Archive for the 'The Poet Omar's Page' Category

Much Ado about Nothing

Boy oh boy! Were the headlines in the media and blogosphere ever more hyperbolic and littered with ignorance than they were today? Actually, they probably have been, but today’s gaggle of garbage certainly has to rank up in the top ten media explosions (or should I say implosions since, as usual, they’ve gotten the facts totally wrong). I’m referring, of course, to the latest proclamation from Rome regarding the relationship of the Roman Catholic Church to other Christian denominations (specifically Protestant denominations [in which, despite evolutionary differences, I shall lump the Mormons]). For the only reasonable and sane MSM explanation of Pope Benedict XVI’s new policy paper, please see here. For those uninitiated in the mysteries of theological doctrines, Dominus Iesus, issued by Pope John Paul II merely confirmed prior Church doctrine regarding its beliefs on salvation. The new document released by the current occupant of the Chair of St. Peter merely reaffirmed and clarified portions of Dominus Iesus. The basic doctrines stated are not new. This is a not a radical, wild-eyed Pope creating theological doctrines out of thin air. Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Sallus has been accepted doctrine since at least 1215 and there are more than minor hints at it before then. The media (no fans of Catholicism) are merely jumping on this as evidence that the “elitist, exclusionary Catholic Church thinks everyone who isn’t Catholic is going to hell.” Um, no. Further clarification of Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Sallus (that is there is no salvation outside the Church) in, among other documents, Dominus Iesus, opens up the possibility of ecumenicism and communication between Catholic and Protestant branches of Christianity. Of course, the same people claiming that Pope Benedict is the new Torquemada waste no time in pointing out that his previous position was as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (which they always say is the newly renamed Inquisition; it is no such thing as any clear study of either Catholic history or the history of the Inquisition will show). This is a simple ad hominem and has no merit other than to show that the man is an academic theologian with excellent credentials. The Pope would not appoint a poor scholar to be head of such a critical organization. As Father Morris’ article points out, our current Pope is not the charismatic, media-friendly man that John Paul II was; instead he operates as he always has: as an academic. It’s time for the rabidly anti-Catholic media to sit down, shut up, listen and learn rather than project their darkest persecution fantasies onto what is merely the head of a world religion restating his own religion’s doctrinal beliefs. Enough of the ignorance. Enough of the stupidity. And for goodness’ sake, enough of the hyperbolic headlines.

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Supporting carbon creds means no street cred

Since the entire concept of carbon credits emerged a few years ago, I’ve constantly found myself questioning not only the actual effectiveness, but also the underlying motivation behind them. Donating or purchasing carbon credits basically seemed, to me at least, to be the designer way for rich (or wealthier than average) people to buy their way out of guilt over the environmental damage that their private jets, power boats and collection Hummers and Ferraris do. I was pleased to notice this Thomas Friedman (whom I usually disagree with) article addressing exactly this point. Notice the absurdity of carbon credits when compared, accurately, to simply buying away our sins? Those advocating carbon credits (Al Gore, Laurie David and pretty much every group that appeared at Live Earth) need to talk a long look in the mirror on this issue before their hypocrisy swallows them whole.

(H/T Red State)

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Louisiana, tops in the nation for all the wrong things… again

Once again, Louisiana leads the nation in the “bad” categories. In this case, it’s per capita number of national level elected officials involved in scandals. While Representative William Jefferson winds his way toward what I can only hope will be jail, Senator David Vitter has recently been exposed as a “not so family values” kind of guy. I admit to two separate reactions to this: 1. Remember the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal? Shouldn’t this be a “private family matter?” Want to bet the people pushing that line will be out for Vitter’s (and any other Republican caught up in this Flyntgate scandal) blood? 2. What is it with politicians? Do they not have the common sense to know that if one has ANY ambition of being involved in national politics, one’s entire past life will come under microscopic scrutiny? This is not exactly a new revelation (remember Gary Hart?). Senator Vitter claims that he has sought forgiveness from God and his wife. More power to him, since he has to live with both much longer than he does the electorate (theoretically; heck the Mrs. may be filing for divorce as we speak). Nonetheless, a person who claims to have character and believes himself worthy of being a United States Congressman should display that character now and resign. It would be absolutely hypocritical for Mr. Vitter to remain in office. Politics be damned. This is one of those times where the Republican leadership needs to step up to the plate and show us that they really are better than the Democrats. I will be highly disappointed, though not terribly surprised, if they don’t. Still, I continue to hope that the party that claims to have at least some family values will live up to them. Sad.

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Political Ping-Pong

As yet another sign of the coming Apocalypse, politicians and political hacks are now channeling their energy (albeit a very small amount of it) into creating video games about politics. Have a look at this article detailing two of the newest games in this field. While the actual interfacing of politics and the gaming world is not exactly fresh news (recall all the Joe Lieberman v. Rockstar Games fights in the past few years [Rockstar, btw are the makers of the Grand Theft Auto series], along with older fights over Doom and even pre-video game era fights over Dungeons and Dragons), the idea of institutions that directly shape (or try to) the political scene in America today making video games is. I am excluding America’s Army since that is a recruiting tool, not an attempt to shape the political process. Notice, however, the number of complaints dealing with the fact that Ron Paul isn’t included in the Pong game. Apparently, the youth of America have suddenly become energetic libertarians. I’m not sure if that says more about them or about libertarianism as a whole. I suppose we’ll just have to see how energetic they really are at election time (the question being : can they tear themselves away from Starcraft II [currently scheduled for a Q3/4 2008 release] long enough to go to the polls to make a difference?).

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Cindy Sheehan to retire

This announcement was made a few days ago, but I felt that it was important enough to comment on. While it cannot be denied that Cindy Sheehan has damaged the efforts of the troops in the field and the progress of the war on the domestic front, I believe that the underlying psychology behind her protests explains her actions. Sheehan was (is and ever shall be) a grieving parent. Her beloved child was ripped from her when he was killed serving as a member of the United States military deployed to a war zone. Like many bereaved parents, her rage and grief led her to lash out and, in this case, she chose President Bush as her target. I don’t agree with her choice of targets (Saddam Hussein, al Zarqawi, OBL, or the actual person who killed her son would have been better), but that is in the past now. Unfortunately for Cindy Sheehan, her grief and rage were used as tools by deeply unscrupulous and power hungry people as a part of their political game. They used her as a mere pawn, then discarded her when she no longer served their purposes. Note that she was idolized and rabidly defended by many on the left while she openly opposed President Bush and Congressional Republicans; as soon as her frustration was turned against left-wing targets, she became fair game. Sheehan herself points this out in her blog entry that the AP story refers to. I can only hope that by this time, she exercises some hindsight and understands how and by whom she was used.

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More follies from the “Reform” Congress

Apparently, Congressman Murtha was absent when Democrats were campaigning on the earmark reform platform during last year’s elections. Oops, wait a minute… maybe he wasn’t. Have a look at this on Murtha’s actions on earmark reform versus his words on earmark reform.

