Archive for the 'Religion and theology' Category

What passes for moral clarity

Creating a human embryo for the purpose of experimentation and destruction = Good.

Creating a  human embryo for the purpose of creating a born human person = Bad.

How does it work that way?

Also, some argue that Obama’s statements opposing human cloning are misleading. Derrick Jones, spokesman for the National Right to Life Committee, said the administration has left the door open to create, and then destroy, embryos through cloning for the sole purpose of harvesting stem cells.

And he’s right. If a person believes that we ought to worry about it or not, this is what happens. An embryo, quite often a clone, is created and then destroyed. The difference is that we don’t value that bit of cells, not that we don’t agree with cloning.    Nothing at all wrong with cloning if the clone is destroyed.

So what is it that makes anyone who approves of the clone and destroy method, disapprove of the clone and birth method?    Obama seems to think that the difference is crystal.

“We cannot ever tolerate misuse or abuse. And we will ensure that our government never opens the door to the use of cloning for human reproduction,” Obama said. “It is dangerous, profoundly wrong, and has no place in our society, or any society.”

Wow. No place in any society. Bad, bad, bad.

Why? What does he think a “clone” is? Why is it so clearly wrong to create an embryo and let it live?

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Malaysia’s War on Tomboys

Malaysia’s National Fatwa Council issued a warning to human rights groups yesterday that should they criticize its efforts to repress “tomboy behaviour” among Malaysian women, it could result in…further repression.

One has to marvel at this sort of thinking. How dare you accuse me of being repressive and insane, I’ll show you by being repressive and insane.

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Jason Linkins is a Crazier Guy

Jason Linkins takes exception to my reading his Huffington Post editorial about the silly ‘lipstick’ controversy as a suicide fantasy. He protests in his defense that he didn’t want to shoot himself, he wanted to shoot other people. Wonderful. How about nobody gets shot and you lighten up Jason.

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Ruining Ramadan in Egypt

My Camel in Giza

Ramadan always means new soap operas in the Arab world. I learned today it also means not even thinking about masturbation. A small thing to you perhaps, but in a repressive sexual society where the curves of the female figure are a matter of imaginative mystery, this is a serious lifestyle sacrifice for young men.

For me, Ramadan always means sharing a cigarette on a dirty floorboard outside Cairo. I’d offered my driver my last smoke in the midst of the holy month when he’d picked me up from a camel train. I’d held it out with an appeal that God was after all merciful. Tobacco is haram, forbidden, during the daylight hours of Ramadan. He’d stared at it for a long time. ‘Western devils and their temptations’ might have been in his thoughts. Finally he said “Yes. But not here.”

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Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn R.I.P.

The impact of this man on the world is not part of the memory of many today. I’ll be breaking out a few of his books this week in his memory. A true Giant has passed away.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, whose stubborn, lonely and combative literary struggles gained the force of prophecy as he revealed the heavy afflictions of Soviet Communism in some of the most powerful works of fiction and history written in the 20th century, died late Sunday in Russia, his son Yermolai said early Monday in Moscow. He said the cause was a heart condition. He was 89.

He outlived by nearly 17 years the state and system he had battled through years of imprisonment, ostracism and exile.

Mr. Solzhenitsyn had been an obscure, middle-aged, unpublished high school science teacher in a provincial Russian town when he burst onto the literary stage in 1962 with “A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.” The book, a mold-breaking novel about a prison camp inmate, was a sensation. Suddenly, he was being compared to giants of Russian literature like Tolstoy, Dostoyevski and Chekov.

Over the next four decades, Mr. Solzhenitsyn’s fame spread throughout the world as he drew upon his experiences of totalitarian duress to write evocative novels like “The First Circle” and “The Cancer Ward” and historical works like “The Gulag Archipelago.”

“Gulag” was a monumental account and analysis of the Soviet labor camp system, a chain of prisons that by Mr. Solzhenitsyn’s calculation some 60 million people had entered during the 20th century. The book led to his expulsion from his native land. George F. Kennan, the American diplomat, described it as “the greatest and most powerful single indictment of a political regime ever to be leveled in modern times.”

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The Unbearable Deification of Obama

Perhaps the most interesting thing to come out of this (unbearably) long campaign season is the rare opportunity to witness deification in process. From Mark Morford, a San Francisco Gate columnist:

Is Obama an enlightened being?
Spiritual wise ones say: This sure ain’t no ordinary politician. You buying it?

I find I’m having this discussion, this weird little debate, more and more, with colleagues, with readers, with liberals and moderates and miserable, deeply depressed Republicans and spiritually amped persons of all shapes and stripes and I’m having it in particular with those who seem confused, angry, unsure, thoroughly nonplussed, as they all ask me the same thing: What the hell’s the big deal about Obama?

I, of course, have an answer. Sort of.


Barack Obama isn’t really one of us. Not in the normal way, anyway.

This is what I find myself offering up more and more in response to the whiners and the frowners and to those with broken or sadly dysfunctional karmic antennae – or no antennae at all – to all those who just don’t understand and maybe even actively recoil against all this chatter about Obama’s aura and feel and MLK/JFK-like vibe.

Morford apparently thinks that his explanation of Obama’s appeal is comforting to such people. I am one of those that recoil at the inane chatter, and yet somehow I still don’t feel comforted.

To them I say, all right, you want to know what it is? The appeal, the pull, the ethereal and magical thing that seems to enthrall millions of people from all over the world, that keeps opening up and firing into new channels of the culture normally completely unaffected by politics?

No, it’s not merely his youthful vigor, or handsomeness, or even inspiring rhetoric. It is not fresh ideas or cool charisma or the fact that a black president will be historic and revolutionary in about a thousand different ways. It is something more. Even Bill Clinton, with all his effortless, winking charm, didn’t have what Obama has, which is a sort of powerful luminosity, a unique high-vibration integrity.

Oh, I get it. He’s like a glow-in-the-dark alarm clock!

Dismiss it all you like [Ed. - Will do!], but I’ve heard from far too many enormously smart, wise, spiritually attuned people who’ve been intuitively blown away by Obama’s presence – not speeches, not policies, but sheer presence – to say it’s just a clever marketing ploy, a slick gambit carefully orchestrated by hotshot campaign organizers who, once Obama gets into office, will suddenly turn from perky optimists to vile soul-sucking lobbyist whores, with Obama as their suddenly evil, cackling overlord.

I can understand why “enormously smart, wise, spiritually attuned people” would not be blown away by Obama’s policies, but that’s setting the bar a little low for his presence isn’t it? As to why these people would be “intuitively” blown away by that presence, so much so that they simply cannot fathom Obama behaving like just another politician after obtaining office, is difficult to discern. Maybe he’s a Jedi knight? Obama-wan Kenobe?

Here’s where it gets gooey.

Got that? NOW it’s going to get “gooey.”

Many spiritually advanced people I know (not coweringly religious, mind you, but deeply spiritual) [Ed. - Right. 'Cus Obama knows those people don't know what their talking about] identify Obama as a Lightworker, that rare kind of attuned being who has the ability to lead us not merely to new foreign policies or health care plans or whatnot, but who can actually help usher in a new way of being on the planet, of relating and connecting and engaging with this bizarre earthly experiment. These kinds of people actually help us evolve. They are philosophers and peacemakers of a very high order, and they speak not just to reason or emotion, but to the soul.

The unusual thing is, true Lightworkers almost never appear on such a brutal, spiritually demeaning stage as national politics. This is why Obama is so rare. And this why he is so often compared to Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., to those leaders in our culture whose stirring vibrations still resonate throughout our short history.

What Morford doesn’t tell you is that you too can be a Lightworker, and it’s free! In fact, hold that thought for a minute …

Ha! There! Now I’m a Lightworker too! My Lightworker name is “ObiMike Wadobe.” Me and Obama, saving the world.

Are you rolling your eyes and scoffing? Fine by me.

Cha, as if you had a choice, Darkloafer.

Now, Obama. The next step [after Kennedy]. Another try. And perhaps, as Bush laid waste to the land and embarrassed the country and pummeled our national spirit into disenchanted pulp and yet ironically, in so doing has helped set the stage for an even larger and more fascinating evolutionary burp, we are finally truly ready for another Lightworker to step up.

He means Obama, of course, not ObiMike.

Let me be completely clear: I’m not arguing some sort of utopian revolution, a big global group hug with Obama as some sort of happy hippie camp counselor. I’m not saying the man’s going to swoop in like a superhero messiah and stop all wars and make the flowers grow and birds sing and solve world hunger and bring puppies to schoolchildren. Because that’s silly; puppies don’t belong in school.

I may have added that last sentence. It’s Lightworker humor. You may not understand (unless you sign up. It’s free!!!!).

Please. I’m also certainly not saying he’s perfect, that his presidency will be free of compromise, or slimy insiders, or great heaps of politics-as-usual.

No, of course not. That was the “enormously smart, wise, spiritually attuned people” saying all that. Unless Morford was lying about that whole “intuitively blown away” thing, which Darkloafers tend to do.

While Obama’s certainly an entire universe away from George W. Bush in terms of quality, integrity, intelligence and overall inspirational energy, well, so is your dog. Hell, it isn’t hard to stand far above and beyond the worst president in American history.

But there simply is no denying that extra kick. As one reader put it to me, in a way, it’s not even about Obama, per se.

I think this is one of the “gooey” parts.

There’s a vast amount of positive energy swirling about that’s been held back by the armies of BushCo darkness, and this energy has now found a conduit, a lightning rod, is now effortlessly self-organizing around Obama’s candidacy. People and emotions and ideas of high and positive vibration are automatically draw to him. It’s exactly like how Bush was a magnet for the low vibrational energies of fear and war and oppression and aggression, but, you know, completely reversed. And different. And far, far better.



if [ -d /gooey ]; then
rm -rf /gooey


That’s Geekworker humor … different universe.

Don’t buy any of it?

Hell, I won’t take it for free.

Think that’s all a bunch of tofu-sucking New Agey bulls– and Obama is really a dangerously elitist political salesman whose inexperience will lead us further into darkness because, when you’re talking national politics, nothing, really, ever changes? I understand. I get it. I often believe it myself.

Not this time.

Because I know some of you unenlightened beings won’t pick up on my subtle Lightworker humor here (which indicates a problem with your right parahippocampal gyrus), nor on the actual point of this post, let me make it explicitly clear to you ground dwellers: THIS IS NOT ABOUT OBAMA. IT IS ABOUT THE MORONIC DEIFICATION OF OBAMA BY HIS GLASSY-EYED SUPPORTERS LIKE MARK MORFORD, A PAID JOURNALIST.

HT: Charles Johnson, who had the most concise summary: “Oh, good grief.”

Further HT: James Joyner, who tipped me off as to the Lightworker thing, and closed with the Quip Of The Day:

Interestingly, charges that Fred Thompson was a light worker were harmful to his campaign. Go figure.

Everything found via Memeorandum.

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Exit Trinity. Exit Church.


Well, Mr. Obama has finally quit that ludicrous Chicago institution known as Trinity United Church of Christ. His membership had survived Rev. Wright, but was ultimately done in over the visiting Rev. Michael Pfleger’s bizarre self-hating white guilt trip, and radicalized political rally in sacred masquerade.

Having seen the deranged, obscenely ideological sermons of Wright and then Pfleger, it may be that conservatives are experiencing for the first time in national politics what the left has endured for decades: the insufferable and corrosive experience of seeing clergy involved in brutish political editorializing from the pulpit, done allegedly under the sanction of God, for and toward His rather famously unpredictable purposes.

Perhaps there might then be a collective recognition in this country that aggressively involving the church in politics isn’t such a swell idea. Perhaps even a deeper understanding that God –who by His nature rules only through decree– might not be such a logical source for consultation in a democracy, which rules through consent of the governed.

Too much to hope for, I know. But one can dream of a better day. Even in an era where the preacher pirates in the Evangelical social conservative movement hold a cutlass at the Republican party’s throat every election. And thereby a patently preposterous, explicitly theocratic ignoramus like Mike Huckabee, can experience significant support within that party for its vice presidential nomination.

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The Wright Stuff

I haven’t had much time to grace the pages of ASHC lately, but I was skimming through Memeorandum and just couldn’t resist saying something about this little screed:

Wright issue will haunt conservative media elite

By Roland S. Martin
CNN Contributor

Now that Sen. Barack Obama has denounced his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, many of his critics, especially those who call themselves conservative, are happy he has put the dashiki-wearing, American-criticizing former Marine in his place.

See, these same voices, many that are allegedly Christian, have reacted with glee by calling Wright a prophet of hate and a race baiter.

They hold themselves up to be so concerned about their fellow brother and sister, yet if you looked at their personal lives, I doubt you’d find many with African-American friends and associates (and I doubt their staffs are the most diverse in the world, but that’s another story).

But be careful what you ask for.

