was even there. Might it be that he really didn't want to be there? If you look really hard at the above picture, you can see a small portion of his head (the only hidden head in the bunch):


    I mean, what is this? A game of peekaboo?


    I can't even tell what Atrios was wearing. For all I know he was wearing a suit.

    Maybe even a double, um, breasted one.

    Forgive me, but I don't get the hidden head.

    (I hate it when I can't figure anything out.)

    posted by Eric at 11:39 AM | Comments (4)

    We are in heaven because we kill you!

    But maybe I should apologize for the title of this post, because it might be taken as implying that Islamic extremists are violent.

    I'm thinking that more apologies are needed.

    This article on the Pope's apology (by Ian Fisher of the New York Times) appeared on the front page of today's Philadelphia Inquirer, but it is nowhere at their web site. Considering a similar disappearance (or non-appearance) yesterday, I'm wondering what is going on. (Anyone know?)

    Anyway, I'm fascinated by the issue of whether the Pope has been apologetic enough:

    In Egypt, a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood, which had been critical of the pope, initially said Sunday that the pope's remarks represented a "good step toward an apology." But later comments from the group seemed to cast doubt on whether it fully accepted the pope's statement.
    Considering that it's still open to question whether or not the Pope has really and truly expressed contrition for what some people think he said, I'm thinking about other apologies that might be in order if we apply the same logic.

    Perhaps the UN can apologize for even contemplating military action against a Muslim country. [Via Glenn Reynolds.]

    I mean, I know it's not going to happen, but still. The very idea of stopping genocidal atrocities in a country run by Muslim extremists! Doesn't that imply that they might be violent?Maybe an apology is in order for reporing that Sudanese Islamists raped little boys.

    Whoever wrote that report should apologize!

    And this report. Yegads! A mosque/madrassa accused of promoting violent jihad -- right in my neighborhood! Perhaps I should apologize to the local madrassa for writing a blog post pointing out that they sponsor jihad camps.

    The Wall Street Journal opined that in Europe, the governments have not only learned how to apologize, but how to run their governments on an apologetic basis:

    Europe is home to a new class of dissidents. In this era, their oppressor is not the Soviets, but radical Islam.

    Meet Seyran Ates. On Saturday, the well-known German lawyer of Turkish descent closed her practice in Berlin following threats to her life. Ms. Ates fought against forced marriages and so-called honor killings and beatings of Muslim women and girls.

    She was also outspoken about the real causes of terrorism. After the London bombings last year, Ms. Ates said the terrorists of the future will be third- and fourth-generation Muslim immigrants who "under the eyes of well-meaning politicians have been raised to hate Western society from birth." In explaining her decision to close her practice, she wrote on her Web site: "Due to an acute threat situation, I was made aware again how dangerous my work as a lawyer is and how little I was and am being protected."

    Well, couldn't she have apologized!

    I mean, if she apologizes, she might be forgiven, but doesn't she know what happens to those who won't apologize?

    Speaking out about Islam can carry mortal risks, as was brought home in late 2004 by the gruesome murder on an Amsterdam street of Theo van Gogh. Van Gogh had made a film about Islam's treatment of women together with Dutch politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali. In May the Somali-born Ms. Ali left the Netherlands for the U.S., citing safety concerns.

    Less well known outside Holland is the plight of another member of the Dutch parliament, Geert Wilders. Like Ms. Ali, Mr. Wilders went into hiding in army barracks and prisons before settling in a government-provided safe house, following death threats. In a conversation with us yesterday, he marveled that he now lived under such conditions though he "didn't do anything against the law." His crime was criticizing radical Islam and calling for a five-year moratorium on non-Western immigration.

    I'm thinking maybe the Dutch and U.S. governments should issue preemptive apologies for -- what's the right word? -- harboring these hateful people who refuse to apologize for saying hateful things.

    Why report any of this stuff? Can't it be taken the wrong way?

    Might someone think the Wall Street Journal promotes hatred of Islam or something?

    Because, I mean, the article continues, and Wall Street Journal didn't seem to be in the mood for apologies:

    Freedom of speech can't be taken for granted in Europe anymore. Take Necla Kelek, another prominent Turkish-born woman in Germany who has written about forced marriages and honor killings. She can speak in public only with police protection. Last May, Roger Kppel, the then editor of the German daily Die Welt, may have escaped an attempt on his life when a Pakistani student, armed with a knife, tried to enter his office building. Mr. Kppel's crime was to republish the Danish Muhammad cartoons, which have brought riots across the Middle East and death threats to publishers around Europe.

    The cartoonists who originally produced the Muhammad caricatures for the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, still don't dare appear in public. Flemming Rose, the paper's cultural editor, told us that he usually receives police protection when he speaks in public. He finds the lack of solidarity with the victims of radical Islam "pretty scary." There is "too little outrage on behalf of the cartoonists," he says.

    The new dissidents are the outgrowth of the rise of political -- and extreme -- Islam in Europe. But more worrying for them, and for all citizens of free societies, is the seeming public indifference to their plight. If that passes for "normal" these days, then the gradual erosion of Europe's democratic fabric will be hard to stop.

    I don't think it's "public indifference."

    I think it's fear.

    Better safe than sorry.

    Being safe means never having to apologize!

    UPDATE: Link added. And I apologize here and now -- retroactively and prospectively -- for that and all unsafe omissions!

    posted by Eric at 09:04 AM | Comments (0)

    Feed me more pain now!

    The "Currents" section of today's Philadelphia Inquirer has a huge piece by psychologist Steven C. Hayes titled "Surviving Emotions." Unfortunately, the piece itself survives nowhere except in the Inquirer's hard copy, which makes it rather hard to comment intelligently on it in a blog post. But there's such a pretty picture accompanying the piece that I couldn't resist framing it in a photograph (or would that be photographing it in a frame?):


    I like the way the heart and the brain are flying in different directions as the headless human skydiver (free-faller, whatever) tries to hold onto or capture his own heart while leaving his brain behind.

    It's a shame that the text is not online, really, because the claims made by Hayes about his "Relational Frame Therapy" (more below) are remarkable. Utopian, even.

    As the sub-headline warns, humankind is at risk:

    Cognitive skill mixed with emotion has always been a volatile brew. Add modern technology, and the concoction can become untenable -- unless humankind takes specific steps.
    Now, that strikes me as important. Important enough, at least, that the idea ought to be linkable (at least findable) online somewhere.

    It's challenging to come up with the gist of Hayes' concerns, but I'll try to come up with a quote (what a royal pain in the ass it is to transcribe; I hope someone appreciates my pain!):

    The Internet, radio and TV pour out rhetoric that feeds fears and dehumanizes those with different religious or political views, providing endless reasons for our biases. Physical technology places every object of desire in front of us 24/7, from sugar-coated food to sex-charged images.

    We begin to suppose that psychological discomfort of any sort is something that has to be gotten rid of immediately. Modern science suggests that this notion -- that if I feel discomfort prompted by an emotion, I should do something now to make it go away -- is the single most powerful reason people experience mental anguish in their lives. Unfortunately, this anguish can find expression in group violence.

    Both of the primary ways of getting rid of an emotion -- indulging it or suppressing it -- make it impossible for us to carry what we feel and think into action in a way that is flexible and effective. We can see the results on our waistlines or in our children's inability to persist in difficult tasks. We can see it in the frequency and intensity of mental-health problems experienced in the developed world or in our amazing consumption of prescription drugs designed to remove difficult thoughts or feelings. And we can see it on the news shows or on our TV screens, as groups try to kill each other based on perceived wrongs or supposed threats.

    Ye gods! I grew so tired of typing that I resorted to photography. Whether a photographic image of text alters the effect on the emotions, I do not know. I'd like to think accuracy is the important thing, but you never know. Anyway, I'm fed up with transcription, so I'm feeding up the image:


    What is the "process being fed"? Clearly there is emotional consumption going on. And what is consumption? Is it always voluntary? With food, infants are fed by others, and until they learn how to feed themselves they have to be fed. The process that we would call the feeding of the emotions, clearly that is not always chosen by the individual, but is often influenced (fed, if you will) by others. One of my concerns is that the emotional feeding by others be identified -- something that ought to begin with disclosure. Who does the feeding and why strikes me at least as important as dealing with the emotional fallout created by the feeding process. Whether ethics are involved, who should have the moral right to do be a feeder, and who has a duty to be fed, these are secondary to identification of a deliberate process.

    In the Inquirer article, Dr. Hayes is mostly silent on the sources of food and the human volition involved. He focuses on dealing with the emotion that results, and he proposes a new kind of cognitive therapy which neither suppresses emotions, nor allows them to control (both of which lead to problems), by treating emotions not as emotions, but as thoughts about emotions.

    "Happiness Isn't Normal" is how Time Magazine characterized Dr. Hayes' central philosophy. Whether ACT is a cult or not, a recurrent theme in Hayes's work is that it can save the world:

    "We could get Muslims and Jews together in a workshop," Hayes said in Washington. "Our survival really is at stake."
    Sounds like pretty powerful stuff.

    My problem with the Inquirer version is that if this stuff can save the world, why not share it with the world, by putting it out there for the world to see?

    As to the substance, I'm a skeptic, as is my wont. While I completely agree with Hayes that emotions should not control us and that stifling or suppressing them is a bad idea, he doesn't seem to tackle the problem of what to do about dissembled emotional triggers from external sources (those who emotionally "feed") -- a problem I see constantly in the use of manipulative language, code language, hidden undisclosed meanings. I think it is only fair to identify (at least try to identify) attempts at emotional manipulation for what they are. (This, I think, is especially true when the intent is intimidation.) Whether one stifles the emotions thus provoked, lives with them, recognizes them as mere thoughts about emotions is another issue. As is happiness. I tend to be a Buddhist in that regard, as I think life is suffering. Death ends it. Whether that life suffering can or should be relieved is, I think, up to the individual.

    "Get rid of the emotion now" is certainly a poor approach to dealing with emotions. But what should be the approach when people insist on sharing their emotions, and even want them to be felt as they feel them? There's a bit too much of this going on as it is, but when it's concealed I call it emotional manipulation. Is it really fair to trick other people into feeling what you feel, but which they might not want to feel? I don't think it is, and I think it's at least as important as the question of how to deal with the resultant emotions.

    Relational Frame Therapy might be a very helpful thing if it helps people cope with their emotions.

    But is there anything wrong with avoiding emotional frameups?

    Continue reading "Feed me more pain now!"

    posted by Eric at 10:57 AM | Comments (2)

    heretically sealed

    I don't do Christianity any better than I do atheism (nor am I Jewish), so I may not be the right person to propose something like this.

    But it occurred to me that the best way to honor Oriana Fallaci might be with some sort of alliance between religious and non-religious (or irreligous) people who respect our heritage of religious freedom, the Western pluralism, the Enlightenment tradition -- you know, that collection of stuff we call Western values -- against a tyrannical enemy which wants to destroy them.

    Something along the lines of a Judeo-Christian Atheist Alliance in defense of the West?

    It makes sense to me, and I say this as a longtime anti-Culture-War person who spent years dwelling on and kvetching about differences. We are already fully aware of what these differences are. To me it seems there's not much point in debating them. But even for people on either "side" who think the "Culture War" debate is of utmost importance, might it also be worth remembering why we are even able to have this debate? If radical Islam had its way, there wouldn't even be a debate between Judeo-Christianity and atheism. Christian, Jew, Buddhist pagan, atheist, agnostic -- all would be silenced. Atheists, agnostics, and Judeo-Christians might not agree on much, but when the right to be what we are is itself threatened, can't we agree that we have a common interest that overrides our differences?

    Just a thought. There's no need to agree on the nature of eternity to know that spending it with people who've blown innocent people up to get there is neither the goal of Christians nor Jews, nor atheists. Nor agnostics, nor Buddhists, nor Hindus, nor Wiccans. (And probably not most Muslims -- especially the oft-silenced, moderate, variety who might be expected to find common ground with people who really don't want to kill them, and who aren't going to denounce them as "un-Islamic.")

    According to her obituary, Oriana and the Pope talked by way of a papal audience, not long before she died.

    On August 27, to be exact. Somewhat under fire (not sure from whom) the Vatican has offered an explanation:

    "That the Pope should receive Oriana Fallaci and talk with her should not surprise anyone, unless they have evil intentions," Bishop Fisichella told the newspaper.

    "She is an interpreter of our times, raises a sign of alarm on a danger, and asked to speak with the Pope in a reserved way," he said. "The Pope accepted. There is nothing more to it."


    The meeting was of a private character, the bishop continued, "because that's as she requested it."


    The magic of this is that there's no need to make a big deal out of "putting aside our differences" when the right to have them is what's under attack.

    At this point in time, the right to be a heretic is a Western value.

    (I'd even go so far as to call it a traditional value, but I don't want to get carried away here. After all, this is just a blog post.)

    UPDATE (09/17/06): My thanks to Perry de Havilland at Samizdata for linking this post! I'm honored, and I appreciate the comments. New readers from Samizdata, welcome!

    MORE: Donald Sensing's thoughtful post (via Glenn Reynolds) reminded me of the divisively politicized "separation of church and state" doctrine (which divides itself along predictable political lines favoring liberal over conservative religions), as well as the organizations devoted to wielding the separation doctrine for their own ends.

    Yeah, in America and in the West, church and state are separate! But that does not mean that they have to hate each other, nor does it mean that the beliefe of atheism is not just as "separate" from the state as the beliefs of Jews or Christians. What worries me is that the people who kvetch about separation of church and state seem more preoccupied with separating Judeo-Christianity from the state than atheism. And in the case of radical Islam (which wants complete inseparability of church and state) there's hardly a peep from AUSCS.

    Let's suppose that because there had been innumerable struggles between advocates of various diets, there was separation of diet and state, via a constitutional guarantee of freedom of dietary beliefs. I have no problem with fasting, but should advocates of fasting be given any advantage over vegans or carnivores?

    UPDATE (09/20/07): I'm delighted to see that commenter Infidel's remarks as the Samizdata quote of the day:

    Freedom, secularism, and rationality are not only Western values. Much of East Asia, eastern Europe, and Latin America are at various stages of embracing them. An alliance against jihadism could be very broad indeed. The Islamists themselves say that "all unbelievers are one people". Might as well take them up on it."
    Absolutely right. (The things Islamists say about Muslims who disagree with them are similar too.)

    posted by Eric at 09:14 PM | Comments (18)

    The Grand Ayatollah demands apologies! (And "peace"!)

    One of the most prominent of the Pope's chief critics to be demanding apologies in the various news reports is the Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah. This Inquirer report is typical:

    Muslim leaders said outreach efforts by papal emissaries were not enough.

    "We do not accept the apology through Vatican channels... and ask him to offer a personal apology - not through his officials," Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, Lebanon's most senior Shiite cleric, told worshipers in Beirut.

    Rashwan, the analyst, feared the official condemnations could be followed by widespread protests. There had been scattered demonstrations in several Muslim countries.

    "I'm not optimistic concerning the reaction from the general public," he said, "especially since we have no correction from the Vatican."

    Who is this man who demands that the Pope grovel for daring to quote from a Byzantine leader in a discussion about the worthiness of religious violence?

    In this interview, Newsweek decribed Fadlallah as a "leading" cleric, accepted uncritically his "peace" advocacy (and didn't quibble with his insistence that Bush "regards himself as the second coming of Christ," and that "we should send him to a psychiatrist.")

    I'd like to know whether the Grand Ayatollah is in fact the champion of peace he claims to be, and whether he has the moral authority to condemn the Pope for suggesting that religious violence is not good.

    Here's a quote from Fadlallah on religious martyrdom:

    What martyrdom is greater than making yourself a human bomb detonating it among the enemy? What spiritualism is greater than this spiritualism in which a person loses all feeling of his body and life for the sake of his cause and mission?
    If the above isn't a self-fisking statement, I don't know what is.

    And the Pope has to apologize to this man?

    Would it be insensitive to suggest that the Grand Ayatollah is being unreasonable?

    MORE: Speaking of insensitivity, consider the following remark by the Grand Ayatollah, on the nature of the "Qu'ran":

    "In the vocabulary of the Qur'an," he says, "Islamists have much of what they need to awaken the consciousness of Muslims, relying on the literal text of the Qur'an, because the Qur'an speaks about the Jews in a negative way, concerning both their historical conduct and future schemes."
    Why is it that if an American spoke of the "Qu'ran" in exactly the same way, he'd be accused of "distorting Islam" -- by people who would call Fadlallah a "respected cleric" who "seeks peace"?

    posted by Eric at 09:19 AM | Comments (2)


    I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by tiredness.

    Something like that.

    I'm so tired I don't even know what "generation" is supposed to be "mine." I do know that the closer I get to final eternity, the less interested I become in the imaginary rewards thereof, and the more tired I become of seeing young men in the prime of life getting all worked up about stuff like somebody "dissing" their tired form of madness consisting of imaginary virgins to die for that await them in their hellish "paradise." (I suppose the younger you die, the less Viagra you need up there in such sickeningly heavenly hellholes.)

    I am so damned tired of being logical in the face of tired insanity that I have no choice but to continue my tired and insane logic in the face of tired and illogical insanity. But what could be more tiredly insane than the persistence of logic in the face of emotion?

    Eternity? Spare me. I'd do almost anything to avoid having to spend eternity in the company of people like this:


    Only a third cup of coffee could stifle my hellish yawn.

    Offended insensitive sensitivities overwhelm the senses with tiredness.



    Tiredness of senses leads to the sense that makes no sense.

    MORE: " entire generation of today's intellectuals had their psyches shaped by... intimidation."

    Um, yeah! I guess I did say that. Yawning is hell.

    posted by Eric at 07:30 AM | Comments (1)

    R.I.P. Oriana Fallaci

    While Oriana Fallaci was an atheist, she drew more hatred from militant Islam than the Pope has drawn today, and I find myself wondering what she'd say if she could see the violent Islamic riots taking place on the day she died.

    Glenn Reynolds links Pajamas Media's huge roundup of blogger reactions to her death, and they include these:

  • Roger L. Simon:
    One of my personal heroes is dead.
  • Michelle Malkin:
    May her life, an embodiment of the rejoinder "I will not submit," continue to inspire more boldness.
  • Sissy Willis remembers her previous post and touches on the irony of "when an atheist and a pope think the same things."
  • It's Friday afternoon and I have to get caught up on the things I've neglected all week (and this blogging eats at my time like you wouldn't believe!) So I can't read all the tributes, even though I'm sure they're all good. But I knew Jeff Goldstein wouldn't disappoint, and sure enough, he didn't:

    Fallaci was in some respects the Christopher Hitchens of Italy. Once celebrated by the left, she recognized the danger to her civilizational values posed by radical Islam, and for speaking out her understanding was made a pariah by the European socialist news apparatus and the Western lefty blogosphere.

    I owe Fallaci this debt: when I studied in Italy I learned her Letter to a Child Never Born as a model for how to write clear, concise Italian. She was an interviewer (and interviewee) of devastating intellect, and although an atheist herself understood the importance to Europe of its Christian heritage. Her Strength of Reason, very directly critical of Islam, caused a firestorm of controversy in Europe and landed her in an Italian court under charges of defamation.

    Fortunately, people can't be put on trial here for "defaming" a religion. Or a minority. (Yet.)

    One of the finest tributes to Oriana Fallaci was the fact that her books were banned by San Francisco's City Lights books.

    The crank of a classical augur in me likes to think that the riots might mean that she's enjoying some sort of cosmic joke in the atheist heaven which has to exist for writers who make trouble for a good cause.

    (And if such a heaven didn't exist, I'd have to invent it, for God's sake.)

    UPDATE (09/16/06): From the Philadelphia Inquirer's obituary, titled "Oriana Fallaci; made the strong cringe":

    Ms. Fallaci took the Catholic Church to task for being what she considered too weak before the Muslim world. But she praised Pope Benedict XVI for urging Europeans to value their Christian roots and had a private audience with him.

    "I am an atheist, and if an atheist and a pope think the same things, there must be something true," she said in a recent interview.

    Must have been the dialogue that can't speak its name.

    Nice obit, by the way. Too bad it had to be buried on page B-6.

    (I guess some topics are just too hot for the masses.)

    UPDATE (09/17/06): A reflection on Oriana Fallaci's atheist soul from the great Victor Davis Hanson:

    long may you run, Ms. Fallaci, you who by now have learned that, yes, there is a soul, and, yes, yours was indeed saved for eternity if only for its singular courage and honesty alone.
    (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    posted by Eric at 03:22 PM | Comments (3)

    If this is Friday, there must be riots

    Chip. Shoulder. Islam. Some history required.

    I'm getting a bit tired of people who are so unable to tolerate the slightest hint of criticism that they riot in the streets and burn people in effigy.

    The violent anger this time is directed not against Danish cartoonists but the Pope, because he quoted from a Byzantine emperor:

    "The emperor comes to speak about the issue of jihad, holy war," the pope said. "He said, I quote, 'Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."'
    Gee. Forget about cartoons. Now you dare not quote Byzantine emperors.

    Anyone know what the moderate Muslims are saying? Here's Jonah Goldberg:

    Globally, Muslim leaders seem to all operate on the CAIR model, mumble stuff about how extremism is bad, but shout from the rooftops about how insulting Islam is outrageous and creates an atmosphere where the religion of peace becomes violent. In the meanwhile, moderates let the extremists speak for them by doing nothing. We have seen nigh upon infinite examples of Muslims saying, doing and hoping for horrible, evil and violent things in the name of Islam. I am of the opinion that these examples come from a minority of Muslims (but a significant number of them in absolute terms). These people are insulting Islam, it seems to me, far more than the Pope allegedly did.
    We're the religion of peace, God damn it!

    And if you say we're violent, we'll kill you!

    MORE: Apparently very few of the protesters have bothered to read the text of the pope's speech, which is online here. Far from endorsing the quotation from the Byzantine emperor, the Pope used it as a starting point for a long discussion in which he specifically pointed out the Koranic proscription against religious compulsion. Further analysis here:

    In the speech Pope was trying to show how western societyincluding the Churchhas become secularised by removing from the concept of Reason its spiritual dimension and origins which are in God. In early Western history, Reason was not opposed to faith, according to the Pope, but instead fed on it.

    During the speech Benedict XVI quoted from a recent book by Prof Theodore Khoury, an expert on Byzantium, who has reprinted the text of a late Middle Ages dialogue between a Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Paleologus, and a Persian Muslim.

    The Holy Father chose this text because it contained a key sentence in which the emperor criticises the Muslim for Islams violence as exemplified by the command to spread the faith by the sword. No historian can deny the fact that Muhammad and, after him, the caliphs often used violence to convert conquered peoples. This does not mean that Muhammad liked violence but it does mean that he was a man of his time. Fighting among Arab tribes was widespread, including over grazing land.

    The first biography of Muhammad written by a Muslim was titled Book of [Military] Campaigns (the term is Maghāzī which has been transliterated as razzias).

    Certainly, one can criticise Emperor Manuel for Islam did not spread by violence alone. In Indonesia, Malaysia and some African countries Islam was brought by Muslim traders. In other countries it arrived via Sufi mystics (who could also be warriors as was the case in Morocco).

    But for the emperor, violence is something unreasonable [. . .] incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. It is this sentence that got the Popes attention, so much so that he repeated it five times.

    Basically then, the message is that anyone who engages in violence ceases being a believer; anyone, Christian or Muslim, who goes along with violence goes against Reason and God, whose is the source of Reason.

    That's supposed to be comparable to Hitler?

    At the risk of offending Muslim sensitivities, I think it's a good idea to read before rioting.

    MORE: For reasons I cannot explain, I think the attacks on the Pope will help the Republicans in the Fall election. This makes no sense, I admit. Just one of those irrational hunches.

    UPDATE (09/16/06): McQ at QandO has an excellent analysis, and catches the BBC in selective editing. Good work!

    UPDATE (09/17/06):Ed Morrisey's open letter to the Pope (via Glenn Reynolds)is brilliant. I'm not a Catholic, so I'd feel out of place writing to him, but Ed touches on the numerous problems posed by apologizing in this context. First, the Pope had nothing to apologize for as he was misinterpreted and taken out of context. Even though an apology between civilized peoples would be superfluous and unneccesary, there would normally be no harm in doing so anyway to smooth ruffled feelings and avoid misunderstandings. However, the "misunderstandings" here are quite calculated and deliberate, and stirred up by vicious demagogues. What that means is that any apology would be too much, and at the same time no apology would ever be enough. The Pope's mistake is in trying to be reasonable with people who are incapable of being reasonable.

    MORE: Also via Glenn Reynolds, here's the incomparable Jeff Jarvis:

    the Popes point was not to attack Islamic jihad but to use that as an illustration of fundamental differences. Still, he did attack violence in the name of religion. And I believe he should have stood by that firmly, for that is the discussion we must have. But instead, he wimped. And I believe that Islamic leaders should be standing firmly in the same spot, condemning violence political violence, lets be honest in the name of their religion. But instead, they whine.

    posted by Eric at 02:44 PM | Comments (4)

    Targets of "protection"

    I probably spend far too much time on the local Philadelphia gun-control stuff. Maybe I need some form of psychological help. The problem I have is this: I subscribe to the Philadelphia Inquirer, and whenever I see misleading or manipulative information going unchallenged and staring me in the face, my gut reaction is to leap to my blog and challenge it.

    Today's gun protest puff piece was no exception. The usual anti-gun people are staging a march on Harrisburg against guns. Nothing surprising there. It's their right to protest guns and to advocate for anything they want, and even though I suspect the Inquirer might not be as solicitous in their reporting of a rally by the other side, if I wrote a blog post every time there was another anti-gun rally, there'd be a convergence of my blogger burnout and reader burnout, and I'd rather avoid that.

    It's not that Sarah Brady and her ilk get a pass from me; it's just that what they say is so predictable as to be boring. However, it's tough for me to ignore a discredited Brady-style untruth when it comes from Philadelphia's director of consumer affairs (a job for which he is paid with tax dollars):

    Lance Haver, the city's director of consumer affairs, said the notion that a handgun makes a household safer "is the biggest consumer fraud going."

    He added that a handgun in a home "is 22 times more likely to kill a family member than an intruder."

    The famous "more likely to kill a family member" line was thrown at Dr. Helen Smith by a doctor after she had her Cardiac Defibrillator implanted:
    The next thing I knew, the doctor had dropped off some literature on "studies" indicating that more people are killed with a handgun in their home by family members etc. (yawn) than use their weapons for any type of self-defense (this is actually not true).
    That last link points to an essay by David Kopel, who thoroughly debunked the oft-repeated claim:
    The famous factoid that a gun in the home is 43 times more likely to kill a family member than to kill a criminal is predicated on a similar misclassification. Of the 43 deaths, 37 are suicides; and while there are obviously many ways in which a person can commit suicide, only a gun allows a small woman a realistic opportunity to defend herself at a distance from a large male predator.

    Emory University medical professor Arthur Kellermann is a one-man factory of this type of misleading data. One of his most famous studies purported to show that owning a gun is associated with a 2.7 times greater risk of being murdered. Kellermann compared murder victims in several cities with sociologically similar people a few blocks away in those cities, who had not been murdered.