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Extra Geeky Goodness

Since it is a long weekend, I’ll happily provide some extra geeky goodness for your enjoyment. First, take a look at after the first Death Star was blown up. Then, see Vader having a to heart with Luke. to mess with Star Wars. How about ? Or what happens when reach puberty? In case you haven’t realized, I’ve been spending far too many waking hours watching YouTube videos. I take consolation only in the fact that at least I’m not watching celebrity social faux pas videos. Enjoy!

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Good news for BBC America fans

Recently, BBC America has announced its plan to air the entire first season (first series to you Euro-types) of Torchwood during its summer restructuring. Despite a fair degree of success in attraction US viewership, the execs at BBCA felt that a radical restructuring of the network’s programming selections and scheduling would boost its moderate ratings to a level capable of competing with general interest US basic cable networks such as A&E, USA, TNT, etc. I’m highly excited about the decision to carry Torchwood, which our own Sci-Fi network seems to have steered clear of. Despite the fact that it is a spin-off series, Sci-Fi certainly didn’t show the same level of caution when purchasing the rights to, for example, Crusade or Angel. Anyway, I’m glad that Torchwood will be available to US audiences (although most likely in a censored format; Torchwood is very R rated for language, violence and some moderately graphic sex scenes [and male nudity]). I’ve already watched the entire first season in HD, uncensored, commercial-free format on various websites (Google it) and, although a bit disappointed by some of the more adolescent tendencies toward cheeseball lines and gratuitous violence in a few of the episodes, most were extremely well written with, “Captain Jack Harkness,” (episode 12) probably my favorite for character development and sheer emotional impact. BBC Three has already ordered a second season of 13 episodes to premiere sometime next year and I certainly look forward to that. If nothing else, the explanation behind Jack’s disappearance and return should be worth the wait, along with the resolution of his “condition.” As a side note, I confess that I’m hugely impressed by John Barrowman’s ability to pull-off the complex character that Jack Harkness is and by his acting ability in general. John was, oddly enough, originally slated for the role of Will Truman in Will & Grace but series’ producers eventually choose Eric McCormack because they felt that John was, “too straight.” This is quite ironic as John Barrowman is gay and Eric McCormack is straight. Eve Myles, whom various newspapers and magazines have named one of the sexiest women in Wales and “Bachelorette of the Year,” has also impressed as the gap-toothed, wide-eyed police constable who provides emotional grounding and a human element to the otherwordly Torchwood team.

In other news, the Sci-Fi channel has indicated that it will be airing season three of Torchwood’s parent show Doctor Who (currently running in the UK) in the late summer or fall of this year. By the little I’ve seen of it, David Tennant is even better this season than last and Freema Agyeman is a much better actress than Billie Piper who, admittedly, is the UK’s answer to Britney Spears or Jessica Simpson. So fire your Tivo’s up (those of you who have and are able to operate them), Torchwood hits this summer and Doctor Who in fall. Sci-fi geekdom heaven.

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Thought MLB had it bad?

Apparently Democrat Congressman from California, Tom Lantos, has decided that Congress’ recent attacks on Major League Baseball and its various teams and athletes just weren’t enough. Now, it seems, the NFL is in for it. Citing the recent investigation into Atlanta Falcons’ Quarterback Michael Vick’s former home in Virginia, the distinguished gentleman from California took the opportunity to threate… um, I mean remind Commissioner Goodell that his Oversight and Government Reform Committee would be only too happen to visit the same woes on NFL teams and players as the MLB suffered. In fact, Lantos seems to infer that the NFL would wish for the type of treatment that baseball received by the time he and his Committee are done with it. Once again the feds are absolutely overstepping their bounds here and interfering in a private organization. The Commissioner has to walk a fine line between defending the NFL and its teams and players and graciously accepting the advice of Congressman Lantos (that is, not irritating him further). In this case of flagrant abuse of Congressional power, however, I’d say he should lean a bit more towards the former. Doesn’t Lantos have other things he could be focusing on (like immigration, homeland security, the global war on terror, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, earmark refrom, the Di-Fi scandal, Hillary’s choice of theme music for her campaign, etc.).

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Republican Debate

I didn’t have the opportunity to watch the entire Republican Presidential candidate debate, but I felt that the highlights mentioned at Fox News were informative enough about the frontrunners positions to be worthy of comment. My own breakdown follows the comments:

WASHINGTON — Republican presidential candidates were basking in their own glory on Wednesday after a tough primary debate that featured several jabs among the White House hopefuls but afterward drew compliments about their own and each other’s performances.


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The Home of the Future

Professor Richard Horden of University of Munich recently unveiled a new permanent or semi-permanent housing unit design: the m-ch. While not exactly a title that set marketing execs hearts aflutter, the idea is actually pretty amusing. The original concept was to provide short-stay facilities for business people, researchers, etc. who would need to stay in an area longer than would be practical at hotel rates, but for less time than would justify purchasing or renting a facility. Some folks have run with the idea, however and would like to see m-ch’s as the actual permanent home of the future. Guess they don’t have kids (or pets, or vast collections of books, or relatives, etc.).

Hat tip to Wired Magazine columnist Asami Novak.

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On Ethics in the GWOT

This is a great piece from former SpecWar officer, Vietnam War veteran and father of SEAL Team Six, Commander Richard Marcinko. For those unfamiliar with Commander Marcinko’s rise and fall, his autobiography makes for excellent, though highly graphic reading. I’ve had the honor of chatting with Commander Marcinko a few times in the past and believe me he is the type of guy that you do not want to meet in a dark alley. Scary, imposing, though not terribly tall, he is one guy that I am definitely glad to have on our side.

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Weirdest story of the day

This story absolutely left me speechless (a difficult thing to accomplish). I really thought that I had seen just about everything. Even Hollywood couldn’t come up with a story like this.

Update: The accused has been found guilty. Google the story and you’ll already find people claiming that she has been victimized due to one or all of the following: she’s deaf, she’s a woman, she’s a lesbian, she’s black. Any bets on whether political pressure will force a mistrial?

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See, I Told You So

I think that this story and the conclusions it references can be filed under the category of, “see, I told you so.” Or perhaps, “tell me something else that I already knew.”

Let’s look at what took the APA such a great amount of time and resources to “objectively determine,”: the media and advertisers massively contribute to the sexual objectification of women, especially young girls. Um, duh. It seems that everyone on the planet except feminists and APA researchers already figured this one out about twenty or thirty years ago. The behavior being discussed here is an aspect of behavioral psychology (specifically Albert Bandura’s social learning theory) known as modeling. Modeling stipulates that human beings (especially children) will tend to alter their behavior patterns to adapt to the behaviors demonstrated by models that they identify with and respect. To put this into technical (though fairly simple terms) the subject sees a model that he or she respects or identifies with (say a 12 year old girl watching Paris Hilton); the model engages in certain behavior (say Paris Hilton making a sex tape with her boyfriend); the model’s behavior is reinforced by consequences (Paris becomes a star and is mobbed and adored by the media and invited to every trendy party in existence); the subject wants to experience the same type of consequences (reinforcers) so they engage in the behavior that the model demonstrated. ABC theory (Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence). Or to put this in terms a six year old can understand: monkey see, monkey do.

