Tuesday, December 26, 2006

But Before I Go...

My mother, on Christmas day, came up with irrefutable proof that Darwin was dead wrong.

  • Cats love fish.
  • Cats hate water.

It's irrefutable, I tell you. IRREFUTABLE!
.

Short Break

I'll be away from home and Internet access until Jan. 1. We're going to Disneyland! That is, I'm going with my brother, his 5-month pregnant wife, and their three kids (ages 4–10). They've never been. We're driving from SLC to LA (12 hours) in one day, but the kids are pretty good at entertaining themselves on long drives.

See you next year...

Friday, December 22, 2006

Double-Header from Orson Scott Card

The first essay, How Our Civilization Can Fall, explains how previous civilizations have fallen when their economies were decimated by barbarians, and how it could happen to us if we fail to destroy Islamic Supremacy now, while we still can.

The second essay, Honoring Those Who Died, made me so angry and so sad that I wanted to throttle someone. Not Card, but the people he is talking about. He describes a plane ride wherein he strikes up a conversation with a uniformed soldier who is escorting the coffin of a fallen soldier to his family.
The family was actually from another city, one with a much larger airport than this one. But they had opted to drive the extra miles to receive the coffin here ... so they could avoid the demonstrators who had lately been showing up.

No, not the despicable Fred Phelps: "Hippie college students."

Read the whole thing. It will make you want to throttle someone, too.

On Apologies

Over at Protein Wisdom, guest poster Dan Collins offers the PW denizens a chance to reflect a bit.
As Advent draws to a close, and Christmas nears, perhaps it would be fitting to perform a spiritual inventory, and consider whom you may have wronged in thought or in deed this year.

On the other hand, this is also your opportunity to demand an apology from any wanker who may really have pissed you off this year.

The PW commenters respond in true PW style, which means that they're hilarious but a bit, er, male, in their choice of metaphors.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Let's See What They Say This Time

Another letter to the Congresscritters:

This is an issue of great importance to me: the selling of the War in Iraq and the general War on Terror.

Everyone knows that President Bush is not the Great Communicator that Ronald Reagan was. As a consequence, all of his enemies get to do all the talking for him. I know the president doesn't give a hang about public opinion, but unfortunately, public opinion affects more than troop morale: it affects Iraqi morale and the morale of others who trust us to defend them.

In Human Events, John Hawkins says it best:

"Also, please, please, Mr. President, start defending yourself. When prominent Democrats accuse you of lying to America, torturing prisoners, or screwing the middle-class, tear a chunk out of them every once in a while instead of letting them get away with slapping you around. Americans tend not to like extreme attacks on their President, but if they hear them day in and day out and you never respond, they start to get the idea that maybe you're staying quiet because what they're saying is true. Don't let that continue to happen, Mr. President."

http://www.humanevents.com/article.php?id=18577

If the president can't or won't get his face out in public more often and slap some people down for their lying attacks on him, someone else needs to. Find someone in Congress who is especially articulate and get that person on all the news programs and talk radio shows you can find. Regularly. The president's enemies won't be silenced by a few good smack-downs, they need to be smacked down each time they open their vile gobs.

Those of us in the blogosphere and on talk radio are preaching to the converted—we need people in the mainstream media selling the war all day, all the time.

This war CAN be lost on public opinion alone, just as Vietnam was. "Never again" applies to evacuating Saigon, too.

Must-Read Christmas Post

From American Digest, this gem about the Star of Bethlehem and alien people clutching at their gods.

Excerpt:
To have "evidence and no doubt." That is what those that put themselves forward as our "wise men" seem to propose to us day after day from their sterile rooms high above the avenues. They have the "indubitable evidence" from which we should derive, they insist, doubt about all that for which they have no evidence. First and foremost in their blinded vision is their iron requirement that we should doubt the original myths that have made us and sustained us as individuals and as a people across the centuries. In their pointless world, they would have us cast off the old myths and embrace their "new and improved myths -- complete with evidence;" myths made of purposeless matter "hovering in the dark."

And seeing what they have become, we turn. Turn away.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Look in the Dictionary

under "cognitive dissonance" and you'll see this article on the "surprisingly" robust Iraqi economy.

Right vs. Easy

From Dr. Sanity:

I wrote in a previous post titled "What is Easy vs What is Right," a comment on the most recent Harry Potter film:
...Rowling's series has become the metaphor of our times. Whether this is conscious or unconscious on Rowling's part is neither here nor there.

When Dumbledore says to Harry at the end of the movie (paraphrasing), 'Dark and difficult times lay ahead. Soon we will have to decide between doing what is easy and what is right,' he is expressing the critical moral issue of our own time.

There are many people in this country who always demand that we take the easy path. Those are the same people who put enormous stock in opinion polls and make decisions based on how popular they are likely to be. Somehow they have forgotten—if they ever knew to begin with—that doing what needs to be done, the right thing, is not always the popular thing. The hard choices and the sacrifices necessary to see them through, are beyond the moral, intellectual, or physical capacities of such people—unless they can feel the polls are with them—then it magically becomes very easy.

"…if they ever knew to begin with…"

Haunting words. I contemplate why what Dumbledore says is so evident to me but not to others, and I realize that it is the result of relentless training—brainwashing!—by my parents and my church and occasionally by the media.

It was all those Sunday School lessons in which I was told over and over and over that doing the wrong thing is easy and doing the right thing is hard, and that sometimes that's how you tell them apart. It was my mother dragging me back into the grocery store when I was six after she found the butterscotch candy I'd stolen from the Brach's display. It was the numberless novels and movies in which the hero is faced with a choice between right and easy and chooses right, even though it costs him in the short run.

Have those narratives disappeared from society? Is it not just the porn and gore that's the problem with today's entertainment but the loss of plain old truth-telling about reality? Are today's parents not setting a good enough example for their kids? Do they not insist that their own children make the tough choices?