Martin goes on in this vein for the entire spleen-spewing piece, and basically warns conservatives that because they “gleefully” targeted Obama’s association with his (now former) pastor, they should expect the exact same treatment from liberals.

Because the article is so target-rich with fiskable material it’s difficult to say just which bit is more absurd than another, but Martin’s good-for-the-gander warning is no doubt top five. Particularly since it completely ignores the fact that Hillary Clinton pushed this issue as much as any “conservative,” that Obama’s mercurial explanations for his choice of pastor created much fodder for the press (and wasn’t well received by the voters), and that kept the problem front and center. It also ignores the fact that liberals have been caterwauling about people like Hagee since McCain accepted his endorsement. In fact, Martin’s attempt to head his critics off at the pass completely undermines his point by tacitly acknowledging that liberals have already tried to tie the Hagee albatross around McCain’s neck:

Now that Wright has set the so-called standard for what isn’t acceptable for religious leaders, let’s see these same critics take their own kind to task for making absolutely outlandish comments.

But don’t stop there. Demand that candidates don’t seek counsel from them. Demand that Republican candidates not go to their churches and sit in their pews and accept their contributions. And if elected, make sure those same candidates don’t allow them access to the White House or halls of Congress. Turnabout is fair play, and that means guys like the Revs. Pat Robertson and John Hagee should not be sought out for their endorsements, and should be removed from any committees associated with a candidate or a political party.

Oh, I can’t wait to get the e-mails from folks who will say, “Yeah, but Obama was a member of the church.”

True, very true.

But if the marker is now saying anything unacceptable to the masses, then that should be the standard for any pastor: white, black, male, female, conservative or liberal. And any candidate, member or not.

I’ve read many of the columns and listened to the shows of these so-called conservative patriots, and few, if any, have said a word about conservative white pastors who have called for the overthrow of the government for not following Christian values (the late Francis Schaeffer, a little “g” God on the Religious Right), or who have called for the destruction of the Islamic religion of a number of Americans (Pastor Rod Parsley) and folks worldwide.

Martin’s analogy makes no sense, of course, which is why he simply waves his hand at the fact that Wright was Obama’s pastor for twenty-some years. That’s an inconvenient fact for his rant, so it’s mentioned without being addressed, and instead he tries to turn it into a racial issue. Martin is trying to set up the meme that Rev. Wright became an issue not because of his racist and anti-American utterings, but because he’s black. The problem, however, is that picking up an endorsement from a crazy, anti-Catholic preacher is just not the same as sitting in the church of a crazy, anti-American, white-hating, marxist-loving, Farrakhan-embracing preacher for over twenty years, not to mention personally choosing him as your spiritual mentor. The former says something about the state of politics for sure in that a candidate is essentially required to pick up such an endorsement in order to get the job. The latter says something about the candidate’s judgment and choice of company and nothing about the state of politics in general (although, I believe it does say something about being in politics in Chicago).

What’s really laughable about Martin’s, however, is his closing warning:

But to every politician, whether you are a Democrat or a Republican: Beware. The die has been cast. The repeated denunciations of Wright will now lead each and every single one of you to have your pastors’ oral and written words examined. If even one thing is said that can be construed as criticizing America or deemed hateful, then expect to see it on YouTube and replayed for millions to see. I suggest you go to your pastor now and say, “Please, watch what you say. I don’t want to have to denounce you on national television.”

To my media pals who are part of the conservative media elite, we’ll be watching. And listening. Let’s just see if you’re as willing to tear apart one of your own.

That’s like warning the seals that the sharks are out to get them. But Martin is a journalist so I guess something that’s been happening all along seems like news to him.

UPDATE: QandO links (thanks, McQ!) and in addition to displaying the many spelling errors in my post (now fixed) adds this admonition:

Watch for variations on this [racial] theme to continue to emerge from the left as the right continues to hammer the Wright/Obama connection.

McQ’s right that Obama backers will push this meme when convenient simply because of the general fear that people hold of being called a racist. On the one hand, it’s good that it has become so socially unacceptable to be a bigot, but on the other it is a shame how some people broadly employ the epithet, without regard for the consequences, simply to score cheap political points. In any case, expect the cry of racism to emerge whenever Wright is mentioned in the context of Obama’s lack of judgment.

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Beware the Believers

Heh, a response to Richard Dawkins and the unbelievers amongst us. Right or wrong, arrogant condescension does not go unpunished.

Hat tip: D.A. Ridgely

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Do Not Stay Silent

Please read this, and then pass it on and post it yourself.

We cannot stay silent.


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Talking points for the modern Muslim

Ali Eteraz gives his fellow Muslims the rationale for opposing Sharia courts being imported into the west:

14 – Liberal democracy, as is, is perfectly compatible with Islam

You aren’t making your country more Islamic or even earning more reward by going to Sharia arbitration courts. The Mufti of Egypt thinks liberal democracy is compatible with Islam. A traditionalist jurist, quoting a lot Ghazali, thinks that there is no incompatibility between being an orthodox Muslim and living in a liberal democracy.


There is absolutely no reason for a Muslim to support Sharia arbitration. If you’d like to live in a state where you can resolve your marital, custodial, and divorce disputes under the aegis of classical Islamic law, might I recommend the Gulf? It looks like America and tastes like the 7th century, perfect for a retrogressive Muslim. Cheaper gas for your very Islamic gas guzzler, too.

Not only are the arguments interesting in and of themselves, they give an insight into the reasoning of those who feel otherwise. Read the whole thing.

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Sharia Law Enforced in Texas!

Well, kinda. After the whole row over the Archbishop of Canterbury’s declaration that Sharia Law in Britain is “unavoidable“, Eugene Volokh notes that it has been allowed in some US court, in a way. It seems some parties entered into a contract that provided for arbitration based off of rules of sharia law, and the judge upheld the arbitration. From my understanding, this isn’t a judge using Sharia to make a ruling, nor it being enshrined into a legal system, but simply provisions of a contract being upheld. Perhaps Michael can chime in and let me know where I’ve erred, and clarify it some more. This is not to say that I agree with the Archbishop, but just thought it was interesting to keep in mind.

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The Muhammad-pedia Controversy

After their success getting the Muhammad cartoons banned, some Muslims have now set their sights on wikipedia. Recently a large group of Muslims have started an email campaign asking wikipedia to remove their images of their holy prophet Muhammad, even going so far as to start an online petition that has received over 80,000 signatures.

“It’s totally unacceptable to print the prophet’s picture,” Saadia Bukhari from Pakistan wrote in a message. “It shows insensitivity towards Muslim feelings and should be removed immediately.”

Thankfully wikipedia says they are staying true to the idealism the site was founded on, and doesn’t find it “unacceptable” to “[show] insensitivity towards Muslim feelings”.

“Since Wikipedia is an encyclopedia with the goal of representing all topics from a neutral point of view, Wikipedia is not censored for the benefit of any particular group.”

I can only hope that this stays a peaceful online protest and doesn’t descend into an online version of the violence that the cartoon controversy did.


I also want to add what I think is a much larger point about these types of protests. From the Paul Cobb, who teaches Islamic history at Notre Dame, “The idea of imposing a ban on all depictions of people, particularly Muhammad, dates to the 20th century”. This is a very recent phenomenon and does not represent any consensus of world wide Muslims. It isn’t some ancient commandmet being violated, it’s a politicization of a cultural taboo, if you can even call it that.

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“First They Came for the Gays”


(Cross posted at What if?)

My liberal friends think I’m a conservative. My conservative friends think I’m a liberal. Frankly – there is truth in the assessment of both groups. Depending upon the issue, you can honestly label me with both.

One issue that continues to gnaw at me is that of equal rights for gay people. Again – I am bothered by positions by both conservatives and liberals on this topic! Too many conservatives either do not appreciate the burdens that gay folks must experience today, despite improvement in recent years. Others are out and out homophobes. On the liberal side, too many seem unaware of the relationship between the battle against radical Islam and the fight for equality for gay people.

Bruce Bawer has a column which highlights these points. Whether your general philosophy is of a conservative bent or a liberal one – please read this and take it to heart. Have more consideration for your gay neighbor. If you already do – then please realize that his rights are under terrible threat in societies that you consider to be “enlightened.”

Europe is on its way down the road of Islamization, and it’s reached a point along that road at which gay people’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is being directly challenged, both by knife-wielding bullies on the street and by taxpayer-funded thugs whose organizations already enjoy quasi-governmental authority. Sharia law may still be an alien concept to some Westerners, but it’s staring gay Europeans right in the face – and pointing toward a chilling future for all free people. Pim Fortuyn saw all this coming years ago; most of today’s European leaders still refuse to see it even though it’s right before their eyes.

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Begun the Scientology War Has

So making the news today, a group of hackers calling themselves Anonymous, has declared “war” on the Church of Scientology. It started with distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks on CoS and CoS sponsored websites, but moved on today to claims that the group had hacked Prolexic, which is a company employed by Scientology to protect them from these DDoS attacks. They seem to have a flair for the dramatic, announcing their attack on Prolexic, and calling for others to join them outside the Church of Scientology in London on a date in Oct. 

Now this sort of thing has happened before but what makes this interesting is the apparent organization of the attackers, the widespread negative media attention Scientology has gotten over the last few years, and the advancement of technology. Each generations war is fought differently, and I think we may see something similar in this “internet war”. This seems to be well thought out, planned and coordinated.

How long will this last? What is the goal? Will they attackers be caught and/or shut down? Or will they just get bored and move on to something else? They seem to be submitting their news to frequently, so check back there periodically for the latest.

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Grinchwald’s Stocking Stuffer

It shouldn’t surprise me the lengths that Greenwald will go to distort what people say in order to lambaste his enemies, but his Christmas offering really takes the figgy pudding.


Mike Huckabee’s Christmas ad — like everything Huckabee does — provoked all sorts of vehement, angry, un-Christmas-like attacks from Republican pundits. The GOP establishment almost uniformly claimed that the edges of the bookshelf behind Huckabee formed the shape of a cross, which — along with Huckabee’s mention of the word “Christ” — rendered Huckabee guilty of making a highly inappropriate, overt religious appeal for votes.

In furtherance of his never ending crusade to reveal just how hypocritical the political right is, Teh Gleen(s) go on to highlight how John McCain’s Christmas ad used a cross, but the right had nary a negative word to say about that.

But here is the Christmas ad from John McCain, which features not a subliminal cross arguably lurking in the background, but instead, an explicit one drawn in the sand, serving as the centerpiece of the ad, and expressly referenced — twice — by the political candidate, whose face lingers wistfully next to the cross for 10 of the ad’s 30 seconds …

Yet the reverent reaction to McCain’s ad could not have been more different than the one provoked by Huckabee’s. Chris Wallace said: “That McCain ad is so powerful. You find yourself tearing up when you see that, obviously.” Obviously. A clearly moved Fred Barnes concurred with the only word that was needed: “Indeed.” Mort Kondracke gushed: “I think it was a great ad, and it had a religious overtone to it. . . . it should remind religious [voters] that there is another candidate in the options besides Huckabee.”

As you have probably guessed by now, not one of the links support Greenwald’s contention, and in fact largely refute it. I could go on at length describing just how grossly Herr Sockmeister mischaracterized the various statements as well as who said them, but Karl at Protein Wisdom has already completed that task, so RTWT.

I will, however, point out a few of the more wild distortions.

(1) Greenwald’s initial paragraph claims that Huckabee’s ad “provoked all sorts of vehement, angry, un-Christmas-like attacks from Republican pundits,” but links to just one mention of an “attack” from Bill Donohue of the Catholic League. The other link takes you to Byron York’s praise for Huckabee’s political prowess (”Huckabee’s astonishing ability to hit the target is what is shaking up the GOP race now.”).

(2) Greenwald’s only other link to an “attack” is an article by Peggy Noonan (which he claimed was “condemning Huckabee’s ad”), who also praises Huckabee’s political savvy, particularly with respect to the alleged cross imagery in his ad:

The ad was shrewd. The caucus is coming, the TV is on, people are home putting up the tree, and the other candidates are all over the tube advancing themselves and attacking someone else. Mr. Huckabee thinks, I’ll break through the clutter by being the guy who reminds us of the reason for the season, in a way that helps underscore that I’m the Christian candidate and those other fellas aren’t. As a break from the nattering argument, as a message that highlights something bigger than politics, it was refreshing.

Was the cross an accident? Please. It was as accidental as Mr. Huckabee’s witty response, when he accused those of questioning the ad of paranoia, was spontaneous. “Actually I will confess this, if you play this spot backwards it says ‘Paul is dead, Paul is dead, Paul is dead,’ ” he said. As Bill Safire used to say of clever moves, “That’s good stuff!”

Ken Mehlman, the former Republican chairman, once bragged in my presence that in every ad he did he put in something wrong–something that went too far, something debatable. TV producers, ever hungry for new controversy, would play the commercial over and over as pundits on the panel deliberated over its meaning. This got the commercial played free all over the news.