    The 2.7 factoid was trumpeted all over the country; but the study is patently illogical. First of all, Kellermanns own data show that owning a security system, or renting a home rather than owning it, are also associated with equally large increased risks of death. Yet newspapers did not start running dire stories warning people to rip out their burglar alarms or to start lobbying their condo association to dissolve. The 2.7 factoid also overlooks the obvious fact that one reason people choose to own guns, or to install burglar alarms, is that they are already at higher risk of being victimized by crime. As Yale law professor John Lott points out, Kellermanns methodology is like comparing 100 people who went to a hospital in a given year with 100 similar people who did not, finding that more of the hospital patients died, and then announcing that hospitals increase the risk of death. Kellermanns method would also prove that possession of insulin increases the risk of diabetes.

    The media are complicit in many of these lies....

    The Kellerman study has been repeatedly debunked, and there's more here. And the NRA-ILA looks at the Kellerman "revisions," and the shiftiness of the shifting numbers. (43-22-18, etc.)

    But my concern involves more than guns. Philadelphia's Consumer Advocate (I realize the proper title is "Director of Consumer Affairs" but I'm selfishly trying to prevent tendonitis here) not only doesn't like guns, he doesn't seem to be terribly fond of the free market system. From a description of his interview with Philly IndyMedia:

    In this Philly IMC interview Lance Haver questions why we've "created a society where 0.1% control 40% of the wealth of America". He goes on to raise a challenge that we must return our political focus to the "fight over a more equitable distribution of wealth." In this wide ranging video Lance focuses on the nature of democracy in our current consumer culture and how it relates to employment, welfare, wealth, the middle class, Walmart and most importantly, how to build towards alternatives.
    "Our current consumer culture"? Forgive my suspicion, but doesn't that sound as if he might be against something? Against what? The "culture" of "consumers"?


    But he's a "consumer advocate."

    What does the term mean? I thought it meant advocacy for consumers? Might I have been wrong?

    The use of the word "culture" in this context almost implies that there's an issue involving what some people would call a "class." Is there?

    I don't know, but maybe I can find some clues. Here's Philadelphia's Consumer Advocate, sounding off on "cutthroat capitalism":

    The culture of cutthroat capitalism has permeated our society. There is no real job security, no safety net, companies lay off workers without conscience, close factories without concern, merge and throw thousands out of work, all so a handful of the very rich can become even richer. American society has become less civil. And those hurt by these changes, which are the majority of Americans, are looking for some one to blame.

    The corporatists use our fears and loss of civility to confuse people into voting against their own interests. The reason why, they say, we feel insecure, unsure about the future and under attack, the reason why our society is less civil is because of the moral decay of abortion and gay rights.

    On the other hand, we, all too often, instead of offering an alternative reason why people feel under attack, attack the folks who are feeling insecure. Instead of joining with people who are feeling the difficulties caused by the cutthroat capitalists, we attack them. We tell them they are dumb, ignorant and just plain stupid and then wonder why they don't vote for our candidates.

    It is time for us to join with those who are feeling hard pressed by our economic system. We must make an attempt to show that we are on the same side. We must organize with them for affordable utilities, insurance, housing and day care. It is time for us to say yes, you are right to feel more insecure, but not because a couple of people you don't know are getting married in someplace you have never been, but because the XYZ company is overcharging you, taking your job and trying to pollute your drinking water. And that multinational corporations have no loyalty to people in our countries, just their wealthy stockholders. If we want to lead, at the very least we have to champion issues that people feel, understand and support. It may feel more comfortable to speak with people who already agree with us, it just doesn't do that much good. And we must finally admit to ourselves that we can't call the people who voted for Bush names and then wonder why they don't like us.

    Consumer advocate or not, it's obvious that Philadelphia's Director of Consumer Affairs subscribes to a left-wing political agenda. People may or may not agree with him (I don't), but if left wing activism is what "consumer advocacy" is all about, why engage in the "non-partisan" pretense? And if it is all political, then what about the non-leftist consumers? Who gets to be their consumer advocate?

    I think it's worth asking why so many people accept the mantra of "consumer advocacy" in such an unquestioning manner, and look up to anyone who runs around with the pompous title of "consumer advocate" in the way people once looked up to religious leaders. As I've discussed, I don't think it's democratic (even though it might be Democratic), because I am a consumer, and not only don't I think these people are looking out for my interests, in many cases, they seem to be opposing them.

    Why do only some people get to speak for "consumers"? If we are all consumers, and we are forced to pay taxes to fund the job of someone who claims to speak for "us," then why aren't all consumers taken into account? Why do "consumer advocates" want to yank the fillings out of my teeth and prevent mercury from being used in any future fillings I might have? To protect me? From what? What if I don't think I need protection? What if yanking out my fillings would do more harm than good? What if I talk to my dentist and we both decide on amalgam; what right gives a tax-guzzling bureaucrat to enter that decision -- and in the name of me, the consumer?

    While I'm a libertarian and I admit my bias, I think that if we consider the overall history of technological and agricultural developments and improvements, it's the free market that has made possible that which we consume. Even the very "consumers" themselves; how long would they be consumers if there were nothing to consume? I think a compelling case can be made that not only does the free market system offer the best deal for consumers, but consumers owe their very existence (as a class, if you will) to it.

    Of course, those who dislike the free market system are free to disagree with me. But is it really fair to disagree with me in my own name and on my behalf? As far as I'm concerned, that's precisely what happens when left wing, anti-market activists are allowed to masquerade as "consumer advocates."

    Does anyone know whether there such a thing as a "free market consumer advocate"? (I can't find any such organization.)

    A classic example of the free market is the WAL-MART phenomenon. I realize that some consumers hate WAL-MART (and choose not to shop there) but some consumers love it. Lance Haver has helped promote a vehemently anti-WAL-MART propaganda film. Whether this helps consumers is at least open to debate; here's a former GE worker who thinks WAL-MART helps consumers, and who raises questions about "consumer" advocacy:

    Wal Mart is one of the biggest consumer advocates out there....far better "consumer advocate" than these $250,000 a year hacks who head up these bogus "consumer advocate" groups....I still wonder where they get their money....unlike WalMart, I am sure some how the taxpayer is paying for these anti-free market "consumer advocate" groups.
    If Philadelphia's Consumer Advocate is any example, the taxpayers are funding left-wing anti-business activism in the name of consumers. I think the question of whether this actually helps consumers is a legitimate topic for debate.

    While I hate quoting the Philadelphia Inquirer without an actual link to the Inquirer, according to Philadelphia City Paper, in 1998 the Inquirer wasn't too fond of Haver:

    The editorial slammed him for promoting a "living wage" that would "add one more reason to employees to steer clear of a jobs-needy city." And while they credit Haver with victories against banking interests and the establishment of a public advocate for gas consumers, the Inky editorial board slashed him for the way he did things. "Any evaluation, though, has to look at style as well as substance," they wrote, condemning what they call "guerrilla theater."

    The piece alluded to his plans to go into business, and sent him off with, "The city today probably needs Lance Haver, businessman, more than it does Lance Haver, consumer rabble-rouser."

    Well, that was 1998. Today he's "director of consumer affairs." And how does he feel about the Inquirer? I'm not sure, but when the paper was sold he wanted the Pew Foundation to get involved:
    Lance Haver, consumer affairs director for the City of Philadelphia, said he was drafting a letter urging Pew and other foundations to take a leading role in reviewing what should happen to Knight Ridder's Philadelphia papers if the company were sold.
    Among other things, he's also called for regulation of gas profits, and demanded price controls in the wake of Hurricane Katrina:
    The question isn't, are the oil companies profiteering? It is: Should a handful of multibillion dollar companies be allowed to use the pain and suffering of a national catastrophe to increase their profits?

    At times of national emergencies, wouldn't it be better to have prices for necessities set by the collective wisdom of a deliberate body instead of by irrational fear and panic of "the market"?

    Sorry, but when I see the phrase "collective wisdom" I tend to recoil in horror. And about those gas prices. They're a lot lower now. Had the "collective wisdom" intervened, does anyone really think we'd be ever be looking at two dollar gasoline again? More likely, the "collective wisdom" "consumer protection" people would have raised taxes, imposed controls, and I think today there'd be long lines and chronic fuel shortages. In the name of protecting consumers!

    With such "protection," what the "advocates" deride as "consumer culture" would be largely destroyed. Might that be the idea?

    There are lots of people who think we should destroy the culture. Advocacy of cultural destruction is nothing new. I just wish people wouldn't destroy things while claiming they're saving them.

    Who protects against the protectors? This post started with "consumer advocacy" against guns, but at least gun owners know how endangered their form of consumerism is, and they have the NRA and other groups to stand up for their rights (especially when they're targeted in the name of "protection.")

    The rest -- ordinary consumers of ordinary products that haven't been singled out for special attack -- are generally clueless.

    This makes them easy targets.

    AFTERTHOUGHT: Looking over this, it occurs to me that if "consumer advocacy" is inherently antibusiness, anti-free market, and ultimately anti-consumer, it may be oxymoronic to utter the phrase "free market consumer advocate."

    I guess my complaint is with false labeling.

    posted by Eric at 11:28 AM | Comments (2)

    No more Republican fence sitting?

    NumbersUSA reports that the House of Representatives voted to erect a border fence:

    (September 14) By a vote of 283-138-1, the House today passed a stand-alone border fencing bill (H.R. 6061) sponsored by Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King (R-NY). The House is expected to vote on additional enforcement-only measures in the near future, including bills on: detention of dangerous aliens; fixing the court-created loophole that prohibits the expedited removal of Salvadorans; and clarifying the inherent authority of state/local law enforcement to enforce immigration laws during the normal course of their duties.
    According to the email forwarded to me, Republicans were near-unanimous, while Democrats were split:


    See how your own Representative voted at:


    Republicans were virtually unanimous in our favor.
    97.3% of Republicans voted with us
    2.7% of Republicans voted against us

    Democrats were badly split over this Border issue.
    32.7% of Democrats voted with us
    66.8% of Democrats voted against us

    More here.

    While I dislike draconian measures against employers (and the overt racism displayed by some immigration hardliners), I think we have a right to secure borders and this situation is way out of control. For some time I've supported building a fence. Unlike some of the angrier proposals, it's an idea that I think the vast majority of Americans could unite behind.

    posted by Eric at 05:28 PM | Comments (4)

    Feeling horny? Enjoy the pain!

    I was thinking ahead (itself a painful thing for me), and I stumbled upon this ad:


    And right under the image was this caption:

    Amnesty, Ted Kennedy, Big Spending...

    Sounds like things liberal democrats would love right? WRONG!

    RINO's are painful to watch, listen to, and most importantly DATE!

    Ouch! (I mean Oh the Pain!)

    I enjoyed the ad, and even though it's not my style to post about ads, I just couldn't stop laughing, so I thought I'd best upload it to the blog so that I'll already be prepared with a post for next week's RINO Sightings Carnival. For a RINO, nothing beats being pre-dated.

    But speaking of dates, who was first to use the sexy image of the Rhinoceros to refer to non-conforming Republicans? Who owns the RINO trademark? I mean, isn't being a RINO an identity? Are non-RINOs trying to horn in on the fun, and profit from misrepresenting the views of the RAGING RINOs?

    I for one do not like "Amnesty, Ted Kennedy, or Big Spending." Not have I any desire to screw those who do. But alas, I'm not only a RINO, I'm a Goldwater Liberal! Who came first? And who gets to define these things, anyway?

    Perhaps I should report this to the Commissar.

    posted by Eric at 02:58 PM | Comments (2)

    Deep, dark, irrational communitarian confessions

    Every once in a while, an event will remind me of the intractable differences between communitarians and individualists. The latest is the Montreal shooting, which (as I remarked earlier) has already triggered various communitarian outbursts of emotion. Almost despairingly, I agreed with a Canadian blogger who remarked, simply, that there is "no one to blame but the shooters."

    By asking "what makes that such a difficult concept?" I touched on the morass that so plagues me. I don't think there is any greater single driving force behind this blog than my inability to answer that question.

    It's not as if I don't understand the communitarian impulse. I grew up in an environment in which altruism was not only encouraged, but was almost beaten into me. Like many kids, I got the religious lectures, I heard that we were all like little sheep who needed herding by some Jesus or another, and (despite my poor appetite and small sickly status), I was made to clean my plate because there were starving peasants in Asia. I learned to stifle any hint of eyeball rolling, lest I literally be clobbered by communitarianism.

    I grew up feeling responsible for poverty around the world, and of course in Philadelphia. I was angry and wanted to do something about it, of course, and I gravitated towards Marxism, and support for the Black Panther Party.

    Life in Berkeley did not help. I continued to feel -- and be held -- responsible for countless vicious crimes against humanity, and but for the intervention of the AIDS virus I might yet harbor communitarian tendencies. But something happened, and I just burned out. Perhaps it was because there were so many people dying around me and I was running around being a nurse and an international smuggler of AIDS drugs, but there was just something about being told at the wrong time(and one time too many) that I had never suffered because I was a white man that pushed me too far. At some point in there I realized -- I mean really, internally realized -- that I was not responsible for the conduct of other people. Hell I wasn't even responsible for the presence of the AIDS virus in people! (An amazing thing, because people told me that I was, even though I was HIV negative, because of a remarkable communitarian concept often called a "climate.")

    You could say I was beaten down by thoughtless communitarians, I suppose. That not all communitarians are that way. True, they aren't. But I get a little tired of being told I am responsible for things I didn't do. I have a gun, therefore I killed the kids at Columbine, and now Montreal. I voted for Bush, therefore, my hands are bloody with innocent victims of torture. I blog, so I am responsible for comments made by other bloggers. Etc.

    My point is pointless though, because this will never be solved. While I don't think this is genetic, I do think that whether one thinks along communitarian or individual lines is formed in childhood. Some kids develop that way, and others don't. Some grow out of it, and others (like me) have sudden epiphanies of individualism.

    But the bottom line is, there are two very different, wholly incompatible ways of looking at the world. This is not as easy as a left versus right political split. While it has long seemed to me that the vast majority of communitarian thinkers are on the left, the fact is, there are many moderates who think this way, and a considerable number on the right -- especially, though not always, the socially conservative right. (I said "not always" because I maintain that it is possible to be a moral conservative and an individualist.)

    Wherever they are on the spectrum, there is just no way to reconcile the views of people who blame a shooter for his crimes with the views of people who blame other people, or other things. Communitarians will look at a shooter and see guns, clothing, haircuts, Columbine, Charlton Heston, and even Dick Clark as implicated. It comes naturally, and I think it starts with little things, early in life. Things like having to eat food because others are starving.

    Communitarianism is said to be based on the notion of the greater common good, and while there is such a thing (after all, that's why we have governments), it gets so carried away that debates can become exercises in mind-numbing sloganeering. From an earlier post, here are a few examples:

    The Local Living Economies Movement is about:

    * Maximizing relationships, not maximizing profits
    * Growth of consciousness and creativity, not brands and market-share
    * Democracy and decentralized ownership, not concentrated wealth
    * A living return, not the highest return
    * A living wage, not the minimum wage
    * A fair price, not the lowest price
    * Sharing, not hoarding
    * Life serving, not self-serving
    * Partnership, not domination
    * Cooperation based, not competition based
    * Win-win exchange, not win-loose exploitation
    * Family farms, not factory farms
    * Bio-diversity, not monocrops
    * Cultural diversity, not monoculture
    * Creativity, not conformity
    * Slow food, not fast food
    * Our bucks, not Starbucks
    * Our mart, not Wal-Mart
    * Love of life, not love of money

    Some people who read the above will roll their eyes like I do. Others will nod their heads in agreement.

    But having a rational discussion? Much as I try, sometimes it seems that dialogue between the rational (the logical) and the irrational (the illogical) is itself irrational -- especially here, when there is no agreement on what is rational or logical.

    So why write a blog post about this?

    Might I harbor an irrational belief that incompatible views can be reconciled?

    It might be a lingering hangover from years of communitarian thinking, but I still think that dialogue is a good idea. Let's take the idea of "living economies" as a starting point. The living economies movement is based upon the principle that the small proprietorship is a better business model than the large corporation. Fine. I can see their point, and I understand many of their arguments. It's a little like vegetarianism. If you think it's a good healthy thing, then by all means do it. You like socialism, by all means start a living cooperative, and live your dream. You don't like guns, don't buy one.

    The problem for me starts when the people who believe in these things want to reach out and stop me from eating meat, owning a gun, starting a corporation, etc. I am not trying to make them eat meat or own guns, and it strikes me as unfair that they would do to me what I wouldn't do to them. So, my argument always comes down to the right to be an individual capable of individal decisions -- which doesn't seem to count to those who don't believe in the individual, or individual rights. And so, dialogue over these things ultimately reaches a dead end called the power of the state.

    That doesn't mean dialogue is unimportant, though. History shows what can happen when these arguments get out of hand.

    posted by Eric at 10:50 AM | Comments (4)

    Gay American? Or corrupt Governor?

    Former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey is a man who wants to be taken seriously. Apparently, that's why he's hit the Oprah circuit. From what I can discern with the few facts that are being made available, what matters is that he is gay, and was governor.

    Never mind that he's considered one of the most corrupt governors in New Jersey history. What matters is that he's gay!

    And on Oprah!

    Liberal columnist Monica Yant Kinney thinks the fuss is too much, and I completely agree with her:

    Normally, I prefer not to dwell in the past. New Jersey politics is sleazy enough in the present, and I couldn't care less whom these creeps sleep with.

    But with McGreevey flooding the zone to hawk his book, The Confession, it seems someone ought to remind Oprah and that "Jim" is not the innocent he appears.

    His truth may well be that he is, was, and forever shall be "a gay American." Ours is that he is, was, and forever shall be one of the worst governors in modern Jersey history.

    And yet people forget. Because in or out of the closet, he's a master manipulator.

    And if I didn't know any better, I'd swear that the people he's manipulating love being manipulated!

    While McGreevey's sex life is something you wouldn't think most people would really want to know about, in McGreevey's case it seems to be the only thing most people know about. As Kinney points out, the ignorance of her fellow New Jerseyites is appalling:

    In a Monmouth University poll released last month, 77 percent of respondents said McGreevey resigned in 2004 because he is gay, as if our blue-state constitution forbade it.

    Thirteen percent couldn't recall what had led to the governor's downfall.

    Just 9 percent guessed "ethics" had anything to do with it.

    Think hard: When's the last time you put a lover (of either gender) on the public payroll, naming an unqualified foreigner - a poet! - to lead the state's homeland-security effort only to wind up fearing he'd sue, ruin your fake marriage, and dash your White House dreams? (Just as outlandish? The man denied being McGreevey's lover, accusing the governor of sexual harassment.)

    While my hat's off to Ms. Kinney for a great column, I don't think McGreevey's corruption merits a long essay in this blog. It sickens me that corruption can be obscured by fake victimhood, only to morph into a grotesque claim to political legitimacy -- perhaps national "leadership"? -- as a "Gay American." (I'd rather save my energy for something important, like the urgent and breaking news that George Washington owned slaves. Why, it wouldn't surprise me if his status as a slaveholder is at least as well known as McGreevey's homosexuality!)

    However, those who want the scoop about the sleaze and corruption that was Jim McGreevey should read Kinney's entire column.

    Excellent job.

    I'd like to think that there'd be a bit more outrage among the self-styled "gay leaders," but there are a lot of things I'd like to think.

    posted by Eric at 08:29 AM | Comments (1)

    News from 1993 (and other age old coincidences...)

    In two blog posts, I discussed recent news reports about a shooting involving a seventeen year old alleged to have shot a friend to death. While the gun was fired repeatedly over the evening, here's a brief account of the fatal shooting:

    By the end of the night, ONeill, Sheridan and two others were alone when ONeill got the gun and turned on the laser designator. ONeill put the laser light on the three friends, who proceeded to duck behind a car. ONeill dropped the gun to his side and the friends came out from behind the car. It was then that ONeill raised the gun and pointed it at Sheridan and Sheridan knocked it away. The weapon went off and Sheridan collapsed in the driveway.
    In the last of the two posts, I mentioned another case in which a teen allegedly shot another teen in what the survivor alleged was "Russian roulette." The problem with the kid's story was that the gun was a semiauto.

    To its credit, the Inquirer had not attempted to make any connection between "Russian roulette" and multiple teens in a drunken shoot-em-up culiminating in one killing another.

    Today, however, the Inquirer has paired its latest report on the drunken shoot-em-up with a genuine Russian roulette case, juxtaposing both stories under the common headline "Drinking, guns and teens a deadly mix" in the hard copy (not online) edition. The similarities:

    "I can't believe it - how similar everything is," said Glasco [the victim's mother]. "The age of the shooter and age of the victim."
    The similarities are indeed there, and I am sure that there are a number of stories involving seventeen-year-olds who shot other teens.

    Especially if you search back in time. Today's Russian roulette story took place in 1993. Not that there's anything wrong with pairing a new story with a old story, but I think that had the culprit been a car instead of a gun, a more recent "similar story" could have been located.

    And it wouldn't have involved quite as much of a stretch. Here are the facts of the 1993 Russian roulette case as alleged by the then-District Attorney:

    On Jan. 10, 1993, James H. Burr of Caln Township, then 17, was charged with involuntary manslaughter in the shooting death of Anthony Glasco. The two teens, along with three others, had been drinking beer and playing Russian roulette.

    "The victim allegedly gets a gun out, puts a single bullet in the chamber, spins [it], and puts the gun on the bed," Anthony Sarcione, then the Chester County district attorney, was quoted as saying. "At this point, the defendant picks up the gun. The victim leans his head into the gun, and the defendant pulls the trigger."

    I don't know how much it matters from the point of view of the victim, but I do think there's a difference between leaning your head into a gun and putting up your hand to deflect a gun that is suddenly pointed at you. True, the victims are both dead (and the only facts before us are allegations made later) but isn't it possible that there's a distinction being lost?

    At the risk of sounding facetious, I have a question. If the issue is youth and guns, how about old age and other instruments of crime? In this context, I found it hard to ignore another report in today's Inquirer, headlined "Woman, 73, sentenced to life in killing of 84-year-old neighbor":

    Kathy MacClellan was charged with attacking Marguerite "Tuddy" Eyer with the claw end of a hammer on Feb. 7, 2005, in Hickory Hills, a mobile home community north of Bethlehem.

    Eyer identified MacClellan as her killer before she died a short time later in the emergency room; the coroner said Eyer had been struck in the head 37 times.

    Judge Emil Giordano sentenced MacClellan to serve the rest of her life in prison, without the possibility of parole.

    "Your conduct cannot be discounted because of your age," Giordano told MacClellan, the Morning Call of Allentown reported. She declined to comment before the sentence was imposed.

    conduct cannot be discounted because of age?


    Does that mean age is irrelevant?

    Would it be too facetious to suggest that "old age and hammers don't mix"?

    Well, they don't:

    Mox lives with his parents on Old Mission Peninsula north of Traverse City. His 88 year old mother told police when she woke up Tuesday morning she said a comment to her son about being awake early. She says Mox then went into his parents bedroom and started hitting his father repeatedly with a hammer. When Mox's mother came in the bedroom he struck her with the hammer in the back of the head.

    Police say the father's injuries needed stitches and his mother now has stables in the back of her head.

    Stables? If I said, "No horsing around when you're hammered," then they'd really say I was being facetious.

    While I'm only 52, I do have a hammer. I have also been known to get hammered on occasion. Shouldn't there be a waiting period?

    In my defense, I don't mean any harm. I mean, do I have to be considered a nuisance when I'm only trying to make sense out of news?

    MORE: In other news, I see that a deranged 25 year old man went on a shooting spree in Montreal. Initial reports focused on the important fact that he had a "Mohawk haircut," but this report has a lot more about the shooter's background.

    I suspect that the communitarian left will blame guns, and the communitarian right will blame "the culture."

    What a sane and rational world.

    Hey, isn't it about time we cracked down on trenchcoats?

    UPDATE: Via Dr. Helen's sane and sober analysis of the Montreal shooting, I found a Montreal blogger, Sari Stein, with whose reaction I couldn't agree more:

    To everyone out there trying to use today's shooting at Dawson to further their own political agenda, whether it concerns gun registries or separatism or mideast politics or Michael Moore or law enforcement funding or student psychological services or the price of tea in India...

    Please, please, can you give it a rest?

    We don't know the motive of the shooter or shooters. We don't know the condition of the victims. We don't know what it all means. In all likelihood, this was a senseless tragedy, with no-one to blame but the shooters and no agenda to push besides trying to help everyone cope as best as we can.

    No one to blame but the shooters.

    What makes that such a difficult concept?

    MORE (09/16/06): Clayton Cramer has a very reassuring news: At Least the Guns Were Registered! (More at the The Toronto Globe and Mail.)

    Yes, mandatory registration saves lives!

    posted by Eric at 06:55 AM | Comments (0)

    "so long as everyone's O.K. with that"?

    I hate it when something makes absolutely no sense and this thing doesn't.


    (And I do hope I'm wrong in my suspicions.)

    Anyway, what prompted hours of (ongoing) puzzlement was Glenn Reynolds' link to this post by the Corner's Andrew Stuttaford.

    I've been thinking about what it might mean if the following contentions by Stuttaford (which I'll summarize) are correct:

  • There is a worldwide, 10,000 ton shortage of medical opium;
  • Afghanistan produces 4,000 tons a year;
  • Afghanistan has a competitive advantage (established crop, cheap labor, etc.);
  • Attempts at crop eradication failed by increasing prices, and "created an additional incentive to grow more the following year";
  • All leading to additional political support (and a source of profits) for the Taliban.
  • This leaves me very confused. If we assume Stuttaford is right, and if we assume our government is sane and rational, why aren't we buying the stuff or simply allowing the Afghans to sell it on the legal market? According to Stuttaford, the explanation given for the objection is that "the developed world relies too much on opiates for pain relief." Nonsense. I'm not buying that one. The legal prescription by doctors of pain killers comes down to highly individualized individual medical decisions, governed by laws which vary in each country. The idea of influencing the medical community of doctors, patients, and pharmacists around the world by artificially creating (or exacerbating) an international opium shortage is not a rational basis for any country's foreign policy decisions. (And it sounds like something that couldn't be carried out unless you subscribe to the idea that the whole world is run by the Bilderbergers.)

    Stuttaford properly dismisses concerns that opium might compete with the EU:

    Do I think there's a danger that the result of allowing Afghans to sell their opium to pharmaceutical companies will be to create an 'opium mountain' to rank with the produce mountains created by the EU's Common Agricultural Policy? I'd be very surprised, but even if it does, so what? Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world, a little income support wouldn't hurt. In fact, it might well do some good.
    He's right. None of this make sense, and the objections are bogus.

    But it's Stuttaford's last paragraph that really has me scratching my head:

    As for legalization, you wisely dodge that endless controversy on the grounds that it's never going to happen. You are probably right, but it's still well worth remembering that the current approach effectively acts as a generous subsidy to the Taliban, al Qaeda and, almost certainly, numerous other terrorist groups, but so long as everyone's O.K. with that...
    A generous subsidy to the Taliban, al Qaeda and, almost certainly, numerous other terrorist groups?

    I'm not O.K. with that, O.K.?

    I might be cynical, but I am not so cynical or paranoid as to imagine that my government would contemplate or countenance deliberately subsidizing the Taliban as official policy. That's 9/11 conspiracy-style nonsense.

    But I'm wondering whether there might me another possibility, and whether it might be grounded in the well-known desire in certain special interest quarters to conflate terrorism with the war on drugs. (Might it be someone's goal to expand the narcoterrorism meme, perhaps?)