I fear not. Look at programs like Nanny 911 and Dr. Phil and you'll see an infinite parade of parents who honestly don't know that they're supposed to say NO to their children. Who give in to the child's demands instead of putting up with the child's tantrums. Who do what's easy instead of what's right a hundred times a day.

These parents are supposed to produce adults who can preserve our nation? I don't think so. I really don't think so. Zeus's knees, we are in trouble...

Answer to Integralist

Over on One Cosmos, a commenter called "Integralist" expressed dismay over Bob's apparent black-and-white thinking. Not wanting to clutter Bob's blog with what ended up being a long answer, I decided to post it here. Bob's answer to Integralist is in this post on lies and counterfeits. I'm answering one of Integralist's comments to that post.


It seems that you (erroneously in my view) equate conservatism with Fact and liberalism with Falsehood, rather than (correctly) seeing them both as having a spectrum of readings and layers, facts and falsehoods.

One thing you might want to know about One Cosmos is that they use the terms "the left" and "classical liberals" instead of "liberal" and "conservative." Leftism comprises anything that has its roots in Marxism and/or postmodernism. Classical liberalism has its roots in Christianity and the Enlightenment.

These two categories don't necessarily correspond to democrat and republican or conservative and liberal, as understood in the Sept. 10th world.

The reason that Leftism is so roundly rejected on One Cosmos is that it is based on wholly incorrect assumptions about human nature and the universe. If your initial assumptions are incorrect, you will not arrive at the correct conclusions. Not on purpose, anyway.

Those assumptions include the following:

  • Human behavior is almost entirely determined by environment such as socio-economic status or cultural norms.

  • Corrolary: human nature can be corrected by the imposition of the proper institutions, namely a socialistic government. The configuration of this government will be determined by the extremely smart people who currently languish in academia because the masses aren't smart enough to put them in charge.

  • There is no such thing as absolute or objective Truth. Perception and the manipulation thereof is all there is.

  • Corrolary: there is no right and wrong, only power, and those too weak to seek it. Oops. That's Voldemort, the fascist!

  • Power structures are the only things that matter in human relationships. You can divide all people and nations into oppressors and oppressed.

  • Strong people and strong nations are by definition oppressors; weak people and nations are by definition oppressed.

  • Oppressors are evil, so whatever the oppressed do to oppose them, or whatever you do on the behalf of the oppressed, is right.

  • The United States, as a uniquely powerful nation, is by definition uniquely evil.

  • There is no God. Religion is ossified superstition.

  • All cognition is mediated by language; ergo, only those trained in language use (literary theorists and linguists) can tell you what reality really is.

  • Did I forget to mention that there is no such thing as objective Truth? Except for what the Left asserts, that is.

It goes on.

On the other hand classical liberalism is rooted in the following assumptions:
  • Human nature is imperfect and flawed and we are powerless to change that fact.

  • Individuals may persue a path of improvement, but it has to be chosen from within (often through inspiration from without) but cannot be imposed from the outside.

  • There is definitely such a thing as objective or absolute Truth. It might be hard to determine (we see through a glass darkly), but it exists independently of our perception of it.

  • Determining/learning/perceiving the Truth is man's highest calling.

  • Power structures exist, but power can be used for good or ill. So can weakness, for that matter.

  • Strong people and strong nations may or may not be oppressors, and weak people and weak nations are not, by virtue of their weakness, virtuous. Sometimes the underdog is a total jerk.

  • Compared to the history of nations and human societies, the United States is uniquely good and has spawned goodness in other nations. (Comparing the US to a standard of perfection, as the Left does, is totally unreasonable.)

  • There is a God, or at least transcendant truth. Some religion is good, and some of what passes for religion is trash.

  • There are many ways of knowing, and it's a good idea to cultivate all of those ways so that you can better arrive at the Truth.

As you can see, these assumptions about reality are mutually exclusive. Either one is true and the other false or they're both false, but not both true. (Only a leftist can look out the window and say that it's day and night at the same time and not see why that's a problem.)

Deciding to take the best from two sides of an argument is a good thing only when both sides represent merely differing interpretations of the same data. But being inclusive and integrationist isn't virtuous in and of itself. You have to be integrating two good things, such as yin and yang or sweet and salt or progress and tradition.

But if you integrate truth with falsehood, all you get are more lies and no truth. Truth cannot be adulterated and still be truth.

Let's look at the two things you proposed that we ought to adopt from "liberalism":

Environmentalism
If by this you mean that we shouldn't foul our own nest, then it's a no-brainer. Of course we shouldn't despoil and destroy the whole planet. Duh.

However, the Left often champions environmentalism as (a) a substitute for religion, wherein Gaia unblemished is the ultimate goal and we filthy humans are vermin who violate her (b) a bludgeon to take down Big Business, which is an unmitigated evil, no matter how it behaves (c) a way to get Big Government Grants by predicting the end of the world and claiming that their research will save us all.

That turns off the rest of us, so we hesistate to champion causes that could be used in ways that we don't approve of.

Socialized Healthcare
It is true that our current healthcare system is a mess, but maybe you're too young to remember the days when it wasn't. Socialized healthcare is a tempting solution, because it simplifies things (at least conceptually). But we have living examples of socialized healthcare in Canada and Europe, and it's not pretty. The systems ration care and are going bankrupt.

Besides, Bob hasn't been trashing the idea that we ought to care for the earth, nor has he suggested that our current healthcare system is the cat's pajamas. One Cosmos discusses philosophy, not policy, which might intersect at times but are not the same animal.

Look, I'm always up for discovering anything that the Left does right or does better than classical liberals, but so far I haven't found anything. (I do know some individuals on the Left who possess various virtues, but I can't say that those virtues derive from their Leftism or vice-versa.)

For me, it boils down to this: You cannot learn the Truth from people who deny that the Truth exists.