The cross is the reason you saw the commercial. The cross made it break through.

(3) Every bit of Greenwald’s juxtaposition of the McCain ad to the Huckabee ad, and the supposedly different reactions to them, is pure unadulterated crap. The comments highlighted by Greenwald about the McCain in particular were not so much to the cross as to the story of McCain’s Christmas in captivity, and how a (impliedly Christian) guard gave him a bit of reprieve from his remarkably grueling daily existence as a POW. That’s what was so powerful and what Chris Wallace described as moving him to tears. It had nothing to do with a cross appearing in the ad.

Those are just the highlights. You should read Karl’s post to get the full-on fisky flavor. Or, you could just accept finally, once and for all, that Glenn Greenwald is about as dishonest a hack as you are ever likely to come across, and save yourself the time and trouble of slogging your way through his mendacity. Obviously, while I accept the latter, I find it much more entertaining to do the former. YMMV.

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“XMas” Origins

Jon Henke posts an interesting history lesson concerning the origins of the well-known abbreviation for Christmas:

Growing up, I sometimes heard – in church and from various religious scolds – that XMas was a secular attempt to “take Christ out of Christmas”, rather than, say, an attempt to save valuable space on signs.

Jon then links to an entry from

Claim: ‘Xmas’ is a modern, disrespectful abbreviation of the word ‘Christmas.’

Status: False.

Origins: The abbreviation of ‘Xmas’ for ‘Christmas’ is neither modern nor disrespectful. The notion that it is a new and vulgar representation of the word ‘Christmas’ seems to stem from the erroneous belief that the letter ‘X’ is used to stand for the word ‘Christ’ because of its resemblance to a cross, or that the abbreviation was deliberately concocted “to take the ‘Christ’ out of Christmas.” Actually, this usage is nearly as old as Christianity itself, and its origins lie in the fact that the first letter in the Greek word for ‘Christ’ is ‘chi,’ and the Greek letter ‘chi’ is represented by a symbol similar to the letter ‘X’ in the modern Roman alphabet. Hence ‘Xmas’ is indeed perfectly legitimate abbreviation for the word ‘Christmas’ (just as ‘Xian’ is also sometimes used as an abbreviation of the word ‘Christian’).

None of this means that Christians (and others) aren’t justified in feeling slighted when people write ‘Xmas’ rather than ‘Christmas,’ but the point is that the abbreviation was not created specifically for the purpose of demeaning Christ, Christians, Christianity, or Christmas – it’s a very old artifact of a very different language.

In point of fact, “XMas” is actually an abbreviation of an abbreviation. The Greek letters “Chi” (X) and “Rho” (R) were often used to represent Christ in ancient texts (since the original New Testament was written primarily in Greek), the most widely known example of which can be found in the Book of Kells.

Chi Rho

That’s an ‘X’ not a ‘P’ on the top, and the “Rho” is found directly underneath. A clearer depiction of this page can be found here. Together, ‘XR’ means “Christ”, and therefore the abbreviation ‘XRMas’ would be the true and correct abbreviation for Christmas.

Of course, that would look really silly and would appear to be prompting people to pronounce the word “Chr-mas”, or worse “Exermas”, neither or which is desirable or correct. Instead, we drop the “Rho” to get “XMas” which seems more phonetically pleasing somehow, and has the added bonus of being even easier to display in great big signs for holiday shopping.

All of which leads to Jon’s wise admonishment:

Let’s add to this one more valuable lesson: Don’t take offense where none is intended. You’ll end up with a martyr mentality, objecting to XMas and imagining a “War on Christmas.”

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None of your business

McQ discusses Krauthammer’s disgust over the Republican Party and its candidates stooping before those demanding a declaration of religious faith to become President. From Krauthammer:

I’d thought that the limits of professed public piety had already been achieved during the Republican CNN/YouTube debate when some squirrelly looking guy held up a Bible and asked, “Do you believe every word of this book?” — and not one candidate dared reply: None of your damn business.

I do wish Krauthammer had focused on the one candidate who has at least somewhat resisted this campaign sidebar that is threatening to become the main theme, Fred Thompson:

Asked about his religious beliefs during an appearance before about 500 Republicans in South Carolina yesterday, Fred Thompson said he attends church when he visits his mother in Tennessee but does not belong to a church or attend regularly at his home in McLean, Va., just outside Washington. The actor and former senator, who was baptized in the Church of Christ, said he gained his values from “sitting around the kitchen table” and said he did not plan to speak about his religious beliefs on the stump. “I know that I’m right with God and the people I love,” he said, according to Bloomberg News Service. It’s “just the way I am not to talk about some of these things.”

From Byron York:

If you’re going to ask Fred Thompson to participate in a grade-school show of hands, or demand that he sign a pledge, or insist that he speak emotionally and at length about how much his religious faith means to him, well, you can just forget it. He’s not gonna do it.

I loved the refusal to answer a question on Global warming by raising his hand. I generally hate the debates, but if the candidates, in this case Thompson, decide to stop playing the silly games the media and political operatives want them to, then maybe they will be worth watching after all:

The more I listen to Fred, as opposed to the whining about him bucking campaigning conventions, the more I like him. In fact, I like that he is doing it differently, aqnd I hope it is successful if for no other reason than I am sick of what we have come to expect out of campaigns and the people who run for President. Cue David Brody:

I think it’s pretty clear by now that Thompson is running his campaign the way he said he would. He’s not worried about the media, pundits or the traditional political game as we know it. He’s going to do things his way and talk about substantive issues. Look, he’s a serious guy and these are serious times.

Make extensive speeches and comments about policy and political philosophy? How dare he! Doesn’t he know it is all about biography and empty, hypocritical symbolism?

Meanwhile James Dobson is making sure he stands squarely at the heart of the problem:

“We were pleased to learn from his spokesperson that Sen. Thompson professes to be a believer,” said Nima Reza, a Dobson spokesman. “Thompson hasn’t clearly communicated his religious faith, and many evangelical Christians might find this a barrier to supporting him.”

Krauthammer does a good job of dissecting the problems and nuances of faith in our political arena, and McQ fills in the gaps. I highly recommend reading them both.

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“I don’t like other people telling me what to do.”


One of the reasons I abhor communitarianism (and tend to see my political philosophy as the opposite of that) is because it vests communitarian thinkers with the self appointed power to tell me (and others) what to do. Provided, of course, that they come up with a claim to do so in the name of what they call “the common good.” “For the good of all.” It’s utilitarianism on stilts.

That’s part of Eric Scheie’s introduction to his assessment of Global WarmingBurning World as religion:

The source of today’s soon-to-be-ascendant total communitarianism (would that be “communitarian totalitarianism”?) can be summed up in two words:


It is the best thing to hit communitarian thinking since theocracy.

Depending on how you look at it, Global Warming Theory might even be a form of theocracy, and I don’t mean because it’s a form of earth worship, but because it shares something in common with all religions.

Actually, I have compared it to a theocratic regime before:

Few things annoy me more than the modern Lysenkoism of Anthropogenic Global WarmingTM and its rapturous congregation who viciously condemn any who dare challenge their scriptures. Each day it seems that we are bombarded with yet more bald-faced propaganda designed to scare us (and especially our children) into submission to the will of the environmental elite. These mullahs of climate change brook no dissension amongst their ranks, and harbor no compunction against destroying their enemies, by whatever means necessary. The Grand Imam himself jets around the world, in seeming hypocrisy, to deliver the message that the planet is doomed at the hands of evil capitalist oppressors unless we submit to the daily regimen prescribed for us at the site of his own personal Night Flight, and embodied in the Kyoto Protocol.

Well, I was obviously taking some poetic license there.

Still, leaving aside whether or not “communitarianism” is the proper moniker for the philosophy supporting AGW adherents, I think Eric summarizes the issue nicely with his lead in: “I don’t like other people telling me what to do.”

Anyone who values him or herself as an individual immediately comprehends that sentiment, and why it’s important. We all begin to part ways somewhere along the line towards being part of a community, in that we have varying degrees of tolerance for what we’ll put up with from others, but “leave me alone” is a fairly common sentiment amongst us all. This is especially so when we see no harm being done to anyone else by our behavior, thoughts, feelings, etc.

Again, that invisible line between “leave me along” and “hey, you stop that!” is different for each of us, but I would argue that we all start from a position of individual autonomy, and then agree to join larger and larger communities based on the amount of complete freedom we are willing to give up. A good indication of where that line resides generally for all people occurs when the hands of “others” reach too far into the individual sphere, such that more and more people start screaming “leave me alone!”

I think that is basically what happened with the Kelo case, which garnered broad support from Americans of all political stripes. The state taking one’s home in order to give it to another promising more benefits to the state elicited a visceral reaction from a large number of us, who instinctively found the state’s incursion to be have grossly transgressed that invisible line. “Leave me alone!” we shouted, and the individual states responded.

Perhaps AGW is beginning to have the same effect? If not, Eric points out the single most important reason why it should (my emphasis):

What I do not like (and what to me is theocracy) is when any individual or group posits that a particular theory or explanation of the unknown gives it an exclusive right to rule. Thus, I find the idea of Christian theocracy repellent, as I do Sharia, or state-enforced atheism.


I’ve lived more than half a century, and I have yet to see any system of control based on a theory of the unknown which promises to be as all-encompassing as the theory of Global Warming. That’s because we are creatures of carbon, both producers and consumers of it.

Any theory declaring carbon to be a poison declares all of us to be poison, and all of our activities to be poisonous. By doing this, Global Warming Theory is the ulimate trump card. It will reach out and touch every one of us, in every and any way imaginable and in ways none of us ever imagined.

This is really the same as the libertarian argument against universal health care: once the state has the right to intrude into the basic and fundamental areas of our individual lives, there is no stopping it, and it will soon control our entire being. Both AGW and universal health care rely on the concept of negative externalities to justify their intrusions. Both claim that individual decisions need to be checked by the state for the common good. Both rely upon the state to decide what the consequences of each individual action will be, who other than the individual will be affected and by how much, and what consequences should be used to curb such behaviors. Ultimately, both supplant the will of the individual with the will of the state as expressed by our betters, euphemistically deemed “experts.” In reality, they would be nothing more than slave-masters.

I would posit that the purveyors of AGW doom understand the invisible line quite well, and try to subvert it by painting ever more fantastic scenarios of death and destruction, scenarios which are specifically designed to overwhelm the individualist reflex we all feel when the invisible line has been crossed for us. Thus the outlandish claims put forth in propaganda pieces like An Inconvenient Truth are tolerated by those who know better, because they all want to see the end result where the common good (as defined by these same experts) abrogates the decisions of individuals.

Why would they want to do that? Well, in the end, everybody is a control freak, and we all think that the world would be a much better, saner, safer and happier place if everyone would just play by our rules. In fact, nearly every conflict of every sort has, at its root, this sentiment in one form or another — i.e. who’s in charge? The difference between individualists and “communitarians” (as Eric puts it) is that individualists eschew force in favor of reason in their pursuit of philosophical world domination, while communitarians consider force the primary means of exacting compliance since guilt only goes so far.

So where does that leave us then? Eric sums it up this way:

If mass regulation of human activity is required to save man from himself, the proper way to do that in this country is by constitutional amendment giving the government the vast and sweeping new powers it would need.

Good luck getting it through.

I hope I never live to see it.

Amen, brother. Amen.

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Evidence for a deity?- Updated with Video and a link Bleg!

Update: Michael has been talking some smack. He has laid down a challenge. He calls it tits versus snits. His coverage of Reid’s machinations on the war, versus my attention to Salma’s breasts. Which is unfair, he has an Instapundit link. So I am asking Glenn Reynolds to rectify this so we can find out, are Salma Hayek’s breasts of more interest than some incompetent politicians attempt to hamstring the military in Iraq? I for one wold find it comforting if Salma’s breasts win this little particular contest. So yes, this is a bleg for links.

People, vote with your clicks!


I noticed a rather large surge in traffic today from someplace new. It was coming from Pharyngula, a site it seems is devoted principally to evolution and related scientific areas and taking on the idea of a belief in god. Good for them.

So what were they coming to do? Gawk at this photo:

Gawking at Salma is certainly a worthy endeavor. But why in this instance? It seems it was posted in a discussion of rationales for the existence of God. Salma it seems related this story of her childhood:

Mexican actress SALMA HAYEK was so upset by childhood jibes about her flat-chest, she would pray to God for larger breasts. The Ugly Betty star reveals she was bullied for having small breasts as a youngster – and decided to turn to her Catholic religion for help. She says, “My mom and I stopped at a church during a road trip we were making from our home in Mexico. “When we went inside, I prayed for the miracle I wanted to happen. I put my hands in holy water and said: ‘Please God, give me some breasts’. “And he gave me them! Within a few months, I developed a growing spurt, as teenagers do, and I was very pleased with the way I grew outwards.”