    Mostly in bits and pieces, I've been reading various opinions in support of the drugs=terrorism allegations for years, but suppose a major amount of opium were allowed to flow into the hands of the enemy in a country where this fact could be easily documented. Wouldn't that supply a perfect propaganda coup for the drug "warriors" who've long awaited a chance to claim they're genuine combatants in the war on terror? There could be a merger of military and law enforcement by way of Homeland Security, major utilization of Patriot Act provisions against drug dealers (all of whom could be considered "financiers" of terrorism), and with any luck, even individual users might be considered legally linkable to terrorism. They're already using SWAT teams for routine drug enforcement; throw in the terrorism angle and who would dare object (save the libertarian fringe and a few bloggers)?

    Sorry, but such a result is not OK with me, and I say that as a longtime supporter of this country's war on terror. It's bad enough that there are those who seek to conflate the drug war and the war on terror, but if there's even a possibility that my admittedly paranoid suspicions might be right -- that drug warriors might not mind seeing the Taliban get its hands on 4000 tons of opium despite a legal need for it -- then the implications are disturbing.

    For starters, it was only a couple of weeks ago that I voiced support for a "domestic intelligence service" with special powers to fight terrorism. Any serious attempt to conflate terrorism with the war on drugs would run counter to the idea of such an agency without police powers, by blurring the distinction between the war on terror and domestic law enforcement.

    It's bad enough that the drug war creates economic opportunities for the enemy. But looking the other way and letting them have opium in the face of a worldwide shortage?

    I hope I'm wrong in my speculations about the reasons, but whatever they might be, it's definitely not O.K.

    I agree with Glenn Reynolds that this issue reduces itself to three simple words: buy Afghan opium.

    MORE: According to this detailed report, the total income Afghan farmers receive from opium is around $100 million a year. If the world needs it and there's a legal market for it, buying it seems like common sense. (There I go, talking common sense in the context of the drug war!)

    UPDATE: I should make it clear that I agree with everything Andrew Stuttaford said. A commenter seemed to think otherwise in saying the following:

    I did not take Andrew's statement to be in the vein of drugs=bad and terrorism=bad therefore drugs=terrorism. If opium is going for a premium and the Taliban controls some territory where they can grow opium, or take it from those who do, they can finance their weapons purchases through it. Leaving it at the status quo does that. I don't think the policies in this case are linked.
    I do not think drugs=terrorism, nor do I think Stuttaford said that. I think that legally buying the opium from the farmers who grow it is better than fostering an illegal underground economy. In my view (and, I presume, Stuttaford's), criminalizing opium growing only drives it underground and provides a financial incentive for the farmers to sell their crop to terrorists.

    Again, if there is a worldwide legal market for their opium, why not buy it?

    posted by Eric at 05:14 PM | Comments (4)

    This fall, beat Bush!

    I'm puzzled over something. While I've never been quite certain exactly how to define the Republican "base," I'm wondering whether the term has become code language for conservative opposition to President Bush. If so, then considering Bush's narrow victory in the last two elections, will this emerging base of dissenters be able to ensure victory if they gain control of the Republican Party?

    In a couple of elections yesterday, the dissident base's candidate lost one election, and won in another:

    PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Republicans have a better chance of holding onto Rhode Island's Senate seat with a primary victory by the moderate incumbent.

    The Republican establishment supported Lincoln Chafee over his conservative challenger. While Chafee still faces a tough contest against Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, polls showed Whitehouse was almost assured a victory if Chafee lost.

    In another moderate-versus-conservative matchup in Arizona, the moderate lost. National GOP leaders supported Steve Huffman to succeed moderate Jim Kolbe, but voters chose Randy Graf who made opposition to illegal immigration the center of his campaign.

    I don't know how accurate these polls are, as I'm largely unfamiliar with the demographics of Rhode Island. But if Pennsylvania is any indication, the victory of Arlen Specter (considered a RINO by most of the base) over the base's current leader Pat Toomey was followed by Specter's defeat of Jim Hoeffel by a considerable margin -- in a state in which Bush was defeated by Kerry.

    As to the base's victory in Arizona, will that be followed by a victory in November? The WaPo's Chris Cillizza doesn't think so:

    ...former state Rep. Randy Graf came out on top in the Republican primary in Arizona's open 8th congressional district -- virtually ensuring that Democrats will pick up that seat in November.
    If that is in fact as "virtually assured" as Cilliza says, then the base would appear to be putting a single issue ahead of party victory.

    Does that make political sense?

    In a post titled "Arizona GOPs Say 'Stop Bush!'" Mickey Kaus looks at the situation, and asks about the base:

    Isn't this more evidence that opposition to Bush's immigration plan is a powerful base-mobilizer for the GOP?
    (A phenomenon Glenn Reynolds calls "Republicans on the march to stop Bush.")

    If opposition to Bush is the way to mobilize the base, I'm wondering what that will mean in the fall.

    (I mean, Bush still being president and all that.)

    I'm also wondering whether the base might be suffering from its own version of BDS, to be cured only by a Hillary Clinton presidency, but I've already kvetched about it repeatedly. At the risk of getting ahead of the base, I'm beginning to think they more than want Hillary; they might need her.

    That's because being a minority in the minority beats having to be a minority in the majority.

    posted by Eric at 12:43 PM | Comments (3)

    Nails push hot buttons over principles!

    I hate it when issues cultural and racial sensitivity issues creep into the most mundane things.

    Like getting your nails done, for example.

    I know that it's always a mistake to write blog posts about subjects with which I am unfamiliar, but the fact is, I can't remember when I last had my nails done. Really I can't.

    Now, for starters, how sexist is that? Are nails a feminist issue, or a masculist issue? Not that nails aren't needed in society, but for lack of a better expression, the "nail issue" does seem to be a cultural wedge between the sexes.

    Men tend to pound and drive them, while women have them, er, "done."

    Most men don't get their nails done, while most women aren't into the pounding variety of nails.

    While these remarks might not have settled anything, I felt as if I had to mention the sex issue as a threshold, because this is about bias, and in discussions of bias, bias should always be disclosed. Even the slightest hint of bias. And the fact that I am male and can't remember when I last had my nails done may be a telling detail. It might evince a sort of sexism.

    I'm white too. I'm also American by birth, although I'm of mixed Scandinavian ancestry. And yes, I speak English. What possible relevance might racial, ethnic or language have to do with nails, you might ask?

    I wouldn't have thought anything, until I read Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Annette John-Hall's complaint about her local nail salon's insistence that its employees speak English only:

    A strangely disconcerting silence filled my nail shop over the weekend.

    Kim, the young woman who does my nails, explained that her mother, the shop owner, recently prohibited the manicurists from speaking Vietnamese to one another while at work, unless the conversation had something to do with customer service.

    "My mom doesn't think it's professional," Kim explained when I asked about the sudden silence. "She wants our customers to feel comfortable."

    Call me a cultural curiosity hound, but the intersection of languages and customs fascinates me. Sure, there are times I've convinced myself that the technicians' chattering in their native tongue has something to do with my ugly black toenail, but that's my issue, not theirs. Mostly, the shop's cross-cultural banter lent an air of conviviality that created a place of comfort for everybody. I'm not put out that they speak two languages; I envy the fact that they can.

    I'm not put out that they speak two languages, nor would I be put out if they refused to speak English! This is a business decision, and apparently the owners of the nail salon (as well as the employees) are themselves Vietnamese, but they have decided to require English. I don't think anyone is arguing (at least I hope they aren't) that they have no right to speak in whatever language they want, or not speak at all. If you don't like the sound of Vietnamese, or English, or silence, why, you can find another nail salon.

    Or am I being unfair? Is this business being culturally insensitive? Am I allowed to wonder out loud whether nail businesses are predominantly Vietnamese? Would that make this a race issue? Honestly, I don't see how. Are they discriminating against Vietnamese employees or customers? Might the preference for English be seen as a preference for white people? Again, I don't see how, as apparently the owners and employees are Vietnamese. Unless they refuse to hire or serve Vietnamese (which would be nearly impossible, if the owner and employees are Vietnamese), I just don't get it. Might it be discrimination against other minorities? I don't know whether the workers speak Spanish, but I'm assuming if they're Vietnamese and English is a second language, I doubt it. But surely, the elimination of Vietnamese for business purposes isn't discrimination against Hispanics? No; try as I might, I fail to see how this might even arguably constitute a claim of discrimination.

    But Ms. John-Hall continues. She seems to think that an aroma of Geno's cheesesteak discrimination has wafted into the Vietnamese nail business:

    Growing up in California, a place where Csar Chvez is revered, I learned a healthy respect for cultures other than my own. Streets named La Cienega and El Camino Rel are as common as Walnut and Chestnut. Fatburgers compete with tamales and dim sum as fast-food options.

    The languages spoken other than English, usually heard in the homes of my Latino and Asian friends, sounded rich and inviting. I may not have understood them, but I didn't feel alienated at all. Interestingly, I identified with them. The tones and feelings they conveyed weren't that different from my own boisterous household.

    But if "rich and inviting" "tones and feelings" are evocative of the writer's "boisterous" household, and the writer is an American-born English speaker, then what can be the possible connection with "languages spoken other than English"? Aren't rich and inviting tones and feelings and boisterous households to be found almost anywhere? Now, I'll grant you, there are also flat and uninviting tones and feelings, just as there are dull and uninteresting households. But what has that to do with the languages spoken at a nail salon? I can't be sure what the argument is here; it may be that she's complaining that the business has become atonal, dull, uninviting since the ban on English. If that's the case and the employees and customers are miserable, then it won't last -- again because this was a business decision.

    But Ms. John-Hall doesn't say that the place has become dull and uninviting because of English. Instead, she says this is all about hostility to Hispanics. And bloggers are implicated!

    There are numerous sites on the Internet where you can actually buy "Why in the Hell Do I Have to Press 1 for English?" T-shirts and bumper stickers.
    I hate to tell you, but there are also sites on the Internet where you can actually buy T-shirts and bumper stickers saying a lot worse things than that.

    But I say that only because I'm one of those bloggers who points at things:

    Bloggers point to surveys that say more than 20 percent of callers opt to hang up rather than press 1 for English when calling their credit card and utility companies.

    Do they really believe their liberties are being compromised with one extra key stroke? Of course, those so-called principles will get deleted like an unwanted voice mail once their credit card is declined or lights are turned off.

    OK, now that the "principles" of "bloggers" have been attacked, as a blogger I feel a duty to defend my maligned identity group! For starters, I never complained about pushing 1 for English, nor do I own one of those shirts. But she's right; they are for sale, and actually!

    Whether that T-shirt or the "bloggers" who wear it should be scolded for an inconsistency in their "principles" depends, I guess, on a lot of things. I'm assuming the people wearing it do so because they don't like the inconvenience of having to press 1, and they dislike having to bureaucratically select their native language in their own country. Certainly it's an act of protest, but even if we assume it's a "principle" to oppose the inconvenience of pushing 1 because of what it symbolizes, is that principle really "deleted" because the protester nevertheless pushes 1 during a power emergency? Does she really expect anyone to go without power, and not report a stolen credit card because of the "principle" of not pushing 1? Wouldn't that be a little like expecting someone who opposed higher taxes to stop paying them as a matter of principle? And where would we draw the line? Suppose the Fire Department required pushing 1 to report a fire? Should "bloggers with principles" refuse to report the fire?

    If that is how "principle" is to be defined, then count me as a blogger without principle!

    Hell, I'm so unprincipled that I'd even yell "Fuego!" if I thought it might save someone's life. (You want principles, better find another blog!)

    Don't be fooled. The hostility isn't just about immigration. It's about slowing the progress of Latinos, the fastest-growing immigrant group in the United States.

    It's about fear of being outnumbered, of not being able to control who lives next door, who goes to school with your kids, speaking a language that you don't know how to speak.

    And once they learn English, the fear will only grow.

    Now that same fear is leading folks to believe that Spanish is in danger of becoming the nation's default language. "Pretty soon," a blogger wrote, "we'll have to press 2 for English."

    Damn! Now that's a really mean accusation, and I'd like to know what nasty vicious blogger said that. Can't we have a link? In vain I searched for the phrase "we'll have to press 2 for English."

    Nothing at Technorati.

    Zilch at Google Blogsearch.

    Hey I tried. I believe in policing the blogosphere as best I can, but it's tough when they say mean things and then hide. In defense of the blogosphere, though, I do think that when reporters point at nasty things bloggers have allegedly said, they ought to do a little more pointing.

    It's not as if the same writer isn't citing and quoting the other side by name, rank and organization:

    The reality, says Cecilia Muoz, vice president of policy at the National Council of La Raza, is that Latinos are learning English as fast or faster than any other immigrant group. The reality is that 80 percent of the country's Spanish-speaking population are legal residents, not illegal immigrants.

    "But if I'm out and I'm talking to my mother in Spanish - not because we can't speak English, but because it's our history - people's perceptions of me are different," says Muoz, a Detroit native. "Suddenly my American-ness is questioned."

    I watched the scene Muoz described play out the other morning at my local Wawa. A group of young Latino men walked into the convenience store and one would have thought they were the second coming of Osama bin Laden, the way people cast glances at them. The men didn't say a word, didn't speak to one another. They just quickly got their coffee and left.

    Osama bin Laden? Wait a second. I know I'm being picky, but if they didn't "say a word," how do we know that speaking Spanish was the issue? I've been in plenty of Wawas which not only had Latino men inside, but had them working at the store. A WorkforcePhiladelphia Award web site singled out Wawa for praise while citing a Wawa manager's "Spanish conversation program":
    One manager described a Spanish conversation program she initiated so that she and others would be able to communicate better with Spanish-speaking associates. She conducted a cost analysis, submitted a proposal, and received funding for the program.
    I could be wrong, and there might be a lot of bigots in Ms. John-Hall's neighborhood who cast angry glances as they patronize Wawa's and who think Latinos are the second coming of Osama bin Laden. But I just suspect hyperbole.

    There's a scolding conclusion:

    This is being American, the land of open arms and bigheartedness, and, yes, the land of immigrants? It's sad to think that one group's unwillingness to accept another is not only practiced, but encouraged.

    Maybe another choice should be offered. Press 1 for English. Press 2 for Spanish. Press 3 for ignorant.

    Well, maybe I should press 3. Because, I started out by admitting my ignorance (as a male non-salon goer), but I'm still feeling ignorant.

    Remember, this column was occasioned because a Vietnamese nail salon required its employees to speak English. What's their deal, anyway?

    I found a remarkable, even touching story here, which describes the many years of hard work it took a Vietnamese immigrant family to build a nail business from the ground up, against fierce competition:

    Our story begins like countless others: with my parents, on a boat in 1975, headed toward an American refugee camp. The United States, the land of opportunity, perhaps fully uncovered itself in 2003 with an open space behind In-N-Out Burger in a strip mall in Southern Californias posh Sherman Oaks.

    Ba and M certainly had forces working against them. Sherman Oaks already was teeming with nail salons. My mom had another full-time job. But it was their ambition that drove them.

    Choosing a name for their nail venture was almost as difficult as naming their four daughters. When ideas came to us at random hours of the night, we browsed the Internet to make sure what we picked wasnt taken. We played with words (shop or shoppe?) and concepts. In the end, we settled on Pink N White Nails & Spa, a cute euphemism for a type of acrylic nails made with two different powders, something that I knew nothing about and for which my parents were still learning.

    Paving Pink N Whites image of a pathway to serenity was anything but serene. The months preceding the shops grand opening were a whirlwind of anticipation, anxiety and nonstop chaos. My sisters and I had school and work, so we couldnt help out much. My father, the optimist, spent a lot of time sketching logos and imagining a peaceful haven where satisfied customers relaxed on Cloud Nine or lazy massage spa chairs. My mother, the realist, researched supplies and equipment and where to get the best deals. Dozens of trips to Ikea would be made.

    It's long and involved, but it's the classic rags to riches story. Far from being "anti-immigrant" bigots, it appears that they went out of their way to cater to Latinos:
    My sisters and I cleaned every time we visited the shop on the weekends, shaking our heads and laughing at the busy (and very corny) decor. Wild plants stood at every corner. American flags adorned the front door, magazine stand and reception desk. My sister burned CDs with songs Ba requested; the customers did enjoy the tunes, as they stirred to the Latin pulse in their freshly scrubbed skin.

    One day, the pipes broke and started spewing dirty water into the hair salon next door. Needless to say, the owner was not very happy with his new neighbors.

    I suspect that what goes on in nail businesses is a constant struggle to please the customers on which they depend, and I wouldn't be suprised if they're doing the same thing in Philadelphia.

    Anyway, it's a long article, but the family finally made it, and the kids have graduated from toiling in their parents' struggling nail salon to professional careers:

    My eldest sister just received her pharmacy degree and is gaining more experience at a hospital in San Diego. The second eldest finished her masters degree in public policy from UCLA and is now living in Los Angeles. Tamara, who is two years my senior, is in her last year as an undergraduate, studying economics. As for me, Ive just declared psychology as my major at the University of California, Irvine, though Im trying my hand at marketing and journalism.

    Its nice when we can all gather at Pink N White and catch up with each other and with our parents, which isnt often. It is poignant though liberating that our elders do not expect us to take over the salon as we pursue our own niches in the professional world. I think it shows how far my family has come.

    Pink N White is more than just a family-run business, and more than what some call the American Dream. It is the epitome of progress with struggle and the fulfillment along the way.

    To say that it is the end result, a destination fulfilled, would not do the American Dream, or perhaps the Vietnamese American Dream, justice. The truth is, this venture was an opportunity, a risk, and we took it. At the end of the day, business is business. It hasnt been easy, and it may never be, but thats the beauty, I suppose. My parents have taught me to work hard for the things that matter, and to always remember the things that matter, like family. And for that, I owe them so much.

    Our story is one in tens of thousands....

    I'm sure it is, and I can only imagine the struggle it is to make it in a new country.

    I'm sure that in trying to please their customers, immigrant Vietnamese salon owners will occasionally make mistakes. The shop-keeper of the nail salon that offended the Inquirer columnist may have made a mistake. She's a mother struggling to raise her kids in the hope that they too can achieve the American Dream. So I think I'll give her a pass.

    But only because of my lack of principles!

    posted by Eric at 08:56 AM | Comments (6)

    Long sentence deserves a short word that deserves a long essay

    I agree with Clayton Cramer that the following sentence is so long that it "Should Be Taken Out and Shot":

    Be it enacted by the Right Honourable the Lord Proprietary by and with the Advice and Consent of his Governor and the Upper and Lower Houses of Assembly and the Authority of the same That from and after this Session of Assembly Persons under the Age of one and twenty Years and Persons being Idiot Lunatick or non compos Mentis seized or possessed of any Lands Tenements or Hereditaments in Trust or by Way of Mortgage or seized or possessed thereof charged or chargeable with the Payment of Money or Tobacco and therefore subject or liable to a Decree for Sale or bound by an Agreement to convey made by some Person or Persons having Right or Title to make such Agreement and therefore subject or liable to a Decree for Conveyance on a Suit for a Specific Performance or Execution of such Agreement shall by Direction of the Court of Chancery signified by an Order made upon the hearing of all Persons concerned on the Petition of the Person or Persons for whom such Infant or Infants or Persons being Idiot Lunatick or non compos Mentis or his her or their Committee or Committees in his her or their Name or Names shall be seized or possessed in Trust or of the Mortgagor or Mortgagors or other Person or Persons entitled to Redemption or Person or Persons entitled to Money or Tobacco secured by or upon the said Lands Tenements or Hereditaments or of the Person or Persons entitled to any Money or Tobacco with the Payment whereof the said Lands Tenements or Hereditaments are or shall be charged or chargeable or of the Person or Persons entitled to a Specific Performance or Execution of such Agreement as aforesaid convey and assure any such Lands Tenements or Hereditaments in such Manner as the Court of Chancery shall by such Order so to be obtained direct to any other Person or Persons and such Conveyance or Assurance so to be had and made as aforesaid shall be as good and effectual in Law as if such Infant or Infants were at the Time of making such Conveyance or Assurance of the full Age of twenty one Years and the Conveyance or Assurance so to be had and made as aforesaid in the Case 0f Persons being Idiot Lunatick or non compos Mentis shall in like Manner be as good and effectual as if the said Person or Persons was or were at the Time of making such Conveyance or Assurance of sound Mind Memory and Understanding and had by him her or themselves executed the same and all and every such Infant or Infants or Persons being Idiot Lunatick or non Compos Mentis being Trustee or Trustees Mortgagee or Mortgagees or being seized of possessed of Lands Tenements or Hereditaments liable or subject in any manner aforesaid or the Committee or Committees of all and every such Persons being Idiot Lunatick or non compos Mentis shall and may be compelled by such Order as aforesaid to make such Conveyance or Conveyances Assurance or Assurances in like Manner as Persons of full Age and Sane Memory are compellable to make Provided always that no Order or Direction as aforesaid shall be made or given in Virtue of this Infants seized or possessed of any Land Tenements or Hereditaments charged with or subject to the Payment of Money or Tobacco unless it shall appear that the Guardian or Guardians of such Infant or Infants hath or have consented thereunto and also that such Infant or Infants will not sustain any Detriment Disadvantage or Inconvenience from such Order or Direction and also that upon every Order or Direction for Conveyance to be made by an Infant or Infants for the Specifick Performance and Execution of any such Agreement as aforesaid Liberty shall be reserved for the said Infant or Infants to Shew Cause within six Months after he she or they shall have attained the full Age of twenty one Years if such Infants or Infants shall attain such full Age and also for the Heirs of such Infant or Infants if such Infant or Infants shall not so long live in six Months after the Decease of such Infant or Infants if the said Heirs shall then be of full Age and if such Heirs shall not then be of full Age in six Months after such Heirs shall have attained his her or their full Age why such Conveyance ought not to have been ordered or directed and on sufficient Cause being shewn as aforesaid the Infant or Infants aforesaid or his or their Heirs shall be entitled to and have a Re-Conveyance by Order or Decree of the said Courts of the said Lands Tenements or Hereditaments by whomsoever claimed or possessed by from or under the Conveyance made by such Infant or Infants aforesaid and also a full Account of the Rents and Profits thereof and from the Person who shall have received the same --
    That's a long sentence! And to tell you the honest truth, I didn't read it.


    No wonder Coco doesn't read; I'm setting a terrible example!

    Anyway, a sentence like that calls for a single word. A word that can lead to a sentence merely for uttering it.

    But rather than utter the word (which gets my blog blocked if I utter it more than twice I think), I refer readers to a scholarly article by Ohio State University Law professor Christopher M. Fairman about the word. From the abstract:

    This Article is as simple and provocative as its title suggests: it explores the legal implications of the word fu[k. The intersection of the word fu[k and the law is examined in four major areas: First Amendment, broadcast regulation, sexual harassment, and education. The legal implications from the use of fu[k vary greatly with the context. To fully understand the legal power of fu[k, the nonlegal sources of its power are tapped. Drawing upon the research of etymologists, linguists, lexicographers, psychoanalysts, and other social scientists, the visceral reaction to fu[k can be explained by cultural taboo. Fu[k is a taboo word. The taboo is so strong that it compels many to engage in self-censorship. This process of silence then enables small segments of the population to manipulate our rights under the guise of reflecting a greater community. Taboo is then institutionalized through law, yet at the same time is in tension with other identifiable legal rights. Understanding this relationship between law and taboo ultimately yields fu[k jurisprudence.
    The article is amusing, but I have edited the word so no one will know what it is. I won't say it, and I won't even spell it.

    Eff you see kay!

    posted by Eric at 04:47 PM | Comments (0)

    Should I suspend her driving privileges?

    Not only am I not a classical scholar, but I'm afraid Coco isn't either. While I've tried encouraging her efforts at blogging (and Lord knows I need an omnipotent administrator around here), she just isn't developing an interest in basic reading the way I'd like.

    Not that I haven't made every effort:


    Still, no matter how much I try, the result is always this:


    But just let her get behind the wheel of a car!



    I'm open to suggestions.

    posted by Eric at 01:31 PM | Comments (9)

    Defining the enemy

    One of the things I most liked about the president's speech last night was to see him come closer to a definition of the enemy we are fighting:

    Since the horror of 9/11, we have learned a great deal about the enemy. We have learned that they are evil and kill without mercy _ but not without purpose. We have learned that they form a global network of extremists who are driven by a perverted vision of Islam _ a totalitarian ideology that hates freedom, rejects tolerance and despises all dissent. And we have learned that their goal is to build a radical Islamic empire where women are prisoners in their homes, men are beaten for missing prayer meetings, and terrorists have a safe haven to plan and launch attacks on America and other civilized nations. The war against this enemy is more than a military conflict. It is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century, and the calling of our generation.
    As Admiral Lehman and many others have observed, terrorism is not war; it is a tactic in war. Lehman proposed calling the enemy not terrorists, but jihadists:
    This not a war against terror any more than World War II was a war against kamikazes.

    We are at war with jihadists motivated by a violent ideology based on an extremist interpretation of the Islamic faith. This enemy is decentralized and geographically dispersed around the world. Its organizations range from a fully functioning state such as Iran to small groups of individuals in American cities.

    This morning, however, I was startled to read an editorial which inverts the Lehman argument with the claim that it is wrong to call the war a "war" at all. "Talk of 'war' is misleading and dangerous" warns law professor Bruce Ackerman in an Inquirer headline:
    We made war against Japan, not its kamikaze pilots.

    Once we allow ourselves to declare war on a technique, we open up a dangerous path, authorizing the president to lash out at amorphous threats without the need to define them.

    Paradoxically, it is only our inexcusable failure to capture Osama bin Laden that permits us to ignore the danger that expansive war talk poses to our freedoms. Bin Laden allows us to put a single face on the terrorist menace and pretend that he is at the head of a well-organized war machine like that of Hitler or even Saddam Hussein.

    But he isn't. Terrorism isn't the product of overweening state power, but of the unregulated marketplace.

    Huh? Unregulated marketplace? I hope that's not a call for UN gun control.

    Actually, he's complaining about the trade in weapons of mass destruction:

    We are at a distinctive moment in modern history: The state is losing its monopoly over the means of mass destruction. Once this happens, it's almost impossible for government to suppress the lucrative trade completely. If the Middle East were transformed into an oasis of peace and democracy, other fringe groups would replace al-Qaeda in the marketplace for death. A tiny band of home-grown extremists blasted the Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Others will want to detonate suitcase A-bombs as they become available.

    This is a very serious problem, but we make it worse by calling it war. War talk tilts the constitutional scales in favor of unilateral executive action, and against our tradition of checks and balances.

    We make what worse by calling it "war"?

    What would he call the jihadists with an A-bomb? Criminals?

    I'm afraid so. That's what Ackerman calls jihadist Jose Padilla, and he warns that Padilla plus the Japanese internment precedent makes us all "potential Jose Padillas":

    ...a federal court of appeals upheld the president's seizure [of Padilla] as within his powers as commander-in-chief, and the Supreme Court refused to review this remarkable decision.

    This gives the presidency a terrible precedent for the next Sept. 11. We all hope that this attack won't come for a long time. But the day after the next tragedy, the Padilla case will be invoked to support the president if he sweeps hundreds or thousands into military detention. After a year or two the Supreme Court may intervene on the side of freedom. But perhaps the vote will go 5-4 the wrong way.

    It can't happen to me, we tell ourselves. Very few Americans have done anything to support the Islamo-fascists, whatever President Bush may mean by this dark term. But the next attack may be by home-grown terrorists. All of us are potential Jose Padillas, not a select few.