And one other thing, don't get your back up because the Cosmonauts came out swinging. I've been subjected to the same treatment when I chastised them for something I thought they got wrong, but I didn't take it personally. They're sensitized to lefty trolls, who, believe it or not, can often come across at first as very reasonable people.

Don't attack the tone, address the arguments; otherwise, you're exhibiting stereotypical lefty behavior -- emoting rather than reasoning. Besides, one man's vitriol is another man's impassioned defense of an idea. Roll with it, baby.

Monday, December 18, 2006

On Taking Offense

In the wake of this article by Mark Steyn and this post over at One Cosmos, I thought I'd add my 2¢ to the issue of taking offense.

As a caveat, I am not talking about taking offense where offense is intended. If someone deliberately "disses" you, that's one thing. (Of course, if you decide not to take offense even when offense is intended, you've just freed yourself from the influence of the offender.)

I'm talking about the popular "virtue" of being offended by the innocuous. It's not unique to the 21st century or to the US or to any group of humans. It unfortunately arises from the all-too-human tendency to want to appear virtuous to one's peers. And to one's enemies. Especially to one's enemies. Then you can use your virtue to bludgeon your enemy over the head and still maintain the higher moral ground.

The game is played like this:

  • A few enlightened parties identify a particular societal evil that permeates the society — preferrably something that was previously identified as OK by the majority

  • Society begins to wake up, and most people embrace the elimination of the societal evil.

  • Eager to prove to their peers that they are not the problem, people become publicly "offended" by manifestations of that societal evil

  • As time passes, people begin to engage in a type of one-upmanship, in which they prove that they can detect manifestations of that societal evil in situations everyone else considers to be innocuous

  • A variant of this game is to be offended in behalf of the people who are most harmed by this societal evil

  • Encouraged by the example of others, and desperate not to be thought of as part of the problem, people continue to seek out manifestations of that societal evil in as many places as possible; after awhile, the game careens into absurdity, though few are willing to identify the Emperor as naked

  • When a critical mass of absurdity is achieved, one of two things happen: the society becomes so crazed in its attempt to be purged of the societal evil that it begins to purge people from its body, either through legal sanction or in extreme cases, extermination; or the masses rebel, causing the pendulum to swing to the other extreme

One cannot overstate the rush that comes from proving oneself "pure" of the societal evil, so it comes as no surprise that people climb over themselves to achieve the pinnacle of purity, which is signified by that individual's ability to be offended by the most innocuous thing. What sensitivity! What perception! What a pure soul, to be able to sense evil that everyone else misses!

Quoth Bob:
I personally am not easily offended by hearing viewpoints with which I disagree, not because I don’t think the viewpoints are offensive, but because the emotional state of being offended gives one no “added value,” and in fact, is almost always detrimental to one’s spiritual well-being. You see, being offended is one of the tricks the ego uses to justify itself. The ego secretly enjoys and gets a thrill or a “rush” out of being offended. When you are in this state, the ego achieves a false sense of nobility by elevating itself above whatever it happens to be offended about. Most "activists" are people who perversely enjoy being offended -- it's like an addiction to the ego.

This is the thing: "offense" is probably the wrong word. When you are "offended," you get to claim the coveted victim's status and foist the mother of all guilt trips on the offender. Grovelling and compensation are demanded to make things "right."

Which means that taking "offense" is actually a form of extortion. So they're not being "offended," they're being "indignant" or "outraged" or "empowered."

Or coersive, which is what this is really all about. If I can't persuade you that my point of view is correct, I'll scramble for the nearest high ground and force you to acknowledge my moral superiority and your own wickedness. Repent, sinner! Repent in sackcloth and ashes, and while you're down there, let me give you a few well-deserved kicks in the head.

Continues Bob:
Thus, the most low, common, and coarse individual can feel better than others by being in a semi-permanent state of offense, as you will have no doubt noticed that the left tends to be in. If you take away “being offended,” what’s left of the left? Just listen, if you can tolerate it, to Air America, or read Dailykos or the New York Times editorial page. They are “all offended, all the time.” Indeed, we are now in the midst of World War III because a bunch of religious fanatics are chronically offended, whether it's angry jihadis in Khartoum or jihadis angry about a cartoon.


Mark Steyn takes on people who try to suppress all expressions of Christmas in public just in case someone who doesn't celebrate Christmas has to be exposed to the shameful display, as if we were parading Nazi symbols around in Jewish neighborhoods.

Says Steyn:
This isn't about religion. Jesus is doing just fine in the United States. Forty years of ACLU efforts to eliminate God from the public square have led to a resurgent, evangelical and politicized American Christianity unique in the Western world. What the rabbi in Seattle and the cops in Riverside are doing is colluding in an assault on something more basic: They're denying the possibility of any common culture. America is not a stamp collection with one of each. It's an overwhelmingly Christian country with freedom of religion for those who aren't. But it's quite an expansion of "freedom of religion" to argue that "those who aren't" are entitled to forbid any public expression of America's Christian inheritance except as part of an all-U-can-eat interfaith salad bar. In their initial reaction, Seattle Airport got it right: To be forced to have one of everything is, ultimately, the same as having nothing. So you might as well cut to the chase.

What, after all, is the rabbi objecting to? There were no bauble-dripping conifers in the stable in Bethlehem. They didn't sing "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen," either. That's, in effect, an ancient pop song that alludes to the birth of the Savior as a call to communal merry-making: No wonder it falls afoul of an overpoliced overlitigated "diversity" regime. Speaking of communal songs, they didn't sing "White Christmas" round the manger. A Jew wrote that. It's part of the vast Jewish contribution to America's common culture.

So if anyone ever tries to sue you into compliance, citing "offense" as the offense, don't be fooled: you're being blackmailed. No one is actually hurt by your Christmas display, you've just got someone on your hands who is drunk with the prospect of coercing someone into doing something they don't want to do.