While I applaud the APA for researching and formally commenting on this subject, it’s hardly new territory for the religious. As indicated in the article, the Catholic Church (and most other Christian sects) have been preaching and teaching about the sexualization of women for literally centuries. Orthodox and more right-leaning Masorti Jews and, of course, Muslims, have also been at the forefront of preaching about the dangers of this kind of behavior. Feminists claim that only by embracing the supposed sexual “freedom” that men enjoy can a woman “liberate” herself. I support exactly the opposite conclusion. Only by refusing to be seen as a sexual object can a woman liberate herself. Modesty for both sexes is critical and a key to not only Islamic beliefs, but also to orthodox Catholic and conservative Protestant and Jewish beliefs as well. Many atheists and liberal religious thinkers reject many of the cautions and prohibitions in scriptures (Qu’ran, Gospels, Torah, etc.) as the products of their societies and surely not meant for today’s modern, rational, and much more sophisticated audiences.

Not to put too fine a point on this, but, “Baloney.” God, in His infinite wisdom, gave us rules to live by. These rules were codified and transmitted to mankind by holy prophets: Moses (PBUH), Jesus (PBUH), and Muhammed (SAW). These were not mere suggestions, nor were they meant as sociologically acceptable rules meant to operate only within certain time frames and geographic regions (i.e. the Middle East, circa 3000 BCE to 1000 CE). They are rules that are meant to protect us from the worst aspects of ourselves. Feminists and some atheists cry, “oppression!” I disagree. The rules are liberating, not oppressing. In the context of modesty v. blatant sexuality, consider who is the better in the long run: the modest man or woman who defines himself by his character and his achievements as a person (be they career, intellectual, religious, etc.) or the person who defines himself by his body and his sexual conquests. Even the vaunted APA agrees at this point that modesty is the best policy. Oversexualization as pushed on children and adults (especially females, but men, too) can only lead to a destructive cycle of depression, remorse, guilt, low self-esteem, possible eating disorders, substance abuse, and, ultimately, perhaps suicide. God was wise enough and loving enough to give us a set of rules to protect ourselves from these things. Although they differ slightly from religion to religion, the basic concept is the same. What better person to take advice from than the creator Himself? Put a different way, would you rather take a stock tip from Peter Lynch or the burger flipper at your local McDonald’s?

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Update on Haditha

This article gives a few quick details on the “60 Minutes” interview given by Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich regarding his actions in Haditha, Iraq on November 19, 2005. Examine the key final paragraph which is Wuterich’s explanation and evaluation of the events on that fateful day nearly a year and a half ago. Is this a correct assesment of how soldiers and marines are trained or is it a mischaracterization by Wuterich? Also, if he is, in fact, accurately describing current training, does that training need to be re-evaluated or is it correct and are his actions justified? Discuss.

Update! Sorry I forgot to link the original article. :( I have now fixed that oversight. ;)

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The Mindset in Iran

Update and correction: Keith has provied me with the correct link to the article in question, so I have deleted the full version of it from this post and substituted the link, instead. Much thanks!

This article by Iranian scholar and journalist Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich was passed on to me by a friend. Here is another article that demonstrates her beliefs and usual journalistic style. She has several other articles online and if I recall correctly, has written for, among others, the UK based Guardian newspaper. I won’t bother addressing the comedy of errors and mischaracterizations present in the above article. I simply use it as an example of the mindset all too prevalent amongst the Iranian elite.

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“Pacing” himself

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs recently “clarified” a statement that he made to the Chicago Tribune regarding the immorality of homosexual behavior. General Peter Pace suggested that he should have focused his comments more on the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell policy,” rather than on his personal beliefs about morality. While I certainly belive that the General is entitled to express his opinion, my question about the matter is whether a sitting Chairman of the JCS should be throwing what amounts to a political bomb in the middle of a war. Were this a matter of discussing policy during peacetime, then I think the stakes would be much lower and the Chairman should feel obligated to comment. In wartime, however, it is the responsibility of all serving military personnel to focus entirely on the successful prosecution of that war to the exclusion of all else. Engaging in political sideshows is not only disruptive to the conduct of the war, but also demonstrative of very poor judgement. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not demanding that General Pace be removed, but I feel that either the President or SECDEF needs to keep a much tighter leash on things over at the Pentagon. Now, perhaps this was merely a response to former Chairman John Shalikashvili’s recent statement that the military should abandon “don’t ask, don’t tell” and accept anyone willing to serve, but if so that response is better handled by the civilians in office, not the military. The military is not a political tool and should not be allowed to become one by either its members or by the civilian leadership that it answers to.

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Interesting case of syncretism

Although I haven’t yet had the opportunity to study this site in detail, I was quite interested in its basic premise : Islam and Libertarianism are not only quite compatible, but actually darn near separated at birth. That’s actually quite close to my thinking on these philosophies and I am thrilled that someone has taken the idea far enough to get an interview with Reason magazine (the gospel of doctrinaire Libertarians). Have a look, as I hope to expand on this idea in the near future.

Update : Minaret’s website is down right now, but the Reason interview is available. Please check it out. It’s worth the time for some fresh voices on all things libertarian.

Update 2: Minaret is back up again. Please take a look at their site and their blog.

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Americans United strangely silent

Many people in the US have become aware, some more recently than others, of the antics of alleged separation of church and state group, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. They have formally existed since 1947 and claim to be non-partisan, non-sectarian advocates of the absolute separation of religion from politics. They also claim independence from any larger group or political body. See their director, Rev. Barry Lynn’s letter here explaining these points.

I question AU’s dedication to these points, however, as well as their claim to be unaffiliated with other groups. Rev. Lynn is a pastor from the liberal wing of the United Church of Christ, considered left-leaning in its approaches to theological and political issues. They have had numerous dust-ups with conservative groups and the Simon Wiesenthal Center whom the UCC accused of being involved in conspiracies. Lynn is also no simple man of the cloth, but rather a Georgetown trained attorney with a resume that includes working as legislative counsel for the UCC’s Washington, D.C. office, assistance to the UCC’s legal office in providing aid to draft dodgers, and a seven year stint as legislative counsel for the ACLU’s Washington, D.C. office. Clearly, this is a slick, sophisticated, “inside-the-beltway” player. Given the background of its director, it makes the claim that AU has no ties to the ACLU or the UCC seem questionable.

All of this to say that the AU is a great deal similar to Lynn’s former employer, the ACLU. It prides itself on being non-partisan and fighting only for separation of church and state, but, like the ACLU, is highly selective in its choice of battles. Students wanting prayer at graduations must be opposed tooth and claw (see Lynn’s statements here, here, here, and here ), but US church leaders demanding an end to the Iraq War, pressuring the United States government to adopt specific strategies in conducting said war, and throwing their support against a war which the United States Congress authorized is apparently kosher as far as Lynn and the AU are concerned.