The proprietor, one PZ Myers responded with this:

They are very nice, Salma, but you should really give credit where credit is due: genes, steroid hormone receptors, steroid hormones, diet, and a million years of chance and selection.


Moving on from the understatement, and the fact that while she may be telling the truth, I think she sees it as an amusing anecdote, not an actual statement of her beliefs about why she is so charmingly endowed, I have a more fundamental issue with him, as do many of his commenters.

Simply stated, she seems a rather good reason to believe in God.

Update: Here is video of Salma telling her engaging little story:

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Slippery Slope

Dog Bride I guess “man bites dog” is :

NEW DELHI – A man in southern India married a female dog in a traditional Hindu ceremony as an attempt to atone for stoning two other dogs to death — an act he believes cursed him — a newspaper reported Tuesday.

P. Selvakumar married the sari-draped former stray named Selvi, chosen by family members and then bathed and clothed for the ceremony Sunday at a Hindu temple in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, the Hindustan Times newspaper said.

Selvakumar, 33, told the paper he had been suffering since he stoned two dogs to death and hung their bodies from a tree 15 years ago.

Scott Adams comments:

A number of things struck me about this wedding. I shall start with the most obvious jokes first.

The report was quick to mention that the dog is female. That was a relief because allowing a man to marry a gay dog would be a slippery slope.

Heh. Adams has more so RTWT.

Actually this whole incident just prompts to wonder what sort of skeletons my wife has in her closet that she had to atone for by marrying me. Come to think of it, I probably don’t want to know.

[HT: Megan McArdle]

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The Reavers Arrive Amongst the Children

59 Schoolchildren Killed in Afghan Blast

Aziz Poonawala tells us who we are really talking about:

not to contradict Tariq bhai, but these aren’t even people. They are Reavers, and they will burn in hellfire.

More importantly, it behooves us all to remember who kills the most innocent muslim blood in this world. Not secret Jewish cabals, or neocon conspiracies, or colonial designs; none of these bogeymen of the modern ummah are to blame.

The Reavers. The Reavers alone are the enemy of the Ummah.

And the dominant organizing principle of a western muslim political movement must not be focused on nonsensically unrelated issues like Israel-Palestine or Iraq withdrawal or Iranian nuclear capabilities. Nor should it chase after “reform” or “moderation” or “dialog”. No; the dominant principle of a Western muslim polity should be to promote foreign policy that destroys them.

Until then, the Ummah will live in fear from within.

As a side note, I think I have met Aziz, though only briefly, through his wife and children. For the sake of them, I hope we all can work together to spare the Ummah from the Reavers of children.

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Shift Happens

Sometimes information like this makes me sit back and think “whoa” (sounding to much like neo in the matrix.) Not only is this a small world (which we often forget,) but it is becoming an exponentially complex and interconnected one.

glumbert – Shift Happens

The Singularity is Near.

Heck, I read sci-fi, and try to keep up with advances in computers and software, and I am often left open mouthed at some of “magic” happening now. One of my favorite course in college had us OO programming in a language I’ve lone forgotten (SMALLTALK I think.) My project was making a virtual robot move around a virtual world, responding to simple typed commands. Now, you can get a LEGO kit to attempt the same.

H/T to my favorite strategic thinker for pointing this out…

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Ann Coulter is a Nazi

Or at least, according to what Michael Savage implied last night, she is the harbinger of nasty things to come, if all righteous people don’t rhetorically smite her down. So, what is up with Ann Coulter???

PJ Media has a roundup of blogger reaction.

As for me,

Yeah, what Ann Coulter said was outrageous, rude, and inconsiderate.



Of course, missed in a lot of the outrage is the baiting that Donnie Deusch had to do to get her to the point of saying what she did. I mean does anyone really believe she thinks everyone at the Republican Convention were Christians?

I don’t get my shorts in a twist when the left attacks gun owners, white men, rich men, red necks, republicans, conservatives, Christians, or any of the other various groups I might belong to. I’m an individual, and don’t buy into the group/shared identity politics of the left.

I’m not going to defend what she said, just her right to say it.

What do Rush, Savage, Hannity, O’Rielly, and Coulter all have in common??

Media Matters is targeting them all, and very heavily lately. So, I think this push back on her is as overblown as all the previous push backs on her, and various other pundits. They are heavily pursuing the neutralizing of right wing talk radio. Personally, I think it will backfire, since the more the left attacks, the more entrenched and buzzed the right will get about defeating them at the polls that matter.

What’s important for the candidates to remember is to stay above this particular fray.

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The Real Culture War

Doesn’t this sound familiar…

Islamist radicals in Pakistan have attempted to destroy an ancient carving of Buddha by drilling holes in the rock and filling them with dynamite.

The Buddha, in the Swat district of north-west Pakistan, is thought to date from the seventh century AD and was considered the largest in Asia, after the two Bamiyan Buddhas.

Oh yeah, March 2001

So, how many people think this is a pre-cursor to a Taliban/al Qaeda major attack? Maybe late March, early April??

Very un-scientific and totally unsupported. So, I’ll take 6 months on the over/under for the next major terrorist attack from those people.

But seriously, what is it those people have against other religions, and cultures?

Pakistani troops have stepped up recent operations against militants in the fertile Swat valley, where thousands of locals are in thrall to Mullah Fazlullah, a rabble-rousing cleric who has called for suicide attacks and holy war. Fazlullah’s men have continued to wage an offensive against what they deem ‘un-Islamic’ activity, last week blowing up dozens of music, video and cosmetics stalls at a market.

Can’t they lead others to their preferred cultural norms through persuasion and the example of their upstanding lives of purity??

Are these the people we need to sit down with, and come to some accommodation? Where in the multi-cultural relativistic realm do these people fall??

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Socialism’s Last Supper

Lee over at Postpolitical has some thoughts on the mural below found in Caracas Venezuela:

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China decides to regulate reincarnation

In one of history’s more absurd acts of totalitarianism, China has banned Buddhist monks in Tibet from reincarnating without government permission. According to a statement issued by the State Administration for Religious Affairs, the law, which goes into effect next month and strictly stipulates the procedures by which one is to reincarnate, is “an important move to institutionalize management of reincarnation.”

“You have got to be kidding me.”

No, I am not. In fact it makes sense if you are a brutal dictatorship trying to secure its hold over conquered territory:

But beyond the irony lies China’s true motive: to cut off the influence of the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual and political leader, and to quell the region’s Buddhist religious establishment more than 50 years after China invaded the small Himalayan country. By barring any Buddhist monk living outside China from seeking reincarnation, the law effectively gives Chinese authorities the power to choose the next Dalai Lama, whose soul, by tradition, is reborn as a new human to continue the work of relieving suffering.

Okay, maybe not that much sense, but still, it is a motive. Story here.

(H/T: Ace)

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Henry Farrell vs Kos on Jindal

Start with Professor Bainbridge, then read this post by Kos and this post by Henry Farrell of Crooked Timber. Compare and ponder who has more influence in the Democratic Party, Kos and the type of people who launched these attacks in Louisiana or people like Henry Farrell. Dishonesty (or lack of reading comprehension, I vote for both) vs. honesty. Plain and simple. I said previously that the Louisiana Democratic Party has little do with liberalism or progressive politics, and then I read Kos and realize maybe I am wrong.


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News Brief, Our Love to Admire Edition

Cross-posted on The Conjecturer


  • Hans Kristensen, who runs the Strategic Security Blog for FAS, keeps churning out essential reading after essential reading, this time on how Russia is really just playing the same ABM game it played in the Cold War. Because the more things change… SSB, by the way, should be in your RSS reader if it isn’t already.
  • Nuclear secrets, schmecrets.
  • Soon we shall pepper the world with robotic flies spying on our every move and finding the terrorists.
  • The wars are approaching $800 billion. We will be well over $1 trillion by the time we pull out of Iraq; who knows how we’ll eventually pull out of Afghanistan if we don’t bother to pay attention there.

Around the World

  • Apparently they grow the real punks in Turkey. Seriously. Henry Rollins, on the other hand? So not punk. Anyone who thinks a quickie trip to Tehran tells him anything about Iran aside from what the fascists in charge (of whom he is “not a fan”) want him to know, or (in my view, more eggregiously) that you can just “get” a film crew into North Korea (Lisa Ling had to travel undercover for her excellent documentary, and possibly placed future humanitarian journeys in jeopardy) is not operating on all cylinders. Turkey, by the way, has spent this week shelling supposed PKK strongholds in Northern Iraq. Because we didn’t have enough to deal with when they weren’t pushing Kurdistan to collapse as well.
  • Prominent Marxists don’t like China’s capitalism. Perhaps they prefer the Cultural Revolution? The Great Leap Forward? I would guess not, as they probably prefer eating and not being denounced.
  • I’ve been wondering what role China’s friendship with Pakistan may have had in the Las-Masjid mosque standoff. Given the recent terrorist attacks that could have been directed at Chinese citizens, and given the original incident with Chinese citizens that may have prompted the standoff, I think I might be on to something. Is China being baited in Pakistan? More interestingly, are these attacks in part inspired by China’s harsh treatment of the Uighurs?
  • I sort of mentioned the other day that Kyrgyzstan detained the supposed local leader of Hizb-ut-Tahrir in Osh. Bonnie Boyd gives the background.
  • is not the only reason I’m convinced Central Asia has become the world’s most interesting case study in citizen-journalism. There is also the curious idea that, with the exception of Turkmenistan and to a degree Uzbekistan, the Internet isn’t very regulated. Which allows for a flowering of opinion online that does not exist in print.
  • Karaganda is in Kazakhstan, not Russia.
  • The World Bank has posted its latest study of Afghanistan, and it’s about what you’d expect: governance is terrible and unresponsive. Exactly what we’ve been saying for years. I hope people start to pay attention sometime soon.
  • Moscow decided to respond to Britain’s PNG with its own. Meanwhile, Putin apparently has restarted the Pioneer Youth camps. Russia is in serious trouble, socially and politically. Meanwhile, Hugo Chavez bought some Kilos from Russia, which are advanced diesel-electric submarines. I’m not worried about the subs; even though they’re capable enough, we can handle them in the hands of the Chavistas. I’m more interested that Chavez was framing this in terms of supporting Russia, while Putin was busy snubbing him during his visit to Moscow earlier this month. The British, in the midst of all of this, claim to have intercepted some TU-95s on their way to buzz Britain’s airspace. I share Axe’s take on what this means: it’s more significant the bombers were deployed at all, and the the manner in which they were deployed isn’t nearly as important. Russia has extremely capable technology but no money, which makes it dangerous, but not for anything it might do… beyond selling advanced weaponry to our enemies.

Back at Home

  • Things like this make me love Google, even though they’re slowly turning evil. I think, by allowing the public to easily search U.S. Patents, they can see how foolish our patent system is (like patenting swinging on a swing, congratulations Steve Otis!). Although, I would like to try a cheesecakesicle.
  • “Is this really the best use of our prosecutorial resources?” Of course not.
  • A rising boat satisfies all sorts of people. But not Democrats.
  • Congress hates your my cigars.
  • I got an email today announcing that a bar called Nellie’s Sports Bar is now open. From what I can tell, this might be only a tiny bit less embarrassing than the also unfortunately named Woofs, which I had the distinct pleasure of visiting this past November. Does that mean I’ll ever show up? Well, I do like that they show DC United games. So I just might sometime.
  • …And on the third day, God created LOLBible.
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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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All Your Weather Base Are Belong To Us

“Kyoto, we have a problem.”Mad Scientist

Few things annoy me more than the modern Lysenkoism of Anthropogenic Global WarmingTM and its rapturous congregation who viciously condemn any who dare challenge their scriptures. Each day it seems that we are bombarded with yet more bald-faced propaganda designed to scare us (and especially our children) into submission to the will of the environmental elite. These mullahs of climate change brook no dissension amongst their ranks, and harbor no compunction against destroying their enemies, by whatever means necessary. The Grand Imam himself jets around the world, in seeming hypocrisy, to deliver the message that the planet is doomed at the hands of evil capitalist oppressors unless we submit to the daily regimen prescribed for us at the site of his own personal Night Flight, and embodied in the Kyoto Protocol.

But lately, it seems, the dissenting voices have grown stronger. More and more scientists are speaking up about the corrupted process that went into the IPCC report on climate change, the infamous Stern Report was rather openly challenged, and “An Inconvenient Truth” was widely panned. Huzzah! I say. “It’s about time,” says I. Not that I have any real doubt that the Earth is getting warmer, but I’m not at all confident that humans can, much less are, causing said warming. And then today I read that, perhaps, we aren’t even warming:

Remember in January when the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and its good friends in media trumpeted that 2006 was the warmest year on record for the contiguous United States?

NOAA based that finding – which allegedly capped a nine-year warming streak “unprecedented in the historical record” – on the daily temperature data that its National Climatic Data Center gathers from about 1,221 mostly rural weather observation stations around the country.