And that, as any despot will tell you, is the greatest thrill of all.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Female Humor Runs into a Hitch

Christopher Hitchens, that is, who muses on the question of why women aren't as funny as men.

Observing that "one of the earliest origins of humor that we know about is its role in the mockery of authority," he cites Kipling:
But the Woman that God gave him,
every fibre of her frame
Proves her launched for one sole issue,
armed and engined for the same,
And to serve that single issue,
lest the generations fail,
The female of the species must be
deadlier than the male.

She who faces Death by torture for
each life beneath her breast
May not deal in doubt or pity—must
not swerve for fact or jest.

So it comes that Man, the coward,
when he gathers to confer
With his fellow-braves in council,
dare not leave a place for her.

He concludes:
Men have to pretend, to themselves as well as to women, that they are not the servants and supplicants. Women, cunning minxes that they are, have to affect not to be the potentates.

As they say on these here innertubes… heh™.

Letter from Orrin Hatch II

In response to an e-mail I sent to all my congresscritters, I get the following response from Sen. Hatch (R-Utah). I had advised deep-sixing the Iraq Study Group recommendations and said something pithy and trenchant about Robert Gates's confirmation, which Hatch voted for.

November 29, 2006

Dear Ms. XXXX:

Thank you for your emails of November 22nd. I appreciate your views on the possibility of discussions regarding Iraq with the Iranian and Syrian governments, the Iraq Study Group and the President's nomiation of Robert Gates to become the next Secretary of Defense.

I share your concern about the possibility of conducting negotiations with the Iranian and Syrian governments. Just this week, the President reiterated his position that if discussions are to begin with Iran, they must first address Iran's nuclear development program. Specifically, Iran must suspend it [sic] nuclear enrichment programs. Regarding Syria, I do not know how constructive talks would be, especially since that government continues to undermine peaceful efforts and initiatives not only in Iraq but also in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

I look forward to the publication of the Iraq Study Group's report. Though, I do not necessarily believe that this document should be seen as a strict plan that commits our nation to a specific course of action, I am always eager to examine new proposals and ideas on how we can obtain our goals more efficiently and effectively. This, of course, includes other proposals such as those that are being developed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the National Security Council. However, I will always be suspicious of any plan that calls for the withdawal of our forces from Iraq before the security situation greatly improves.

Another such initiative is due to be published this week: The New Army Field Manual for Counterinsurgency Warfare. This is a vital document that will directly address what I have heard from many returning soldiers, that the Army's culture is one that emphasizes the use of fire-power and conventional warfare rather [than] stability and counterinsurgency operations. This new doctrine will be helpful to our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Rest assured, irregardless [sic] of the conclusions in any of these documents, including the Iraq Study Group report, I remain committed to a course of action that achieves the goals best articulated by Dr. Zalmay Khalilzad, United States Ambassador to Iraq. He stated: "Our goal is to enable Iraqis to develop a multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian representative democracy…" that can fully meet its security obligations. Our mission is to provide assistance to the Iraqi government in providing security, defeating common enemies and bringing peace and stability to the nation.

Regarding your comments opposing Robert Gates's nomiation to become the next Secretary of Defense, I must respectfully disagree. I have had the opportunity to work with Dr. Gates on numerous occasions and he was an excellent member of President H. W. Bush's national security team during the First Gulf War. This was highlighted by the fact [that] he was nominated and confirmed to become Director of the Central Intelligence Agency shortly thereafter. Dr. Gates will also bring a foreign policy perspective to a war that increasingly requires military leaders to use political expertise. Further, he is a pragmatist, who will work with allies and make necessary changes to our tactics and initiatives. Dr. Gates has my full support.

Thank you again for your emails.

Sincerely,
Orrin G. Hatch
United States Senator

Huh. This letter was not composed exactly for me; rather, it's a cut-and-paste from some of his previous comments on the floor of the senate, errors and all.

I Googled "New Army Field Manual for Counterinsurgency Warfare" and got exactly two hits: the one linked above from hatch.senate.gov and this article from the Boston Globe, curiously dated the same day as the letter from Sen. Hatch.

A June 2006 draft of the document (240 pg, 2.4 MB) commonly called the COIN Manual (COunter INsurgency) can be found here. Should be a good read.

And in my Googling, I found Armchair Generalist, subtitled "A Progressive View on Military Affairs." I didn't read enough of it to know if this means actual progress or misnamed leftism, but the blog does provide TONS of links to official military sites, thinktanks, centers for studying this or that, and other such links. If you want to study military strategy, this would be a great place to start your research.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Couldn't Have Said It Better Myself

Gagdad Bob hits one out of the park with this post. In dissecting the words of Ken Wilbur's Integral Politics, he points out the enormous disparity between how the Left perceives the Right and how the Right perceives itself. To wit:

Quoth Wilbur:
Let’s begin our story by noticing that in this country, mainstream Republicans or conservatives have very strong amber/traditional values. Hence, when they say that "character counts," or that they want to "instill values in people," or that they are "the party of values," they almost always mean amber values only, traditional values, ethnocentric values: nationalism, family values, militarism, patriotism, patriarchalism, good ole Biblical injunctions and command morality. They do not mean green values, red values, teal values, turquoise values, etc.

First, I don't know what the color-coding scheme is except that "amber" means what he enumerates above. Humor him; he's a Lefty, after all.

Bob responds:
I know of no conservative who values nationalism, or patriotism, or militarism for their own sake. Usually it is because of an awareness that the United States is by far the greatest and most decent nation that has ever existed. In other words, to feel patriotic or nationalistic about the United States is simply based on objective reality. It’s not the same as feeling patriotic about some crappy little country like France, where shame would be the more appropriate emotion.