Searches of the AU’s website produced no objections (or any reference at all for that matter) to any of the following official statements or position papers : US Council of Catholic Bishops, the 75th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church, and the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA (a multi-denominational group), among others. Where is the AU’s vehement objection? Where is Barry Lynn’s fire and righteousness in condeming an outright push by organized religion to directly influence politics in the US? …crickets chirping…

Seems that maybe ole Rev Barry is a might bit selective in his choice of issues, eh? In fact, I find that many of the anti-religion leftist hit groups follow pretty much the same strategy as the non-partisan AU. When religious leaders and groups support issues that the left opposes such as pro-life activism, abstinence education, and opposition to euthanasia, the left howls and moans about the American theocracy and how the religious right is conquering America. On the other hand, when religious leaders voice their support for left-friendly issues such as ending the war in Iraq, banning the death penalty, and increasing funding for “social justice issues,” the usual hit groups are nowhere to be found.

This calls into question the integrity of the AU. Americans United for Separation of Church and State claim to be non-partisan. They claim to take no marching orders from, say the DNC or the ACLU, yet they seem overjoyed to attack issues that support conservative beliefs. At the same time, issues that clearly fall under the umbrella of separation of church and state that happen to be in support of leftist positions are totally untouched by the AU. I think it’s time that the good Reverend Lynn take an honest look at himself and his organization. It’s never too late to repent, right Reverend?

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Adding fuel to the Climate Change fire

We’ve recently sparked some interesting discussions on climate change and global warming here at ASHC. I’d like to add a little fuel (biodegradable, earth-friendly fuel, of course) to the fire by recommending this article on Dr. David Orrell’s new book, Apollo’s Arrow. Although I have not yet had the opportunity to read Dr. Orrell’s new work, I find his ideas to be very interesting. While not exactly covering new ground here, Dr. Orrell does certainly add to the theory that environmentalism has become a religion, complete with its own prophets, matyrs, and holy scriptures. As pointed out, Dr. Orrell is not a climate change skeptic in the Bjorn Lomborg or Michael Crichton models; rather, he is a man fully convinced that climate change is occurring, but that our ability to predict or model it is virtually non-existent. He takes issue with Kyoto, the IPCC report, and with the newfound prophets of environmentalism David Suzuki and Al Gore. Apollo’s Arrow is sure to make for interesting reading and is definitely something that dedicated environmentalists and climate change die-hards should take to heart.

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A growing problem

This is an interesting look at the dark side of Scientology. For years, we’ve been bombarded with the idea that Scientology is merely a new religion facing massive prejudice by an unenlightened population led by old-guard church leaders who refuse to allow any encroachment on their turf. Well, turns out Scientology is just a bit more hard-edged than that. In addition to legal wranglings attempting to block access to some of their older, “secret scripture,” Scientology’s attack dog organization, OSA (Office of Special Affairs), has been actively using hate-group style tactics to smear and destroy any who dare oppose Scientology.

An interesting point in this whole matter is Europe’s response to Scientology : declare it a hate group. France, in particular, is championing the fight against Scientology (and other cults), although Germany is not far behind, citing its unique experience of victimization at the hands of cult-like leaders (the Nazis). This is a fairly extensive breakdown of the Germany/France v. America debate over Scientology that occurred when America was loved by the entire world . Notice the Clinton Administration’s handling of this matter and the fact that things weren’t quite as lovey-dovey between the US and Europe as certain MSM types would like us to believe.

This entire fight raises interesting questions about the United States’ absolute Constitutional rights, if such a term can be used. Notice another issue that the US has Europeans up in arms about : hate-groups on the Internet. Europe has extremely broad and, some would say, draconian laws against hate groups, hate crimes, hate sites, etc. In the US, on the other hand, such things are generally protected by the First Amendment (although there is a trend toward the European position on this type of thing). Germany, in particular, is extremely zealous in its attempts to stifle hate group activities and has long complained that the US is the last country in the world that hate groups can seek refuge. This complaint is ongoing and has been a source of ill will since at least the mid-1990’s (again, Europe-USA relationship during the Clinton years, not quite as perfect as we are led to believe). For an interesting look at the differences between the US and Germany (as seen through the eyes of a German graduate student studying here in the US), see this nicely done article.

All of this to say that we need to re-examine what we do and do not allow here in the US and at least listen to the arguments that the French and Germans have regarding hate groups and Scientology. No, I’m not advocating overthrowing the First Amendment. On the contrary, I’ve often been a bit of a First Amendment absolutist. At the same time, we must take care that our commitment to freedom isn’t simply abused by those who have a very real stake in drastically altering our system of government and our society. Cults, such as Scientology, are rapidly gaining in strength, both financial and political, and are a very real threat to our way of life. The Europeans have realized this threat and are taking active steps to deal with it. Why aren’t we?

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It’s DAA Colts!

Although not a huge fan of either of the teams playing in this year’s Superbowl, I admit to being both impressed and happy that Indy won. The first quarter made me doubt Indy’s chances, but they struggled back to to take the lead heading into halftime. Peyton Manning can now put the ghost of Dan Marino to rest and Tony Dungy can join the record books as the third person to win a Superbowl as both player and coach. Well done, Colts. Enjoy the offseason; you’ve earned it!

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Ah, the Paleocons

This is a nice example of why I take paleocons even less seriously than I take diehard, doctrinaire Libertarians. As some QandO commenters are fond of saying (in full snark mode), “It’s all dem Joos’ fault!”

Here’s a post from Da Man himself, Patrick J. Buchanan. Notice that Buchanan implies his agreement with those who support Congress simply cutting the funding to the war in Iraq.

Until the Paleocons give up the never ending Evil Zionist Conspiracy arguments, they will continue to be treated like the unrepentant anti-Semitic cranks that they prove themselves to be on a daily basis.

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Skepticism on the Surge

I daresay that those who have read my recent posts on President Bush’s new strategy for Iraq and my comments here, at QandO, and elsewhere believe that I am fairly gloomy in my outlook on the situation in Iraq. I believe that is very likely an accurate assessment and I continue to be highly “gloomy,” “dour,” and “skeptical,” of the new Surge plan. In this case, however, I’ve got reasonably good reason to be so. General George Casey, the current commander of US forces in Iraq (soon to be replaced by General Petraeus), believes that the Surge will take at least 3-6 months before results will be seen. Ok, assuming that General Casey’s assesment is correct (and who would have better firsthand knowledge of the situation in Iraq than him), let’s think about what that means for us. Firstly, we’re going to be pulling approximately 20,000 extra troops into Iraq (mainly Baghdad). That number is probably going to include a fair number of soldiers who have already done at least one tour of duty in Iraq. Secondly, the Surge strategy virtually mandates heavy combat. The key objective of the Surge’s mission is the suppression of militia power. I suggest that the militias will not simply go quietly into the night here. They are going to fight back. That means casualties. Probably a relatively high number of casualties, in fact (US and Iraqi). Thirdly, this operation is not predicted to bear fruit for three to six months, minimum (per General Casey). Months and months of intense fighting and potentially heavy casualties before we see any concrete results. Assuming that the strategy succeeds.