Few people have ever seen or even heard of these small, simple-but-reliable weather stations, which quietly make up what NOAA calls its United States Historical Climatology Network (USHCN).

But the stations play an important role in detecting and analyzing regional climate change. More ominously, they provide the official baseline historical temperature data that politically motivated global-warming alarmists like James Hansen of NASA plug into their computer climate models to predict various apocalypses.

The information gathered from those 1,221 weather observation bases provide the basis for claiming that the Earth is warming, and according to the AGM faithful, at an alarming rate. According to people like Hansen, these weather stations “have been providing reliable temperature data since at least 1900.”

But Anthony Watts of Chico, Calif., suspects NOAA temperature readings are not all they’re cracked up to be. As the former TV meteorologist explains on his sophisticated, newly hatched Web site, he has set out to do what big-time armchair-climate modelers like Hansen and no one else has ever done – physically quality-check each weather station to see if it’s being operated properly.

To assure accuracy, stations (essentially older thermometers in little four-legged wooden sheds or digital thermometers mounted on poles) should be 100 feet from buildings, not placed on hot concrete, etc. But as photos on Watts’ site show, the station in Forest Grove, Ore., stands 10 feet from an air-conditioning exhaust vent. In Roseburg, Ore., it’s on a rooftop near an AC unit. In Tahoe, Calif., it’s next to a drum where trash is burned.

Watts, who says he’s a man of facts and science, isn’t jumping to any rash conclusions based on the 40-some weather stations his volunteers have checked so far. But he said Tuesday that what he’s finding raises doubts about NOAA’s past and current temperature reports.

“I believe we will be able to demonstrate that some of the global warming increase is not from CO2 but from localized changes in the temperature-measurement environment.”

You have to see the pictures to understand exactly how useless some of the stations appear to be, such as this one surrounded by asphalt and air conditioners.Weather Station Those of you who approach this story with a libertarian bent, will of course have no problem understanding how such incompetence could be allowed not only to form the basis of scientific studies but to also be one of the driving forces behind AGM and the draconian policies being pushed by its adherents.

What will be really interesting is to see how this is explained away by Al Gore and his disciples. Will they loudly shout down and seek to excommunicate the whistle-blowers in this story (much like the slanderous machinations used against Bjørn Lomborg), or will they studiously ignore the challenge, chalking it up to radical skeptics (as was done to those who pointed to flaws in the famous “Hockey Stick” graph)? Whatever is done, if the crux of this story is true in that the temperatures relied upon to demonstrate a dramatic heating of the Earth are completely unreliable, then we may yet see the remaining pillars holding up the science of AGM collapse beneath the Gorites like brittle ice from under the feet of castaway polar bears.

It will be sweet.

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News Brief, Groove: Heart Edition


  • An excellent look at so-called blast-resistent vehicles (or “Mine Resistant Ambush Protected” vehicles, or MRAP), though it doesn’t explore the specificities of the newly deployed American MRAP. Still, the idea of a heavily armored truck on stilts is weirdly appealing in an H.R. Giger kind of way. More on the MRAP here.
  • The Navy is probably buying crap. This is a response to a pressing need with little chance for oversight. But it still sucks. Then again, so does the entire acquisition process.
  • Richard Feinberg on the horrible dangers of fortress embassies, such as the Vatican 2.0 we’re building in Iraq. Worth mentioning as well is a 4-person consulate in Germany that has closed down an entire block of the city. That’s just not necessary, and doesn’t make us any friends.
  • David Axe on the dilemma of planes versus people. It’s not quite guns and butter, but it’s close enough to be compelling.
  • Oh, and what’s with prosecuting our women in uniform for hot bisexual threesomes? Oh yeah—the military is puritan (in its defense, by necessity), all the booze, and maybe an issue of consent.

Around the World

  • Good news— has now been picked up by PostGlobal. I saw two of my most recent posts, on Energy in Central Asia and Afghanistan’s Narco-Culture, were both posted there. The site is updated frequently, however, so they’re probably gone by now.
  • What exactly is Eurasia? The term seems to really mean “post-Soviet Studies,” but no academic in his right mind would use such a term (I don’t know why). I like the idea of trying to attach the area’s name to its Mongolian roots, but their influence is centuries past its relevance date. I honestly don’t see the problem with just calling the place Central Asia, because that is what it is. Then again, I am not (yet) an academic.
  • North Korea continues to make an ass of itself. I very seriously wonder if the only thing that will make them behave like adults instead of nuclear-armed teenagers is announcing our intention to help Japan develop nuclear weapons. Only, that will piss off China, whom we can’t afford to alienate. Argh.
  • Viktor Yushchenko has seized more power, leading me to think he might not be the democratic hero the Orange Revolution crowd thought he was.
  • I’d like to wish a big happy berfday to Eritrea, and the 16-year reign of brutal thug Isaias Afewerki. Hey, it could be worse—unlike another tinpot African monster, at least Afewerki isn’t accused of consuming the flesh of his enemies!
  • Nerd alert! The World Bank has combined its Doing Business database of the world’s business environments with Google Maps. The result is much like other Google API mashups—a really damned cool way to waste time at work.
  • Just how much has the world changed in the last year? China has more mobile phone users than the U.S. has people, with a better network, better service, and cheaper phones than what’s available stateside. Big thanks to Verizon for dicking us over with a globally incompatible wireless standard, and the FCC for its piss poor management of our information infrastructure. We’re leapfrogging into the early 2000s!
  • Creepy video of what looks like a Russian Alpha surfacing right off a densely-packed beach.
  • Turkey battles creationists. They’re a lot like Kansas, I guess?
  • Can you pass the Rhunama quiz? Turkmenbashi’s legacy. It’s still taught at all levels of primary schools in Turkmenistan.

Back at Home

  • Barbara Streisand is the ultimate price gouger. My favorite comment? “My mother told me there were no real monsters, but there are.” Tell me about it, Newt.
  • With any luck, Antigua and the UK will be able to strike back at our truly idiotic intellectual property and internet gambling laws. I want Antigua and Barbuda to win their case in the WTO.
  • Ron Paul just LOLz0red Rudy by asking him to read the 9/11 Commission Report, Dying to Win by Robert Pape, Imperial Hubris by Michael Scheuer, and Chalmers Johnson’s Blowback. He also zinged Rudy for being oh-so-pious about 9/11 while apparently not understanding its roots.
  • But in case you didn’t think Washington was a big incestuous mess, well… you’re wrong. West Virginia ain’t got nothing on us.
  • Oh, and please let’s end the designer vagina craze. I can’t handle any more of Dr. Ray rambling to his fresh victims, “oh your new vagina is so cute!” Yuck.
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News Brief, Brave New World Edition

Cross-posted on The Conjecturer.

The Pentagon

  • Ellen Tauscher wants to create a commission to assess the strategic posture of the U.S. This is a good thing, as I’m not really sure why we need thousands of warheads—the Pentagon’s scare mongering rings hollow considering our success in conventional battle, and I’m not sure how ICBMs would deter suicide terrorists.
  • The DoD is blocking YouTube and Myspace. I, for one, am disappointed I won’t get to see any more videos of shirtless Marines prancing about camp. But here’s the best part: “Massive bandwidth-sucking PowerPoint briefings are naturally still allowed.” Heh. Indeed.
  • The Stasi had innovated a unique method of state-terror: a human scent system. They would collect scent samples from citizens, store them in jars, and then use those samples to send their attack dogs on hapless victims. Now, DARPA wants in on the fun.
  • Holy crap: the Army is so worried about officer retention it’s offering hefty bonuses and free grad school to keep ‘em in. This is hand-in-glove with the mess of the Future Combat System—a huge expenditure with an uncertain payoff. Par for the course with the DoD these days.

Around the World

  • The beautiful Mediterranean town of Izmir, over 1 million Turks marched for a secular society.
  • Mullah Dadullah, the scary man with the zany name, is dead. So, what now? Despite my optimism for the country, we face enormous obstacles, and while a military victory is nice we are in danger of focusing way too hard on security to the exclusion of meaningful development. Afghanistanica has more on why Dadullah’s loss is so bad for the Taliban.
  • How the SEC is impacting insider trading in China.
  • The EU is badly split over how to handle an increasingly aggressive Russia. It is, as one would expect, between Old Europe and New Europe, to borrow the Rumsfeld’s term.
  • How our embarrassingly bungling of the Agreed Framework 2.0 is undermining the global war on terrorist assets.
  • Jew-hating Mickey Mouse clone still on HAMAS TV. I dunno, man. Battling Israel is one thing. Can HAMAS survive a battle with Disney?
  • Paul Bremer hates George Tenet, and thinks it was brilliant foresight to create a power vacuum after the initial invasion of Iraq. Meanwhile, a collection of “experts” thinks we’re damned if we do or don’t in Iraq, something I believe as well. But I could be wrong, just as wrong as I was when I thought invading was a good idea, so I won’t press the issue too much, beyond noting this deeply moving story of a soldier’s death. And in the midst of it all, we can’t be bothered to handle any of the millions of refugees we’ve created.
  • Google discovers that not being evil is bad for business. If being party to oppression, torture, and murder is good for the bottom line, then so be it, I suppose. It’s worth noting that Google had distinguished itself by not being like Yahoo and deliberately selling out its users to oppressive regimes like China. That may be changing as China dangles too much money for morals to play a role in business.
  • Mobile phones not only solve poverty, they do so at a profit. Of a similar tack is Nabuur, a peer-to-peer knowledge sharing service.
  • New Eurasia is posting some pretty cool sounding blogger jobs. Yes, jobs. Great stuff.
  • Afghanistanica, who covers the place better than I can, has begun posting a lot. I guess the semester is over? Regardless, there’s a ton of great stuff up there, like the airlift of evil. Go, read.

Back at Home

  • The trial of Jose Padilla, the U.S. citizen who was unconstitutionally imprisoned for years without charges, goes to trial today.
  • Congressional Democrats apparently think all citizens are lobbyists (true) and that therefore their speech must be tightly regulated (umm…). Didn’t we have a Bill of Rights about political speech or something a few years ago?
  • Apparently the State Department has no sense of irony, self, or reality. Actually, that’s not a surprise.
  • Oooh, a private company has bought up Chrysler, worrying unionists. Good. Maybe they’ll restructure it so it won’t churn out unreliable crap, or maybe mercifully put it to death like it deserved so long ago.
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News Brief, Weekend Blurby Edition

Cross-posted at The Conjecturer.

The Pentagon

  • It’s funny, these kinds of scare stories about personnel shortages at the country’s spy agencies used to frustrate me. I tried for a long time to get into the CIA, but twice was I unceremoniously declined. The DIA didn’t even have the courtesy to tell me no. But I’ve adopted a different attitude of late: bemusement. After all, it’s damned tough to hire smart, skilled, motivated college grads when you start them in the mid 30’s… and at Booz-Allen Hamilton, SAIC, BAE, Northrop, Lockheed or any number subcontractors you can quickly have double that by 30. The government could reverse this trend by maybe changing the incentive structure: instead of relying on patriotism to get people to accept lower-paying jobs than they can have elsewhere, they could just pay people more. Or make the hiring process not such a nightmare (one of the rejection letters I got was four months after an interview, which itself was about six months after my initial application). Intelligence is one of those things where you really do want to have smart, well paid, well satisfied employees… And where it’s not a crime for the government to pick up the tab.
  • Meanwhile, the Pentagon continues its loser PR campaign by harshly restricting Congressional testimony. I swear, it’s like they hate the idea of the DoD being a trusted institution. You think the recent ex-post facto indictment of Salim Ahmed Hamdan is related?

Around the World

  • Clearly, those Russians living in Estonia were rioting for their ethnic pride. At the Armani store.
  • China is still forcibly relocating Tibetans to the countryside. A Chinese friend of mine once compared their treatment of Tibet with our treatment of the natives here during Manifest Destiny… And even claimed that the Chinese never forced Tibetans into the indignity of a reservation system. That may well be true, but we also weren’t deporting and slaughtering American Indians by the tens of thousand under Reagan; the Chinese were. I would like to think we as a species have evolved since the Trail of Tears (we also bother to show remorse for our shameful history of ethnic cleansing, something which the Han might want to try sometime).
  • What’s even funnier than nostalgic Russians rampaging one of their former colonies for daring to be decolonized? The UN General Assembly electing Zimbabwe to head the agency on sustainable development. Robert Mugabe, remember, murdered or deported the white people in his country, created a famine, and for the last year or so has seen quadruple-digit inflation. There is, of course, some resistance from Western countries, but the UN is a joke. A bad joke. No one should be surprised it treats development the same way it treats human rights and refugees.
  • Oh, and nearby DR Congo remains the horrifying meat grinder it’s been for years. I think part of the reason I hate thinking about Africa is because, even more so than the Middle East, I simply do not find hope there. I know I should, and I know it exists in many places. But it is difficult to look at how horrible that place is and find comfort.
  • There are indeed a million moderate Muslims on the march—actually, many million. We’ve discussed both Turkey and Pakistan in this space, but suffice it to say, the nimrods who crow about how there aren’t any “moderate Muslims” out there obviously don’t know any. I would say it’s much harder to find an extremist Muslim than a moderate one… Unless, that is, choosing to wear a headscarf has suddenly come to indicate extremism. In that case, I suppose nuns are as extremist, too, and equally deserving of scorn.
  • What is the relationship between power, economic rights, and development in rural Pakistan? Fascinating.
  • European justice: starve poor countries of aid just to spite Wolfowitz. My opinion of his case has changed, and I now feel he’s been unfairly treated… Especially in light of things like this.
  • Should I mention that the Iraqis want us to leave? Or is that too much like admitting defeat?
  • I missed this report on a possible deal between Kazakhstan and Russia concerning both oil and gas transit rights. I have to dig into this further, because I don’t think I like it.