Wilber seems to conflate patriotism and nationalism with bad patriotism and nationalism, as if they aren’t worlds apart. Iranian nationalism: bad. Palestinian nationalism: bad. Nazi nationalism: bad. If I were a citizen of those places, assuming I wasn’t completely brainwashed, I would hardly be patriotic. Again, this would be an objective assessment of the situation. Those are bad and evil governments that do bad and evil things on purpose.

One of the reasons these color schemes hold no appeal for me is because my primary values are truth and decency. The latter follows from the former, because evil on a widespread scale is usually only possible if it is rooted in massive lies. Nazis murdered Jews because they believed lies about them, just as Islamists want to kill Americans because they believe lies about us. If people simply believe the truth and behave decently, everything else will pretty much take care of itself.

....

LIkewise to say that conservatives simply value “militarism” outside a moral framework is seriously misleading. Yes, I would like America to have the most powerful military in the world, for the simple reason that I want the most moral and decent nation to be the most powerful. It’s the same reason why I want the police to be more powerful than the criminals. To suggest that I am merely “pro-violence” would be another serious distortion. I am pro moral violence and anti immoral violence, a distinction that is often lost on the left. Yes, I want to kill bad people before they murder more good people.

Wilber seems to be treating Christianity with some contempt in the remark about “good ole Biblical injunctions and command morality.” If by command morality he is referring to absolute moral standards such as “do not bear false witness,” “do not steal,” and “do not murder,” then I suppose I am for “good ole Biblical injunctions.” They seem infinitely more wise to me than the morally relativistic blather you will hear on the typical college campus.

Do read the rest. It's a great manifesto for classical liberalism, wrought against the counterpoint of Wilbur's shallow, self-congratulatory arguments.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Only Thing About Me That's Left

Since Michelle Malkin decided to post on left-handedness and its inherent greatness, I thought I'd announce that I, too, am left-handed, as are my sister, my mom, my grandmother, and her grandmother (my great-great).

However, I use scissors right-handed (despite the fact that all the scissors in the house were left-handed) and I learned to mouse right-handed (though I change my computers to left-handed mouses, which drives tech support crazy when they have to come troubleshoot my computer). When I played the viola long ago I did it the conventional way (which seems only normal: use the left hand for fingering, by far the more difficult skill, and the weakling right hand for bowing).

Wikipedia's List of famous left-handed people.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Journalism 101

Here's a primer for budding journalists who may be confused about which words to use.

Straight from the AP!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Random Analogy I

The patient presents at the emergency department with severe, sharp abdominal pain, lower-right quadrant, and fever. The attending diagnoses acute appendicitis and orders immediate surgery to prevent the appendix from bursting and causing sepsis.

The family of the patient insists on watching the surgery from the upper gallery. As the surgeon cuts into the skin and abdominal wall, the blood starts to flow, and the family becomes hysterical. "What are you doing? His skin isn't the problem? Look at all that blood! He wasn't bleeding before we brought him in! You are hurting him! Whatever happened to 'first, do no harm'?"

While the patient is in recovery, the family freaks out over the wound. It most certainly wasn't there before. In the meantime, the patient contracts MRSA, the antibiotic-resistant "hospital infection."

"If we hadn't come to the hospital for this surgery, our loved one wouldn't have been cut open and contracted that awful infection," they rage, and conclude that doctors are malicious and hospitals are death traps. They cart the patient back home and refuse all further treatment.

The patient dies.

On whom should we blame this death? On the appendectomy or on the discontinuation of treatment?

Corrolary:

The family of the patient already believes that doctors are malicious and that hospitals are death traps, and holds as an Absolute Moral Value that it is always wrong to cut into someone. So when their loved one comes down with the acute appendicitis attack, they stay home and hope it is just bad gastritis.

The patient dies of sepsis after the appendix bursts.

Was the family correct to uphold that Absolute Moral Value ?
.

Simple Question

There is a conflict between two parties:

One has the desire but not the ability to destroy the other.
One has the ability but not the desire to destroy the other.

Whom should we say wears the white hat and whom the black?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A Day That Will Live in Infamy

Not December 7, 1941, mind you. Today: 7 Dec 2006, the day the Iraq Surrender Group declared peace in our time.

Please, Mr. President, if I could ask just one little thing from you, it would be this:
  1. Grasp the report firmly in your right hand.

  2. Proceed to the nearest wastebasket.

  3. Release the report such that it falls into said wastebasket.

  4. Pour 6 oz of liquid butane into the wastebasket.

  5. Light a match (taking care to close the cover before striking).

  6. Drop the match into the wastebasket.

  7. Exile the members of the ISG to Antarctica.

Pretty please? For Christmas?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Good Point about the Blogosphere

In my LiveJournal today, I mentioned that reading the blogs was causing me some degree of anxiety. One of my commenters (all of whom are friends I know from another internet discussion group), a left-leaning Brit, made the following observation:
The blogs seem to thrive, don't they, on the following propositions:

— All progress by those I sympathise with is illusory, and real control continues to be exercised by their opponents. If there are any real gains, they are only temporary.

— All reverses are real and lasting, and more damaging than they at first appear.

— The mainstream media are completely in the hands of opponents, and consistently misrepresent things to the detriment of those I sympathise with.

— We are all going to die.

Conclusion: to feel good, read the blogs of the opposing viewpoint to your own.

I don't know about the conclusion (I suffer more anxiety when reading the lefty stuff), but the rest of it makes sense.

Incidentally, I have a link on this blog to my LiveJournal, but not vice-versa. Most of my LJ friends are left-leaning, and I really don't want to get into a big fight with them. (We did enough of that in our other internet life, thank you very much.) We've seen each other through some hard times, so it's not worth it to me to alienate them. They do know me as Dicentra, though, so maybe they'll find me through a random Google search and wonder why I never mentioned I had this other blog.

Bwa ha ha.