I understand the frustration that many have had with our most recent strategy in Iraq which appeared to be “stay the course.” Indeed, said strategy seems not to have produced the desired results and it has become politically unfeasible. Are our only options then the Surge or complete disengagement and evacuation? I don’t really know, however I am fairly confident that those two options will both produce unwanted results to the parties advocating them. Should the Surge succeed, I shall happily eat crow. My concern is primarily with those in the line of fire. I do not wish to see their lives squandered on hasty strategies conceived out of frustration, impatience, and political strategizing. I want to see the Surge succeed, but I cannot believe that it will do so and that it will result in more unnecessary waste of life. After six months of heavy fighting and casualties, Congress will pull the plug and our troops will be evacuated. What exactly will have been achieved then?

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On a Positive Note

As I have been accused of being rather “dour” in my outlook on world affairs today, I thought that would “brighten” things a bit. This is very exciting news, not because I am necessarily a huge fan of the WTO (I’m not), but because it represents a massive step forward for Vietnam. They are starting to embrace (slowly) capitalism and free trade and becoming a valued, participating member of the world community. This is the last phase of the healing that that battered nation must undergo in order to recover from half a century of warfare and communist rule. The Vietnamese people are honest and hardworking and, though perhaps currently lacking in high tech skills and university education, will eventually develop these things and, hopefully, become a power to rival, if not, perhaps, China, then at least Japan. I look forward to that day and hope to see this struggling young nation emerge as a democratic, capitalist nation that is a leader in its region and a friend of the US.

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Assessing the President’s New Plan for Iraq

Much discussion of the President’s speech has gone on of late throughout the wonderful world of blogging. Although I have at least skimmed some of the major left/right/center blogs, I have really only dedicated significant time to following this discussion on QandO blog. The relevant links are here, here, and here. In particular, I’d like to examine the White House’s official bulletpoint list.


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Real Estate and the Dems

is an interesting take on the new Dem Congress from Real Estate Broker and “The Apprentice 3″ winner, Kendra Todd. I’m hardly an expert on matters of real estate speculation, but I’d like to examine this brief articles contentions in a bit more detail.


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Racism, Democracy, and the Realists

One of the most frequently heard talking points amongst US foreign policy “Realists” is that not every culture in the world is a suitable breeding ground for democracy. General Brent Scowcroft is one of the most recognized prophets of this philosophy, but I cannot begin to count the numbers of those on both the right and left who echo this belief. Here are several different angles to the same argument (from right, left, and center authors):

Andrew McCarthy

Firas Al-Atraqchi

Eva Bellin

Now Dr. Bellin’s argument is more slanted toward economic considerations than the other two, but her conclusion is basically the same: Islamic societies in general, and Iraq in particular, are incompatible with democracy. Needless to say, I disagree. Examples of successful democratic governments (though not necessarily US-style democracies) do exist in Muslim majority nations. Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Turkey to name but several. The real issue, I find, however is one that hasn’t been frequently touched on: is it racist to assume that non-Western cultures are incompatible with democracy?


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An interesting take on the Hajj

I was reading several recent posts from Muslims around the world dealing with their experience of the Hajj and its impact on them personally and on life in general. As one who has completed it, I can certainly say that it is a spiritually uplifting experience and that, although difficult and exhausting physically, it is well worth doing. This particular post, however, reminded me of a story that I should not have forgotten regarding the Hajj and how it can change the nature of a man. You have to dig for the article, as no direct link appears possible. The author is Faisal Kutty and the title is “Hajj plants the seed to celebrate diversity of common humanity.” It was published on 12-31-06. Well worth reading for an insight into how this pilgrimage can help to better the world.

Incidentally, I highly recommend the Hajj to Muslims who have not yet completed it and I also recommend a tour of the Holy Land to Christians and Jews. It is an equally inspiring journey and, if undertaken with an open mind and deep religious commitment, life-altering. While in the Holy Land, take the time to go off the beaten path a bit and see modern Israel for what it really is, a beautiful land rich with culture and, despite some hardships, teeming with energy and with a thriving society.

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At Long Last, We Can See The Light At The End Of The Tunnel

This is the great finale that we’ve been promised for nearly twenty years. It’s about time that George Lucas and Steven Spielberg live up to the hype that’s been building. Here’s hoping that there are no further delays and that we can finally get our fill of Indy. I’ll be counting down the days till May, 2008.

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The End of an Era

Ding dong the witch is dead. Whether that actually changes anything or not in Iraq remains to be seen, but the thirty year chapter of war, corruption, rape, murder, and genocide that was Saddam’s regime closed for good December 30, 2006. The next chapter of Iraq’s history is now in the hands of its people and their leaders. For good or bad, the boogeyman is now gone.

PS For a guy who was supposedly such a dedicated secular Baathist, it appears that Saddam tried to come back to God just before his death. Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. Saddam’s life was a testament to earthly power and the arrogance of one man. Finding faith when the noose is around your neck just doesn’t cut it and leads me to believe that it was sheer public theater. Pathetic.

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Now I can justify all those late-night sessions

I have quite firmly announced my status as an MMORPG’er on this very site in the recent past. I am still quite proud of it. Having said that, I acknowledge that participation in MMORPG’s, like participation in most hobbies, doesn’t actually contribute to the overrall betterment of mankind (I daresay MMORPG producers would disagree). While checking up on a number of worldwide charity organizations (don’t ask), I discovered this link which I find to be amazingly creative. Not only is the charity an older, quite legitimate one (as far as I can tell), but the organization sponsoring this is donating an additional 10% on top of what players contribute. That’s not bad at all. Now whenever I’m accused of wasting away my free time, and contributing to EQwidowhood, I can (somewhat) honestly respond that I am motivated sheerly by desire to further the cause of a humanitarian charity group. I wonder how long I’ll be able to pull this one off before the wife gets wise to it?

Check it out. Help save the World by playing the World (of Warcraft). Kudos to whomever thought this idea up.

Hey, maybe even Michael will step up to the lofty heights of geekdom and become an MMORPG’er. Remeber, it’s for the children. ;)

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The long-awaited return

Islam Q and A. I know, gentle readers, you’ve missed it. You’ve beaten your chests and gnashed your teeth. You’ve stared holes into your monitor screens. And now, your wailings and gnashings of teeth can end. Friday Islam Q and A is back.

Honestly, I discontinued this regular post for awhile, because it seemed like I’d addressed most of the questions that you had. The post no longer seemed useful. Tonight, however, I had the honor of being a guest speaker at the post-Shabbat service social gathering at one of the local Jewish temples (Shul, Synagogue, call it what you like). I must confess that I’m always struck by the similarities between an Orthodox or orthodox-leaning Conservative Jewish Shabbat service and Muslim prayer services. While the Shabbat services are only held once a week and tend to last a bit longer than our daily prayers, I feel an undeniable familiarity. After the service, I gave a brief talk on Muslim theology and practices and then opened the floor to questions. Although none of the questions really surprised me, they did reinforce to me the fact that Americans genuinely do want to learn about Islam and that it is the duty of American Muslims to offer honest, accurate information whenever we are asked to do so, if for no other reason than to counter the fundamentalist Salafist or Shiite voices that emerge every day from the Middle East.

So, having said that, I’d like to re-open the Islam Q and A post for business and open the floor, so to speak, to you, gentle readers. Ask away.