Back at Home

  • Consider the source, but Richard Perle notes yet more fabricated or badly mis-remembered bits from Tenet’s memoir. Much of that piece is the same sort of ass-covering we’ve come to expect from Bush’s friends, but this bit, about how miserably the CIA has failed (and, in my view, continues to), is undeniably true: “the greatest intelligence failure of the past two decades was the CIA’s failure to understand and sound an alarm at the rise of jihadist fundamentalism.” Having recently finished Ghost Wars by Steve Coll, which notes the late creation of a bin Laden unit by Langley, and its derision by the rest of the agency until 9/11, that is absolutely the case. And, not to drive a point home, preventing people like me from joining—who have specialized area and language experience, analytical and technical skills, and deep motivation—is not how you create the conditions for success. The CIA is broken, in other words. Horribly, horribly broken.
  • Heaven help me if I don’t love Wonkette’s relentless Star Wars references.
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News Brief, I’ve Seen It All Edition

Cross-posted at The Conjecturer.

The Pentagon

  • I’ve reread Lt. Col. Yingling’s essay on the failures of the generalship several times at this point. This morning, while I was pondering the flag announcements, which are the lists of people being submitted to have stars attached to their rank (i.e. generals and admirals), it hit me: we have more flag officers now than we did during World War II. That kind of top-heavy bureaucracy has to have a negative effect on overall effectiveness, no matter the supposed caliber of these administrators-come-leaders.
  • Meanwhile, notice the White House scaling back talk of progress in Iraq? But I thought Anbar was coming along nicely? Buried in that story, too, is the realization (that should have been obvious) that troops will have to stay a lot longer than anyone has been willing to say.
  • Inside the Air Force has a silly story about the Air Force trying to use a “show of force” strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan, as if flying combat aircraft within range of RPGs and other short range anti-aircraft weaponry will disincentivize the fighters. This is especially foolish in Afghanistan, which has demonstrated for several decades that aircraft don’t scare the mujahideen.
  • They also report that Air Force Chief of Staff Michael Moseley says the key to dealing with China’s ASAT weapons is… “situational awareness.” Was situational awareness not a distinguishing feature of the Air Force’s Network-Centric and “Transformational” philosophy over the past decade?
  • Oh, and remember how I’ve been railing against the F-22 as a pathetic waste of time and money (see here and here)? Well, it seems the plane is little more than a deeply unfunny joke. And don’t think we could ever recoup some of the $20 billion we wasted on it, either, as it is simply not for sale even to our closest allies. Waste, waste, waste, fighting a war that hasn’t been on the horizon for sixteen years.

Around the World

  • Oooh, NATO launched an offensive against the Taliban! What, after only six months? Maybe the Brits can do better than the American raid that whoops killed six civilians, including a woman and a teenager. These things, along with the brainless poppy eradication campaign, don’t help us distinguish ourselves from the Taliban, which are still easy to kill, if not easy to uproot.
  • AFRICOM is going to secure Africa, except probably Somalia and Darfur. Those would be hard to fix.
  • 500,000 march on Istanbul, demanding a secular society, as fears rise of a yet another Army intervention in Turkey’s political process.
  • Continued protests over a Soviet memorial, in .
  • A look at the North Korean Air Force, courtesy Google Earth.
  • Kyrgyzstan will not able to vote for the daughter of its deposed President. Scandalous!
  • Oh, and reform is stillborn in Turkmenistan, much to no one’s surprise (but much to my disappointment). I lay part of the blame on George W. Bush, who has resolutely ignored our long-term strategic interests in the Caspian basin.
  • Yet another U.S. oil bribe conviction over Kazakhstan. Baker-Hughes paid $4 million in bribes to develop the massive Karachaganak natural gas field in the North Caspian. It is still small potatoes compared to the reported $78 million James Giffen paid out to Kazakh officials on behalf of several oil companies in the early 2000’s. The moral outrage here shouldn’t really stem from the bribery, which is, to be honest, SOP in much of the developing world. It is really how our courts, which handle these convictions, expect American companies to operate overseas when they can’t grease the gears. It’s not a moral judgment (bribery and corruption are clearly bad things, and if they can be eliminated, Paul Wolfowitz, they should), but a business one—American companies will not be able to compete if they can’t play on the same playing field.

Back at Home

  • We are either in a war, or we are not in a war. In a war, failures have consequences. Our own military’s refusal to take its leaders to task for inexcusable failure (Abu Ghraib, among many others) tells me they don’t really think we’re in a war. Same with Congress, which not only refuses to declare war anymore (as should be necessary before sending our troops into battle), but refuses to behave as if it is a war. In other words, I guess, despite all the rhetoric, we’re not really in a war, then? Put another way, our entire leadership, not just the generals I carp about above, are at fault for the current mess.
  • And the “War Czar”… talk about leadership failure. If NSA Steve Hadley can’t handle the wars his President started, then perhaps, rather than appointing yet another layer of bureaucracy to sit between him and the President (perhaps as a buffer or scapegoat?) he could try recommending we redeploy to better support the wars. Understaffing is the theme of war fighting with the Bush administration—assuming our fancy network-centric forces, which were designed post-Cold War to fight an advanced enemy that doesn’t exist anywhere on the globe, can jump into messy guerilla urban combat in a culture they never studied with 1/5 the number of troops their own generals say we need. From the top down, it is a fundamental failure of leadership.
  • A major blow for abstinence (lol!): Randall Tobias, head of Bush’s foreign aid programs and a staunch and vocal proponent of abstinence-only AIDS education abroad, has been caught cavorting with a bunch of whores. Kind of like Dick Morris, or anyone else who takes extremist views on sex as a cover for his own sexual mismanagement. Funny how they seem to be dropping like flies lately.
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Christopher Hitchens: Religion in the White House and Iraq

The always worth attention Christopher Hitchens has a brief, but interesting, interview in New York Magazine. Many thanks to Lee Garnett for giving me the pointer.

Some choice bits:

And what if one of your children found God? Would that be a problem?
Not at all. My children, to the extent that they have found religion, have found it from me, in that I insist on at least a modicum of religious education for them. The schools won’t do it anymore. And I even insist, though my wife [who is Jewish] isn’t that thrilled, on having for our daughter a little version of the Seder.

What’s your favorite Bible story?
“Casting the first stone” is a lovely story, even though we’ve found out how much it wasn’t in the Bible to begin with. And the first of the miracles. Jesus changes water into wine. You can’t object to that.

Wine is good, beer would have been better, a good scotch best.

Most likely to surprise both the religious base and those fearing America might become a religious theocracy:

Has anyone in the Bush administration confided in you about being an atheist?
Well, I don’t talk that much to them—maybe people think I do. I know something which is known to few but is not a secret. Karl Rove is not a believer, and he doesn’t shout it from the rooftops, but when asked, he answers quite honestly. I think the way he puts it is, “I’m not fortunate enough to be a person of faith.”

What must Bush make of that?
I think it’s false to say that the president acts as if he believes he has God’s instructions. Compared to Jimmy Carter, he’s nowhere. He’s a Methodist, having joined his wife’s church in the end. He also claims
that Jesus got him off the demon drink. He doesn’t believe it. His wife said, “If you don’t stop, I’m leaving and I’m taking the kids.” You can say that you got help from Jesus if you want, but that’s just a polite
way of putting it in Texas.

A way in which he and I are not too far apart:

Do you consider yourself a hawk?
I used to wish there was a useful term for those of us who thought American power should be used to remove psychopathic dictators.

So one day we’ll all see just how right you all were about Iraq?
No, I don’t think the argument will stop, perhaps forever. But when it does become the property of historians rather than propagandists and journalists, it’ll become plainer than it is to most people now that it was just. Most of what went wrong with it was that it was put off too long. What a lot of people wish is that the thing could have been skipped.

Or that Bush hadn’t been in charge. You don’t believe that?
No, I honestly don’t. Iraq was in such terrible shape as a society that it wouldn’t have mattered if Paul Bremer had been Pericles.

Just doesn’t mean wise. I agree it will be seen as just. Wise is obviously going to be a tough sell.

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News Brief, Pitseleh Edition

Cross-posted at The Conjecturer.

The Pentagon

  • When START stops, what happens to Prompt Global Strike? Let’s think of this question in the context of Volodiya scrapping arms control accords with Europe.
  • Rumors that the 15-month extension was a bad joke, and that soldiers are now being told to expect deployments of 16-18 months—for reducing stress, remember.
  • Secrets=fun. But we have no idea how many contractors get to have fun. It’s, err… classified.
  • Inside the Pentagon is reporting that the UnderSecDef’s plan to scrap TALON caught them by surprise. Who cancels bloated, ineffective programs at the DoD anymore?
  • My take on a nerdy argument over what constitutes the magical 5th Generation Fighter, and whether it’s even a worthwhile distinction.

Around the World

  • At is a brief exploration of what the macro-indicators of Afghanistan might… umm, indicate, and whether or not it matters.
  • Doug Bandow has a shocking idea: “to better fight terrorism we must leave Iraq.” He sees our interventionist foreign policy, almost exclusively in Muslim-majority countries, as primarily to blame for the reason most Muslims think the U.S. is attacking all of Islam. We know this to be so silly as to be barely worth responding to; as an isolationist, Bandow is inclined to advocate non-intervention. What I find more important is that perceptions matter; if so many Muslims around the world don’t see our battle as against a narrow slice of hyper-violent extremists but against their entire faith, then we are facing a fundamental failure of policy and execution. Leaving Iraq can be step one in fixing that.
  • But Petraeus says pulling out would increase violence. The problem with his approach is, the Americans there act as a unifying agent for the insurgents: the one thing Sunnis and Shia can agreed on is the utility of killing Americans. We make their job easier by staying, in other words. I don’t think there is any way to avoid bloodshed save a troop surge a good deal less pathetic than what we have now (on the order of several hundred thousand troops). We overreached in Iraq. We should fess up and do something more constructive than just dragging out American casualties until the next President withdraws anyway. Moreover, the Iraqis are certainly capable of defending themselves when they can’t go running to Momma (i.e. America).
  • An army Lt. Colonel, unfortunately named Yingling (mmmm), is accusing the general staff of lying to Congress and misleading the country when they describe Iraq. Does he mean the revelation that the military doesn’t include car bombs when it brags of “declining violence?” No—he means on a more fundamental level, beyond the kind of fact-fudging you find at any other bureaucracy (right, Lance?)… With the small distinction that when the Department of Education lies about metro vouchers, thousands of people aren’t violently murdered, and then lied about.
  • Meanwhile, I agree that the Middle East is a strategic backwater, and we are best never talking to it again. Let the dictators rise and fall as they might, let the people there determine their own futures without Westerners telling them how to settle their borders and resolve conflict.
  • We’re bickering with Azaerbaijan over the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, the site of a brutal, horrendous war with Armenia (which currently occupies the territory) in the early 90s.
  • A neat look at the decline of corruption in India.
  • Moscow and Talinn are squaring off over the status of a Soviet-era memorial (though the comparison to Bamiyan is deeply offensive for too many reasons to count). The Estonians hate Russia, and Russia hates Estonia. Don’t expect it to end pretty, though I can only hope the eventual invasion will involve this.
  • Ethiopia’s quagmire is one we actively encouraged (SOCOM has been training and collaborating with the Ethiopian military for years). It doesn’t look set to improve anytime soon. See also Roger Williams’ info-rich exploration of Somalia.
  • Depressing is the current state of imprisonment around the world. Especially when the U.S. has the highest percentage of incarcerated people, thanks to our liberty-hating drug war that treats non-violent marijuana possession the same as rape. Still doesn’t compare to Pakistan’s claim to fame: 1/3 of the 24,000 people around the world awaiting execution. I’m assuming that statistic doesn’t include the 500,000 locked away forever in North Korea’s prison camps, which is the same as a death sentence, if by starvation instead of quicker means like hanging.