Flying While Muslim and Other Imaginary Crimes

I listened to a podcast yesterday of Michael Medved's show wherein he featured a debate between Victor Mordaci (web site: Sword of Islam) and Jafar "Jeff" Siddiqui, who led a demonstration against US Airways because of the treatment of the six imams. He alleges that it was the result of racism and irrational fear. He is also a common spokesman in Seattle for understanding Muslims, and is the head of American Muslims for Puget Sound.

Mordaci had been on Medved's show previously and had made a number of strong claims about what Muslims believe, and Siddiqui was positively insensed. He accused Mordaci of being a total bigot.

Now, I can't fully defend Mordaci because the things he said on Medved's show were in fact very inflammatory. Also, I know what it's like when non-Mormons attempt to tell me what Mormons believe. They tend to cherry-pick items from our scripture (or worse, obscure sermons delivered 150 years ago that are not considered to be at all canonical), quote "scholars" who repeat false rumors that get into print over and over (and are therefore considered to be true), and fail to distinguish between official Mormon doctrine and what individual Mormons might do or think.

Mordaci also had a tendency to waffle, go off on digressions, and not have any idea about the allegations relative to the US Airways incident.

On the other hand, Siddiqui kept referring to the fact that he was on the verge of coming unhinged in rage (oh, what a virtuous man that he doesn't go off on the other guest!), and he had a hard time admitting that some of his co-religionists have gone completely off the rails. He also didn't spend enough time stating counter-arguments to Mordaci's allegations instead of expressing outrage.

Case in point: Mordaci said that Muslims believe that the Jews are sons of monkeys and pigs. Sura 5:60. "Allah cursed those who betrayed him, and converted them into monkeys and pigs."

(The source I found on Google (Authorized English Translation (search term: Sura 5:60, first entry) has it reading thus:
"Say, 'Let me tell you who are worse in the sight of GOD: those who are condemned by GOD after incurring His wrath until He made them (as despicable as) monkeys and pigs, and the idol worshipers. These are far worse, and farther from the right path.'")

Siddiqui insists that the Quran does not specify that Jews are monkeys and pigs. I skimmed the Sura and found that it deals with a common theme in the Quran: the wickedness of unbelievers and their unrighteous hatred of those who had received the latest revelation from God. (The Authorized English Translation, you notice, inserts a clarifying parenthetical remark that they are "as despicable as" monkeys and pigs, which removes the chance that there was any literal or figurative tranformation of the unbelievers into animal-like beings. Furthermore, I don't know if any religion is specified in the original Quran, but this web version certainly specifies Christians and Jews. Musli? Can you shed some light on this?)

Mordaci asserted that you could ask any Muslim child who the pigs and monkeys were, and they'd answer "the Jews." Siddiqui countered that you can't take the word of a child or of any random people off the street and conclude that That's What Islam Teaches.

They both have a point. If the Quran doesn't actually say that Jews are monkeys and pigs, then Islam doesn't teach such a thing. End of story. However, it's not unusual for believers to be lazy readers of their own scripture and therefore come up with bad readings of it. Cultural beliefs that have little to do with the actual religious doctrine also find their way into the belief system of individual believers, and they tend to find scripture that appears to justify their stance. As the old saying goes, the Bible is like a violin: you can play any tune you want on it. (Hence the multiplicity of Christian sects.)

Mordaci is also right when he says that many Muslims believe that Jews are monkeys and pigs. I've seen the MEMRI video (broadcast on Glenn Beck's CNN-Headline special) where a young Palistinian girl is quizzed about the identity of the monkeys and pigs, and that she promptly answers that it's the Jews. I have also heard tell (but not verified) that many of the textbooks in Muslim schools preach this apparently non-Quranic teaching.

I am unable to say what the Quran says or doesn't say: I can't read Arabic, and I know the hazards of translations. I also know that what I think the Quran says is not relevant to the question of what Muslims believe: what they think the Quran says is the only relevant thing.

And it's clear to me that not all Muslims interpret the Quran the same way. As if 1.3 billion people are going to agree on anything after 1400 years.

But what Siddiqui and other Muslims need to understand is that while it's good that they defend what they consider to be "true Islam" from false allegations, it would do the rest of us a world of good if they would acknowledge in spades that some Muslims are way off in their interpretations. (Of course, the fanatics would say that the moderates are the ones who are way off, but that's not my fight.)

Mordaci: "Every Muslim in the Middle East knows who the monkeys and pigs are."

Siddiqui: "Oh please! Spare me!"

Um, Mr. Siddiqui? The man was making a valid observation. It's true that many Muslims in the Middle East believe that the Jews are the monkeys and pigs spoken of in Sura 5:60, despite what the Quran may or may not actually say. The correct response from you should have been, "If they believe that, they are wrong."

But it's hard for me to be sympathetic when you circle the wagons around people who don't deserve to be protected.

But anyway, back to the US Airways issue.

Like I said, Mordaci wasn't prepared to talk about it. Siddiqui said that he had read the police report, and that there was no mention of the provocative behavior (moving to seats in a terrorist configuration, unchecked baggage, one-way ticket, etc.)

The police report is here. I went and looked for myself.

This is what the report says:

Officer Desubijana, Federal Air Marshall Grewenow, and I boarded the aircraft and located [deleted]. I requested [deleted] point out the individuals he witnessed together in the gate area. Officer Desubijana and I asked the six passengers [deleted] pointed out to us to get up and leave the aircraft. Systematically from the rear to the front of the plane, we asked all six to leave the plane. All parties left the plane cooperatively. It should be noted that two of the individuals were seated in the rear, two were seated in the middle, and two were seated in the front of the aircraft; all of which stated they were travelling together.

So the reporting officer saw the seating arrangement for himself. However, there is no mention of the men having been assigned to other seats previously and then moving to that configuration. One US Airways employee mentioned that at the gate, some men had requested two seats in First Class (but they were filled).

Witnesses, including an off-duty flight attendant, mentioned that the request for seat-belt extenders didn't seem necessary, as the men weren't all that large.

