Sunday, December 23, 2007

Happy Sol Invictus

I like a good solstice as much as anyone. And in that spirit I shall toss back some eggnog to toast the victory of the sun god.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Republican Irony Alert

Republican Orin Hatch just denounced opposition to the new FISA bill as based on an "irrational fear of government." Odd for a member of a party that supposedly champions small government.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Romney's character

Why didn't Romney disavow his church's official racism until they repealed it in 1978? Frank Rich offers a succinct answer:

Mr. Romney didn’t fight his church’s institutionalized apartheid, whatever his private misgivings, because that’s his character. Though he is trying to sell himself as a leader, he is actually a follower and a panderer, as confirmed by his flip-flops on nearly every issue.

A nicely distilled assessment. Romney comes from a family with quite a lot of pull in the LDS cult, and it might have meant something. And even if it didn't he could have simply left it. After all even though I doubt my departure would make much difference I would certainly make it a point to leave were I to find myself a member of a racist organization. But Romney is a follower and a panderer, and his life is a story of seeking approval from the most proximate authority figures. How else could he believe the insane teachings of the LDS church, or keep a straight face when denying he's a flip-flopper?

Arkansas Fashion

Love the suede arm patches.

Post Script on Huckabee

I just realized that the popularity of Huckabee somewhat vindicates my long held belief that the Christian wing of the Republican Party cannot properly be called conservative, if you understand the term to imply favoring free markets, opposition to social libertarianism, commitment to civil liberties and property rights, low taxes, fiscal restraint, and sparing use of military power. Read the statements of Barry Goldwater regarding the key issues of the religious right if you think my definition lacks a pedigree. Whatever a platform including faith based programs, a Human Life Amendment, and a marriage Amendment, is, its not conservative as I understand it. I always thought American conservatism had some affinity for classical liberalism but I may be out of it. Their platform is nothing more than a bit of Christian utopianism with a bit of identity politics mixed in to get people riled. Christian Bolshevism is a term of my own coinage that has never caught on but which I like. Huckabee is its epitome. Tagging himself as a "Christian leader" and displaying knowledge of not much more than his religion, he has a spending record any liberal would need to run from and a willingness to do anything to soothe the wounds of the "Values Voter" contingent.

I Heart Huckabee

But apparently few others in his party do. I for one would love to see him nominated. The ensuing contest would be essentially an execution and for once the evangelical base would be responsible for the humiliation of the Republican Party rather than being its lifeblood. Those in the right wing blogging community know this and their tone is beginning to resemble northern liberal secularists. To my mind the most entertaining was Lisa Schiffen's at the National Review:

You're not in Little Rock anymore. It's hard Huck, when your decisions matter.

Like back home, you were just trying to be nice to that castrated guy who had raped a few women. He had served some time. Why couldn't they forgive him? You could. You have a good heart. Lots of Christian love. So you pardoned him. And what did he do then, Huck?

What if you make a call like that on Iran, Huck? Or Iraq? Or Osama? Or some guy from China who is very civil and polite at the State dinner, and has a little plan for dominating Asia? Everything that happens, Huck, all those reporters are going to want you to say something, everywhere you go, 24/7. And lots of people will act based on what you say. And not all of them have lots of love in their heart, Huck.

and the priceless round up conclusion:

That bait shop on the lake — it's looking good. You'll be surrounded by nice neighbors, real Christians, and you can be the smartest guy in the room. You can go out running every morning. Remember Huck — Jesus wouldn't be dumb enough to go into politics.You were right on that one. Maybe it's not what he wants from you either.

Oh, that's fun to read. This was the post that Ross Douthat said may as well have been titled "Go back to dogpatch you stupid hillbilly!" John Cole has a compilation of similar reactions to Huckabee, and Kevin Drum's reaction gives a pretty good outsider's perspective:

There are a variety of ostensible reasons for this: lack of foreign policy bona fides, too compassionate for their taste, too willing to consider spending money, etc. But I think the real reason is simpler: as with blogosphere conservatives, mainstream conservatives are mostly urban sophisticates with a libertarian bent, not rural evangelicals with a social conservative bent. They're happy to talk up NASCAR and pickup trucks in public, but in real life they mostly couldn't care less about either. Ditto for opposing abortion and the odd bit of gay bashing via proxy. But when it comes to Ten Commandments monuments and end times eschatology, they shiver inside just like any mainstream liberal. The only difference is that usually they keep their shivering to themselves because they want to keep everyone in the big tent happy.