Back at Home

  • Wonkette says it all in the headline: “George Tenet’s Book Absolved George Tenet.” Their summary is good too.
  • Lazy science at the FCC over violence on the teevee.
  • Related: I feel a deep pang of guilt for feeling relief that Jack Valenti is no longer alive to curb our civil rights and cripple our technological innovation in the name of a Big Media no one likes anyway. Jesse Walker has a far kinder obit, though not by much.
  • Justice, perhaps: the police officers who murdered an old woman on a bad raid have finally been charged. Radley Balko, ever true to form, still sees a way for them avoiding the punishment they deserve. On a personal note, I have to confess my opinion of our men in blue has dropped considerably over the last year as I have grown to know a number of cops. They think it’s great and/or funny that a) they can do whatever the hell they want, as their friends handle enforcement; b) it’s hilarious when teenagers are beaten with sticks; and c) it’s perfectly fine to do traffic enforcement instead of breaking up drug rings if the gangs fight back. Serve and protect went out the window a long time ago, perhaps when they began murdering innocent people for gambling on college football.
  • Don’t tell Ron Moore: someone built a flying motorcycle.
  • All girls should purchase this solar powered bikini at once. Hrm. Maybe not all girls.
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News Brief, This Is An Alarm Call Edition

Cross-posted at The Conjecturer.

The Pentagon

  • One of the funnier stories out of the initial invasion of Iraq was the use of dolphins to clear mines from Um-Qasr harbor. It was a miserable failure. Still, the desire to use so-called “Animal Intelligence” remains of huge interest at the Pentagon. Which was why I was tickled pink to find this briefing of the new Directed Energy Sea Mammal. It is a satire, of course, of the superfluous Powerpoint Rangers that clog the military bureaucracy with needless fluff. But the “stakeholder response” at the end is priceless.
  • We do like lasers, though. They’re just not very good at what they’re supposed to do.
  • Inside the Pentagon reports concerns by the Army’s CIO that the military doesn’t really “get” technology. Its senior leadership did not grow up around the ‘tubes, and they’ve had a hard time integrating that into their intelligence and strategic planning.
  • It probably says something when the GAO, SEC, and Justice Department are among the best federal agencies to work, while the Department of Homeland Security is second only to the Small Business Administration for being the worst.  I just don’t know what that is.

Around the World

  • Self promotion! Over at The Registan, I question the reports of Georgia’s recent reform efforts, and whether early stories of its success are accurate. I also posted a report sent to me of yet another talk on Afghanistan, this time a general summary of the security facing the country and the allied forces there.
  • Free speech, online protests, and propaganda—all in a day’s work for bloggers in Kazakhstan.
  • Passport jumps in on the raging debate surrounding Kirkuk. Maybe they can also figure out a way to end the partition in Baghdad (not for any real reason, I’m just pointing out how silly phrases over walls are).
  • Bush continues to send mixed signals on nuclear proliferation by endorsing and supporting India’s illicit nuclearization. Because it’s just fine when our friends violate the NPT, but not when our non-friends do it. Then again, this administration is probably owed gratitude for demonstrating what a shallow pretense any international treaty is: Namely, that they’re only as good as a country’s willingness to self-enforce.
  • Well, which is it? Has Russia become the New Soviet, or is it all just a vast anti-Putin conspiracy? Umm, it’s the former.
  • Remember that massacre just outside Jalalabad last month? Does it bear a disturbing resemblance to Haditha? More broadly, is the standard set by Haditha—in which a unit is set upon by insurgents then overreacts, killing many innocents—simply unrealistic in a war zone? Here’s a silver lining, however: the military still does investigate the actions of its soldiers, and when crimes are committed, such as shooting unarmed civilians, those who did it still get punished, sometimes quite severely.
  • I watched Irshad Manji’s documentary last night on PBS, and found it quite good. The Prospect has more.

Back at Home

  • Fruity girl drinks are good for you? Does the twist I add to my (potato, always potato) vodka on the rocks count?
  • Of course calls for new forms of gun control were premature on Monday—the blood hadn’t even dried in Blacksburg. But now it seems my beleaguered Virginia can’t be bothered to enforce its own minimal and sensible gun laws. That doesn’t mean Seung-Hui wouldn’t have found another way of killing people (including the black market). It just means it wouldn’t have been so damned easy.
  • I’m also glad the DC is closer to voting rights. Constitution be damned, it was stupid of the Founding Fathers not to grant the District a vote, especially when they had just fought a war over taxation without representation (the rather clever slogan on DC license plates). However, I would have also been fine with exempting District residents from federal taxes and the selective service instead. There should be reciprocity in the relationship between government and citizen: I give the government the right to tax me so long as I have the right to vote them out of office. For two centuries, people living in the DC have not had that basic relationship, and they have had their money taken by a government that denied them a say in its affairs. It’s high time the relationship equalized.
  • As an avid fan of This American Life, I was deeply amused by this. Like most things on The Onion, I don’t think it’s much of a joke. And that makes it even funnier. Every single paragraph is gold.
  • See also this controversy over Panda abortions.
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News Brief, Mission of Burma Edition

Cross-posted on The Conjecturer.

The Pentagon

  • This account of an NSA Recruiting drive wasn’t all that remarkable, except for one bit I had never heard before. “It was mentioned that people who had done a lot of illegal file sharing were turned down and told never to apply again.” Now, how they define “a lot” leaves much to be desired. But I don’t know of a single computer literate college student who has not done any illegal file sharing. Can the NSA afford to be that picky in choosing its candidates? Does the CIA and other intelligence agencies have such stringent (and, in my view, unrealistic) criteria for its 21-year old recruits? (Note: Noah Shachtman makes the same point as well.)
  • Now that I think of it, this is kind of similar to their attitude on drugs. Until recently, the criteria was that any illegal drug use, at any point in your past, was grounds for clearance denial. That has since been amended to “within the last 12 months” for most clearances, including the CIA. A similar standard should apply to the NSA.
  • Not exactly Pentagon, but it is US-strategy related: an article I wrote on American strategic opportunities in Turkmenistan is up over at World Politics Watch. Go, read.

Around the World

  • A fascinating look at EU relations with Uzbekistan, two years after the Andijon massacre. If your Russian (or translation service) isn’t up to snuff, it is along similar lines to much of what Nathan has been reporting lately.
  • A fascinating World Bank paper on economic growth and political and social trends in pre-civil war and post-civil war periods. They find that once peace is achieved, sustained growth rates of 2% are common. This suggests civil wars, though disastrous, may not necessarily be ruinous.
  • Foreign Policy takes a look at social norms and attitudes of the infamous Muslim community of England. Since it is a survey, I would immediately question their methodology. I do wonder, though: how many Muslims were first-generation immigrants, and how many were born there? In other studies of Muslims in Europe, the first-gen immigrants deeply believe in their adopted homes and wish to integrate, while their children, the victims of systemic if unofficial discrimination, are most often the ones who become radicalized.
  • Sudan has been caught secretly shipping guns to Darfur, on planes disguised as UN aircraft.
  • Georgia, looking east. They stand to win big from any new petroleum infrastructure (both oil and gas) around the Caspian. To paraphase a familiar saying, “All pipes lead to Tiblisi.”
  • The U.S. is acting like it’s a shock the Iranians are sending weapons to Afghanistan. Even if it means sending weapons to a group of Sunni extremists who would just as happily behead the Ayatollah as the U.S. Ambassador. Iran’s policy, as with its abduction ploy, is short-sighted: rather than seeing the longer strategic picture of dealing with an American presence in Kabul versus a Taliban presence, it has gone for the short term gain of trying to bog down the American military presence next door. Unless they’re supremely confident of their ability to prop up the Emir of Herat (Ismail Khan, currently a member of Parliament) as a buffer zone, Iran has to be banking on its policy to fail or fall short. In other words, it is a confusing decision… highlighted by the upswing in violence in Iranian Baluchistan.
  • The National Union of British Journalists has voted to boycott Israel because a BBC reporter was abducted by Palestinians. I could easily be mistaken, but might their holy outrage be better expressed against, I don’t know, the Palestinians who supported his abduction, rather than the Israelis who oppose them? To say nothing of the much-flouted principle of media neutrality applying only to dictators and thugs…

Back at Home

  • Judges and bad companies hate you, and they hate your innovations. Acacia, a company known for buying and then suing patents, has decided to sue everyone because they use hyperlinks on CDs. This is akin to when Amazon patented the mouse click in Internet transactions: frivolous, deceptive, dirty, and bad corporate policy.
  • Radley Balko on the problems of prohibition. I have to confess that if marijuana were legal, I’d probably smoke it every once in a while. But it would be the same as my drinking habits—really only on the rare occasions my friends can hang out. I don’t drink during the week, just as I wouldn’t smoke during the week: maybe I’m a lightweight, but pot leaves me braindead the next day. And before you freak out over my admission of drug use, consider that I graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder—Boulder!—where not only are there multiple greenhouses growing surprisingly high quality hydroponic stuff, but in nearby Denver possession was legalized. And the remarkable thing is, just as when alcohol was re-legalized, the vast majority of users were responsible and stable. A fraction of a percent of abusers shouldn’t ruin it for the rest of us.
  • The Manhattan Institute released a report about Myths and Facts concerning energy and the environment. They’d make Bjorn Lomborg proud.
  • While absent-mindedly jogging on the treadmill last night, I watched Le Journal, an international French news program. They ran a report on Blacksburg, which would have been hilarious for its ignorance if it weren’t taken so seriously in the francophone world. After going through the requisite scenes of mourning and confusion, the reporter traveled to a gunshop miles from campus, and declared (I’m paraphrasing), “children can walk into shops like this and purchase machine guns as long as they declare they are not criminals.” They then said America has a centuries-long tradition of gun worship, we indoctrinate our children into gun usage they way the French indoctrinate their children into soccer play, and this is why we are such a violent and uncaring society. No wonder Europe hates us, if they have such atrociously unethical reporting.
  • Though in fairness to Der Spiegel, they published a series of emails and blog counterpoints to their own summary of hostile European editorials about the shooting.
  • Distraught Koreans think this is the new 9/11. Umm, no.
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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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Jane and the Flying Imams

Last November, right before Thanksgiving, six Muslim cleric were removed from a US Airways flight for “suspicious behavior” in the view of several passengers and crew members. The six have since been dubbed the “Flying Imams.” Although at first the breathless reports suggested that over-sensitive passengers had, perhaps, created a civil rights issue, as the story unfolded the suspicious behavior began to lend credence to the pilots’ decision to remove the Imams. For example, an Arabic speaker sitting near the two of the Imams was one of the first triggers to evicting the holy men.

That passenger pulled a flight attendant aside, and in a whisper, translated what the men were saying. They were invoking “bin Laden” and condemning America for “killing Saddam,” according to police reports. Meanwhile an imam seated in first class asked for a seat-belt extension, even though according to both an on-duty flight attendant and another deadheading flight attendant, he looked too thin to need one.

Indeed, there were several indicators that the Imams may be up to no good.

So the captain apparently made his decision to delay the flight based on many complaints, not one. And he consulted a federal air marshal, a U.S. Airways ground security coordinator and the airline’s security office in Phoenix. All thought the imams were acting suspiciously, Rader told me.

Other factors were also considered: All six imams had boarded together, with the first-class passengers – even though only one of them had a first-class ticket. Three had one-way tickets. Between the six men, only one had checked a bag.

And, Pauline said, they spread out just like the 9-11 hijackers. Two sat in first, two in the middle, and two back in the economy section. Pauline’s account is confirmed by the police report. The airline spokeswoman added that some seemed to be sitting in seats not assigned to them.

One thing that no one seemed to consider at the time, perhaps due to lack of familiarity with Islamic practice, is that the men prayed both at the gate and on the plane. Observant Muslims pray only once at sundown, not twice.

Something else that I’ve not seen mentioned very often is that “[o]ther Muslim passengers were left undisturbed and later joined in a round of applause for the U.S. Airways crew” when the Flying Imams were escorted away.
Of course, none of this has stopped the Flying Imams from seeking their day in court, and from threatening to sue “John Doe’s” who reported them. That threat apparently produced a reaction from Republicans who introduced legislation to obviate such threats (via McQ):

House Republicans tonight surprised Democrats with a procedural vote to protect public-transportation passengers from being sued if they report suspicious activity — the first step by lawmakers to protect “John Doe” airline travelers already targeted in such a lawsuit.


Republicans said the lawsuit filed by six Muslim imams against US Airways and “John Does,” passengers who reported suspicious behavior, could have a “chilling effect” on passengers who may fear being sued for acting vigilant.

The “John Doe Gambit” (as dubbed by McQ) also provoked this response from Michelle Malkin.