    I, too, worry about the expanded use of the terrorist metaphor. And, much as I think that animal rights fanatics (or anti-abortion fanatics) who commit crimes belong in prison, common sense suggests to me that a monkey thief is not an enemy combatant.

    However, this does illustrate the difficulty of using the legal system to grapple with what is clearly war. Al Qaida declared war on the United States, and so have its affiliated and not-officially affiliated jihadists. Animal rights and anti-abortion groups have declared war on clinics, labs, companies, and maybe a few Wal-Mart-type industries, but that is not analogous to jihad. Right now I think the most worrisome question is how to keep open-ended definitions from creeping into what should be questions of common sense.

    Let me give another example. Regular readers who know me might think I was being facetious when I said "I hope that's not a call for UN gun control" in the context of Professor Ackerman's discussion of weapons of mass destruction. They're right but wrong! As is so often the case, my facetiousness is someone else's substance. Mantra, even. From IANSA (the United Nations-gun-grab-treaty group which made headlines over the summer)

    Small arms are weapons of mass destruction, killing hundreds of thousands of people around the world each year. Thats far higher than the casualty count from conventional weapons of war like tanks, bomber jets or warships.

    These lethal weapons are relatively cheap, highly portable, easily concealable, long lasting, and so easy to operate that a child as young as eight years old can carry and use them. These characteristics make small arms particularly susceptible to illicit trafficking. They are often sold illegally in exchange for hard currency or goods such as diamonds, drugs, or other contraband. Estimates of the black market trade in small arms range from US$2-10 billion a year. (Emphasis added.)

    By this definition (which seeks to interpose itself into US law), WMDs are right here in my house. All I need to do is get worked up enough about an issue with which enough powerful people disagree, get myself accused of using "eliminationist rhetoric," and voila! I become a "home grown terrorist" "armed with WMDs."

    This is not to say that there aren't home grown jihadists, and that they are not at war with the United States and sworn to its destruction. But just as monkey thieves are not jihadists, there is plenty of room for mischief making when terrorism becomes a political grab bag. Hell, I could imagine even crimes with zero political connections being lumped in; SWAT teams are now used for routine drug law enforcement, and war-on-terrorism rhetoric is routinely employed. (Not only are small arms WMDs, but as we all know, Philadelphia is Beirut.)

    If the enemy isn't clearly defined, the definition can become the enemy.

    posted by Eric at 08:07 AM | Comments (1)

    A serious classicist

    Pajamas Media made a major announcement today, and while I already wrote about it in an update to my earlier 9/11 post, I'm just so plussed about the fact that Victor Davis Hanson is now blogging for Pajamas Media that I wanted to make sure everyone knows. Hanson is a genuine classical scholar of the sort I wish I could have been, and his knowledge of history is what makes his blog such a pleasure to read. Here he looks at the Iraq War from a historical perspective:

    ...[H]ere we are, 5 years after 9/11 without another attack, and struggling democracies fighting terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq.


    Total all the mistakes in Iraqand they are legion and they do not match a months folly in WWII (cf. the daylight B-17 missions of 1943, the early torpedo scandal of US submarines, the shortcomings of the Sherman Tank, the Kasserine Pass, the lit-up cities along the Eastern seaboard that facilitated U-boat carnage, the surprise at the Bulge, the intelligence failures about the hedgerows, and on and on) or Korea (the surprise at the Yalu, the lack of winter gear in the retreat, the surprise at the efficacy of the Mig-15, the Korean- prisoner fiasco, or the ossification at the 38th parallel when momentum was once again with us, etc.). Who made such blunders and more? Men like Arnold, Bradley, Eisenhower, Halsey, MacArthur, Marshall, and more in the pantheon of now deified generals.

    The truth is that war is a constant ying and yang, of challenge and response, the side winning that reacts the more quickly to change and commits the fewer mistakesand keeps its head. So far, by any historical standard of casualties lost, the ambition of the mission (Iraq is 7,000 miles and the home of the ancient caliphate), and success gained, this war is hardly a debacle and surely can be won. But it would have been lost years ago, had George Bush once, just once, listened to his litany of critics (pull out, postpone the elections, post a timetable, go to the UN, more troops still, invade Iran or Syria, trisect the country) watched the polls, or in depression at the venom, given in. We need to take a breath and remember that.

    This blog is called "Classical Values" for a lot of different reasons, some serious, some tongue in cheek. But the only classical scholar here is co-blogger Dennis; I have never laid claim to being such a thing. Victor Davis Hanson is the real deal (Dennis describes him an "eminent classicist and historian of ancient warfare"). So much so that he's a legend.

    Seriously, I'm honored just to be blogging for the same outfit.

    UPDATE (11:00 p.m.): I just watched Part II of "The Path to 9/11" (not bad, IMO) which was interrupted by the president's speech. I thought it sounded positively Hanson-like:

    Across the broader Middle East, the extremists are fighting to prevent such a future. Yet America has confronted evil before, and we have defeated it _ sometimes at the cost of thousands of good men in a single battle. When Franklin Roosevelt vowed to defeat two enemies across two oceans, he could not have foreseen D-Day and Iwo Jima _ but he would not have been surprised at the outcome. When Harry Truman promised American support for free peoples resisting Soviet aggression, he could not have foreseen the rise of the Berlin Wall _ but he would not have been surprised to see it brought down. Throughout our history, America has seen liberty challenged _ and every time, we have seen liberty triumph with sacrifice and determination.

    posted by Eric at 06:38 PM | Comments (2)

    Explain five years?

    Spetember 11 is one of those dates which rolls off the keys as a sort of common expression instead of a date. There isn't much I have to say that I haven't said, other than that much of my perspective was changed, and in many ways I'm still adjusting. After all, I spent 47 years in this country before September 11, 2001, and five years since. Until then, while I'd thought about the nuances and contradictions inherent in American freedom, I hadn't had to grapple with what a serious attack on freedom does to the thing it's attacking.

    I do think this country is better off now than I would have thought it would be had you asked me five years ago. American freedom has survived. Whether it will survive the next attack, who knows? I like to think the country is more prepared, but then there's this huge capacity for denial which not only won't go away, it seems to take on a life of its own.

    It's as if there's a sort of internal war going on in the nation's consciousness between the forces of remembrance and the forces of forgetfulness. Paradoxically, I'm enough of a contrarian that those who want to forget make me remember, and there's no way for me not to write a post in remembrance of the attacks, despite the fact that I have nothing new by way of philosophical observations that I haven't made before. I do wish that people would remember that there's plenty of time in the future to forget and to deny, to make everything go away. It's a thing called eternity, also known as death. Because I think denial of reality is a form of death, I'd rather put it off, but I know I'll never persuade the people who need it.

    More than anything else, though, I think there is something important that needs to be restated.

    We are at war.

    It would seem difficult if not impossible to forget something like that. For me, to remember September 11 is to remember we're at war. Painful as it is. Unexplainable though it often appears to many. The Inquirer's John Grogan has an excellent column remembering September 11, but is short on explanations for the war:

    Sept. 11, 2001. Is it possible that half a decade already has passed?

    We have come so far and moved so little. Our troops have chased terrorists into the most remote corners of the planet. Our country has marched into a war no one, not even the president, can quite explain.

    Good point. He's right that the war needs explaining. Things that can't be explained are the easiest things to deny.

    Fortunately, our enemies have never ceased reminding us of the overarching reason they went to war with us -- the why of September 11 and of the war.

    They want to change our mind.

    Al Qaida's American traitor Adam Gadahn explains, by way of an invitation:

    Why not surrender to the truth? Escape from the unbelieving army and join the winning side. As for those who have expressed their respect and admiration for Islam, and acknowledged that it is the truth and demonstrated the support and sympathy for the Muslims and their causes like George Galloway, Robert Fisk, and countless others, I say to them, isnt it time you stopped sitting on the fence and came over to the side of truth?...Abandon unbelief and accept the truth.
    This is of course a classic call for surrender. (It only takes the form of asking us to change our minds.) While I'd like to think that no one in his right mind would take it seriously, there are plenty of people who call for the equivalent of surrender, and who think the way out of this war is for us to change our minds.

    From a think tank located in the U.S. ally of Germany, a a leading academician explains:
    Germany, like any Western country, is vulnerable, said Michael Brzoska, director of Hamburg University's Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy Studies, because it generally supports U.S. policy, is close to Israel and has sent troops to Afghanistan.
    More on Dr Brzoska here. The goal of his organization is, simply, disarmament, and "conversion" of the military to other uses:
    BICC is an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to promoting peace and development through the efficient and effective transformation of military-related structures, assets, functions and processes.

    Having expanded its span of activities beyond the classical areas of conversion that focus on the reuse of military resources (such as the reallocation of military expenditures, restructuring of the defense industry, closure of military bases, and demobilization), BICC is now organizing its work around three main topics: arms, peacebuilding and conflict. In doing this, BICC recognizes that the narrow concept of national security, embodied above all in the armed forces, has been surpassed by that of global security and, moreover, that global security cannot be achieved without seriously reducing poverty, improving health care and extending good governance
    throughout the world, in short: without human security in the broader sense.

    I can't think of a better way to lose a war than to abandon allies and eliminate national defense. While I'd like to think that Brzoska's is an extreme position shared by few if any academicians, thinking that would be an act of denial.

    I'd also love to deny that American universities would be hiring professors who think and teach Bush was behind the September 11 attacks, but it's happening. (I wonder what they think of al Qaida's latest boasting videos; did Bush make them too?)

    Via Pajamas Media's excellent roundup, Christopher Hitchens sees September 11 as more than an attack on America, but as "an attack on civilization itself." Despite the commemoration, he sees the war as far from over:

    The time for commemoration lies very far in the future. War memorials are erected when the war is won. At the moment, anyone who insists on the primacy of September 11, 2001, is very likely to be accused--not just overseas but in this country also--of making or at least of implying a "partisan" point. I debate with the "antiwar" types almost every day, either in print or on the air or on the podium, and I can tell you that they have been "war-weary" ever since the sun first set on the wreckage of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and on the noble debris of United Airlines 93. These clever critics are waiting, some of them gleefully, for the moment that is not far off: the moment when the number of American casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq will match or exceed the number of civilians of all nationalities who were slaughtered five years ago today. But to the bored, cynical neutrals, it also comes naturally to say that it is "the war" that has taken, and is taking, the lives of tens of thousands of other civilians. In other words, homicidal nihilism is produced only by the resistance to it! If these hacks were honest, and conceded the simple truth that it is the forces of the Taliban and of al Qaeda in Mesopotamia that are conducting a Saturnalia of murder and destruction, they would have to hide their faces and admit that they were not "antiwar" at all.
    I'm wondering whether inviting Mohammad Khatami to Harvard -- right on the eve of the fifth anniversary of September 11 -- constitutes being "antiwar." Glenn Reynolds has a roundup, and I was most drawn to this observation from Miss Kelly:
    There were Iranians, Harvard students, Jewish organizations, Protest Warriors, local talk show host Michael Graham, and just plain folks. No feminists or gay activists that I could see, despite the horrendous record of Iran against both groups.
    Why do I suspect that had Condoleeza Rice (to say nothing of Rick Santorum) been invited instead of Mohammad Khatami, not only would the overall protests have been larger, but there'd have been more feminists and gay activists protesting?

    Why is it that being "antiwar" always seem to exclude protests against the enemy?

    How is it "antiwar" to submit to an enemy which calls for submission?

    I know I've said this before, but September 11 is a day I'll always remember as a day for defiance. The enemy wants us to submit, and to submit is die. (In more ways than one.) The only "submission" coming from me is another blog post of deliberate defiance.

    I think they started it, and it is they who should submit. Their minds are the ones which need to be changed; not ours.

    September 11 still makes me very angry, not only because it happened, but because we remain at war, and it will be a long and protracted one. It's a war against an enemy which utilizes clever propaganda calculated to foster denial, and which makes submission look like the easy way out.

    It angers me that this should require explanation.

    To end on a note of optimism, I'm just glad that there's a blogosphere, and if any good has come of 9/11, it's the blogosphere's birth:

    Since 9/11, the rise of "warbloggers" and online political commentators like Glenn Reynolds' Instapundit has been, in many cases, a direct response to the U.S. government's post-9/11 foreign policy, kickstarting a culture of questioning, poking and prodding from which no public figure is safe.

    But the volume of another attack, should one occur, could be amplified still further by newer technologies. The growth in ownership of cell-phone cameras since 9/11 meant that commuters' contributions to coverage of last year's southeast Asia tsunami and the July 7 terrorist attacks on London tube trains were more pictorial and more immediate; eyewitness accounts could be sent to moblog websites without having to find a desk or a docking station.

    (Via Glenn Reynolds, who who also has a roundup of 911 roundups.)

    The blogosphere never forgets, nor will I.

    To repeat what I've been repeating over the years:

    The Twin Towers stood as gigantically strong, seemingly indestructible, twin pillars of freedom. I will never be able to shake that awful memory of how, in the instant these giants came crashing down, they were suddenly not strong at all, and certainly not to be taken for granted. Instead, they appeared very frail and delicate.

    And now, I know that American freedom is frail and delicate. It cannot and must not ever be taken for granted.

    I'm optimistic that it's stronger than I thought. (Cautiously optimistic, though....)


    MORE: From the Grand Stand wrote this reminder last month which is perfectly applicable today:

    What if you woke up tomorrow and realized that somewhere between 180,000,000 to 300,000,000 adults were ready and willing to go to war with The Westthat they had been fully radicalized into militant Islam and were chomping at the bit to destroy Europe and the United States?

    That morning was 9/11, whether you realized it or not. Today was just a reminder.

    It is ESTIMATED that 15%-25% of the 1.2 BILLION member Muslim world is radicalized. That doesnt include people who hate America or want Israel destroyed. That is just the estimate of people who HAVE BEEN radicalized and are actively working in support of terrorist activities or groups.

    It is mind-boggling, astonishing, in the realm of surreal, that we are facing an enemy currently three times the size of Nazi Germany, with plans equal to or more vile than those of Adolf Hitlers, and were not yet serious.

    The parallels with the 1930s are blatant, brutal, and horrifying.

    Yet, we repeat history again. We sign Anglo-German style treaties, signed by soft leaders who cant get a majority among their populations to understand the threat. We send Ambassadors to talk and to negotiate, and some people actually believe, ACTUALLY BELIEVE, after all evidence to the contrary has blown up on their faces, that these terrorists want a negotiated peace or a treaty.

    Wishing war away does not work, especially in the middle of a war. Might as well imagine that defeat is victory.

    MORE: Via Glenn Reynolds, Kenneth Anderson looks at how 9/11 affected his daughter:

    [The smoke rising from the Twin Towers] has had an effect on my own daughter. Of course things are changeable, especially for the child of a conservative father and liberal mother, but when I asked her why she, practically alone among her Upper Northwest DC limousine liberal classmates and teachers, was willing to call herself a conservative, her answer was unhesitating.

    "Liberals," she said, presumably referring to her endlessly politically correct private school (the same National Cathedral that hosted ex-president Khatami last week), "always want to tell you what to do and what to think, but then they don't even keep you safe."

    Democratic Party politicians might want to reflect on that awhile. They think of themselves as defenders of freedom, protectors of civil liberties. To my daughter, however, they are merely authoritarians who tell you what to think, but then, when push comes to shove, these liberal authoritarians don't even protect you from existential risk. In my thirteen year old child's political imagination, smoke from the burning Pentagon and the wreckage of the plane continues to rise. Does it in yours? Does it in theirs?

    It's bad enough that people who would run my life would (by working against national defense) deliberately not protect the lives they want to run. But many of them are also against personal self defense.

    It's as if they're stuck in an endless replay of John Lennon's "Imagine." Trouble is, they don't want to just "imagine." They want to enforce the lyrics.

    I wish it was all in my imagination.

    MORE: Via Pajamas Media, Claudia Rosett thinks denial may also be fueled by success in the war, and by insufficient beating of war drums:

    If anything, the president in recent years has not beaten those tom-toms enough. War drums are appropriate. So are flags, anthems, and threatening retorts to the likes of Ahmadinejad and Khatami. We are in a war. We have already been attacked at home on a massive scale. And whether we classify the enemy as an axis of evil or a web of Islamo-fascists and tyrannical affiliates, we face very real foes, who watch and learn from each other.

    The paradox is that, in this war, we have done just enough so far to be in serious danger of becoming victims of our own success. Sept. 11 brought us in hideous close-up the landscape of war: the wreckage, burning and body count. Wisely, we took the fight abroad. With that, we have so far been spared further massive horrors in our own streets. Apart from the brave Americans who have served on the front lines, most of us have had no direct experience of this conflict.

    And although we will be deluged in coming days with commemorations and footage of the attack that burst upon our Eastern Seaboard in 2001, most of us enjoy a level of ease that makes it hard to believe we are still seriously threatened.

    I especially agree with "Wisely, we took the fight abroad." A growing chorus, though, thinks that it wasn't wise to take the fight abroad, but stupid. Does that mean the smart way to fight the war is to wait for more attacks? Or not to fight it at all? Considering that the two leading antiwar groups -- "A.N.S.W.E.R." and "Not In Our Name" -- were formed not in response to Iraq, but Afghanistan, I suspect that for some, the idea is not to fight at all.

    MORE: For a great roundup, be sure to check out the RINO Sightings tribute to the September 11 anniversary.

    AND MORE: Don't miss Victor David Hanson, now blogging at Pajamas Media (an announcment which makes me proud to be a PJM-affiliated blogger). In today's September 11 post, he asks some good questions:

    Do any Americans finally see through these killers? On Monday they are mad about East Timor, on Tuesday Kosovo. Wednesday they wake up and shout about Israel, while on Thursday its American troops once in Saudi Arabia. Does anyone see a pattern here, especially when they talk of lost honor and humiliation? War-torn Rwandans are humiliated. There is no honor in Serbia. But what in Gods name is the complaint of radical Islam, when billions of windfall profits accrue to the Middle East, to countries like Iran or Syria or the Gulf States, who pump oil someone else found at $5 and sell it at $60, and cant make or mend on their own any of the apparatus needed to profit?

    posted by Eric at 07:30 AM | Comments (0)

    Path observer

    I hardly watch any TV, but for what it's worth, I'm watching ABC's "The Path to 9/11."

    Accurate or not (and despite my stated concerns) I think it's important enough to watch.

    MORE: My reaction to tonight's episode was to wonder why not more attention was paid to Abdul Rahman Yasin and the Iraq connection to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Bombmaker Yasin, an Iraqi, was recruited by the mysterious Ramzi Yousef, who came to the US on an Iraqi passport and has been accused of being an Iraqi agent. The 911 Commisssion also avoided mentioning Yasin. Why? Ace asked about this a year ago. Captain Ed raised additional questions. I've long suspected some sort of bipartisan coverup, but I can only speculate about the reasons. I doubt the connections between the 1993 and 2001 attacks will ever be made known.

    posted by Eric at 08:20 PM | Comments (0)

    Dialogue is a life or death issue

    Dick Polman (with whom I disagree politically) remarks on the increasing difficulty of people who disagree to engage in any sort of dialogue:

    As I survey the political landscape, in the midst of a career change, it's clear we have entered an era in which nuance seems quaint. "Blue state facts" clash with "red state facts."

    W.B. Yeats wrote, "Things fall apart; the center cannot hold," and indeed it appears that our new century does not empower the voices of moderation.

    For many who fit into the politically homeless camp, the center cannot hold because there is no center. Libertarians like me are quite used to agreeing with neither "side" and not being anywhere near any identifiable center. I honestly can't tell you what the center is, as there are too many passionately held ideological viewpoints which get in the way by condemning any deviation as the "other side." Which means that if you think for yourself, you can end up being on the other side of someone's other side on every issue on which there is a side. (Such a status may be many things, but it certainly cannot be called a "center.")

    Polman offers a slim ray of hope:

    Today strong partisans lead each party; goaded by bloggers, they often view compromise as surrender.

    All told, I've painted a grim picture. The other day, I phoned an expert who tracks our national mood - Gary Jacobson, at the University of California, San Diego - and asked, "Is there any hope?"

    Yes, he said, the future rests with the voters of 2008:

    "There's not much chance the polarization will be reversed soon. But a lot depends on who we nominate next time. If it's Hillary Clinton and a Republican who is close to Christian conservatives, then we'll have more polarization. But if it's someone like a John McCain and a Mark Warner, we'll have a less polarized climate."

    In the end, Jacobson said, "there's always reason to hope, because we have survived this kind of thing before. After all, we did have a civil war."

    I'll leave alone the "goaded by bloggers" part, as I can't remember the last time I goaded anyone. As to civil war, though, I can't remember how many times I've said that I don't want another one. I'd do almost anything to prevent such a thing. Is being against a new civil war now centrism? If so, then call me a centrist.

    I find it ironic that the attacks of September 11, while initially triggering a sort of consensus resembling national unity, ultimately soured the national mood into the most bitter and recriminatory one I've seen and I'm including the Vietnam War era, for there was more national unity then, as well as more dialogue. Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, were more capable of being friends then than they are now, and I think that's a crying shame. (I'll never forget how quickly I lost friends for developing new ones on the wrong "side," but that's another topic, and a very sore and sensitive one.)

    The problem I have engaging in dialogue begins with an inability to define what is being discussed. When ordinary words like "family" and "consumer" become hyperpolitical code language, when words like "environment" make no sense, I don't know how to begin to have dialogue.

    Yesterday I learned a new phrase: "living economies." The people talking about it were all in favor of it, but the way they were using it made my antennae go up, because it sounded like vague code language with a special meaning for activists, and probably some sort of an agenda. Like "family values." Or "reality based community." Otherwise inoffensive words strung together. But just try to define them using a dictionary! Such phrases are more than words. They are expressions, and they denote entire philosophies. Movements.

    And, boy, the phrase "living economies" did not disappoint. As code language goes, it's a real gold mine. Books have been written on the subject and of course there are innumerable web sites devoted to it.

    The crux of "living economies" (the plural of economy is no accident) is that the world is being dominated by "The Empire" which consists not of economies, but of "The Suicide Economy." This is run by large global multinational corporations which place profit ahead of humanity. The reason it is called a Suicide Economy is that it is "unsustainable." "Living economies" by contrast, are "sustainable."

    If you like activist phraseology and code language, you need look no further than the term "living economies." These two simple words have been transformed into a veritable hive of rhetorical activism -- the inside of which literally teems with slogans like the following:

    The Local Living Economies Movement is about:

    * Maximizing relationships, not maximizing profits
    * Growth of consciousness and creativity, not brands and market-share
    * Democracy and decentralized ownership, not concentrated wealth
    * A living return, not the highest return
    * A living wage, not the minimum wage
    * A fair price, not the lowest price
    * Sharing, not hoarding
    * Life serving, not self-serving
    * Partnership, not domination
    * Cooperation based, not competition based
    * Win-win exchange, not win-loose exploitation
    * Family farms, not factory farms
    * Bio-diversity, not monocrops
    * Cultural diversity, not monoculture
    * Creativity, not conformity
    * Slow food, not fast food
    * Our bucks, not Starbucks
    * Our mart, not Wal-Mart
    * Love of life, not love of money

    The purpose of this post is not to debate or fisk the above, but to demonstrate the difficulty of dialogue.

    If I'm leaving Starbucks with a cup of coffee and someone says "Our bucks, not Starbucks," where would I even begin?

    Creativity, not conformity? How do I know what those are? Am I being creative if I write a blog post when I'd rather lay back and contemplate a beautiful Sunday afternoon? Or am I being conformist? Or am I conforming to the dictates of my inner creativity? How the hell should I know?

    I'm not in a foul mood right now, but sometimes I get in foul moods, precisely because I find it irritating to be scolded, lectured, badgered, by people who don't seem to understand the implications of their own demands. I can think of few things more degrading than being scolded for non-creative "conformity" by someone whose rote use of an unoriginal phrase scripted by someone else implies, well, non-creative conformity!

    I mean, really! What could be less creative than condemning "conformity" and pronouncing yourself "creative" based on a slogan written by someone else? Were I in a foul mood, hearing such a thing might make me very proud to call myself a conformist! But how do I get to conformity in its fullest sense if I detest following others? It's a daunting task. And how can I conform without following? Create what? Conform to what? Maybe I should always place "brands and market-share" ahead of "consciousness and creativity"?

    Unbeknownst to me when I started this essay, I have been misusing the word "creative." In the context of the Living Economies people, it means belong to a group called "cultural creatives," which has its own philosophy:

    The Cultural Creatives care deeply about ecology and saving the planet, about relationships, peace, social justice, and about self actualization, spirituality and self-expression. Surprisingly, they are both inner-directed and socially concerned, they're activists, volunteers and contributors to good causes more than other Americans. However, because they've been so invisible in American life, Cultural Creatives themselves are astonished to find out how many share both their values and their way of life. Once they realize their numbers, their impact on American life promises to be enormous, shaping a new agenda for the twenty-first century.

    Paul Ray and Sherry Anderson tell how people departed from Modern or Traditional cultures to weave new ways of life. Three Americas are struggling to define what the country should be: Traditionals, Moderns and Cultural Creatives. The authors show how each one emerged historically, and how the Cultural Creatives in particular grew out of the social movements of the Sixties right up to Seattle's WTO demonstrations, and from the consciousness movements in spirituality, psychology and alternative health. They conclude that all the different kinds of movements are converging now, with the Cultural Creatives at the core.

    What makes the appearance of the Cultural Creatives especially timely today is that our civilization is in the midst of an epochal change, caught between globalization, accelerating technologies and a deteriorating planetary ecology. A creative minority can have enormous leverage to carry us into a new renaissance instead of a disastrous fall. The book ends with a number of maps for the remarkable journey that our civilization is embarked upon: initiations, evolutionary models, scenarios, and the elements of a new mythos for our time. The Cultural Creatives offers a more hopeful future, and prepares us all for a transition to a new, saner and wiser culture.

    Well, gee whiz! All this time I've spent using the words "culture" and "creative," and I had no idea what I was talking about.

    See what I mean about the difficulty of dialogue?

    The "cultural creatives" of behind the big Seattle demonstrations against the WTO are much praised by a man named David C. Korten in an interview here. Dr. Korten is a Vietnam veteran who has seen the light, and is one of the principle movers and shakers in (and a founder of) the Living Economies movement.

    Those who want to get into depth beyond a list of slogans probably couldn't find a better place to start than with his introduction to the concept:

    Having reached the limits of an Era of Empire, humanity is compelled to accept responsibility for the consequences of its presence on a finite planet, make a conscious collective choice to leave behind the excesses of its adolescence, and take the step to species maturity. It is the most exciting moment of opportunity in the history of the species.

    The Era of Empire embraced competition and domination as its organizing principles, hierarchy as its favored organizational form, and ultimately chose money as its defining value. It has led to the emergence of a global suicide economy otherwise known as the corporate global economy that is rapidly destroying the social and environmental foundations of its own existence and threatening the survival of the human species. It is the Era's final stage. (Bold italics in original)

    Final stage? Is that Orwellian, or Falwellian? (Sorry, but I was just trying be what I used to think was creative, but which I now know is conformity.)