As always, I do like to offer the following “disclaimers and rules” : 1. I am not a legitimate religious authority. Which is to say that I am not one of the imams or the ulema. I have a professional background in comparative religion and theology, not formal Islamic religious schooling. My answers are based strictly on my personal experience of Islam as a practicing Muslim. 2. In light of the above, please keep your questions fairly broad, or at least non-technical if possible. If your question starts with something along the lines of,”The Maliki school of jurisprudence says XYZ..,” then you would do better going to your local masjik and imam, not me.

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Remembering past Libertarian heroes

Although the world is certainly a darker place without the presence of champion of Libertarian ideals, Milton Friedman, I always felt that my libertarian leanings were more a product of the late Robert Nozick than more traditional authors like Friedman or F.A. Hayek. For an example of one of Nozick’s pieces for CATO, see here. It’s a very interesting take on the idea that many so-called “intellectuals,” are rabid opponents of capitalism. I find a great deal to agree with in this article and I believe that this is an important issue to consider. The leftist bias on university campuses is well documented and well known (except to university faculty and administrators). Much like global warming, it’s time to stop arguing about whether this problem exists or not and start looking at the actual effects on our society and the potential causes and solutions. Nozick’s article is a great starting point.

Anarchy, State and Utopia

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Important History

Keith sent this very interesting link to Michael awhile back and he forwarded it to me. This is a great example of a moderate Muslim voice trying to offer a little fragment of the positive relationship that Jews and Muslims have enjoyed in the past. Mansur also offers advice for the future and the very necessary step of reconciling these two great world religions.

Having said that, the comments posted under the article remind me of the fact that the “war of hearts and minds” is not only being waged in the Islamic world. It’s also very much being waged in the “West.” Many, many Westerners, both Christian and secular are absolutely intent on rebuilding the spirit of the old Crusades. They are absolutely, unalterably convinced that Islam is the devil’s own religion and until every Muslim is butchered or converted (to either Christianity or secular humanism), the world will not be safe for “the righteous.” I invite you, gentle readers, to examine the comments in some detail and ask yourselves if you have not heard similar language before. The same rhetoric is broadcast daily by Islamic fundamentalists, yet here it comes from “enlightened” Westerners. Ironic, is it not, that those so intent on “saving” us from the fundamentalist terrorists are, themselves, unashemedly using the rhetoric of those like Iran’s President and OBL.

In particular, please focus on the position taken by the opponents of Islam in this comment section. Muslims are all heathen butchers. We understand your theology, laws, and holy scriptures better than you do. Our understanding of those things is the only true one (sound familiar?). We have a version of history which Muslims must accept or else be branded hypocrites or fanatic apologists. Either accept our vision of Islam and renounce it, or be squashed under the heel of “righteousness” like the fundamentalist terrorist that we consider you to be.

Until the “West” itself decides what its position on Islam is, then I can’t really see how any progress is to be made in interactions between the Muslim world and the western world. I can only hope that cooler, more rational heads will prevail in both camps and that this ridiculous alarmism will end soon.

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A Collection of Thoughts on Friedman’s Passing- Continuously updated, just scroll down

Last Updated at 10:23PM Central Time

For all of our coverage of the passing of Milton Friedman, and all the links you could ever want, go to our Milton Friedman Memorial page.

From Pejman,”That’s right. A lecture concerning a mundane topic like the creation of a pencil was made dazzling and fascinating by Milton Friedman. Imagine what he could do with questions and debate regarding matters of great import and consequence.”



Tyler Cowen who, like me, started with Friedman:”I believe Capitalism and Freedom was the second or third book I ever read on economics and it definitely shaped my life. I knew Milton only a bit but he was always gracious and of course razor sharp and a lover of liberty and prosperity. He was one of the most important minds of the second half of the twentieth century and his influence remains felt all around the world. In purely academic terms, he easily could have won two or three Nobel Prizes from the quality and quantity of his work.”

The New York Times has a long piece on his life.

Steve Levitt makes a wonderful point: “He was truly a revolutionary thinker. People do not realize how revolutionary because so many of his ideas that were thought to be crazy when he suggested them eventually came to be seen as obvious: school choice, a volunteer army, etc.”

Jane Galt pretending to be Economist Magazine: “An economics giant, he not only revolutionised monetary theory, but singlehandedly did more than almost any economist in history to advance the cause of free markets. He was not merely an accomplished economist, but an accomplished popular writer; his Newsweek columns remain gems of clarity and brilliance decades later. We will not soon see his like again.”

The only way that has ever been discovered to have a lot of people cooperate together voluntarily is through the free market. And that’s why it’s so essential to preserving individual freedom. ~ Milton Friedman

Brian Doherty of Reason magazine needless to say has a lot to say:

Undoubtedly the most successful and influential proponent of libertarian thought in the 20th century, Milton Friedman, died last night at age 94. His successes as both a technical economist and libertarian polemicist are enormous. We can thank him, in large part, for happy events from the elimination of the draft to the conquest of inflation. Just a quick note now–his impact was staggering, and there could never be enough words said in praise of him.

My 1995 Reason interview with him.

A 2005 Reason interview, with Nick Gillespie, on his legacy of fighting for school choice.

His most recent Reason interview, with me, in our November issue, as part of a roundtable on the Federal Reserve.

Jacob Sullum’s celebration of Friedman’s 90th birthday.


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On the Lighter Side

All of the talk lately around the blogsphere tends to drift toward the Iraq War and how it will be handled in the very near future. Some bloggers have also discussed the plans that the incoming Democrat leadership will be putting in place (or trying to) come next session. Given the extremely serious (and, at times, dull) nature of these discussions, I thought I’d lighten the mood a bit with my own parody of national events and personalities.

Iraq : send in these guys or maybe these guys instead.

Iran and North Korea : ditto.

The 110th Congress : this is about what you’d expect. Perhaps a little less restrained. We’ll have to see about that whole bipartisanship thing.

Howard Dean and the Kos Kids : just as precocious as ever. Howard would be the star, of course, with Kos and Kompany the hangers-on. The little scamps.

President Bush and VP Cheney : oblivious to reality as ever. Tell me they don’t remind you of these guys.

Denny Hastert and Bill Frist : is it any wonder that your party drives off a cliff when led by the real-life equivalents of these two guys?

Nancy Pelosi : Buffy the Republican Slayer

The future hope for the Republican party : tell me this wouldn’t scare the heck out of opponents.

Steny Hoyer and Harry Reid : guess who’s who.

Alcee Hastings : the man who gives him the inspiration to wake up every morning.

More coming soon.

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Losing Gracefully

Of all the comments I’ve seen on the results of last week’s election, I think Pat Sajak really does sum it up best. Yes, that Pat Sajak.

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49′ers relocating

After negotiations with SF mayor Gavin Newsom, yes that Gavin Newsom, broke down, the team announced it’s decision to pack up and move. Theoretically, this could be as soon as 2008 when their lease runs up, although they could always renew it for another few years if need be. So, now the great debate starts. Do they go to LA, Anaheim, or leave California altogether? If they do decide to relocate to, say San Antonio (which wants a team), do they keep the 49′ers name and legacy or do they retire it and become something else entirely? This is Roger Goodell’s first big challenge as commish. Let’s see how well he handles it.