But then along comes Huckabee, and guess what? He's the real deal. Not a guy like George Bush or Ronald Reagan, who talks a soothing game to the snake handlers but then turns around and spends his actual political capital on tax cuts, foreign wars, and deregulating big corporations. Huckabee, it turns out, isn't just giving lip service to evangelicals, he actually believes all that stuff. Among other things, he believes in creationism (really believes), once proposed that AIDS patients should be quarantined, appears to share the traditional evangelical view that Mormonism is a cult, and says (in public!) that homosexuality is sinful. And that's without seeing the text of any of his old sermons, which he (probably wisely) refuses to let the press lay eyes on.

I think this brand of yahooism puts off mainstream urban conservatives every bit as much as it does mainstream urban liberals. They're afraid that this time, it's not just a line of patter to keep the yokels in line.

I love it. A Huckabee nomination would be the realization without the unfortunate consequences of my long held fantasy of turning the country over to the religious right simply to let them discredit themselves so we could all move on. Thankfully if Huckabee gets nominated it will accomplish this but since he will never be elected the evangelicals will be responsible for making the Republicans unelectable, and the religious right will be humiliated and abandoned by the party. This has always been the problem with the evangelical base. Their agenda appeals to almost no one outside the megachurches. Exactly how can you motivate the Charles Krauthammer's of the world to vote Republican with anti-gay hysteria, a religious persecution complex, and a spending record worse than LBJ's? Huckabee has all these things and he's going to humiliate all parts of the party. Good. Roll with pigs and you'll get covered in shit. All this and we don't have to watch what happens when a President uses the Book of Revelation as a guide to foreign policy. Grand.

Not convinced he's unelectable? Browse this post and the assorted links.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Andrew Stuttaford fires back on my behalf

At Freddoso:

Freedom, Faith, and Postwar Europe [Andrew Stuttaford]

David, you write that "one grave consequence of post-war Europe's loss of faith is its approaching demographic extinction." Putting aside the question as to whether Europe is heading for "demographic extinction" (I don't believe that it is) I think it's important to point out that birth rates are now falling just about everywhere across the globe. There is little or no evidence to suggest that this can be linked to any loss of faith in Europe, or for that matter, elsewhere. Rather it is a by-product of modernity, and it's one that's very welcome too.

Journalists should be history majors

David Freddoso:

To the debate over Krauthammer's piece, I'd add a Steynian note. One grave consequence of post-war Europe's loss of faith is its approaching demographic extinction. The Italians are on pace to be as dead as the Romans. The Russians are headed there even faster. Can you be free if you don't exist? Or even worse, if you end up under Islamic law?

I'd also point to pre-war Europe, whose loss of religious faith (it's not like it started in 1960 — try 1660) had ghastly ideological consequences — Communism, German National Socialism — that led to countless deaths.

I agree with Ramesh — Romney's statement isn't that absurd.

Typically shallow historical analysis by the religious. If communism were the result of a loss of faith then why did communism take root in Russia, the most highly religious and backward nation in Europe. Indeed its religiosity set it apart so much that many across the Atlantic didn't even consider it to be part of Europe, and its exclusion from the EU is a testament to this attitude's survival. Until 1917 it was ruled by a monarchy whose claims to divine right were supported by the Russian Orthodox Church and believed by many of the people who were kept in a kind of serfdom that despite 19th century reform efforts by Alexander II, was not substantially different from it medieval predecessor. And this monarchy had as much contempt for the lives of its subjects as the Communist regime that followed.

National socialism was never atheistic, there is no case to make that Hitler was an atheist, and it specifically appealed to Antisemitism cultivated by the Catholic Church and dominant Protestant sects. Enough of this. How much intellectual shabbiness is required to take two opposed ideologies that couldn't stand each other's existence, and attribute them to the same nebulous cause?