One witness, a member of the clergy who had spent extensive time in Turkey, said that "[t]he behavior of the group in the gate area was atypical for my experience w/Muslims..." This man engaged one of the group in lengthy conversation, in which the imam expressed what the man believed were extreme political beliefs. (The PDF isn't clear, so I couldn't read all of what he said.)

Ok.

Mr. Siddiqui. The official police report mentions the suspicious seating arrangement and the requests for seat extenders that were subsequently not used. It also cited the loud prayers, the "Allah, allah" chants, and the strange behavior in the gate. It does not say whether the imams had checked baggage or not, nor does it say whether they had one-way tickets. (A witness claimed that three of them had one-way tickets and that they hadn't checked any luggage. I don't know if that witnesses' claims were accurate.) The police report mentions that carry-ons were removed along with the imams and that a police dog checked them for suspicious materials. I don't know how many carry-ons were involved.

You can cry "Islamophobia" all you want, but I think that the actions taken by US Airways were reasonable given the long-standing rules about proper flight behavior. I have known since I was a child that you can't even joke about bombs in an airport without being investigated. Passengers whose behavior seems stranger than normal are always investigated, Muslim or not. It may not be your fault that Muslims are now under greater scrutiny since 9-11, but that's just how it goes these days. As soon as all Muslims get thrown off all flights every day, then I'll start seeing racism. Otherwise, sit down and shut up about this.

And the allegations that they were being deliberately provocative so that they could make a scene, thereby intimidating airlines and passengers into keeping quiet about suspicious behavior are unfortunately plausible. Short of sudden clairvoyant ability, though, I can't say for sure what their intentions were.

But man, don't be defending these guys. They should have known better, and if they didn't, they should still have been detained and later educated. Perhaps by you, who are so eager to explain alien cultures to each other.

Because it might be a code in your society that you don't trash members of the Ummah in front of non-believers, and it might be that you think that it's more important to defend appearances than to defend the truth (ugly though it may be), but that won't fly in this country. And that's one place where the Muslims will have to understand US, rather than the other way around.

I don't care what your culture says: In God's eyes, Truth matters more than saving face. You can take that to the bank.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Great Sites to Help the Troops

Don't know why I didn't know about these sites before, but they enable folks back home to get in contact with members of the military who are currently deployed and establish correspondence with them. (Including sending stuff that they need and want.)

Any Soldier
Any Marine
Any Sailor
Any Airman
Any Coast Guard

First click on the FAQ link to read up on the conditions. Then click on Where to Send and from the View Contacts Sorted By drop-down list, select Contacts Requested. This will give you a list of people sorted by how many people have requested that person's address. I suggest you choose someone whose addy has not been requested yet.

Then you fill out a form to get that person's address. You can only get three addresses per day. Then you can send a letter to the person when that addy arrives in your e-mail in-box. The site also lists how many people surround that person, usually about 10-40 people.

Might as well sign up, I figure. I have been extremely depressed today about the war situation, what with the Dems winning congress and acting like idiots, the Iraq Study Group suggesting a graceful withdrawal, and Gates being appointed as SecDef. The only bright note is that when people talk directly to the president, he is pretty uniquivocal about not withdrawing before the job is done, and not settling for anything less than Victory with a capital V.

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;...

Two Theories of War

In this December 1 piece, Victor Davis Hansen articulates the two points of view on the war on terror that predominate in the US, calling them the Majority Opinion and the Minority Opinion. The former is the "we've done enough, let's gracefully retire and return to Sept. 10" opinion and the latter is the Bush Doctrine.

To be honest, the Majority Opinion is far more appealing than the Minority Opinion. Far more appealing. It means that things are not as bad as they seem, that we can retire from Iraq and Afghanistan without severe consequences to ourselves (though it might spell utter annihilation for others), and that we can stop putting our troops in harm's way.

I honestly wish that the Majority Opinion were correct. I hope that it is. But on the other hand, given humankind's propensity for making bad decisions -- and the West's tendency to disbelieve in the evil intentions of other people -- I think that we have to err on the side of the Minority Opinion.

Because if the Minority Opinion is wrong, everything's OK. But if it's not...

Monday, December 04, 2006

Insignificant Triumph

So I go over to my site meter today and find out that someone found this blog via a Google search for "Captain Jamil Hussein." Turns out I'm on the second page, one entry higher than Protein Wisdom.

Boo-ya! In yer face, Jeff, ya running-dog intentionalist!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Religion and Superstition

It's not uncommon for those who disparage religion to equate it with superstition, thereby robbing religion of all credibility. I mean, what's the difference between believing in carrying a rabbit's foot and believing in God?

If you don't dig religion, it's all the same to you. But if you're actually involved in religion, the difference is pretty clear, even though people are often unable to articulate it.

So I'll articulate it here.

The Superstitious World View

In the view of the superstitious, the world is populated by myriad forces, some of which can cause you harm (and might even want to), and others of which can favor you. These forces are variously characterized as spirits, mojo, luck, fortune, or whatever.

The purpose of superstition is to ward off the bad forces and/or entreat the good forces. Or as Paul Simon said in "The Rhythm of the Saints,"
To overcome an obstacle or an enemy
To glide away from the razor or a knife
To overcome an obstacle or an enemy
To dominate the impossible in your life

Superstition aims to provide its practitioner with control over the natural chaos that is our life in this sphere.

The Religious World View

In the view of the religious, the human soul is populated by myriad forces, some good and some bad. Humans have a devil of a time not succumbing to the bad or lower forces (so to speak) and need contact with the divine to rise above them.

The purpose of religion is spiritual maturity, which is characterized by the elimination of bad impulses to be replaced with good ones.

Religion aims to provide its practitioner with control over one's own soul.

Comparing Superstition and Religion
  • Superstition focuses on the external, religion on the internal.

  • Superstition does not require the practitioner to improve; religion is all about self-improvement.