    Dr. Korten continues:

    The global corporations that are the ruling institutions of the suicide economy are required by law, structure, and the imperatives of global finance to maximize financial returns to absentee owners without regard to the consequences for people or planet. In short, they are programmed to behave like cancers that seek their own unlimited growth without regard to the consequences. As these pathological institutions have consolidated their power, the imperatives of global finance have come to dominate the economic, political, and cultural lives of people, communities, and nations everywhere.
    I see it now. The suicidal corporations are simply programmed to be pathological cancers. What that means is that for the life of the rest of us, some serious surgery will have to be done. Right?

    Yes; the diseased economy must be replaced. By healthy organisms:

    The human future depends on moving beyond the self-limiting and ultimately self-destructive ways of Empire to live into being a new Era of Community in which life is the defining cultural value, cooperation and partnership are society's organizing principles, and networking is the predominant organizational form. The culture and institutions of the global suicide economy must be replaced by the culture and institutions of a planetary system of living economies that mimic the behavior of healthy living organisms and ecosystems.
    (The last link puports to provide biological proof of how the suicide economy will kill us just like cancer because profit equals human extinction. No, seriously.)

    What is health? And how is the unhealthy suicide economy to mimic it?

    By something called The Great Work!

    The cultural and institutional transformation that this will require presents a profound evolutionary challenge and opportunity. Theologian Thomas Berry calls it The Great Work a creative, life-serving work to create a more creative, vibrant, and fulfilling human future.
    Wow. Even words like "great" and "work" (words I throw around routinely) have huge meaning.

    This dialogue stuff sure is heavy.

    But it's imperative:

    The imperative for transformation comes from the deepening social and environmental crisis provoked by the pathological institutions of the suicide economy. The opportunity for transformation flows from the elimination of geographic barriers to communication made possible by the communications technologies that are one of the more beneficial products of the suicide economy and from the awakening of major segments of humanity to a new cultural and planetary consciousness. The nexus of imperative and opportunity has given birth to a global civil society, spurred the growth of a powerful resistance movement, and set the stage for the emergence of a planetary system of living economies.

    Resistance is essential to slow the juggernaut of the suicide economy. It may even force incremental reforms that blunt the worst excesses of the suicide economy's pathological institutions. Ultimately, however, the restoration of the economic and social health of human societies depends on eliminating the cancer. The successful change strategy will weaken the malignant institutions that are leading us toward self-destruction while simultaneously growing living webs of relationships among life-serving enterprises to bring into being the healthy living economies that ultimately will displace the malignant institutions and eliminate them from the body of society.

    Again, the malignant suicidal cancers will have to be cut out. From the body of society.

    (Better not let the eliminationist rhetoric people hear about this!)

    I try not to avoid discussing new concepts and ideads, but this stuff is all so complicated.

    I've barely scratched the surface, but I think what is going on here can best be summarized as a sort of culture war between the pro-death suicide forces of malignancy and conformity the pro-life forces of living economy and creativity.

    Pro life or pro death!

    Life or suicide; that is the question.

    Do I have to decide now, or can I just think it over?

    AFTERTHOUGHT: It occurs to me that one of the problems with engaging in dialogue is not so much that people disagree, but that code language -- which substitutes confrontation for understanding -- prevents people even from reaching a state of reasoned disagreement. If you don't understand what someone is saying, is it really possible to have an intelligent disagreement? If my satire can be someone else's serious argument, I'm not even sure we're in a state which can be called "disagreement."

    Another problem is that in the case of radical ideas, disagreement is often beside the point, because they don't want to discuss ideas; they want to interfere with my life. If people want to take away my property by force, take away my right to defend myself, or force me remove my mercury-filled teeth, I can say that I "disagree," but of how much value is such a disagreement?

    MORE: At the risk of sounding like even more of a conformist than I might be (depending on who's in charge of the conformation), I have to say, I marvel over the sheer Orwellian chutzpah of labeling disagreement as "conformity"!

    And while I am a conformist for disagreeing with the Living Economistas, say on the GMO issue, in terms of logic I have just as much right to assert that anyone who disagrees with me is also a conformist!

    posted by Eric at 11:20 AM | Comments (5)

    Exercise in apostasy

    Is it just Google, or are there more ex-liberals than ex-conservatives?

    At 284,000, the ex liberals would seem to outnumber the 51,900 ex conservatives by a margin approaching sixfold.

    Of course if you put a hyphen in it, the ex-liberal number drops slightly to 266,000, while the ex-conservative number rises slightly -- to 53,000.

    What about the numbers? Are they conservative or liberal? Are conservative figures more reliable than liberal ones?

    The transition from liberal to conservative or conservative to liberal often involves a highly personal process, and the decision to switch "sides" is often seen as an act of dishonesty, perfidy, even treason depending on the ideological perspective of one's friends.

    The whole thing is enough to make me feel politically exercised.

    Of course, I'm such a sneak that instead of calling myself an "ex liberal," I call myself an "ex Marxist." (Only 16,600 hits for that species.)

    As might be expected, the biggest Google losers are the ex-libertarians, who barely top 4,000.

    Even the ex-bloggers have them beaten -- by a more than 4-1 landslide!

    posted by Eric at 12:47 PM | Comments (7)

    BANG! It went off! Off it went! (and off I allegedly go...)

    Other than activist sites like Handgun Control, Inc., I sometimes think I'd be hard-pressed to find an outfit more dedicated to gun control than the Philadelphia Inquirer. While I've written innumerable blog posts on the subject, I invite anyone who's interested to simply take a look at this package of articles and editorials the Inquirer has assembled for its readers.

    To me, it proves little more than the fact that criminals kill people with guns. To people on the other side, it proves that guns kill people.

    As I've observed before, there's no reconciling these two points of view.

    An especially articulate advocate of the anti-gun point of view is John Grogan, author of the bestselling Marley and Me. In his latest column, he revisits the guns-and-teens argument I addressed in another long post, only this time he turns up the volume and calls for a parental no-guns pledge.

    In looking at teen shootings, Grogan does not see bad people misusing guns, but the reverse: bad guns which "go off" and devastate the lives of clueless teenagers.

    But at this party, police said, he pulled out a .45-caliber semiautomatic his father kept beneath the mattress. Plenty of high-risk high jinks followed. The gun discharged at least once without injury.

    It was another gunshot, about 3 a.m. after a night of drinking, that took the life of O'Neill's longtime friend and classmate at Cardinal O'Hara High School, Scott Sheridan, 17.

    As police described it, the killing was alcohol-fueled horseplay gone awry. O'Neill pointed the gun at his friend, who tried to swat the barrel away. End of story. End of life.

    And this is what we all know in our hearts despite the gun lobby's rhetoric: That teen would be alive today had a gun not been kept in the home. Without it, we'd simply be talking about another illegal underage drinking party.

    I don't know whether the shooting was accidental or not, but I do know that absent a design defect, guns don't discharge themselves absent human responsible agency.

    Once again, here are the reported facts:

    One of those in attendance told investigators the gun, which was stored between the mattress and box spring in ONeills parents bedroom, was being "handled unsafely," so he left the party, according to the affidavit. He also said that at one point, ONeill had pointed the gun at him.
    Pointing [allegedly] a gun at someone is more than mishandling of a weapon. If done intentionally, it constitutes a legal assault. If I were so irresponsible as to run out and point my gun at someone, I would be committing a potentially deadly crime even if I never fired it. But whether I fired it or not, how can my irresponsible action be blamed on my gun, any more than it would be my car's fault if I played "chicken" and ran someone off the road without actually colliding?

    There's more:

    Authorities were told ONeill pulled the weapon out more than once during the party, including during a beer run ONeill and others made to a Middletown Township barh. While in the car, ONeill gave the gun to another person who then "shot the unoccupied vehicle of someone with whom the rest of the boys had a problem," the affidavit states.
    More gun crime [allegedly] right there. Shooting into an "unoccupied vehicle" is about as safe as shooting into an "unoccupied house." How would a gun do either by itself?

    Finally, we come to the fatal shooting:

    By the end of the night, ONeill, Sheridan and two others were alone when ONeill got the gun and turned on the laser designator. ONeill put the laser light on the three friends, who proceeded to duck behind a car. ONeill dropped the gun to his side and the friends came out from behind the car. It was then that ONeill raised the gun and pointed it at Sheridan and Sheridan knocked it away. The weapon went off and Sheridan collapsed in the driveway.
    If someone did that to me and I was armed, I would be fully justified in shooting him.

    I'm having a bit of trouble seeing the above alleged conduct as "accidental," as it strikes me as criminally reckless disregard for human life. We do not excuse drunken driving, nor do we blame the drunk driver's car. According to the report, the 17 year old was in a car with the gun on a "beer run" when it was fired at another car. I don't know who was driving, but if they're old enough to drive, they're old enough to understand and appreciate adult dangers, including the dangers posed by discharging guns. Saying "that teen would be alive today had a gun not been kept in the home" makes about as much sense as it would to say "that teen would be alive today had a car not been kept in the garage" had the same kid died in an auto accident. The "keeping" of the gun is not the cause of its use, any more than the "keeping" of a car would be. How can the keeping of something be a cause unless the thing itself is the cause?

    It's not the keeping; it's the use of either that is the cause.

    Moreover, the 17 year old in this allegedly committed a crime by possessing the gun. If the facts are as alleged, the kid committed a whole series of crimes, as do so many juveniles in Philadelphia.

    I am sick of reading that the laws aren't there or that we need more. There was allegedly a lot of illegal underage drinking too; should society prohibit alcohol to stop minors from having "access" to it?

    Grogan continues, and offers a pledge for all parents:

    A reader reminded me recently of the utter insufficiency of the term handgun violence.

    Handgun violence doesn't begin to capture it. "Call it what it is," the writer scolded. "Murder."

    But that's just it. It's not always murder. Many times it is just carelessness or stupidity or, in far too many cases, a child's insatiable curiosity or a teen's foolish flash of bravado.

    Which brings me to a point I've made before. It comes down to parents. No one else is going to fix this problem. No one else is going to protect our kids in our own homes.

    Come on, moms and dads. We can do this. Let's take an oath together:

    I hereby promise that as long as I have minor children living in my home, or even occasionally visiting my home, I will not have a gun. Period. And if I am unwilling to make this promise, I at least vow to equip all of my guns with trigger locks rendering them inoperable without the key, which I will keep on a chain around my neck at all times.

    Is that too much to ask?

    It might be too little to ask, depending on your point of view. Had there not been a car, had there not been alcohol, had there not been a parental vacation, that boy might be alive today.

    I'd like to pose another question: other than the fact that there are laws forbidding minors from possessing guns or drinking, what is so sacrosanctly naive about the age of seventeen?

    Would things would have been different had the boy been eighteen instead of seventeen? One of my best friends committed suicide at 19, and I've known plenty of people who committed suicide when they were much older. When I was 17, I was just as aware of the dangers of guns as I was at 18. It seems to me that if you have so little sense as to be unable to refrain from misbehaving at 17, passing the magic age of majority isn't going to change it.

    In fact, if crime statistics are to be accorded any weight, adults are far more culpable than minors. Which means they don't "grow out of it" -- they grow into it (or just persist in their criminal behavior into adulthood). Teens who shoot teens are far more likely to make it into the news than adults who shoot adults, precisely because it juvenile shootings are unusual, and more shocking to newspaper readers.

    But I think there's another factor entering into the anti-gun editorials as an unintended consequence of the legal system.

    Teen "innocence."

    Think about it.

    These kids, their families, their defense attorneys, and the entire array of anti-gun forces have a vested interest in maintaining an abiding belief in the innocence and cluelessness of teen shooters, and the overarching evil of the gun. It is to their mutual advantage to argue -- ad nauseam -- that these innocents (which of course they are until proven guilty) had no idea what they were doing. What this means is that in nearly every case involving a teen shooting, the "GUN WENT OFF" argument must and will be made.

    Now, I realize that in our legal system, the presumption of innocence exists for an adult as much as it does for a child. But whether sitting on a jury or sitting at home reading a newspaper, the public is only so gullible. They're just not as likely to believe the "gun went off" argument when it comes from a grown man (with a long criminal record or not) as when it comes from a child. (Bear in mind that teen criminal records are usually withheld from the public, and rarely mentioned in news accounts.)

    As it happens, this morning's Inquirer has a writeup on another teen shooting in which a 16 year old boy shot a 14 year old girl. The story? They were "playing" with the gun. "Russian roulette," as it were:

    At one point, the boy asked the girl to play Russian roulette.

    "She said no, he pulled the trigger and the gun went off," Walker said. "After that, he left the scene."

    Police said the bullet entered her chest and exited without striking any vital organs.

    She is expected to make a full recovery, Walker said.

    Police had not recovered the weapon last night, though it was unclear how the boy intended to play Russian roulette with a 9mm handgun, which is usually a semiautomatic. For Russian roulette, one needs a revolver.

    Yes, it is very difficult to play Russian roulette with a semiauto. In fact, it is impossible! The word "roulette" itself means spinning, as in a roulette wheel, or of course the cylinders of a revolver. Even teenagers in my day (the ones who grew up without today's advantage of video games) knew that, and they knew it from watching television.

    Obviously, I don't know the parties, so I cannot assert that in this individual case the boy might not have been so mentally retarded as to imagine that Russian roulette could be played with a semiauto, but I'm assuming that because he was [allegedly] carrying it and he did [allegedly] use it, he must have known how it worked.

    Isn't it theoretically possible that in cases like this, someone in or advising the families realizes that under our legal system there is such a thing as criminal intent? Not that any lawyer would ever advise a client to commit perjury, mind you. But is it not possible that some people know what is in their best interest to say even before they consult a lawyer?

    I haven't even addressed remorse. Fortunately for me, I learned about the dangers of guns before I learned how to shoot, and before my father let me have one. The idea of discharging it at a friend was as unimaginable to me as it would have been to try to run a friend down with a car. But had I done something like that, I'd have been terribly remorseful, and in quite a hurry to say I didn't mean to do it. ("The gun went off!" "The car went into gear!" "I would never have done that to my friend!") What would be surprising would be if we didn't hear these arguments.

    I know it sounds deeply cynical to assert that teen criminals and news reporters might have overlapping interests.

    But reading about how the "gun went off" in case after case has made me cynical.


    I guess it's easier to say the "gun went off" than to say "suspect X fired the gun."

    (For starters, there's no need to insert the word "allegedly.")

    ADDITIONAL NOTE: Readers please bear in mind that the suspects I've mentioned are only alleged [a word I hate, btw] to be suspects, and for discussion purposes I am treating the news reports of these incidents not as true, but as hypothetical examples.

    The problem with allegations is that what is alleged is only allegedly alleged. (That's because "words are not truth!") Which leads to cycles of allegations. By allegators!

    MORE: It also occurs to me the constant, irrational insistence on (and seeming preoccupation with) the "innocence" of teen shooters might tend to negate the right of self defense. Glenn Reynolds has at least two good recent posts on the subject, and I couldn't agree more that self defense is not murder.

    Not even against [allegedly] innocent criminals.

    posted by Eric at 09:14 AM | Comments (5)

    From blog satire to FDA reality?

    I hate to dwell on environmental violence, but right now I feel as if I've been kicked in the teeth!

    If we don't want it in our fish, we don't wwant it in our thermometers, what is it doing in our heads?

    -- Sara Moore-Hines, identified as a "Pennsylvania counselor" in this morning's Philadelphia Inquirer

    If there's one thing I can't stand, it's seeing a thought I expressed as satire being taken seriously as a political (not to be confused with scientific!) argument, just weeks after I wrote it in a post called "Putting my mouth where my mercury is." Why, I even obliged with this picture showing off my toxic, mercury-emitting mouth:


    Scary, no? Geez, and what if my toothbrushes are more contaminated than the coal the environmentalists want to stop the power plants from burning? The toothbrushes could have more parts per billion! Can anyone prove they don't? (And every time I so much as spit in the sink, there go billionths and billionths more!)

    I've complained many times about reality imitating satire, but when scientific satire becomes scientific reality (yes, I'm afraid this nonsense has to be called science, because it's at the FDA), I don't know what to do.

    Should I worry for the future, perhaps?

    Anyway, the mercury in dental fillings scare is such hogwash that as I pointed out, it's been debunked for years at Quackwatch, and very few scientists or dentists have taken it seriously. (Until now.)

    Nevertheless, quackery and superstition are persistent enough that another series of official FDA studies has been done, and these reports were about to be issued in final. Until, that is, the "consumer activists" stepped in. This led to a panel of "outside" health advisors being asked to vote in this climate of hysteria (how democratic of them!), and predictably, they've all but nixed the report:

    A joint panel of Food and Drug Administration advisers did not declare the so-called "silver fillings" unsafe. But in a 13-7 vote Thursday, the advisers said the federal report didn't objectively and clearly present the current state of knowledge about the fillings.

    In a second 13-7 vote, the panelists said the report's conclusions about safety weren't reasonable, given the quantity and quality of information currently available.

    The FDA had asked the panel of outside advisers to weigh the report, a review of 34 recent research studies.

    The report had found "no significant new information" that would change the FDA's earlier determination that mercury-based fillings don't harm patients, except in rare cases where they have allergic reactions.

    So, the consumer activists won. Based on what scientific evidence? From what I can see, none.

    But as I've opined many times, activism works. The counselor whose reality echoed my satire was not alone:

    The votes were a "start" to sparking greater dialogue and awareness of the issue, said consumer activist Sara Moore-Hines, 57.

    "If we don't want it in our fish, we don't want it in our thermometers, what is it doing in our heads?" said Moore-Hines, a Pennsylvania counselor.

    She and other activists had pressed the panel to recommend the FDA ban mercury fillings.

    "Do the right, decent, honorable and God-loving thing: There needs to be an immediate embargo on mercury fillings for everyone, or at least pregnant women and children, because they are our future," said Michael Burke, who blamed mercury fillings for the early onset Alzheimer's disease diagnosed in his wife, Phyllis, in 2004.

    Dr. Michael Fleming, a Durham, N.C., dentist and the consumer representative on the panel, asked the FDA to consider restricting the use of amalgam in children younger than 6 and in pregnant women. The activists - dozens attended the two-day meeting - met his proposal with applause.

    Who is Michael Fleming and why does he get to be a "consumer representative"? Does he represent me and my mercury-filled mouth? How do I know he isn't just creating future hassles for me? I mean, as it stands now they don't want me to be cremated in some states. How can I be sure he won't declare me a walking, talking, biohazard, to be "saved" only by either having my teeth pulled, or by submitting to some gruesome procedure calculated to further damage my mouth and my self esteem?

    Is "consumer activist" code language of some sort? Am I not a consumer? Aren't most people also "consumers"? Did I or "we" ask for these activists to work tirelessly on "our" behalf?

    Anyway, the "consumer activists" in this case are driven by a huge mercury hysteria movement which believes that the tiniest smidgen of mercury (measured in parts per billion) will cause you to shrivel up and die. Never mind the fact that mercury, like all elements, comes from the ground. Amazingly, man did not invent the stuff; he only found uses for it. Man "emits" about half the mercury said to be emitted into "the environment"; the other half is emitted naturally. Being an element, mercury is a zero-sum game like gold. There's only so much of the stuff. And while it is poisonous, the parts per billion stuff just rankles me, as there's no evidence that it causes ill health in the minute quantities the activists claim.

    But there are plenty of people who assert that mercury nearly killed them, and whose testimony at scientific hearings is taken seriously:

    Virginia Pritchett remembers getting her teeth filled when she was 7 years old.

    Now, decades later, she cannot forget the health problems she suffered for years until the symptoms were linked to the mercury in her fillings.

    "I was 43 when I was correctly diagnosed," Pritchett said. "I was having severe neurological problems and going into seizures."

    In 1999, Pritchett had the five mercury fillings removed and replaced with composite materials.

    "If those were not taken out, I would be dead now," said Pritchett, who lives in Mineral Wells.

    Pritchett, 49, plans to describe her years of gastrointestinal problems, concentration loss and immune system damage at a Food and Drug Administration hearing next week in Gaithersburg, Md. The hearing is to review the health hazards of mercury leaking from dental fillings. The meetings, Wednesday and Thursday, will mark the first time in 13 years that the government has held a public hearing to address the safety of mercury fillings. Pritchett said she hopes that her testimony will make a difference.

    "My goal is, I want to see these things totally outlawed," she said.

    She wants them outlawed, but where's the scientific evidence that it was the mercury in her fillings that did these things to her? Why didn't that happen to the countless millions of Americans who have the same kind of fillings? Why didn't it happen to me?

    All we're given is the bare assertion that she "has no doubt":

    Pritchett said she has no doubt that the mercury in her fillings harmed her health. Her problems started during the late 70s, when she was 23 years old. Her health deteriorated over the years and she saw dozens of doctors before one finally linked her symptoms to her fillings, she said. Since she had the fillings removed, her battered immune system has slowly improved, she said.

    "I'm a lot better, but I still have problems;" she said. "It's been a real nightmare."

    "Dozens of doctors" missed a clear case of mercury poisoning? Something doesn't sound right about this.

    Yet Ms. Pritchett is presented as one of the leading witnesseses. I'd like to know more about her case, because I'd like to know what happened, but I'm having trouble finding the details.

    How do we know that the mercury did this to her? Reading reports like this, I'm even more skeptical:

    It is the fillings she said are to blame for a two-decade health slide that included health problems ranging from stomachaches in college to seizures in her forties.

    "I was almost killed as a result of these fillings," she said.

    Pritchett's will testify in Washington D.C. next week to talk about her problems she said she has endured.

    "Who, with any sense, would think that mercury belongs in a person's mouth in any form?" she said. "It defies common sense."

    Her allergies are so bad, she said she can't risk taking public transportation.

    She can't take public transportation? Why? Are the buses and trains so contaminated with mercury that they're hazardous to passengers? Or is it the presence of toxic passengers like me, who recklessly climb onto buses and trains without wearing safety respirators over our heads, and whose breath leaches quantities of mercury vapor no doubt measurable in parts per trillion?

    Might there be something else we're not being told? She did mention allergies, so I'll be charitable and make the generous assumption that a mercury allergy is in fact her problem. How would that be logically any different than an allergy to peanut butter? Would the FDA hold hearings to ban peanut butter because a few people were sensitive?

    Returning to the Pennsylvania counselor whose remarks to the FDA imitated my satire, Dr. Moore-Hines has described herself as a "survivor" of "amalgam poisoning":

    A lot of the poor get sick from these fillings because insurance tends to not cover this at all or much less than the composite fillings, Sara Moore-Hines, a survivor of amalgam mercury poisoning, explained.

    She noticed a difference since she changed over to the composites.

    We want the public to know alternative white composite fillings are much safer yet more expensive, she said. Since I got my composite fillings my mouth doesnt smell and I cant taste the metal anymore, Im not sick all the time too.

    Wow! Does that mean I'm a survivor too? According to that site, "175,000 U.S. dentists place 100 million amalgam fillings in patients teeth each year."

    Do the math. That means damn near half the country consists of amalgam survivors. And what about those who didn't survive?

    Folks, this is serious.

    We may be talking about more people than died in World War II!

    I do not know whether there is any scientific evidence to back Dr. Moore-Hines's claims, but from what I can discern, she's a psychologist and not a specialist in mercury poisoning. I also find myself wondering whether her claims that dental mercury harmed her are supported by any scientific evidence. Reading this account by her, it occurs to me that as in the case of Ms. Pritchett, there might be other causes for her problems:

    "In June 1996 (after major dental mercury amalgam replacement was done) I fell ill with chronic fatigue. For the last 8 years I have been slowly healing (after my amalgam fillings were removed). Today, I am feeling much better and am grateful for my near renewed health. During the most difficult period of my illness, my body became extremely sensitive to environmental stresses, including my heavy traditional glasses. I also had to stop taking 2-3 dance classes per week. My glasses heavy on my nose created red, sore indentations and seemed like a thick visual wall between my self as a therapist and my clients. I sometimes became distracted in a therapy session, rubbing my sore nose bridge. A year ago my husband came home with a pair of "Silhouette Titan" J glasses. Amazed at their light, airy and almost invisible but stylish and flexible appearance, I purchased a pair for more discomfort no more walls between my clients and me, they are a magical eyewear companion that one day, when I am fully well again - will dance with me in freedom and joy."

    Sara Moore-Hines
    Drexel Hill, PA

    The "amalgam survivors" are organized, and have websites like this.

    Can they can save me too? Now that I think about it, I'm sometimes irritable. And forgetful. On some days, I don't feel as much like writing long essays in my blog as I do on other days. Maybe I should look into this poisoning thing. Let's see...

    What are the symptoms? That last web site, provides a list of symptoms chronic Mercury Toxicity:

    # irritability
    # anxiety/nervousness, often with difficulty in breathing
    # restlessness
    # exaggerated response to stimulation
    # fearfulness
    # emotional instability
    -lack of self control
    -fits of anger, with violent, irrational behavior
    # loss of self confidence
    # indecision
    # shyness or timidity, being easily embarrassed
    # loss of memory
    # inability to concentrate
    # lethargy/drowsiness
    # insomnia
    # mental depression, despondency
    # withdrawal
    # suicidal tendencies
    # manic depression

    # numbness and tingling of hands, feet, fingers, toes, or lips
    # muscle weakness progressing to paralysis
    # ataxia
    # tremors/trembling of hands, feet, lips, eyelids or tongue
    # incoordination
    # myoneural transmission failure resembling Myasthenia Gravis

    Why, from time to time I've had many of those symptoms! BINGO! Might it be all the mercury I've been carrying around in my mouth all these years! Imagine! If loss of self confidence, indecision, shyness or timidity, being easily embarrassed, loss of memory, inability to concentrate, lethargy/drowsiness and insomnia are all caused by mercury, many psychologists are either wasting their time with these patients or else they're committing malpractice!

    As to the "myoneural transmission failure resembling Myasthenia Gravis," the link goes to another website, which reveals the wondrous results which obtain when the mercury is removed:

    What worked for Ward had been, in the end, complete removal of her mercury amalgam fillings, some of which she had had since she was 7, others which had been put in at age 47. She had been prone to infections throughout her teens and, after having dental work done in her 20s, she noticed she was unable to sleep and was losing her hair. By 1985, her hectic life, working as the branch administrator at the Cobbs Creek Free Library, or hiking, playing the piano and jogging in her free time, was starting to take a downward slide. She noticed she was having equilibrium problems, which she knew might signal the start of MS. Again, her trips to various doctors yielded no answers, and it was only a consultation with a nutritionist that first threw up the putative diagnosis of adverse reaction to amalgam. Having found herself exhausted, housebound and virtually incapable of moving about, Ward undertook a regimen of vitamins and supplements aimed at strengthening her system and helping to detox. Then, referred to a mercury-free dentist in Bala Cynwyd, she was able to have her amalgams removed. It took time, since the necessary drilling-out is considered to be a flashpoint for vapor exposure, so a mouthful such as Ward's 16 fillings were removed by quadrant (a quarter-mouth at a time). The results were undeniably remarkable: Within a couple of visits, her continuous vision impairment receded, allowing her to take up reading again. Even more extraordinary, she reports experiencing her vision field return to normal in the car on the way home from the last appointment, allowing her to see the horizon properly. A practical person, not seemingly given to exaggeration, she puts it quite simply: "Getting rid of a substance that is known to be toxic allowed me to heal."

    After detox, she found her hands could reach the intervals in a piano concerto once again.