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Fisking Fox (or something like that)

This little charmer from the AP appeared on Fox News’ website today. Although I haven’t done a lot of “fisking” in the past, I’m going to attempt to do so now as this article is pure garbage and deserves to be treated as such and placed in the appropriate receptacle.

MADRID, Spain — The shift that midterm elections brought to Washington’s political landscape was welcomed Wednesday by many across the world who oppose the war in Iraq and methods used by the U.S. in the fight against terrorism.

Here’s the tagline. Pretty amazing stuff, huh? Wow, so people who oppose the war around the world and, as a rule don’t like Americans in general are thrilled by a Democrat victory. Gee, I really needed a professional news service to relay this information to me. Goodness knows I’d never have figured this out on my own. (more…)

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A well oiled machine

That’s what brought the Dems control of the United States Congress (they have the House clearly and will probably get the Senate). Of course, given the ineptness of the Republican leadership, it was the Dems’ race to lose. Let me be on record here as congratulating the Dem leadership for running a great campaign and also on record as having saved and printed every post on every blog that I regularly read about how great a Dem Congress (or a divided Congress) is going to be. We have two years to see if you cheerleaders for the Dems were right or wrong. And if you were wrong, well let’s just say that I’ve got the evidence needed to take you down when you start backtracking in ‘08. So enjoy the lame duck period, folks. You’re in for a LOT of work come next session.

PS Special thanks to all the Republicans in Texas who, rather than support a solidly Republican-aligned Libertarian, Bob Smither, decided to stay home, put their fingers in their ears and hum real loudly or else write-in a name that’s darned near impossible to remember to say nothing of spelling. Hope you enjoy the next few years under Nick Lampson and the Dem Congress. You earned it!

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On a related note

I’ve been reading quite a bit lately (big surprise, I know). In addition to re-reading TME mentioned below, I’ve also been reading a much more pop history type book (although a pretty darn good one), Team of Rivals : The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Although a bit light on sources, footnotes, etc., it’s very well researched for a general interest type of history. ToR reminds us of the seemingly lost art of statesmanship and the brilliance of often underrated and villified President Abraham Lincoln. It’s quite an ironic read when you consider the utter imbeciles and hacks that will be elected come the morn. I’m not sure what happened between 1860 and 2006 to have put America so badly off track in terms of leadership and forward progress, but this is definitely a great primer on the glory days of old and perhaps a blueprint for aspiring young up-and-coming statesmen and stateswomen. If nothing else, read it to avoid being one of Jay Leno’s “Jaywalkers.”

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

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Reflections on the past

I’m not really one to do book reviews. Frankly, I’m considered by colleagues to be overly critical. Almost every biography I’ve been asked to review I’ve rejected as shameless hagiography; every theology or comparative religious work incorrectly formatted for the target market (do not discuss the differences between the existentialist theories of Paul Tillich and Soren Kierkegaard or St. Boniface’s Frisian sermons or the nature of Elisha ben Abuyah’s heresy in a book targeted at the general interest market). Every now and then, however, I find a solid work which balances points of view, academic v. popular history, and provides highly detailed source material. I’ve recently been rereading one of the better works on Middle Eastern (a very broad term as in this case it includes SE Europe, southern Russia, North Africa, and Spain) history. Currently in its sixth edition, The Middle East : A History by Sydney Nettleton Fisher (and updated by William Ochsenwald) is one of those rare books that really makes you want to read and re-read it time and time again. Originally published in 1959 and updated by Professor Fisher until his death in 1987, TME is, for the most part, a history of Islam and its various dynasties and empires. The late professor gives an excellent review of the founding of Islam and its early players, plus overlooked information on the roots of Islamic sectarianism. Later, he explains the critical history of the rise and fall of the Ottoman and Safavid Empires, including the much ignored role of the Qizilbash, the Uzbegs, the Kurds, and the Azerbaijanis. The late professor, like all of the best scholars, does not guide the reader to any particular conclusions or judgements. Any biases that he may have possessed are not visible in this work. He merely relates the facts, devoid of editorial analysis, pre-judgement, or strawman arguments. This is the kind of scholarly tradition that I’m afraid has died out in today’s highly politicized academic world. (more…)

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Iraq and the Paper Tiger argument

Over at QandO, McQ has posted an interesting take on the old US is a paper tiger debate. While he makes some excellent points, I consider that the “paper tiger” issue misses the more important point about the American people as a whole. See my comments there (near the bottom) for more on my take on this issue.

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Lions and Tigers and Usurers, Oh My!

***Update*** A point I neglected to mention is that distributism, like Marxism, seems overly concerned with labor and production of concrete goods. It does not adequately address what could broadly be considered the “service sector,” which could be said to include anyone who does not directly produce a concrete product (bankers, financial professionals, lawyers, doctors and medical personnel, educators, researchers, etc.).

Lance’s recent post on usury and a discussion of the recent Nobel Prize in Economics here and elsewhere prompted me to revisit my old views on economic theory which were essentially summed up by the twentieth century economic philosophy called distributism. For those of you unfamiliar with distributism (and it’s pretty obscure unless you happen to be either a religious studies specialist or an economic historian), several solid descriptions exist here. Although an overtly Catholic system, I found much of what is proposed to be thoroughly compatible with Islamic views, especially as concerns usury. The biggest difference on the usury issue being that Muslims are not allowed to charge any interest, whereas distributism proposes a fixed and “fair” limit on interest. For several years, I considered myself at least a mild distributist and looked to G.K. Chesterton and Hillaire Belloc for wisdom. Eventually, the utter impracticality of implementing such a system and some very good pro-capitalist papers emerged which convinced me of the folly of distributism. (more…)

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Barack and Roll

It seems like Queen Hilary I may be in for more of a nomination fight than may have initially been thought. Recent Democratic party golden boy Barack Hussein Obama, Jr. has just indicated that he is seriously considering throwing his hat into the ring. While I’m thrilled to see a minority candidate for the Oval Office, I’m not so thrilled about it being Obama. Democrats in favor of Obama are going to play up the idea that Obama is overtly religious, as opposed to Hillary’s persona of being religious only at election time. While this may be technically correct, I anticipate a somewhat major speedbump on the road to the nomination if Obama chooses to go with this strategy : he’s an apostate Muslim. (more…)

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Libertarians and Environmentalists on the Same Page

I know, I know.  This is one of the signs of the Apocalypse.  Actually, believe it or not, I find that this happens more often than you’d think.  The specific issue that I’m referring to here is the idea that corporate welfare needs to end.  This is a great piece on how the American Smelting and Refining Company (Asarco) is using legal loopholes to avoid paying for the messes that it is making.  Notice a few key points :

   Reorganization under the Bankruptcy Code’s Chapter 11 helps companies wipe the slate clean of environmental liabilities, giving them a fresh start.

Blatant abuse of the bankruptcy code. When private citizens do this kind of thing, we get smacked around; when corporations do it, they get a wink and a nod.

Asarco’s parent company, Grupo México, is benefiting too. A few months after Asarco filed for bankruptcy, Grupo México announced that net profits had doubled–largely because Asarco’s environmental liabilities had been removed from its books. Of course, the liabilities remain, but now they are borne by U.S. taxpayers.