Apparently, Megan McArdle (aka Jane Galt) is only vaguely aware of this story, and yet she took the time, in a post nominatively taking CAIR to task for making Muslims look bad, to castigate Americans for being too vigilant and insensitive to the Flying Imams (emphasis added):

Unfortunately, whatever public relations geniuses run the organisation have a positively uncanny knack for finding a case where muslims or Arabs have been wronged, sticking their oars in, and somehow screwing things up so badly that at the end of it all, net Arab/Muslim hatred in the country has increased 15%. Case in point: last November, some muslim clerics were removed from a flight and questioned after passengers reported them for “suspicious activity”. This crazy, unwonted behaviour? The muslim clerics were . . . dressed like religious muslims. And praying to Mecca, as devout muslims are commanded to do five times a day. Needless to say, this is not exactly America’s proudest hour.

Huh? I have to assume that Megan missed, well, just about everything that developed after the initial report. It’s been quite clear for some time now that the Flying Imams’ story didn’t add up, and that they did a lot more than pray loudly. Then, rather inexplicably, Megan takes an unwarranted swipe at Michelle Malkin’s response to the John Doe Gambit (again, my emphasis):

Via Julian, I now see that Michelle Malkin is ratcheting up the whole sordid business one more hysterical notch with this delightful piece on our nation of citizen spies. I’m not quite sure why she felt the need to announce to all the Arabs and Muslims in America that they are being watched like hawks. It seems to me that after six of their religious leaders were detained by the government for, er, acting religious, they probably already know.

Again, huh? Malkin’s piece begins: Dear Muslim Terrorist Plotter/Planner/Funder/Enabler/Apologist, … I must admit that I’m more than a bit chagrined by this rather sloppy post from Ms. Galt. One of my favorite things about her is her ability to rise above the fray, and to take all the facts she can get her hands on into account before opining on something. Normally, she is reliably independent minded and, even when I disagree with her, she is quite respectful of other opinions. This latest post, however, is none of those things. It misses almost all of the facts, goes out of its way to malign Americans, and imputes a snobby “tsk, tsk” to those of us who are vigilant against would-be Muslim terrorists. Frankly, its a rather bizarre departure from what I’m used to reading at her site.
I don’t know what bee got in Megan’s bonnet, but she misses wide left on this one.

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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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Dinesh D’Souza and Responsibility

I haven’t addressed D’Souza’s new book The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11, though Robby asked me to long before it was even out. I have meant to, but at this point it seems a bit superfluous. It has been dissected and critiqued so extensively that I can’t imagine as someone who hasn’t read it, and doesn’t intend to, that I can say anything more of value about what he is arguing.

As for what my opinion is, any reader of my writings here should have no difficulty figuring my position out, but if you want a good roundup of views that reflect mine I suggest starting with Eric Scheie who it will surprise nobody to find out I agree with once again. If you read Instapundit you already saw these links from Eric, but if you missed them go ahead and take the time to go and poke around. By poke, I mean go to the many other writers he links to who have addressed various aspects of D’Souza’s argument. One thing is heartening, the right as a whole seems to be rejecting his thesis (if not every aspect, which seems about right to me) that liberals and libertarian leaning people do is pretty much a given. If you did go and read Eric you may have missed his updates and this piece from Dean Barnett. If so, go ahead and give Dean a bit of your time.

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Division and discord within Iran, an opportunity?

I don’t know what to make of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri. On one hand he is one of the architects of the Islamic Republic, one time designated heir to Khomeini, a supporter of the seizing of our embassy at the dawn of the Revolution and still claims to believe in the Guardianship of the Clergy. (more…)

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Religion in Academia

From Robin Hanson’s fascinating blog, Overcoming Bias, I found this:

Last November we learned that the US public believes in God more than college professors, who believe more than professors at elite schools:

Almost a third answered “none” when asked their religion — more than twice the percentage found in the general population. Science professors were the least religious. Accounting professors were the most religious. More than half the professors at places other than so-called “elite” universities said they absolutely believed in God. About a third of the professors at elite schools took that position. … About 30 percent of community college professors considered intelligent design as a serious scientific alternative. Fewer than 6 percent of professors at elite universities took that position.

If all we know about a view was that professors held it more, and elite professors even more so, we would be inclined to favor that view. But other considerations can be relevant; if we knew elite professors favored increasing elite research funding, we might attribute that to self-interest bias. So should we favor elite professors’ views on God, or can we identify other relevant considerations?

There were a lot of responses from around the web, and I would love to hear from our readers. One thing I noticed in the responses that was insufficiently debated, the possibility that elite professors and the academic community in general discriminate against the religious. Do academics at elite universities automatically mark down as a negative strong religious belief, especially in the biological sciences? Does that (speculative) bias affect the likelihood of academics to hold to religious belief? This is not an assertion, but a question.

Robin Later added some potential explanations for the correlation:

  1. Information – Elite academics have better information and analysis.
  2. Social pressure – Random variations in local social pressure are a generic explanation for all behavior differences.
  3. Calm – Tyler says the academic neutral tone fits badly with charisma.
  4. Unfeeling – Academics prefer explicit reasoning, and neglect our feelings, which some call our best evidence for God.
  5. Safety – Anders suggests the safe cushy academic world doesn’t inspire fear, which inspires hope in God.
  6. Contrarian – Academics distinguish themselves from others via differing beliefs.
  7. Jealousy – God would be a threat to academics intellectual authority.
  8. Mystery – God is too hard to understand for academics to make progress using him as an explanation for things.

In terms of what these theories suggest about what to believe: 1 favors no God 6,7,8 favor God, 4 is hard to interpret, and the rest seem neutral.

Discuss. Here is the discussion from Marginal Revolution, Stephen Bainbridge, Outside the Beltway and over at Jane Galt’s place.
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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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Got Free Will?

According to Dennis Overbye you don’t:

Having just lived through another New Year’s Eve, many of you have just resolved to be better, wiser, stronger and richer in the coming months and years. After all, we’re free humans, not slaves, robots or animals doomed to repeat the same boring mistakes over and over again. As William James wrote in 1890, the whole “sting and excitement” of life comes from “our sense that in it things are really being decided from one moment to another, and that it is not the dull rattling off of a chain that was forged innumerable ages ago.” Get over it, Dr. James. Go get yourself fitted for a new chain-mail vest. A bevy of experiments in recent years suggest that the conscious mind is like a monkey riding a tiger of subconscious decisions and actions in progress, frantically making up stories about being in control.

As a result, physicists, neuroscientists and computer scientists have joined the heirs of Plato and Aristotle in arguing about what free will is, whether we have it, and if not, why we ever thought we did in the first place.

Whether or not we actually have free will is more or less an iteration of the underlying question in every philosophical debate: is there “truth” or “Truth”? In other words, does the world have any objective, substantive form, or do we just perceive such and place our own facile constructions upon it? One example used by the “truth” crowd is that in the very recent human past, phrenology was considered a legitimate science, and for centuries “bloodletting” was deemed a legitimate means of healing the sick. We call such things “quackery” today, but they were the “truth” back then. How can we be sure that any of what we think we know now is “Truth”?

The free will debate is centered on the same perception/reality argument. According to at least some scientists and philosophers, free will is but an illusion that we deceive ourselves into believe is real.

Mark Hallett, a researcher with the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, said, “Free will does exist, but it’s a perception, not a power or a driving force. People experience free will. They have the sense they are free.

“The more you scrutinize it, the more you realize you don’t have it,” he said.


[Where free will means] that humans are free moral agents whose actions are not predetermined … Whatever choice you make is unforced and could have been otherwise, but it is not random. You are responsible for any damage to your pocketbook and your arteries.

“That strikes many people as incoherent,” said Dr. Silberstein, who noted that every physical system that has been investigated has turned out to be either deterministic or random. “Both are bad news for free will,” he said. So if human actions can’t be caused and aren’t random, he said, “It must be — what — some weird magical power?”

Yeah, its called a “brain” and its bent on self-preservation, and pleasure-seeking/pain-avoidance, among other things. If we have a decision to act/not act then don’t we have free will? Dr. Benjamin Libet contends otherwise:

In the 1970s, Benjamin Libet, a physiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, wired up the brains of volunteers to an electroencephalogram and told the volunteers to make random motions, like pressing a button or flicking a finger, while he noted the time on a clock.

Dr. Libet found that brain signals associated with these actions occurred half a second before the subject was conscious of deciding to make them.

The order of brain activities seemed to be perception of motion, and then decision, rather than the other way around.

In short, the conscious brain was only playing catch-up to what the unconscious brain was already doing. The decision to act was an illusion, the monkey making up a story about what the tiger had already done.

Dr. Libet’s results have been reproduced again and again over the years, along with other experiments that suggest that people can be easily fooled when it comes to assuming ownership of their actions

OK, but how many of the requested actions were things like “stick your finger in your eye” or “grab your crotch really hard”? Would the brain signals have been similar in such circumstances. If the subjects were already in the frame of mind to carry out the directions, what decision was there to make? Hadn’t they already freely willed themselves to follow orders, instead of taking each direction and making a decision as to whether or not to follow it? Would that Bartleby, the Scrivener, was a subject, I doubt the results would be the same. It seems to me there’s a significant distinction.

Obviously this argument over the existence vel non of free will includes a moral component as well.

So what about Hitler?

The death of free will, or its exposure as a convenient illusion, some worry, could wreak havoc on our sense of moral and legal responsibility. According to those who believe that free will and determinism are incompatible, Dr. Silberstein said in an e-mail message, it would mean that “people are no more responsible for their actions than asteroids or planets.” Anything would go.

It would certainly call into question the need for and the efficacy of laws, rules and regulations. If we are “nothing more than sophisticated meat machines” then of what use is it to prohibit or mandate certain actions or omissions? Seemingly the answer would be “none.”

Dr. Wegner of Harvard said: “We worry that explaining evil condones it. We have to maintain our outrage at Hitler. But wouldn’t it be nice to have a theory of evil in advance that could keep him from coming to power?”

Again, doesn’t that beg the question, “how would we stop such a thing if we have no free will?” If the idea is that humans simply react to electro-chemical impulses, what gives us any control over that? If we are indeed not making decisions, by what mechanism do we direct future actions? The article proposes a middle ground of sorts:

Dr. Libet said his results left room for a limited version of free will in the form of a veto power over what we sense ourselves doing. In effect, the unconscious brain proposes and the mind disposes.


Dr. Dennett, the Tufts professor, is one of many who have tried to redefine free will in a way that involves no escape from the materialist world while still offering enough autonomy for moral responsibility, which seems to be what everyone cares about.

The belief that the traditional intuitive notion of a free will divorced from causality is inflated, metaphysical nonsense, Dr. Dennett says reflecting an outdated dualistic view of the world.

Rather, Dr. Dennett argues, it is precisely our immersion in causality and the material world that frees us. Evolution, history and culture, he explains, have endowed us with feedback systems that give us the unique ability to reflect and think things over and to imagine the future. Free will and determinism can co-exist.

“All the varieties of free will worth having, we have,” Dr. Dennett said.

“We have the power to veto our urges and then to veto our vetoes,” he said. “We have the power of imagination, to see and imagine futures.”

In this regard, causality is not our enemy but our friend, giving us the ability to look ahead and plan. “That’s what makes us moral agents,” Dr. Dennett said. “You don’t need a miracle to have responsibility.”

Dr. Dennett’s explanation is fairly innocuous, and it seems to provide a meaningful way to discern instinctual actions from purposeful ones. But it still doesn’t explain everything. Our free will may indeed be informed by causality (i.e., feedback from history, culture, evolution), and thus guide us in plotting our next course, but how do you explain those who refuse to take such feedback into account? For example, despite the appalling lack of any success generated by socialist/communist/statist governments, the model is repeatedly tried again and again, apparently with the fervent belief that the next iteration will be different than the last. How does Dennett’s theory explain that?

Overbye’s article is very interesting, and I recommend that you read the whole thing. Personally, I think that if free will is no more than an illusion, masking the impulsive activity of our untamed and untamable synapses, then progress, imagination, creations and discoveries would all be impossible. Without free will, how does a place like the United States come into existence? How can a vision of air flight be realized, or a cure for cancer? The short answer is that, without free will, you have none of this.

However, I do agree that we as humans are not, and cannot, be entirely divorced from the material world, nor is our will entirely independent of our physical surroundings and capabilities. No matter how much I may wish to do so, nor how much I will it, I will never and could never be a Defensive End for the Chicago Bears. Yet, I have the free will to try, no matter how ludicrous the suggestion. We sometimes call this “heart” (think “Rudy” or Brett Favre), or foolishness (think William Hung or Brett Favre). In either case, the actor chooses the action and wills himself towards his final disposition, whether that be success or failure. The ultimate result may be determined by physics and physiology, but the actions themselves were undertaken based on the will of the subject.

In the end, perhaps we are just a big mess of chemicals and neurons, acting randomly or in some predetermined fashion, without any actual choice over our actions, although we perceive it as such. Or maybe, as someone suggested in the article, we are like a giant computer that is so complex it can’t figure out what it will do next (where have I heard this before?), and thus has the illusion of free will. Of course, it does make you wonder then, if that is all there is to it, how can we perceive it? Indeed, how can we come up with the question in the first place? I guess I’ll never know … or will I.

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