    Koss was initially drawn to DAMS as an outlet for her zeal. She subscribed to its mailing list, produced every three to four months, and used its database of mercury-free practitioners to find someone who could remove her amalgams safely. Yet her efforts were taken in a different direction, after a chance suggestion that she get in touch with Anita Tibau, based in California and working as West Coast representative of the anti-amalgam movement's lobbying arm, Consumers for Dental Choice. They met; shortly thereafter, Koss began working for the nonprofit as director of development, organizing fundraising and outreach as Tibau's East Coast counterpart.

    Charles G. Brown, former attorney general of West Virginia and now a D.C.-based lawyer, has represented Consumers for Dental Choice since 1996.

    (Charles G. Brown and Boyd Haley are two of the leading activists whose earlier demands forced the FDA to put its report on hold. And Dr. Michael Aschner (one of FDA-appointed appointees who voted against the report) is linked and quoted in a variety of activist web sites like this, and has been working against thimerosol in vaccines, and delivered a report at a 1998 meeting of the activist IAOMT. )

    Anyway, hell hath no wrath like the newly converted. And by God, I'm feeling like getting my conversion today!

    Did you know mercury in dental fillings even causes Alzheimer's? I didn't but I hadn't read this:

    Besides autism, Alzheimer's has been the focus of research for its connection to mercury toxicity. Boyd Haley, chair of the University of Kentucky's department of chemistry and one of the movement's scientific big hitters, has pioneered research into the biomarkers for this neurological condition -- chemical changes in the body that might give some clue as to the cause of the disease. These biomarkers -- two proteins, tubulin and creatine kinase -- were found to be suppressed in sufferers of Alzheimer's: The lower the tubulin uptake, the more likely the formation of "tangles" of protein in the brain, a classic indicator of the disease. "We found there was only one heavy metal which repeatedly was causing those proteins to be suppressed," explains Haley. "It was mercury."
    Pay no attention to skeptics like this who claim to have debunked Dr. Haley! Who do they think they are to dare dispute distinguished scientific activists?

    This all makes me wonder about something, though. I'm thinking I might not have the time and patience (to say nothing of money) to sit still for the long amalgam removal procedures. Wouldn't it be easier to just have my teeth pulled? Can't I be saved that way? If Alzheimer's can be prevented, it strikes me as a small price to pay. I wonder what else the government is hiding. Might they be hiding the fact that there are no toothless Alzheimer's patients?

    (Nah; it wouldn't matter, because they'd be poisoned anyway from the toxic fish.)

    Fighting scientific satire really is an uphill battle, and it might be even worse than pulling teeth. Because, no matter how much mercury we extract from our nation's teeth or how we do it, the mercury is everywhere.

    Even in trees! No seriously. There is so much mercury in trees that forest fires are a serious mercury hazard, literally pumping mercury into the air!

    As wildfires grow in number and strength worldwide, they are unleashing mercury that has polluted wetlands in the north since at least the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.

    These infernos in the north of North America are releasing mercury at levels up to 15 times greater than fires elsewhere in the continent. The key, researchers note, is that climate change is making northern wetlands more vulnerable to burning.

    Mercury can damage the brain and lead to birth defects. Normally, atmospheric circulation carries mercury spewed from industry northward, where it settles down, for instance, in cold wet soils in Alaska and Canada.

    "Peat lands have done us a real service by locking up mercury before and during the entire Industrial Age," researcher Merritt Turetsky, an ecologist at Michigan State University in East Lansing, told LiveScience.

    And that was Fox News, not some crackpot environment site.

    Attempting satire in the context of mercury in the environment is as exhausting as it is dangerous. What happens is that because of my mercury-related irritability, restlessness, and exaggerated response to stimulation, even basic words start looking very strange to me.

    Words like "environment."

    Does anyone know what the environment is? How does mercury "enter" such an ill-defined place? Sometimes, I start thinking near-heretical thoughts, about how the mercury was already there, and then I get like really really confused.

    Me and my big mercury mouth. What right did I ever have to enter the environment? How can I save the environment? Sometimes it seems to me that the environment is nearly everywhere I go!

    And I'm a walking, talking, deadly neurotoxin -- unable to distinguish satire from reality!

    Perhaps I should be more ashamed.

    (Appropriate shame might take the teeth out of my satire.)

    MORE PROOF: While I don't think I need to supply any more proof that my mouth is a source of toxic shame, I did bring up toothbrushes.

    In the interest of fuller disclosure, I thought I should supply evidence of my deadly brush with toxic shame, exactly as it appeared this morning:


    Still, I worry.

    Confession is good for the soul, but is it wise to admit to crimes against the environment in a blog post?

    UPDATE: Anyone who thinks my brush with toxic shame is either clownishness or insanity on my part should by all means read this:

    In my laboratory we have done this on several aged amalgams made from one conventional, widely used amalgam company. The results indicated that about 4.5 micrograms Hg/cm2/ day was released without abrasion, but this increased to about 47 micrograms/cm2/day with two 30 second brushings with a toothbrush. Therefore, the question remains, who is protecting the American public from adverse exposures to mercury? It appears as if those who should be doing this job are failing to do so. Having an unbiased research group repeat the study above on all ADA approved amalgam materials would be very informative and I strongly recommend that this be done even though doing this is was not supported by the ADA spokesperson at a past Congressional hearing on this issue.


    if amalgam is gently rubbed with a toothbrush the amount of mercury emitted, as measured by a commercial mercury vapor sniffer, increases dramatically. As I have cited herein, mercury emissions from amalgams increase substantially when hot liquids are introduced or when the individual is chewing.10


    Every day, a brush with death!

    posted by Eric at 08:14 AM | Comments (3)

    Because I care

    Even though I watch hardly any television, I care -- I care deeply -- about Katie Couric's "First-Night win."

    That's because I prefer real phoniness to fake phoniness.

    MORE: It occurs to me that readers might think I am being facetious in attempting to distinguish between real and fake phoniness, so I thought I should dig deeper and supply an example. My favorite artist is Salvador Dali, whose surrealism extended even into the provenance of his own art. The man's life as well as his art attempted to blur the distinction between the real and the unreal, and thus, to this day it can be very difficult for experts at authentication to determine whether a Dali is a real or a fake Dali (and whether his signature, which he signed in innumerable ways and delegated others to sign, was in fact his). In this classic if unverifiable example, Dali explained why it was possible that even a real Dali signed by him could nonetheless be a fake:

    In Dali's mind, the signature may have been the least important ingredient to determine authenticity. The French art publisher Jean-Paul Delcourt, a signatory to some controversial Dali prints, tells about acquiring a dozen "Dali" lithographs from an American publisher and reselling them to an English dealer. The Englishman complained later than Enrique Sabater had declared them to be fakes, and a customer wanted his money back. The American publisher refused to do so because he had certificates of authenticity. Delcourt says he saw Dali at the Meurice Hotel and showed the prints to Dali and Gala.

    "Dali whispered into Gala's ear, and Gala repeated his statement to me: 'Dali says the picture is good, the signature is good, but the work is a fake,' " Delcourt recalls.

    "Why is it a fake?" Delcourt asked.

    "The answer: 'Dali has not been paid.'

    In Dali's defense, it should be pointed out that he was much hated by many in the artistic community, and in his old age was literally besieged with various con artists and cheats. So the above example might just be inaccurate. Or maybe fake but true. Frankly, in the case of Dali I don't care. I love his art, and from a purely opportunist point of view, the forgery scandal so depressed the value of his art that it's still quite a bargain (assuming the buyer is not averse to some risk taking).

    Are there lessons from Dali which might be relevant to today's media? Perhaps. Dali was often attacked by the media, for being a phony, but his surrealism spoke for itself, and he came right back at them:

    The cherry on the cake was: for every attack the critics launched at Dali the man (they really had no idea who he was), Dali would come back at them with yet another elaborate piece of fiction about himself. It was unfair. The critics were "devoted to the truth." The painter was free to invent himself over and over as many times as he fancied.

    At best (and it was not very good), a critic might admit Dali was a complete mystery. But the press does not like that outcome. Exposure of the very entrails of a celebrity is necessary. The press adopts its own pose: it is dedicated to taking things apart and laying them bare. (Of course, that strategy is based on the conniving and secret concept that journalistic probing is, at the end, supposed to leave the status quo intact.)

    Dali was holding up a mirror. He was saying, "You people are like me. We're all doing fiction. I'm much better at it. In the process, I get at a much deeper truth."

    (I try to dig at these contradictions as deeply as I can, but I could never in my wildest dreams dig as deeply as Dali.)

    By the way, legal scholars into the serious study of the fake-but-accurate should by all means check out the leading case of DALI FOUNDATION v. KOSTABI, 168 F.3d 861 (2004).

    Highly informative reading!

    DISCLOSURE: In the interest of full and complete accuracy, I should probably make it clear that I did not actually watch Katie Couric's debut, but I feel as if it's as if I did.

    MORE: Attention Dali experts! I have been unable to authenticate the following, but I am presenting it in the hope that someone can. It does appear to have been signed, and because it is whatever it is, I think it's fair to say that it has at least been content-verified.

    posted by Eric at 09:14 AM | Comments (6)

    When the truth is known, why supply inaccuracies?

    ABC has produced a pre-911 docudrama (using such things as composite characters and incidents which are not technically correct), and predictably, the former Clinton admininistration officials and their supporters are alleging the film is inaccurate.

    WASHINGTON, Sept. 6 (UPI) -- An upcoming TV mini-series about the origins of the Sept. 11 plot is provoking angry complaints from Democrats about the portrayal of the Clinton administration's response to terrorism.

    "The Path to 9/11," a five-hour dramatization laying out the history of the Sept. 11 plot from the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, will be aired over two nights on the anniversary of the attack next week by ABC Television.

    The movie is billed as a dramatization based on the report of the U.S. commission that investigated the events of Sept. 11 and circumstances leading up to it. According to a disclaimer shown at the beginning of each episode, it "has composite and representative characters and incidents, and time compressions have been used for dramatic purposes."

    But a portion of the film showing an aborted effort to capture al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden before the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa has aroused the ire of some of the officials portrayed.

    A statement from Samuel "Sandy" Berger, who was national security adviser to President Bill Clinton at the time, calls the scenes involving him "complete fabrications."

    And Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., called on ABC to show disclaimers throughout each episode, not just at the beginning. "ABC has a responsibility to make clear that this film is not a documentary, and does not represent an official account of the facts surrounding the Sept. 11 attacks," she said.

    (Via Glenn Reynolds, who astutely notes that it isn't wise for the Democrats to call attention to the film.)

    Glenn is absolutely right, because no matter how fictionalized the account might be there's no question that there were serious omissions in the operations against bin Laden. Here's Manssor Ijaz in 2001, from the LA Times:

    In July 2000--three months before the deadly attack on the destroyer Cole in Yemen--I brought the White House another plausible offer to deal with Bin Laden, by then known to be involved in the embassy bombings. A senior counter-terrorism official from one of the United States' closest Arab allies--an ally whose name I am not free to divulge--approached me with the proposal after telling me he was fed up with the antics and arrogance of U.S. counter-terrorism officials.

    The offer, which would have brought Bin Laden to the Arab country as the first step of an extradition process that would eventually deliver him to the U.S., required only that Clinton make a state visit there to personally request Bin Laden's extradition. But senior Clinton officials sabotaged the offer, letting it get caught up in internal politics within the ruling family--Clintonian diplomacy at its best.

    Clinton's failure to grasp the opportunity to unravel increasingly organized extremists, coupled with Berger's assessments of their potential to directly threaten the U.S., represents one of the most serious foreign policy failures in American history.

    Read the whole thing. (And bear in mind that it's just one of many such accounts.)

    Acccording to this Washington Times report, Berger nixed the capture of bin Laden not once, but four times:

    According to the September 11 commission's 567-page report, released Thursday, Mr. Berger was told in June 1999 that U.S. intelligence agents were confident about bin Laden's presence in a terrorist training camp called Tarnak Farms in Afghanistan.

    Mr. Berger's "hand-written notes on the meeting paper," the report says, showed that Mr. Berger was worried about injuring or killing civilians located near the camp.

    Additionally, "If [bin Laden] responds" to the attack, "we're blamed," Mr. Berger wrote.

    The report also says that Richard Clarke, Mr. Berger's expert on counterterrorism, presented that plan to get bin Laden because he was worried about the al Qaeda leader's "ambitions to acquire weapons of mass destruction."

    These revelations come as Mr. Berger is under investigation by the Justice Department for smuggling several copies of classified documents that dealt with the Clinton administration's anti-terror policies out of the National Archives.

    That's of course the notorious sock stuffing incident, which resulted in Berger's guilty plea. You'd think that if the Clintons were going to do battle with ABC to stop the film, they'd find a better point man.

    These reports find confirmation in numerous other places, including the New York Sun, and the Washington Post, which has Berger blaming the FBI:

    "The FBI did not believe we had enough evidence to indict bin Laden at that time, and therefore opposed bringing him to the United States," said Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger, who was deputy national security adviser then.
    The evidence of Clinton administration incompetence (especially Berger's) is so overwhelming that ABC didn't need to fabricate anything. So why produce a "docudrama" of the sort normally associated with the likes of Oliver Stone?

    I more than share Dean Barnett's concerns about historical inaccuracies.

    Is there anything wrong with just telling the truth?

    UPDATE: "The Path to 9/11" is looking a lot like "The Reagans, Part II."

    Spare me.

    posted by Eric at 03:01 PM | Comments (4)

    Local politics is national?

    I don't often agree with Inquirer columnist Tom Ferrick. But I think he's at least partially right in his latest column which predicts a seismic change in the electorate this fall.

    We are listening for tectonic plate movement among the electorate, one of those rare seismic events that result in great change.

    We have evidence it may be occurring, caused by discontent among the voters. Mostly, it's the Iraq thing. It also may be a George Bush thing.

    But the question before us is: Will it translate on Election Day into an anti-Republican thing, buffeting the ruling party, swallowing incumbents up whole?

    That is the fear among Republicans. That is the hope among Democrats. Will it come to pass?

    Ferrick thinks the Republicans will lose because of Iraq. He also discusses the "bellwether" Rick Santorum race -- a race he sees Santorum as destined to lose:
    No, the bellwether is not Rendell vs. Swann. It is Santorum vs. Casey.

    The incumbent junior U.S. senator has two problems.

    One of them is Rick Santorum - his record, his baggage, his red-meat conservatism in a blue state.

    Santorum is working hard on this problem. His opening salvo is about $5 million in TV advertising run over the summer months to add some pastel touches to his hard image.

    (I've seen his ads, as a matter of fact, and I haven't had to look that hard.)

    According to Ferrick, the ad campaign is working:

    It has had the desired effect. It has made his numbers move. He went from a double-digit deficit to a single-digit deficit in most public polls.

    His problem is, as one commissioner put it, "The race is still all about him. It is currently - and will be all about him."

    Add to this the potential of anti-Bush, anti-Republican, anti-incumbent tectonic plate movement.

    Is the combination - if it comes together on Nov. 7 - enough to take Santorum under, even with his $20 million-plus campaign?

    It sure is. Several commissioners think Santorum's goose is cooked.

    "Everything I know about elections tells me he loses," said one commissioner. "If he wins, the guy should run for president because he's found the secret to winning in a blue state."

    If the election were held right now, I think the Republicans would lose. The problem with that kind of analysis is that elections never seem to be held when the "right now" phrase is uttered.

    It's tough to predict the election results, but if the traditionally Republican suburbs of Philadelphia are any indication, I'd say they're in trouble.

    Whether that's a national analysis, I don't know. Is Pennsylvania "national"? Considering that three of the closely watched races in which Republican congressmen are being targeted for their seats are right here, maybe it is national. Veteran Inquirer reporter Larry Eichel reminded the Inquirer readers recently that local is national:

    At this point, you might not know that three of the most competitive House races in the country are taking place in the Philadelphia suburbs.

    But you will come October, assuming you watch television.

    The national parties' campaign organizations have reserved an astonishing $16.1 million worth of commercial time on Philadelphia's television stations in the month leading up to the election on Nov. 7.

    That doesn't include ads funded by the candidates themselves or various interest groups.

    The National Republican Campaign Committee has booked about $8.4 million, according to the public files at the stations, for Reps. Curt Weldon, Michael Fitzpatrick and Jim Gerlach.

    The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is in for $7.7 million on behalf of the challengers: Joe Sestak, Patrick Murphy and Lois Murphy.

    "There's an amazing amount of money," said local political consultant Doc Sweitzer, who is advising Sestak. "But the stakes are high, and there's no presidential election."

    The Democrats are considered to have such a good chance of unseating these three Republicans that they "would spend more money here than anywhere else":
    The reason why so much is slated to be spent here is no secret. Strategists from both parties think the Democrats have a chance to win the House for the first time since 1994. And around the country, there aren't that many districts that appear competitive and thus worthy of investment.

    Nationally, the DCCC has set aside $51.5 million for television in 32 districts, according to the Hill, a Washington newspaper that covers Congress. That report indicated that the Democrats would spend more here than anywhere else, not surprising given the high cost of advertising in the Philadelphia media market.

    No estimates are available for the size of the Republicans' national television war chest.

    Elsewhere, Eichel points out that all three are doing all they can to distance themselves from President Bush:
    ...all three are distancing themselves from the president, downplaying their GOP credentials, and stressing their independence from national party leaders.

    On their campaign Web sites, the word independent pops up more often than Republican.

    All point to what they consider a badge of honor in this campaign year: a low score on the party-loyalty rating compiled by Congressional Quarterly, which monitors the House and Senate.

    This year's scorecard ranks Fitzpatrick as the third least loyal Republican among all 231 Republican House members, with Gerlach seventh and Weldon 14th. All three are more independent in their votes this year than in years past - some much more so. Gerlach, for example, voted the party line 82 percent in 2005, but just 66 percent this year.

    Whether those ratings and the votes that produced them will help insulate the threesome from a seemingly disgruntled electorate remains to be seen.

    As I've predicted before, I think that if the Republicans lose the House, a different kind of war will begin -- a war of blame.

    As can be seen, the Democrats are saying it's all about Iraq, and if they retake the House, this argument is certain to get louder.

    The right wing of the Republican Party has already staked out the position that it's all about...


    Well, Santorum is running on an anti-immigration, border enforcement platform, and he's going out of his way to highlight his disagreement with Bush on that issue. As Larry Eichel points out, so is Congressman Gerlach.

    What troubles me is that if Santorum and the Philly-area congressmen are unseated after campaigns based on a tough approach to immigration, how would that make immigration the issue? I mean, are there voters out there who will say they voted for Democrat Bill Casey because Santorum and the Republicans were too soft on immigration? I doubt it.

    Which is not to say the issue is Iraq. But at least in Pennsylvania, I don't think it's immigration.

    Nationally, says MSNBC's Tom Curry, both parties are running on immigration and Iraq:

    Can both be right? Only if what's a winner in one district a message of getting tough on illegal immigration, for instance is a loser in another district.
    So far, it doesn't appear that the voters are quite as worked up about immigration as they're supposed to be. In one early test, the Bush Republican defeated an anti-immigrant challenge from the right:
    In an early test of the immigration issue, Rep. Chris Cannon, R- Utah easily won the Republican primary in his district Tuesday, fending off challenger John Jacob, who took a hard anti-illegal immigration stance and was backed by Team America, a political action committee created by Rep. Tom Tancredo, R- Colo., the most outspoken foe of illegal immigration in the House. It was a rebuff for Tancredo and a win for President Bush who had endorsed Cannon.
    In Pennsylvania, Santorum is banking on opposition to illegal aliens. And the Democrats are chafing at the bit to predict that the stragegy will backfire:
    Democratic pollsters and strategists say Republican efforts to use the immigration issue to win in November are doomed to failure.

    Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg said voters arent as fired up about illegal immigration as Republicans think they are.

    From what Ive seen in the national (survey) data, we have a very polarized debate in Congress and yet a pretty moderate electorate, even in states like Arizona, Greenberg said.

    Joe Garcia, the director of the Hispanic Strategy Center for the New Democrat Network, a group that identifies key issues and rallies Democratic voters, said of the Republicans election-year immigration push, Theyre about to engage in what will probably go down in history as one of the more nefarious acts of political expediency and baiting of a community that we will have seen in our lifetime.

    Clearly, there is a lot of anger over the immigration issue. But how would that explain the defeat of a conservative like Santorum?

    As I've said before, I think the immigration laws should be enforced, and the border needs to be secured, but any consensus on issues such as building a fence has been rendered impossible -- because some people scream so loudly that they alienate the rest.

    Like it or not, there is Iraq fatigue among a substantial percentage of the voters around here. Adding immigration fatigue to that does not strike me as a winning strategy.

    But I could be wrong.

    Not that it really matters what I think, but if I were asked to perform a political autopsy in advance of the Republicans' death, I'd probably point out that the right wing in Pennsylvania is not especially strong to begin with. They tried like hell in the Toomey campaign, but they couldn't manage to unseat moderate Arlen Specter in the primary. Sure, they can be counted on to vote for Rick Santorum. But consider the bulk of the mainstream voters in the barely Republican Philadelphia suburbs. They voted against Toomey, and had to be asked nicely to reelect Arlen Specter, which they did along with the rest of the state -- which Bush lost. (While it could certainly be argued that Pennsylvania Republicans are a bunch of RINOs, how will that help Santorum win?)

    In the two years since that election, Bush has been vilified relentlessly as a a stupid, far-right, religious warrior who talks to God before sending troops to their death, etc.

    And now the strategy is to run against him from the right? In Pennsylvania?

    Sorry, but the math just plain doesn't work.

    (Unless the goal is to lose.)

    posted by Eric at 12:51 PM | Comments (0)

    Guns make people bad. And Chinese restaurants cause crime.

    While I cannot follow the logic (often the case with arguments based on emotion), it seems that when white rich kids manage to get shot, it's seen as more of an argument for gun control than when the same thing happens with poor black kids.

    That last link is the Inquirer's report of a shooting incident in a rich neighborhood. Apparently some 17 year old kids had spent the evening getting drunk, and one of them kept messing around with his father's gun, eventually killing his friend. The DelcoTimes has more:

    Authorities said the shooting came at the end of an underage drinking party, which ONeill was hosting Thursday night into Friday morning while his parents were at Sea Isle City, N.J., and his older sister was at work. Many individuals attended the party but as time wore on, the majority of partygoers departed, according to the document.

    One of those in attendance told investigators the gun, which was stored between the mattress and box spring in ONeills parents bedroom, was being "handled unsafely," so he left the party, according to the affidavit. He also said that at one point, ONeill had pointed the gun at him.

    Authorities were told ONeill pulled the weapon out more than once during the party, including during a beer run ONeill and others made to a Middletown Township barh. While in the car, ONeill gave the gun to another person who then "shot the unoccupied vehicle of someone with whom the rest of the boys had a problem," the affidavit states.

    By the end of the night, ONeill, Sheridan and two others were alone when ONeill got the gun and turned on the laser designator. ONeill put the laser light on the three friends, who proceeded to duck behind a car. ONeill dropped the gun to his side and the friends came out from behind the car. It was then that ONeill raised the gun and pointed it at Sheridan and Sheridan knocked it away. The weapon went off and Sheridan collapsed in the driveway.

    ONeill was charged with involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, simple assault, reckless endangerment, tampering with evidence, purchase of liquor and weapons offenses, and remanded to Chester County prison.

    If the facts are as alleged, a young rich kid did the same things that urban poor kids are so often alleged to do. I think it means that bad kids come in all colors, and from all economic backgrounds. How does this mean that law abiding people should have their guns taken away?

    I mean that as a rhetorical question, but unfortunately, it seems to be behind the reasoning of local Democrats.

    Accompanying the hard-copy version of the Inquirer report on the shooting is a lead-in to a legislative gun grab story:

    At the Montco courthouse, state legislators call for new gun laws. B3.

    And here's what happened at the Montgomery County courthouse:

    A group of Democratic state legislators, led by State Rep. Dwight Evans of Philadelphia, went to the heart of Republican Montgomery County yesterday to announce a new legislative initiative aimed at reducing gun violence.

    The legislators, a mix of state office holders from the suburbs and the city, were at the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown to announce plans to submit a package of bills during a day-long special session of the House on crime scheduled for Sept. 26.

    Pointing to recent poll data that indicates suburban residents are concerned about gun violence, Evans said that legislators should move beyond boundary lines and party labels to take action on gun control.

    "It wasn't an accident that we were at the Norristown courthouse," Evans said. "We wanted people to know that this is an issue that transcends political jurisdiction."

    Not an accident, huh? Well, it must not be, especially because the Inquirer prominently links the two stories.

    Will someone tell me why a dead white kid is more of an argument for gun control than hundreds of dead black kids?

    Am I alone in blaming the shooters? It's not as if bad kids are a brand new phenomenon. When I was in high school, a boy I knew got hold of his father's gun and drove around shooting into people's houses at random. (That's called crime.) He was expelled from school, and there were legal charges, although I don't know what happened to him. No one would have thought this was an argument for gun control or for massive attempts at social engineering. Better individual parental control, perhaps, but in those days you didn't go after person B because of the conduct of person A. As I've said more times than I can count, that makes about as much sense as taking Coco away from me because bad people own the same breed of dog.

    But it must make sense to Democratic legislators, or they wouldn't be holding a press conference on the courthouse steps. Perhaps they think parents who fail to supervise their kids will get behind the idea of the government doing it for them. Or perhaps the push is aimed at the "we" people -- the ones who think "we" all somehow share parental responsibility for bad kids.

    I mean, after all, didn't I share the blame for killing all the kids at Columbine? I'm even a member of the same organization as Charlton Heston -- the man said to be responsible.

    Much as I try to be logical, there's just no bridging the gap between logic and insanity. Words can't do it. These things are not logical. There's a certain emotional undercurrent which causes some people to read these stories and read into them their own shortcomings, and such people (so it seems) end up being manipulated by the news. People like me who refuse to go along with it used to yell at their newspapers and televisions, and now they blog. But there's no stopping the power of the irrational. And irrational power is more influential than rational power. Don't ask me why; if I knew why I might be able to do something about it. (I suspect that the human mind retains a dark, superstitious mindset which demands easy answers and wants to belong to a herd, but it's too awful for libertarians and non-collectivists to contemplate.)

    But the emotional push is part and parcel of the relentless push for gun control. I see it in editorial after editorial, and in story after story that wants to be an editorial. It's almost tired, and I'm more than tired of it.

    I would have left this alone, but what especially irritated me this morning was to see a front page account about murdered Chinese restaurant owners being blamed for their plight. While advocacy of disarming the law-abiding is bad enough, to see them blamed for crimes specifically directed against them is just too much. I know it sounds crazy, but in Philadelphia the victims are "a total nuisance":

    The elder Wang came to the United States in 1993 seeking the promise of a better life for himself and his family. As with many Chinese immigrants in Philadelphia, he wound up selling take-out food in a crime-ridden section of the city.

    It's a dangerous business the Chinese learn not to enjoy. But often with little grasp of English and no other marketable skills, they see no other way to make money and save for that better life.

    Wang, 44, who lived with his family in Feltonville, died Aug. 25 at Temple University Hospital, 14 days after he was shot during a late-afternoon robbery behind his China Taste takeout at Fifth and Lehigh in North Philadelphia.

    He had been robbed before, and he explained to his sons, Zhong Hui and Zhong Jie Wang, 16, how they should respond. " 'If people rob you, give them the money. Nothing will happen to you,' he always tell me," Zhong Hui recalled. "This time, after the robbery, they shot him." Police reported no arrest in the case.