As usual, guess who winds up paying for corporate malfeasance?  That’s right, you and me.

There are United States v. Asarco rulings unfavorable to the company in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Texas, Utah, and Washington. When Asarco filed for bankruptcy, more than 100 civil environmental cases were pending against it.

Ok, I’m no expert, but doesn’t the company’s board of directors monitor this kind of thing?  When you have over a hundred cases of a similar type pending against you, it’s time to start doing more than just meeting in Tahiti once a year.

In 2002, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) was concerned enough about corporate shell games and other legal evasions to ask the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to see if corporate polluters were avoiding their responsibility under existing laws.

Well, at least someone in Congress isn’t asleep at the wheel on this, however…

Once, Tacoma could have depended on the federal Superfund program to force the parties responsible to bear the cost of cleaning up contaminated sites. Most of the costs of restoring “orphaned” properties–many created through bankruptcy–were paid by a tax on crude oil and certain chemicals and an environmental tax on corporations. Not anymore. When authority to collect these taxes expired in 1995, Congress did not renew it, and now the program’s “polluter pays” fund is depleted. Cleanup dollars have to be pulled from general funds, meaning out of the public’s pockets.

And why didn’t Congress renew this?  Also, remind me who occupied the Oval Office in 1995?  Seems like the blame gets spred pretty evenly here between R’s and D’s.

No one knows just how widespread the problem is. According to the GAO report, “While more than 231,000 businesses operating in the United States filed for bankruptcy in fiscal years 1998 through 2003, the extent to which these businesses had environmental liabilities is not known because neither the federal government nor other sources collect this information.”

More examples of your federal government in action.  And remind me why we would ever support people who put their faith in big government?

Andrea Madigan is the chair of the EPA’s national bankruptcy work group and an enforcement attorney based in Denver’s Region 8 office…”The bankruptcy laws specify that companies have to give notice to their creditors, and if we are a creditor, we should be identified,” says Madigan. But is the EPA notified so it can collect? “Debtors can sometimes be pretty sloppy.”

Uh, yeah, and apparently so can the government.  Perfect example of government versus business.  Government yo-yo says,”Eh well, a lot of people owe us money.  Uh, I guess we’re going to try to find out who owes and how much.  Maybe we’ll even try to get some of that back.”  On the other hand, private businessowner Joe Capitalist does not go to bed at night without knowing who owes him money, how much, where they live, their shoe size, and their kids’ pet Golden Retriever’s name.  Government yo-yo has neither the personal motivation nor accountability to keep track of who owes the government money (it’s not his money, right?).  Joe Capitalist’s future depends on making sure that he gets paid when someone purchases a product or service from him or is issued a line of credit.  Personal responsibility, accountability, and motivation.  Hmmm… maybe this capitalism thing isn’t that bad.

Corporations have a responsibility to clean up their messes.  This is part of the idea of personal accountability (you make a mess, you are ultimately responsible for making sure that it gets cleaned up).  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating a war against business here, but when a corporation uses the bankruptcy codes to dodge reponsibility to its creditors, it needs to be shut down for good.  Regulatory agencies need to be a lot smarter about watching what corporations are doing and predicting the results of corporate actions.  If a company is on shaky grounds financially and suddenly starts transferring its assets to a holding company or other such entity, the regulatory folks need to make the logical jump here, realize what’s happening, and do their jobs in making sure that existing laws are enforced.  In the case of Asarco, since they have essentially stolen taxpayer money (we’re paying for their messes and legal liabilities), there is no way that they should be allowed to return to operation in the United States until they have paid back every dollar.  Further, their parent company should be held accountable for this debt as well and should be monitored to guarantee that they don’t just use a new start-up company or holding company to pick up right where Asarco left off.  This kind of parasitic behavior by corporations needs to end.  When Asarco returns to the US (as it inevitably will), they will pick up where they left off, debt-free (thanks, taxpayers).  Their competition, meanwhile, may well be honest businesses who take responsibility and pay for their debts rather than using legal maneuverings to avoid them.  What sort of message does this send to them?  Are we simply incentivizing bad behavior?  We talk a good game about the free-market and capitalism, but how free is the market if some companies get to leech off of the taxpayer and some don’t?

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And the Academy Award goes to… not you guys

Like many other people who find themselves slightly to the right of the Hollywood crowd (both politically and geographically speaking), I find myself constantly baffled by the fact that despite the legions of potential conservative or libertarian movie fans out there, very few conservative or libertarian films every appear at our local twelve screener.  In the past, I’ve attributed this to the fact that the Hollywood crowd, being essentially narcissistic, only likes to play to itself.  They don’t like people who disagree with their conceptions of the world.  After having a quick read of this article, however, I’m beginning to question my assumptions about the lack of existence of a bona-fide right or at least right-leaning counterpart to Hollywood. 

Ross Douthat makes some very good points here.  Until very recently, the Right in America has essentially ignored the culture war.  We’ve decided that Hollywood is basically a bunch of pinko degenerates that we want nothing to do with.  Which is sad given the fact that more and more Americans today take the silver screen seriously.  Textbook examples would be Michael Moore’s “documentaries,” Al Gore’s “documentary,” and “psycho-political thriller” The Manchurian Candidate (2004 version, not the original).  When it comes to influencing people via popular entertainment, the Right is not only asleep at the wheel, but drifting off the road into the woods.  It’s about time that we revived our presence in this critical battlefront of the culture wars.  Hollywood has been far, far too successful at spreading beliefs and attitudes that are antithetical to our own.  Folk marxism?  Been there, done that.  Bush-bashing?  Old news.  Free advertising for leftists?  Better believe it.

For the libertarian and conservative movers and shakers, however, it’s going to take more than just the occasional indy-film documentary to get audiences’ attention.  We need real actors, real directors, and, for crying out loud, talented writers.  Remeber that the competition is good.  Very good.  They have been doing this for almost a century and we are playing on their turf.   If the libertarian conservative film industry is ever to get off the ground, they are going to have some tough battles ahead that they are going to have to win.  Not that I consider it to be a particularly “conservative” or “libertarian” film, but remember the Hollywood crowd’s reaction to The Passion of the Christ?  Just imagine what it’s going to be when someone actually releases a serious, die-hard libertarian movie.  Get ready for this fight, guys.  And you know what?  It’s about time we had it.

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The One About Arabs

I recently had a chance to read this very interesting post dealing with Stephen Browne’s Observations on Arabs.  Woody M. at GM’s Corner blog has dissected Browne’s analysis and offered up a few observations and questions. It’s actually quite a good post and I recommend having a look at it. The original post from Stephen Browne may be found here.I’d like to take a more detailed look at Woody’s post as well and maybe add a few things to it. Firstly, I’ll take Browne’s original twelve observations. (more…)

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War! Maybe.

Early this morning, North Korea issued a statement indicating that the UN Security Council resolution calling for sanctions and an end to it’s nuclear weapons program was tantamount to a declaration of war. also covered here (with slightly more amusing graphic of Kim Jong-Il). (more…)

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