  • Superstition seeks to control outside forces; religion seeks to control inner forces.

One of the reasons that superstition and religion are so often confused is that many pratitioners of organized religions approach their religion from a superstitious point of view. And some religions contain elements of both real religion and superstition.

For example, Christians used to believe that the sign of the cross would ward off the devil or vampires or whatever evil spirits might be lurking around or that the bone of a saint could produce miracles. To the extent that a religion utilizes material objects such as amulets, tokens, rites, or whatever to ward off evil, they are indulging in superstition.

When I was in Colombia, I observed that for most of those Catholics, prayer was a way to entreat the favor of a saint or the Virgin so that they could avoid some bad event or gain something good. Winning the lottery was a common petition there, and because the lotteries paid out often (but not huge amounts), winning the lottery wasn't particularly rare.

I remember from my studies in Spanish Literature that there was a medieval collection of songs to the Virgin, some of which included rather ribald stories of how the Virgin is way cool because she helped a guy escape from a woman's closet, where he was hiding from her husband. In this case, the worship of the Virgin was tantamount to superstition because there is no interiority involved: she was more like a pal who bails you out of jail rather than someone who could help you along the path to spiritual maturity.

That said, I need to emphasize that I'm not condemning Catholicism in general nor all Catholics, because I know that there are superstitious folks who also participate in organized religion of all sects and denominations: Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Shinto, Hindu, or whatever. I just use these examples because I'm familiar with them. I also hasten to emphasize that Catholicism also provides a path to spiritual maturity; it's just that most of the Catholics in Colombia (and in Latin America, I imagine) don't avail themselves of that path. The same applies to adherents of other religions.

I also hasten to add that praying for something good to happen or something bad to not happen is not necessarily superstition; it's only superstition if you think that God is a celestial vending machine — insert prayer, press button, blessing drops into the bin. It's superstition if you use God the same way you'd use a rabbit's foot.

This is the thing: insofar as a person practices a religion for the purposes of acquiring spiritual maturity, that person is practicing true religion. Anyone who attends church or prays or invokes religious symbols or practices for the purpose of warding off evil or invoking favor is superstitious.

Because anyone who practices religion for real knows that being in contact with the divine won't necessarily protect you from bad things or bathe you in good things: junk still happens to you just as it happens to everyone else. The difference is that you look to God to help you through the bad times, to help you make lemonade with your lemons, or to make the best of what you have.

And that's the difference. Any questions?

Why Economics Is Hard to Understand

From Gagdad Bob, a link to this article that explains types of economic premises and that the "market pricing" model is the latest development and therefore the one hardest to grasp, the other models being programmed into our genes, or something like that. Classical Values also comments on this article.

I don't know how much weight to give this theory, but Bob and Eric do make some interesting allegations about why Leftists have such a hard time with market economies.

The First Casualty of War

"The first casualty when war comes is truth" was puportedly coined by Hiram Johnson, a staunchly isolationist senator from California, in 1917. As is often the case, popular culture has simplified the quotation to a more pithy "The first casualty of war is truth" or "Truth is the first causalty of war."

As I noted in a previous post, there have been some serious questions raised by bloggers, notably Flopping Aces, about the reliability of some of AP's news sources. Allahpundit also asks some valid questions about the reliability of CENTCOM's insistence that those news sources aren't who they say they are.

So now I don't know exactly what to believe about Jamil Hussein and Maithem Abdul Razzaq's reports. I can't say that the AP is trying to pass on bad information, but I can't say that they're trying not to, either.

Remember the reports that came out of the Superdome, post-Katrina? The stories about rapes and murders and general mayhem going on inside? I hope you know that those stories turned out to be false.

So how did reporters who were right there outside the Superdome, get it so wrong? In times of chaos and social breakdown, such as the aftermath of a serious hurricane, rumors are bound to be rampant, and reporters should know it. Maybe they were afraid that if they went into the stinking Superdome, they would be in danger of being harmed themselves.

But then again, if you can't substantiate a rumor, is it really a good idea to go ahead and report it as if it were the truth? Should you rely on the word "allegedly" to prevent your readers or viewers from misapprehending the story?

And furthermore, members of the media... do you think that your viewers care about who scooped whom? Do you think that we remember that such-and-such network or such-and-such newspaper broke a particular story first? Here's a hint: we don't. We absolutely don't.

I would much rather hear a well-researched and sourced story a few hours or days later than to hear the reporter's initial impressions, or worse, unsubstantiated rumors that I might or might not hear are false, later on.

There have been times when I have been privy to the source matieral (I watched the event myself or read the whole document) and then heard a wrap-up or summary by a reporter and wondered what in Sam Hill they were talking about.

Which means that given how incredibly difficult it is to get a story right during a time of chaos, given how many rumors abound, and especially given how willing some people are to lie about what is happening during a war, reporters should exercise extreme caution about reporting something that they can't substantiate.

But if they can't get it right in our own front yard, how are they going to get it right on the other side of the world, while ensconsed in a hotel?

Answer: they aren't. So don't believe everything you hear about the chaos in Iraq. Chances are, some of those stories are totally untrue.

And yeah, my dear lefties, it does matter whether a particular atrocity took place or not. It's exactly as bad to report an atrocity that didn't happen as it is to not report one that did. I think we'd all agree on that. We do, don't we?

Friday, December 01, 2006

Clinton Lied, People Died

It would appear that pre-war intelligence about Kosovo was pretty inaccurate, too.

So class, with this information in mind, which of the following can we assert?

  1. All presidents lie to get us into wars for their own venal reasons.

  2. Good intelligence is extremely hard to get during times of armed conflict.

  3. Clinton was just mistaken; Bush lied through his teeth.

  4. Bush was just mistaken; Clinton lied through his teeth.

  5. The MSM is the Kingdom of Double Standards.

  6. Mike Farrell and his ilk are nitwits.