    Some residents and police have criticized Chinese takeouts and other stores that stay open late in rough neighborhoods for being magnets for drug activity and other crimes.

    Police Officer Jeff Smith, who conducts tactical patrols in North Philadelphia, called them a "total nuisance. They give the drug dealers a reason to hang on the corner."

    But owners say that if their takeouts weren't open, drug dealing and other crimes would still afflict these neighborhoods. Also, the owners say they are threatened by drug dealers and have trouble getting police help. (Emphasis added.)

    If you ask me, unsupervised teens who drive around shooting are the total nuisance. I don't care whether they're in the inner cities or the best white nighborhoods; but I don't blame restaurants, stores, Charlton Heston, or guns.

    I blame them.

    Bad people are why good people need to be armed. It's bad enough that police can't protect the law abiding, but when they blame law-abiding businesses when their owners are being murdered, is it any wonder that the business owners see no choice but to defend themselves?

    Ten owners of Chinese takeouts have been murdered in Philadelphia in the last five years, said Yingzhang Lin, vice president of the Greater Philadelphia Chinese Restaurant Association.

    In recent months, "several owners come to me, they want to buy guns," Lin said.

    Lin was not sure that was wise. But after Wang's slaying, Lin said, "I change my mind."

    Imagine that! Small business owners defending themselves against criminals!

    Don't they realize the problem is not the criminals, but the guns?

    No wonder the police consider them a nuisance.

    Back to wealthy Montgomery County's courthouse steps:

    [Montgomery County State Rep. Michael F.] Gerber said he has met with police chiefs in his Montgomery County district. The chiefs supported "almost all" of the legislative proposals.

    [Montgomery County State Sen Connie] Williams said voters in her Philadelphia state Senate district want sensible gun control. It is voters in rural Pennsylvania who need convincing, she said.

    "How do we get people to understand that we're not taking away anybody's right to hunt," Williams said. "We're really trying to slow down the explosion of gun violence."

    The right to hunt?

    I'm sure the Chinese business owners will be very comforted to know that even though they're regarded as a total nuisance, at least their state government isn't planning to take away their right to hunt.

    Will someone please explain what hunting has to do with any of this?

    With all respect to Senator Williams (who is my state senator), I don't think the issue is the right to hunt, but the right to self defense. I think the problem is that it has become impossible to acknowledge that some people are bad, and that it isn't the fault of the people who are good. Because it isn't easy or politically correct to acknowledge that good people must sometimes defend themselves against bad people, the right to self defense (which is the very basis of the right to keep and bear arms) is disregarded, with a peripheral issue -- hunting -- substituted in its place.


    Might talk of the "right to hunt" be what Arnold Kling would call a "trust cue"?

    As usual, I'm clueless, and I'm about as interested in hunting as your average Chinese restaurant owner.

    UPDATE (09/08/06): Glenn Reynolds links to some words of wisdom from a site advocating self defense notwithstanding the arguments of the "pro-crime lobby":

    Shooting in self-defense is not "murder."


    But for some reason, the idea that Americans should be "allowed" to defend themselves against would-be rapists and other dangerous assailants -- a right enshrined in the Second and 14th amendments, though by no means originating there -- allows these people no rest.

    They make no bones about it: Rather than see us take responsibility for the defense of our own homes and families, they would prefer that we all (to borrow the title of the excellent book) "Dial 911 and Die."

    What troubles me the most is an utter inability to see bad people as bad. Getting the facts of a story is like pulling teeth.

    posted by Eric at 09:25 AM | Comments (1)

    keeping blog drag and spin phobia off the web

    Ann Althouse touches on the touchy issue of whether bloggers -- especially female bloggers -- should avoid trivial matters. Citing a post from Feminist Law Professors expressing grave concerns over how things male bloggers in drag affect "the image of serious female bloggers everywhere," Althouse counters with concerns of her own:

    This dread of triviality, does it hurt? I wonder if Belle has considered whether this grim, censorious, humorless -- nay, humor-phobic -- attitude helps women. I know you want to be taken seriously, but being so intent on being taken seriously is one of the main things that make people want to mock you. And not just you, but feminism.
    (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    As to blogging in drag, I don't know. I've never done it. (Right now I'm worried about whether Coco should.) But I do know that blogging can be a drag.

    I don't mean to make fun of humorless feminists who are offended by men who blog in drag. Because I am not a woman, the Law of Identity Politics make it impermissible for me to judge feminist thoughts about men in drag, whether blogging or not. However, I do think it's fair for me to say that if female bloggers pretended to be men, I would not be offended in the least. Being a man, it is of course my right not to be offended by things which might tend to degrade "image of male bloggers everywhere," and if the Law of Identity Politics works in reverse, no woman can dare criticize my thoughts on such serious issues of concern to all men.

    While this is very serious and I wish I had time for one of my long and philosophical posts, I've been more preoccupied with other manly things like long overdue housecleaning, and I wanted to ask readers for help identifying this very large (2 inch diameter) spider which has taken up residence on my back porch:


    It isn't exactly itsy bitsy, is it? And I don't want to be bitten by it!

    No, seriously. I'm not gonna sit around eating my curds and whey.

    After what happened to Steve Irwin (who after all is a fellow man if not a masculist one) we male bloggers can't be too careful.

    posted by Eric at 06:25 PM | Comments (3)

    There are no choices, and we are all at fault!

    This Chigaco fire that killed six children raises a lot of questions about personal responsibility.

    CHICAGO Without electricity since May, the impoverished immigrant family living on the third floor of a brown brick apartment building was using candles for light.

    About 12:20 a.m. Sunday, a candle started one of the city's deadliest and most heartbreaking fires in years. The blaze on Chicago's North Side moved fast through the three-bedroom apartment, killing six children ages 3 to 14, some of whom screamed "We're burning" as neighbors watched helplessly.

    Without electricity since May? I didn't know that Child Protective Services approved of children living without electricity. For starters, I'm assuming they were in school. How did they do their homework? Or don't children have to do homework anymore?

    The Fire Department says there weren't any smoke detectors, but the landlord says there were:

    Orozco said the gutted apartment had no smoke detectors, but the landlord of the building said each unit was wired with the detectors at the time the tenants moved there.
    "Wired with" would imply permanently installed smoke detectors hooked up to the power that was turned off. If that were true (many cities now require it because tenants are notorious for removing for other purposes -- or not replacing -- the batteries in battery units), then whose fault would the lack of power have been?

    According to the World Socialist Web Site (IMO a questionable source) the landlord is well-connected politically:

    The building is owned by a wealthy Chicago developer, Jay Johnson, who is proprietor of a number of apartment units in the area. He has contributed to the electoral campaigns of Democratic Party Alderman Joe Moore, and Moore in turn has appointed Johnson to the local planning and zoning commission. Johnson rejected responsibility, and has claimed that functioning smoke alarms were in place when the Ramirez family moved in and that it is the responsibility of the tenant to inform the landlord if the alarms malfunction or are missing.
    Whether the above is true or not, Alderman figures prominently in most of the news accounts. Back to the LA Times:
    Chicago Alderman Joe Moore, who walked through the building, said he was unable to find a smoke detector in the gutted apartment. Orozco said smoke detectors were placed in common areas of the building, and Moore said he saw smoke detectors in the apartment below the burned unit.

    The owner of the building, developer Jay Johnson, said in a phone interview Sunday night that "we have working smoke detectors in all of our apartment units at the time the tenants sign their leases."

    Looks like buck passing to me. It strikes me that permanently wired smoke detectors don't disppear. So it seems that either the landlord is lying (something on which previous inspection records might shed light), or they just haven't found them because of the severity of the fire damage, or else the tenants removed them and sold them to obtain extra cash.

    Whether the family was here legally seems open to question:

    A friend of one of the Ramirez children said their mother originally was from Mexico but the family had been in the United States for at least 16 years.
    Not that the family's third world status would cause a fire, but raising children without electricity... Wasn't that issue supposed to have been pretty much put to rest back in the days of FDR and "rural electrification"?

    Not that I'm criticizing people for their choices. It wasn't that long ago that modern plumbing came into wide use; as I mentioned in a previous post, my father installed running water and a toilet into my grandparents' house back in the 30s and they told him they didn't even need it.

    As I pointed out, today my grandfather would be arrested for raising his kids in a sod home.

    But in the modern world these things are not choices. They are contradictions. The individual no longer has a right to forgo electrical power, or running water, or sewage. If he does not have these things, larger forces are said to be at fault. There is no choice. Thus, the family's lack of electricity was not the fault of the family for not paying the bill. And even if they removed the smoke detectors or otherwise made them dysfunctional, that too would not have been their fault.

    The landlord is always at fault, and if he is not, then the power company is at fault. Or the city, the country, or all of us.

    And of course Bush.

    Have to blame someone.

    Then there's the current obesity "epidemic."

    New obesity research has found that too little sleep and fats from fast food can alter a person's biology, making them more susceptible to overeating and less active, said the International Association for the Study of Obesity.

    "Research into obesity should be given top priority to have any hope of combating the global pandemic," said Arne Vernon, president of the association.

    Vernon said millions of obese people were being discriminated against and stigmatized, and often denied access to medical services.

    I blame McDonalds.

    MORE: It occurs to me that the landlord might have been able to prevent the fire by evicting the tenants (for not paying their utilities or for using candles) as most leases have a standard clause prohibiting tenants from harming the property or creating or maintaining dangerous conditions.

    However, could have have obtained an eviction? In many municipalities now, it is almost impossible to evict tenants, especially tenants with children. A New Jersey landlord told me that courts are now forbidden from issuing eviction judgments if that "might create homelessness."

    Well, at least it's always the landlord's fault!

    (It makes analysis easier.)

    posted by Eric at 09:33 AM | Comments (2)

    Labor Day RINO skwaaaawking!


    *skwaaaawk* That's the sound of this week's RINO Sightings carnival, held at Right Thoughts whose "Base 17" does a great job of dispatching great posts like these:

  • Respectful Insolence (himself a researcher) shares his thoughts about animal rights terrorism, and concludes:
    terrorism does work, and, if animal rights terrorists aren't put in the same category as al Qaeda or any other type of terrorists for purposes of law enforcement at both the federal, state, and local level, I fear that they may succeed in impeding biomedical research to the point where the U.S. becomes like Britain, with researchers whose work involves animal experimentation moving to countries they can do their research without worrying about Molotov cocktails being thrown at their houses.
    Countries like China, where animal research is being outsourced.
  • Diggers Realm looks at California legislation (sponsored by Dobie Gillis's former lesbian girlfriend) which would provide comprehensive health care for all illegal aliens at taxpayers' expense? Little wonder that so many businesses (and non-alien taxpayers) are packing up and leaving California.
  • Say Anything asks a good question:
    Is it really easier to believe that high gas prices occur because of a massive conspiracy between thousands of oil industry executives spread out through hundreds (if not thousands) of competing oil companies and hundreds of politicians from both sides of the aisle than to believe that high gas prices occur because of ordinary market forces?
    The answer is yes. It's always easier to believe in villainous forces than in market forces, because it's more emotionally satisfying. I guess it also helps if you believe market forces are villainous forces.
  • Read em all. I'm glad to see that Labor Day or no, the RINOs have not gone on vacation!

    UPDATE (09/05/06): I was out all night and I am just getting caught up, but I see that there has been some sort of a coup in RINOland (whether it was bloody or not I don't know; reports are mixed at this time).

    Digger claims to be in charge, and the Commissar is said to be alive.

    Will the Digger regime be able to obtain legitimacy and United Nations recognition?

    Stay tuned.

    MORE: The Commissar has been heard from! I'm not sure exactly what is going on, but he has issued a cryptic statement:

    Rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated... then again maybe they havent.
    This raises more questions than it answers. Is he under house arrest? Was the statement made voluntarily and under his own free will or was it written for him?

    At this point I don't think anyone is in a position to have all the facts. Perhaps some neutral team of international observers should be sent in to monitor the situation.

    posted by Eric at 10:26 AM | Comments (1)

    Invasive laws are a drag

    Via Pajamas Media, I see that San Francisco (which plans to cut down its beautiful Eucalyptus groves and "restore" its parks to their "native" sand dune status) is not alone. Loony tune legislation is being proposed in a number of congressional bills which would enable the Nature Nazis to hunt down and eradicate foreign vermin anywhere. Amy Ridenour has the scoop:

    Soybeans, kiwi fruit, wheat and nearly all cattle are examples of invasive species. And several states such as Maryland, Vermont, California and South Dakota honor non-native species as their State Flower or State Birds. "In fact, invasives have become such a common part of our environment, culture and even diet that we don't think about them," writes Gattuso.

    However, these benefits have not prevented Congress from introducing numerous bills that assign billions of tax dollars to eradicate or otherwise to prevent the spread of invasives. Under some lawmakers' plans, government would have sweeping new authority to screen out non-native species and to regulate these species where they exist - on private as well as public lands.

    "The 'invasive species' bills pending in Congress are not based on science but rather assume all non-indigenous species are harmful unless proven otherwise," writes Gattuso. "The key problem with government's handling of the issue of non-natives is that it takes a simplistic view, bundling all the species together and exaggerating their effects on ecosystems and commercialism."

    (The National Policy Analysis is here.)

    More government intrusion via academic activism -- all paid for at taxpayers expense, of course. (Opponents of such legislation will doubtless be called "anti-environment," and so on.)

    Coco is now doubly worried, because the newest eliminationist threat comes on the heels of proposed race laws which would enable canine race police to hunt down suspect breeds of dogs. If we consider that all dogs are descended from the wolf, but were bred by man, at some point Canis familiaris arose as a new "man-made" breed. Might this mean that all dogs are in fact invasive species?

    Might the additional creation of suspect "breeds" within this species place Coco on what amounts to a form of double secret probation?

    In this respect, Coco was fascinated by another Pajamas Media linked post about doggie disguise kits.

    I checked out the originating link, and it involves poodle drag for the muscular macho breeds. Transbreedism? Right now the outfits come only in black, and you have to dye your dog to match. Must be hot in the summer.

    I have to say, it'll take some work getting Coco into this:



    We are approaching a point where no one will be left alone.

    Also from Pajamas Media, I see that in order to keep up with the changing times, bloggers are now having to hire press secretaries.


    Considering the invasive laws against almost everything, perhaps I can save Coco by designating her as the official Classical Values press secretary. Her secretarial skills are unsurpassed, and as I've pointed out before, she's already a faxer who doubles as a shredder (it all depends on her "spin" of things):


    Obviously, she can shred bad legislation, bad comments, or anything she dislikes, and fax what she likes.

    And where else could I find a press secretary who's on duty 24 hours a day and who even sleeps watchfully?


    I think I should hire her.

    UPDATE: Uh oh! Glenn Reynolds has declared that the hiring of press secretaries seems "self-infatuated to me, even by the rather relaxed standards of the blogosphere."

    Well, I've always described my standards as low. But "relaxed" definitely has a more relaxed ring to it. Should raise lower the bar here from "low" to "relaxed"?

    Hmmmph! Try as I might, I just can't figure out whether that would represent a lowering of standards or a relaxation of them.

    And if I retract my offer to Coco, what would that do to my already low standards of self disinfatuation?

    Is relaxed lower than low?

    Should I relax?

    posted by Eric at 09:11 AM | Comments (0)

    Is it worth losing your head? (A roundup of the unconverted.)

    I've heard of good cop/bad cop before, but al Qaeda's ricidulous video "invitation" (downloadable here) really takes the cake for chutzpah.

    [Note: If you have trouble with the above download, I've uploaded a copy of the silly video and put it here.]

    Anyway, I downloaded and watched the video last night. It's incredibly tedious, and shows the power of self-brainwashing inherent in poetic repetition of ostensibly religious texts, and it sickens me to see that a nerdy Los Angeleno (Adam Gadahn nee Pearlman) has made it big by becoming one of the worst traitors in U.S. history, but there's nothing new about treason. He may be sincere, but so was John Wilkes Booth.

    I do think the video is well worth watching, and I agree with Walid Phares who terms it "a treasure of knowledge and indicators for the current state of thinking of al Qaeda and its ideologues...." and "a sample of what is on the mind of Salafi Jihadists for the United States and the West."

    What's on their mind is to attempt to force Americans to convert to Islam, and I don't think it's a coincidence that this video was released at just about the same time as the video (streamable at youtube) showing the "conversion" of American journalists, Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig.

    What irritated me the most about the latter film was not the "conversion" but that shortly after both "converts" were made to criticize Bush for using the phrase "Islamic fascists," the president himself backed away from using the phrase!

    I mean, it's one thing to wimp out when someone has a knife to your throat or a gun to your head, but Bush is supposed to be the Commander-in-Chief of our armed forces, and if a propaganda film can make him back down like this, what's next? There's something about submitting to an extortion ring that cranks out propaganda disguised as religion which I find deeply disturbing.

    These people are Islamic fascists, and I am disappointed in the president.

    As to the "conversion," I'm not quite sure how much violence was involved, but it does appear to have been insincere:

    "It was something we felt we had to do because they had the guns and we didn't know what the hell was going on," he said.

    According to the captors, though, the two were given the following "choice":

    A statement from the captors before the men were freed had said the two journalists had to choose either Islam, a tax imposed on non-Muslims to be paid to a Muslim ruler, or war.

    "They chose Islam and that is a gift God gives those whom he chooses," the statement said.

    I hope it's not a gift that keeps on giving. With gifts like that, I'd prefer war. Or for that matter, taxes!

    I like Kathleen Parker's analysis:

    ...there is nevertheless something about that video of seeing those two decent, open-hearted Western men surrendering to these lowlife fanatics that makes me want to take a shower. How dare those thugs lecture Westerners about the loveliness of Islam while forcing religious conversion at gunpoint?

    Their objective was clear from the beginning, according to Centanni and Wiig. They wanted a video. The two Fox journalists were far more valuable shown as cowardly Westerners converting to Islam than as severed heads on the tip of a dull knife.

    Let me be clear: I don't think they were cowards. But those who are willing to strap explosives to their bodies or enlist their children to become suicide bombers surely see them, and us, that way. It is easy to imagine that rancorous Muslims are as attuned to the video as we are, watching replay after replay in the smug satisfaction that they have scored another victory against the infidel and the Great Satan.

    Those few minutes of choreographed horror affirm for the Islamic world that Westerners are weak, while they reiterate the jihadist's message to the West:

    Convert to Islam or die.

    One thing which isn't being discussed much is whether, after conversion by the sword, apostasy is allowed. The Weekly Standard touches on this:
    The significance of this forced conversion has been downplayed in the media. The New York Times and the Washington Post even pronounced the two "unharmed" on release. This judgment is perverse. If Muslim prisoners in American custody were forced to convert to Christianity on pain of death or as a condition of release, the press would denounce it as virtual torture, and rightly so: No sane person would say the prisoners had suffered no harm.

    This blindness also trivializes religion. Many people would sooner die than deny the commitments that shape their lives. Such beliefs lie near the heart of Christian doctrines of martyrdom, especially in the Middle East. In the Donatist controversy, the church was fractured over the question of whether and how to readmit those who under threat had denied their faith. In recent years, Christians in Sudan, Iran, Nigeria, and Indonesia have accepted death at the hands of Islamist extremists rather than convert to Islam.

    And Centanni and Wiig remain at risk--like the writer Salman Rushdie, marked for death by Islamists who deem his writing blasphemous, or Abdul Rahman, a Christian convert forced to flee Afghanistan earlier this year. The two journalists, having announced their conversion, now must live as Muslims lest some imam declare them apostate and his followers take it upon themselves to carry out a sentence of death.

    The blogosphere has been debating this back and forth, with David Warren (via David Schraub) opining the pair should have laid down their lives. And Captain Ed has been excoriated by Renew America's Adam Graham -- whom Graham characterized as saying that "we might as well accept Al Qaeda's invitation to convert to Islam."

    Huh? Captain Ed thinks we might as well convert to Islam? Intrigued by this (but not seeing a specific link, as is usual in so many attacks on bloggers), I went to Captain Ed's blog, and found the post. Far from saying what he's mischaracterized as saying, he makes a very articulate argument against religious martyrdom as strategy:

    Christianity did not survive because of martyrdom; it survived despite it, and the martyrs prepared themselves for the task. The church survived the oppression of the Romans in its first centuries, not by mindlessly dying for Christianity but for living for it. Romans did not seize people randomly off the street and tell them to deny their faith, but instead arrested and tortured the leaders of the Church. Had Warren spent any time researching the age of martyrdom, he would know that the early church cautioned the unprepared not to attempt it because of the risk of apostasy. It's hardly analogous to the terror of fanatical Muslims today, and Centanni and Wiig never volunteered to be the banner-carriers of Christianity or the West.
    Not only do I agree, I think our refusal to subscribe to Dark Ages thinking (perhaps more charitably characterized as medieval) is why we will win, and the jihadists will lose.

    Still, there are some lingering questions about the conversion. Cliff May asks some good ones:

    BTW: Will Centanni and Wiig return to Gaza? Since I assume they did not sincerely convert, they will not now be practicing Muslims they will be apostates and therefore targets for capital punishment. No story in that?
    Whether conversion by the sword (or by the threat of the sword) is valid, I think depends on the sincerity of the beliefs held by the alleged believer or non-believer. During the Vietnam War (as Captain Ed points out in his post) a number of captives were forced to denounce their country. I well remember the propaganda films shown on TV, and no one (except for a few deluded leftists) ever imagined that they really meant what they said when they denounced "U.S. imperialism" and other "crimes."

    I think what makes a difference to a lot of people is that religion (or a claim of religion -- depending on what these brainwashed zombies are to be called) is involved. It strikes me as a lot more serious to ask someone to make statements ostensibly betraying his relationship with God than his relationship with his military commanders or his country. But I think that depends on how religion is viewed, and that varies from person to person. It's easy for a devout person to condemn a religious "heretic" as a "traitor." But what if the "traitor" sees extorted religious statements as having no more meaning than extorted political statements?

    If a Republican were abducted by a leftist gang and forced at gunpoint to recite statements written by Michael Moore or Ward Churchill, would there be a national outcry that he had betrayed his principles? I doubt it. What makes this so utterly different is that believers don't see religion as subject to mere agreement or disagreement.

    But we can debate these issues (hether these men should have converted or should have forced their captors to martyr them to something, what that means, etc.) till Doomsday.

    What I think is being forgotten is that this is a propaganda war.

    They wanted a film depicting Americans as spineless wimps with no moral backbone, and they got it. Never mind that it proves no more than the North Vietnamese videos proved. The enemy is so insecure that they actually think that Americans can be defeated by videos showing a couple of them looking like cowards who were "willingly" converted by that same blood-dripping medieval sword that has "willingly" converted so many others over the centuries.

    I am not about to lambaste Centanni and Wiig or tell them what to do. I know that given time, anyone can be broken, even the strongest, toughest soldiers. I suppose if they worked over a hardened combat veteran long enough, they could get him to read the "shehada" for a camera.

    There's always the possibility that the enemy might select some American with no particular objection to martyrdom, who'd have said, "Go ahead and kill me! I prefer death to Islam!" Except I doubt very much that this would have been released on video. There are so many degrees of moral culpability involved in this that there's no way to come up with a hard and fast rule. Someone raised as an old-fashioned Catholic who believed in martyrdom might take a very different view of this conversion routine than a secular agnostic, or, say, an American Buddhist. Or even a hard core, Ayn Rand-believing atheist.

    As there are so many types of believers and non-believers, I might as well take a look at my heretic self.

    What would I do were I captured, and the knife wielders made me an offer I couldn't refuse?

    "Either you saying the shehada or you having your head sliced off is going to be the subject of our next video!"

    I think it might depend on how much I thought I had to lose. I have no kids, and if I did, that might very well influence my decision. My dad was a non-believer who never baptized me, although I was sent to a religious school because he wanted me to have religious exposure, but I have no major religious allegiance and take a broad view of God (which includes every manifestation of God inluding the possibility of multiple religions and gods). So, while I would not see the recital of the shehada as especially betraying anything on a major theological level, it is not something I believe. For me to say "there is no god but Allah, and Mohammad is the prophet of Allah" would be a lie. Hold a gun to my head or a knife to my throat, and depending on my mood, I might refuse to say it. Or I might say it. Were I feeling especially brave (or especially depressed, and there's considerable overlap there, which is another essay) I might hope I'd spit in the guy's face and tell him his god was a despicable beast and that I hoped he'd roast in hell with Allah forever.

    But let us suppose I decided I had something if not a lot to live for. That people needed me. That Coco needed me. That I might ultimately have kids some day. That I was worried about what might happen to Classical Values if they slit my throat. That I just remembered I don't have a current will, and never took out an insurance policy! Whoops! Better say I love that Mohammad brigand, and get the hell out of here!

    So I said it. Three times in front of witnesses. La Illaha illa allah. Mohammad rasul Allah. Etc.

    Now, with that done, and the video made, released, and circulated, I'd have another problem. Two problems, actually. One would be the purely personal, which is my own view of myself. I'd be on record as saying something I did not believe, simply to save my own ass. For my own self respect, I would have to denounce it the same way anyone would deny a coerced confession. If I did not denounce it, I would be unworthy of self respect, or the respect of others. True, under some interpretations of Islam, conversion by the sword is valid, which would make me an apostate and subject to death, but that crowd already wants to kill me for being a pagan, a heretic, and a blasphemer, so adding apostasy wouldn't really count.

    But with all due respect to everyone including the victims of the forced conversion, I think there's a second aspect to this, and that is the political.

    The conversion was intended primarily not as conversion, but as propaganda.

    Seriously, does anyone really think they converted these guys simply to add two more Muslims to the 1.5 billion? They did it because they want to show the world that Americans are weak people who can be converted to Islam by the sword, and that conversion by the sword works.

    These people are our enemies in war, every bit as much as were the Communists during the Cold War and the Vietnam War. Perhaps more so. When an enemy in war seizes and uses a citizen in a propaganda war, it is necessary for that citizen to state the truth and counter the propaganda ploy lest it work. Were I forced to "convert" in a video, I would do everything in my power to make it known that I had been forced to lie, that I did not believe what I had been made to say, and that the video was nothing but propaganda.

    I certainly hope the captives will at least do this. I don't know anything about their religious views, so I cannot assert that they have a religious responsibility.

    But I think that considering their status as public figures, Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig have a bit of a moral responsibility to help counter the perception of this video as a propaganda victory for squalidly barbarous technique of conversion by the sword. I can't make them do that, but if they don't, there may be lingering questions about whether the method works.

    Not in my mind, though. Even if their conversion was successful, and even if they refused to renounce Islam, in terms of logic they are two people who speak for no one but themselves.

    In terms of propaganda, though, others will always say they speak for "us."

    That's always a problem with propaganda.

    (And terrorism.)

    UPDATE: Mark Steyn sees the press as having sold out to Islam, and argues that Muslims don't see the video as depicting true conversion but as confirmation of "the central truth Osama and the mullahs have been peddling -- that the West is weak, that there's nothing -- no core, no bedrock -- nothing it's not willing to trade":

    In the Muslim world, they watch the Centanni/Wiig video and see men so in love with the present, the now, that they will do or say anything to live in the moment. And they draw their own conclusions -- that these men are easier to force into the car than that 16-year-old girl in Sydney was. It doesn't matter how "understandable" Centanni and Wiig's actions are to us, what the target audience understands is quite different: that there is nothing we're willing to die for. And, to the Islamist mind, a society with nothing to die for is already dead.
    (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    The least the freed captives could do is to denounce their conversion as false -- in no uncertain terms.

    I think some things are worth dying for, and so do the thousands of U.S. soldiers who have laid down their lives in Iraq.

    I agree that a society with nothing to die for is already dead. But it also strikes me that a "society" (if it is that) with everything to die for can't wait to die. And when such a society attacks a society like ours, when there's a clear conflict between those who want to live and those who want to die, the goal of the former should be to help the latter acheive theirs.

    Again, echoes of Patton:

    the object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his.
    Martyrdom strikes me as more of a political tactic than a war tactic, and historically it's a tactic of despair. What can I say? Some things are worth dying for, but I think we should try as much as possible to keep the tactic of martyrdom on the other side where it belongs.

    Who knows? There might just be a few Muslims who'd rather not be martyrs.

    UPDATE: Interesting biography on "death metal" Adam Gadahn here. (Via Michele Malkin.) Not that I'd blame his music, but death metal never much moved me -- to mayhem or jihad.

    UPDATE" Pajamas Media has a good roundup on Adam Gadahn, and also notes that (according to this website) converts to Islam are actually reverts:

    all people are supposedly born Muslim (according to that faith) and that their conversion is strictly speaking a reversion. They would be reverts, not converts.

    Following that logic, it seems to me that if all people are "born Muslim," then all non-Muslims would be apostates.

    The last website also denies that there was conversion by the sword. (But see Eric S. Raymond for more.)

    (Somehow, I just can't quite understand how the Greeks and the Romans could have been "born Muslim." Silly me!)

    posted by Eric at 10:13 AM | Comments (6)

    The all time wettest, most record-setting drought ever!

    Yes, that was what I predicted in June.

    But really, this time the drought has gone too far. Until a few minutes ago, my power was out because of the horrible drought-related rains we've been having lately, and now that it's come back on (God knows how long that will last), my duty seems clear: I must write some sort of post about what I guess can honestly be called weather. (The importance of being Ernesto, perhaps?)

    I guess it's now September. I'm trying to be in denial about that because I don't like the end of Summer. If a drought can be wet, can't I go on calling this August, and, like, pretend that today is really August 34 instead of September 2?

    That way, the August drought will be even wetter than it was! I like it when the weather breaks records, and of course it's probably all related to the Bush-related Global Cooling-Warming deal. Warming is cooling, which only proves that Cooling is Warming. (Beware!)

    During the earlier part of August, the wet drought we'd been having seemed to be drying up. Until last week, when the local shapers of weather opinion admitted that there'd been a "stunning turnaround":

    The recent downpours have been a stunning turnaround in the region's hydrological fortunes. Last week, it appeared that this was going to be one of the driest Augusts in Philadelphia's history. Through Friday, the official monthly rain total at Philadelphia International Airport was 0.12 inch.

    The weather pattern began to change just before midnight Friday and during the early-morning hours of Saturday, when a violent storm with timpani thunder knocked out power to more than 25,000 homes. A few hours later, a lightning strike from a second storm blew up a tree in Lower Merion Township.

    By last night, the official rainfall total for the month had increased 20-fold, to just over 2.5 inches.

    The week before that (August 23) an August record was predicted in a headline proclaiming it the "driest in region in over a century":

    It's been 110 years in the making, but there is a "decent shot" that the month of August could go down as the driest on record - or at least one of the driest - for the Philadelphia region.

    As every brown lawn in the region can attest, there's been only two days of precipitation - you can hardly call it rain - amounting to just 0.06 inches for the month, so far, as measured at Philadelphia International Airport through yesterday. That's far below the norm of 3.82 inches of rain for August.

    The low for the month is 0.46 inches, way back in 1896.

    Every brown lawn? Mine was green, and there was never even a hint of brown.

    The problem is, the chart supplied by writer Jeff Price didn't quite back up his claim. Here it is:


    [Price said the "norm" was 3.82 inches of rain for August, whereas the chart says that 2.71 inches is "typical" to date. Unless there's a one inch difference between "typical" and "norm," I'm confused. But for me, that's the norm!]

    I don't know whether it's fair to look at three weeks of August in the context of the rest of the summer but as wet droughts go, the one in June was nearly unendurable. Bad weather is always a tough thing to endure (as is reading about it in sensationalized news pieces), but when heavy rains with flooding accompany moralistic lectures about being in a "drought," a certain sensory overload occurs (for me at least). Too much sensationalism mixed with too much manipulation can cause the nerves to become emotionally flooded.

    Here's what I said at the time:

    I can't even walk in the yard without rubber boots, and Coco is having trouble going outside to do her business. Right now, we're having a few precious rays of sun, but it won't last. The whole area is soaked, and it couldn't possibly be any wetter.

    My lawn is a swamp; and I'm urged not to water it? Who's writing the state's water policy? Rodney Dangerfield?

    Being from California, I'm used to insane bureaucrats who declare a flood and a drought at the same time, but I never thought the idea would spread across the country.

    Looking back over the entire summer, and totalling up the overall numbers, it has become clear to me that this summer has been one of above average rainfall.

    So what made the drought meme so damned persistent all this long wet summer?

    I am so sick of this drought that I'm ready to bail.

    MORE: I see I am not alone in having lost power. To imitate the Manolo, the Ernesto, he takes the Power which leaves the electricity Drought. (Except right now, the Manolo, he's more worried about the wearing of the white shoes on the Day After the Day of Labor. He better not ask the Patty Hearst, as the white shoes after the Day of Labor they put her in the Patty Hearse!)

    CORRECTION: It has been brought to my attention by a sharp reader that today is actually August 33, and not August 34. Yeah, I guess I did say that. Well sorrrry!

    I can't even get it right when I get it wrong!

    MORE: Jon Thompson points out that "the 2.71 "to date" in the graph is only the measure of what is average from August 1st until that date, and not through the whole month." I'm sure he's right, as it appears to say that in the chart. My mistake!

    AND MORE: While I am unable to locate the tables used by the Inquirer, looking at this table -- "Normal Monthly Precipitation, Inches" which lists monthly rainfall averages from 1961 through 1990 for each state, I get a Pennsylvania August average of 3.589 inches. That's close enough to the number the Inquirer used for the August total to satisfy me.

    posted by Eric at 09:47 AM | Comments (6)

    Dare we discriminate? Against jihad?

    Speaking of the Washington Post, I think this Op Ed by John F. Lehman is well worth reading. Excerpt:

    This not a war against terror any more than World War II was a war against kamikazes.

    We are at war with jihadists motivated by a violent ideology based on an extremist interpretation of the Islamic faith. This enemy is decentralized and geographically dispersed around the world. Its organizations range from a fully functioning state such as Iran to small groups of individuals in American cities.

    Read it all.

    One thing he said resonated with what Richard Posner said during the recent Glenn and Helen Show podcast interview:

    What is needed now is a separate domestic intelligence service without police powers, like the British MI-5.
    I'm a libertarian and the "without police powers" part goes a long way toward assuaging my concerns, because I'm worried about violations of the 4th Amendment in a criminal law context, yet I acknowledge the insanity of treating jihad as crime.

    Another Lehman remark hit much closer to home:

    The indoctrination and recruiting of jihadists from Indonesia, South Asia and the Middle East are carried out through religious establishments that are supported overwhelmingly by the Saudi and Iranian governments. Even in the United States, some 80 percent of Islamic mosques and schools are closely aligned with the Wahhabist sect and heavily dependent on Saudi funding. Five years after Sept. 11, nothing has been done to materially affect this root source of jihadism. The movement continues to grow, fueled by an ever-increasing flow of petrodollars from the Persian Gulf.

    There is no evidence that the administration has ever raised this matter with the Saudi government as a high-level issue, and -- just as damaging -- it has never acknowledged it as an issue to the American people.

    Even in the United States?

    Yeah, like right around the corner from me! And instead of doing anything about it, the government finances the place with my tax money. The whole thing makes me worry about whether the war on terror is serious.

    I think it is incredibly serious, but I think people forget. Denial is powerful, and it's an unaffordable luxury.

    For the past couple of days I've written some very frustrating posts about what I can only call a genuine quagmire -- our national fetish of discrimination. Concerns about discrimination (especially the appearance of discrimination) now trump nearly every issue in the United States, including the Bill of Rights and national security, logic, and common sense.

    Judge Posner opined that "the Constitution is not a suicide pact." To that I'd add that the fight against discrimination should not be a suicide pact. This country is at war with jihad, for God's sake. Yet out of concern over discrimination, the plain existence of the enemy cannot even be acknowledged.

    I don't know whether to call it insanity, decadence, or simple weakness of will, but it can't go on like this. One of the things I like about Lehman is that he's not afraid to look the specter of "discrimination" in the face:

    Among Lehman's questions was this: "Were you aware that it was the fine airlines if they have more than two young Arab males in secondary questioning because that's discriminatory?"

    Rice replied: "No, I have to say that the kind of inside arrangements for the FAA are not really in my...." (Lehman quickly followed up: "Well, these are not so inside.")

    Watching the hearings on television with the rest of the nation, I wondered what in the world Secretary Lehman was talking about. This, I'd never heard before. Was he saying that the security of our airlines had been sacrificed by political correctness? A few days after the klieg lights had faded, I had the chance to ask him.

    "We had testimony a couple of months ago from the past president of United, and current president of American Airlines that kind of shocked us all," Lehman told me. "They said under oath that indeed the Department of Transportation continued to fine any airline that was caught having more than two people of the same ethnic persuasion in a secondary line for line for questioning, including and especially, two Arabs."

    This is not an argument for or against racial profiling so much as it is an argument for common sense and against bureaucratized madness.

    Waiting for things to get worse guarantees not only that they will get worse, but that in the inevitable reactive hysteria which would result, our freedom could be irreparably lost.

    George S. Patton said that "the object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his." (In this case, his sickening "cause.") Similarly, I'd rather take away freedom from the enemy than have it taken from me.

    It's not as if there isn't an enemy.

    UPDATE: Andy McCarthy offers a perfect example of the problem:

    Bush backs off 'Islamic fascists'
    Tones down war rhetoric to appease Muslim groups

    President Bush has toned down his war rhetoric after Muslim-rights groups complained his description of the enemy as "Islamic fascists" unfairly equates Islam with terrorism.

    (Via Wizbang.)

    The enemy calls what they are doing "jihad." For reasons of political correctness, we are forced to call it "terrorism."

    How is it that the enemies call themselves what America is not allowed to call them?

    UPDATE: My thanks to The Anchoress for linking this post!

    UPDATE (09/03/06): My thanks to Socrates' Academy and Redstate for linking this post in a thoughtful and provocative analysis which concludes:

    ...pretending jihad isn't a problem won't make it go away.
    It isn't as if pretending hasn't been tried.

    posted by Eric at 11:11 PM | Comments (3)

    the breadth of breath

    I doubt this Washington Post editorial will receive quite as much MSM attention attention as it should: of the most sensational charges leveled against the Bush White House -- that it orchestrated the leak of Ms. Plame's identity to ruin her career and thus punish Mr. Wilson -- is untrue.
    I guess that means everyone will apologize.


    "Don't hold your breath," says Robert Bidinotto:

    Buried in this editorial is the fact with the most far-reaching implications: that Joe Wilson falsely claimed that he had "debunked" White House charges that Saddam had been trying to buy uranium in Niger. It turns out that Saddam had been trying to buy uranium, so that Iraq could build nuclear weapons.

    Thus, it turns out that the White House stands vindicated on one of its key arguments for going to war against Saddam: that this thug and his regime were actively pursuing a WMD program.

    So...where are all the headlines about this? Except for this editorial admission by the Post (which implies that the newspaper had been taken in, rather than played a key roll in disseminating the lies), where are the media mea culpas, retractions, and apologies for many months of false, anti-Bush "conspiracy" stories?

    You mean, after all these years of accusations, scoldings, dire pronouncements and even threats of impeachment they won't apologize?

    Glenn has a roundup here, but I just couldn't find too many apologies. It isn't interesting to Atrios. But Tom Maguire reminds us that the truth will still emerge any day now. Mean Michelle Malkin has made a cruel Emily Litella comparison.

    But never mind that.

    I'm waiting for John "Worse than Watergate" Dean to apologize.

    UPDATE (09/04/06): Was the apology meme strangled in its crib? On 08/31/06, The Philadelphia Inquirer repeated the conclusion of the WaPo's R. Jeffrey Smith:

    Armitage's involvement in the matter does not fit neatly into the assertions of Bush administration critics that employment was disclosed as part of a White House conspiracy to besmirch Wilson.
    Well, who's job is it to ensure the neatest fit? The New York Times? (If it doesn't fit, who's to acquit?)

    posted by Eric at 03:57 PM | Comments (0)

    A date which will live in infamy?

    The DC Examiner reminded me that September 7 is destined to become the day free speech died in America:

    Something almost without precedent in America will happen Thursday. Thats the day when McCain-Feingold aka the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 will officially silence broadcast advertising that contains criticism of members of Congress seeking re-election in November. Before 2006, American election campaigns traditionally began in earnest after Labor Day. Unless McCain-Feingold is repealed, Labor Day will henceforth mark the point in the campaign when congressional incumbents can sit back and cruise, free of those pesky negative TV and radio spots. It is the most effective incumbent protection act possible, short of abolishing the elections themselves.
    Read the whole thing. And weep.

    The problem with weeping, though, is that it doesn't accomplish anything. What would accomplish something would be the repeal of this noxious law which opportunists in both parties passed, and which the president was so shortsighted as to sign.

    In that respect, I agree with the Examiner's conclusion:

    By election day, it should be clear to all reasonable persons that McCain-Feingold was a serious mistake and, like Prohibition, ought to be repealed. But proponents of campaign finance reform have always been right about one thing there is an incredible amount of money in politics and voters should know who it is coming from and to whom it is going. Thus, McCain-Feingold should not simply be repealed; it ought to be replaced with a new law that uses transparency in campaign finance rather than censorship in political expression.
    Too bad they can't make McCain-Feingold an election issue.

    (I guess that would be illegal....)

    posted by Eric at 09:48 AM | Comments (2)

    Don't just read the news! Investigate the news!

    I'm having a little trouble making sense out of this story:

    A 22-year-old Philadelphia man who went from soldier to student and hoped to perhaps teach one day was shot to death early yesterday while riding home on his bicycle in the city's Strawberry Mansion section.

    L'Salle Harvey III had taken out a small amount of cash from an automated teller machine at 29th and Dauphin Streets. He was targeted by a robber or robbers at 31st and Nevada Streets, police said, apparently while bicycling home.

    That means it was a murder occuring during a robbery. Right?

    His stepmother, Maude Harvey, said he often would go out late at night to pick up a snack.

    Police said a woman passing by saw L'Salle Harvey in the street and called police about 3:10 a.m. because she thought he was injured in a bike accident. He was pronounced dead at the scene shortly afterward.

    Police were not aware of any witnesses to the shooting, and authorities were trying to find people in the area who might have heard the gunshots.

    Harvey did not appear to have done anything to provoke the shooting.

    "It appears right now that he was at the wrong place at the wrong time," said Police Capt. Charles Bloom.

    Police said it was unclear whether Harvey was followed from the ATM or randomly targeted afterward.

    Wait a second. Police said he was "targeted by a robber or robbers at 31st and Nevada Streets," yet they also say there were no witnesses. How can they possibly know he was robbed? Assuming the facts are correct as stated, police know that he withdrew money from the ATM, and I can only surmise that they must know that the money was missing from his body. But without knowing more, how does that indicate a robbery? How can the police be so certain? Obviously, someone shot him, but when someone withdraws cash from an ATM, in the wee hours of the morning, doesn't that usually mean he needs it for something? It makes no sense to go out and withdraw cash at that hour without an immediate intention to spend it. His mother stated that he "often" would go out to "pick up a snack." Did he? Are there stores in that area which might have seen him and which are open 24 hours? Where are they located? I can only conclude that either the full story is not being given or the police are just speculating.

    As if speculation weren't bad enough, the story suddenly shifts gears, and morphs from robbery to talk of a "domestic war":

    At L'Salle Harvey's father's home in the 3000 block of West Diamond Street, loved ones mourned the loss of Philadelphia's latest casualty in what some say is a domestic war being lost at home. As of 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, there were 258 homicides this year in the city.
    Look, it's an awful tragedy whenever anyone is killed -- a fact only heightened by this victim's status as a veteran. And I know the family is grieving (as I would be too if I lost a relative) but veteran plus grief does not turn a robbery/murder into a "domestic war." Wars require opposing sides, and street crime is not the same thing. I know there are criminals out there, and I know that they might attack me, but there's no organization, structure, or opposing ideological philosophy of any kind which would make the war analogy appropriate. No; not even a civil war.

    Philadelphia is not Iraq simply because a veteran was robbed and killed. Nor is it Beirut.

    Anyway, the lack of detail in the story forced me to do my own detective work and look elsewhere, and it didn't take long. The Philadelphia Daily News has a much longer piece including details about a savage beating administered before the shooting.

    Gwen Harvey, 47, said she saw her son alive for the last time about 10:30 p.m. Wednesday when he visited her at Logan Square Apartments, 16th and Callowhill streets, where she works as a concierge.

    "He'd visit me almost every night. He'd ride his bike down, pray with me and do his homework," she said.

    Harvey said her son asked her to borrow "a couple dollars."

    When she told him she didn't have it, Harvey said he was going to get his MAC card, stop at an ATM and call her later in the evening.

    Well, those are entirely new details. And very different from the Inquirer saying that "he often would go out late at night to pick up a snack."

    "But I never heard from him," she said. "Instead, I got a call saying my baby was dead."

    The block of Nevada Street where Harvey was found is largely deserted and does not have an ATM.

    That makes no sense in light of the Inquirer's statement about the ATM at 29th and Dauphin -- a location right around the corner from where the body was found. The Inquirer and the Daily News are run by the same company, same publisher, and have the same web site. It's hard to believe that one newspaper would have access to information about crime details that the other lacked.

    The Daily News continues:

    Monique, a friend of Harvey's who declined to give her last name, said she talked with him about 2:30 a.m. yesterday. "He said he was going to get Chinese food and that he would call me later," she said. "Never called me back."

    Harvey's slaying made little sense to his family and friends. "He didn't bother nobody. He wasn't into the streets at all," said Noah Angel, 32, one of Harvey's brothers. "I would have felt better if he had been killed in Iraq."

    Harvey joined the Army in 2002 "because he wanted to make us proud," his mother said. He was honorably discharged in 2004 due to injuries he received in training at Fort Stewart, in Georgia.

    Last year, Harvey began taking classes at the University of Pennsylvania's Veterans Upward Bound Program. The program helps vets prepare for college and ultimately get their degrees.

    "He wanted to be a teacher. He was trying to better his life," Angel said of his younger brother. "I can't let this rest."

    I never knew him, but I can't let this rest either, because I can't get the facts of exactly what happened to him, when, and where.

    When Harvey wasn't studying he was usually reading in a local library, playing video games or praying, Angel said. Harvey attended services every Sunday at Bethany Baptist Church, in Lindenwold, N.J.

    "He was an awesome guy, very spiritual," said Keisha Blagman, a neighbor. Harvey said she checked her son's bank records and found that he withdrew $20 yesterday morning. "Whoever killed him probably thought he had more money than he did," she said. "They beat him and then shot him to death," she said, noting that an autopsy photo showed he was missing several teeth.

    "Somebody saw something or heard something. Someone has to come forward and tell the truth," she said.

    Beat and shot him? Autopsy photos? (Now I'm wondering about the ATM camera. Was there one? Might it reveal whether he was beaten before or after he withdrew the money? Did the cops check the ATM for blood?)

    The Daily News story is so different I found it hard to believe I was reading about the same incident. If you read either one separately, you'd get a completely different impression about what happened. The Inquirer article makes it appear that the victim simply left home, went to the nearest ATM, withdrew money, and was targeted soon afterwards. But the Daily News quotes his mother as saying he asked for money much earlier and was refused, then provides details of a beating, yet puzzlingly, makes no mention of the ATM's location, which detail was provided by the Inquirer.

    What is going on? Why would two Inquirer reporters -- Mitch Lipka and Barbara Boyer -- withhold important details of the robbery murder which were reported in the Daily News? And why would the Daily News withhold details of the ATM location?

    I wish I had all the facts, but based on my investigation so far, I think it's fair to conclude that there's more to this than "gun violence."

    posted by Eric at 09:36 AM | Comments (0)

    Closing a discriminatory loophole

    I was quite irritated to see that a successful homeless center in Los Angeles (originally opened to much acclaim in Hollywood) will have to close. Reason? The center's opperater -- homeless activist and former Democrat Ted Hayes -- came out of the closet as a Republican, and the rent was raised from $2500 to $18,330. Everything is being packed off or sold:

    Such is the unceremonious end to Dome Village _ activist Ted Hayes' model of a self-governed, self-sufficient community for the homeless. Since its founding in 1993, the village has been visited by celebrities but has gone largely unnoticed by thousands of commuters buzzing past on the freeway nearby.

    Hayes said a big rent increase _ from $2,500 to $18,330 per month _ is forcing the village from its site near the downtown Staples Center. The partnership that owns the land said the increase reflects soaring downtown property values.

    Residents were saddened by the decision to sell. They must leave by October.

    "We have such a family here," said Graham Foster, 51, a former nightclub manager who arrived three years ago after living several months in a battered motor home. "Closing down is almost like an explosion."

    When Dome Village was founded 13 years ago, Hayes envisioned a cooperative of 30 homeless working and living together, and counseling each other through tough times.

    About 450 people have occupied the village over the years, living in the domes and using community kitchen, laundry and bathroom facilities on the site. Families and singles alike planted gardens, paid $70 a month in rent and divided chores on the 1.25-acre lot, which was once choked with weeds that grew neck-high through cracks in the asphalt.

    Proceeds from the eBay auction will help replicate the village elsewhere in Los Angeles, Hayes said. In the meantime, families have been placed in shelters across the city.

    Bids started at $3,000 per structure. The domes can be broken down to fit into the back of a pickup truck.

    Hayes, a Republican, blamed politics for the village's demise. He said Democratic landlords raised the rent two days after he appeared at a meeting of a Bel Air Republican women's club. A lawyer for the landlords denied politics were at play.

    Not only is Hayes a Republican, he committed the far greater offense of being Republican While Black. In a WSJ Opinion Journal Op Ed, Hayes reflects on the phenomenon:
    American blacks who are affiliated with the Republican Party are vigorously vilified by Democrats, especially black Democrats. Uncle Tom, sell-out, Oreo--the list of slurs is long.

    But it is not only insults. I am the founder and director of a unique, progressive homeless facility in downtown Los Angeles, known as the Dome Village. Yet the 35 men, women and children and their pets who call the Dome Village home are being "evicted" from privately owned property after 12 1/2 years--apparently on account of my political beliefs and activities. You see, though I am a leading homeless activist, I am also a conservative Republican and a strong supporter of President Bush.

    Here's how the situation played out. Recently, I was invited to address a local Republican Women's Club; my landlord read an article in the local paper reporting on the event. Soon after, I received a notice raising the Dome Village rent from $2,500 a month to $18,330. Shocked, I inquired as to the seriousness of the change, and the property owner blurted out that the cause of our "eviction" was "because you are Republican." He said that as a Democrat, he was tired of helping me and the Dome Village. In other words, let the homeless be damned.

    And people think the Democrats are the party of compassion and tolerance.

    Private property should be protected, of course, and I have no intention of causing any trouble for this property owner as we part ways. Whatever he does with his valuable land--it is only a few blocks from the Staples Center--is no concern of mine, and I will not go to court.

    Still, I cannot help but be saddened by the whole business. When I founded the Dome Village 12 years ago, we had an understanding that he could ask for his property back at any time for any reason, and I would say "absolutely" without hesitation. Still, his reason was prejudice against Republicans.

    According to Hayes, most black Republicans are forced to be closeted:
    [Black Republicans]... are attacked not because of the validity or judicious consideration of their views but because those views are supposedly heterodox for American blacks. Yet it is my opinion that many black people in the U.S. are politically and philosophically conservative--and many are in fact actually closeted Republicans, fearful of persecution by friends, business associates, society clubs, schoolmates and even churches.
    (More on the political evolution of Ted Hayes here.)

    While the closure of the center is current news, Hayes' Republicanism is now well known; Evan Coyne Maloney had a post on this back in December:

    Los Angeles Times published an article [typical LAT link to nowhere] earlier this month that mentioned Hayes's political leanings. Perhaps Milton Sidley--a partisan Democrat who contributed $4,000 to the John Kerry campaign in 2004--noticed the article: all of a sudden, the landlord has announced that Dome Village's rent will increase by over 630% when the lease comes up in late 2006. Each month, Dome Village will have to come up with $18,333 plus property taxes in order to stay afloat, or the residents will face homelessness once again.

    According to a recent press release from Dome Village, when asked about the rent increase, Sidley replied, "This Democrat is tired of supporting Ted and his Dome Village."

    It makes me quite angry to read about these things, and if I didn't know any better, I'd swear that Mr. Hayes is the victim of a thing called discrimination.

    But this is politics, and there's no law against political discrimination. Indeed, the very idea is absurd, for that would mean that every time we voted, we'd be discriminating.

    Still (and notwithstanding yesterday's posts) I do understand the temptation. If someone took legal action against me because he didn't like my politics, I'd be outraged. And, of course, the more the line is blurred between personal issues and politics, the more a political attack will seem like a personal attack.

    Or a religious attack.

    When I was a kid, one of polite society's rules was that you never discuss politics or religion. Either one can lead to trouble, but both? A merger of the two as one? The only thing I can think of which would be creepier than that duality would be to throw in sex.

    What an unholy trinity that would be.

    < sarcasm >I hope we're not there yet.< / sarcasm >

    Still, I hate to whine about these festering problems without offering a solution, and I've been thinking long, hard, politically incorrect, sexually incorrect and even religiously incorrect thoughts. While such thoughts constitute triple heresy, it makes no sense to me that only one of them -- the political -- provides a loophole for those who wish to discriminate against me.

    Why should that be?

    Should it really be OK to discriminate against me because of my politics, but not because of how or whether I worship God or gods or (god forbid) what I might do with my dingaling?

    I say, definitely not! So in the interest of fairness, here's what I propose: simply add politics as a category to be officially protected against discrimination. Via yesterday's post, I already have the text of Dobie Gillis's lesbian girlfriend's bill (AB 1441, which recently added "sexual orientation"), and here's how the official Classical Values version (amended language in bold):

    11135. (a) No person... shall, on the basis of race, national origin, ethnic group identification, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, politics, color, or disability, be unlawfully denied full and equal access to the benefits of, or be unlawfully subjected to discrimination under, any program or activity that is conducted, operated, or administered by the state or by any state agency, is funded directly by the state, or receives any financial assistance from the state.
    There. No discrimination means no discrimination.

    End of argument. That's because arguments discriminate on the basis of politics.

    I hope you agree, because if you disagree, you might very well be guilty of discrimination!

    AFTERTHOUGHT: Is the above satire, or are we already there? Seriously, if all personal issues are political, then aren't all political issues personal? And if identity politics means being part of a protected identity group, doesn't that require protection for all political identities?

    MORE: I think this calls for a new definition of identity politics.

    Identity politics: an ongoing rhetorical process in which disagreement is transformed into discrimination (or persecution).

    posted by Eric at 06:32 AM | Comments (1)

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