And while they bemoan the demographic decline of Europe they fail to mention that the Islamic world's population is increasing far faster than even America's yet is far poorer and lives under theocratic oppression. Shall we then take their example and reduce ourselves to poverty and religious backwardness for the sake of demographic expansion? It apparently has never dawned on Freddoso that poorer, less educated societies (and people) are consistently more religious and have higher birthrates. The Economist puts out a fact book that compiles these, often jaw-dropping, stats. Does this then confer some virtue on their poverty and ignorance? After all such widespread ignorance and poverty as seen in Africa and the Middle East is the quickest way to raise the birth rate, though at the expense of any semblance of freedom for women and the brutalization of men. "How can you be free if you are poor and ignorant?" will then be the question that replaces Freddoso's. Is it asking too much to expect that religious people will evince even a modicum of intellectual honesty and constructiveness on this point or will they be constantly blinded by heartache over the approaching nadir of their influence.

Ironically he pinpoints the loss of religious faith as having begun in 1660. This is incidentally a little more than a decade after the treaty of Westphalia, which ended the Thirty Years War, and established a rather delicate and short lived peace but effectively ended the period of international warfare in Europe on at least explicitly religious grounds. This war decimated the population in Germany by as much as 20 percent and claimed around 5 million lives in a Europe with less than 100 million people. This of course leaves out the countless wars rebellions and massacres that tore the continent apart for the preceding 300ish years, which he predictably does not mention.

Weirdly though he doesn't seem to notice that while pinpointing the beginning of religion's decline in 1660, he lives in a world where Europe's population has maybe quintupled (a conservative estimate) since then and has only started declining in the last 5 years though he still manages to claim the loss of faith since 1660 and more recently after World War II is the culprit. Religious people like Freddoso have the unseemly habit of making huge statements that make little sense but and need considerable unpacking, but have the advantage of sounding right to those who want to believe them.

Coda: Notice again that apologists for religion advocate for it without mention to whether or not it is actually true.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

No room for the atheists

Jacob Sullum joins the secular dissenters from Romney's speech.

I have joined the atheist blogroll!

My first attempt at publicity. Must keep up the posting.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

What do Muslim girls do for prom?

If this is what they have to deal with just to leave the house?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Going to Church can make you kill people

Ii must confess to breathing a sigh of relief when I found out that the maniac who shot up Pastor Ted "I'm completely straight" Haggard's former flock was not a secular Jew atheist biologist. Instead as one may have been prone to guess, he was the product of a strict, religious upbringing and home schooling. No quicker way to drive someone crazy with hate for their religion than force it on them as children. This is admittedly a rather dark example of schadenfreude, but I don't care. Sorry flymorgue.

"A neighbor, Cody Askeland, 19, said the brothers were home-schooled, describing the whole family as "very, very religious."

See how necessary religion is for morality!

Matthew Murray lived there along with a brother, Christopher, 21, a student at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla.

Oral Roberts University! Another fine example of the high ethical and educational standards of Christian education. I suggest a Google news search. It will keep you busy for a month reading tales of stupidity, graft, and sleaze. All under the auspices of Jesus Christ Savior of Mankind. (JCSM)

"I was just expecting for the next gunshot to be coming through my car. Miraculously — by the grace of God — it did not," she told ABC's "Good Morning America."

Solipsism is never very becoming. Unfortunately for two sisters the next bullets went through their bodies, ending their lives. But I am sure God withheld his grace to fulfill his mysterious, inscrutable plan, which we filthy mortals can't hope to understand. If I were the mother of one of these victims I might be inclined to administer a good kicking to this twit.

About 7,000 people were in and around the church the time of the shooting.

7,000! What a waste of man-hours.

New Life, with a largely upper middle-class membership, was founded by the Rev. Ted Haggard, who was dismissed last year after a former male prostitute alleged he had a three-year cash-for-sex relationship with him. Haggard admitted committing unspecified "sexual immorality.


This story is a sad example of the stifling morass of stupidity surrounding religion. From the home schooled and brainwashed gunman to the almost victim spouting selfish grotesque drivel about how she escaped by the "grace of god" while two people lay dead, to the pathetic life story of the victim Phillip Crouse, a former skinhead who probably felt saved from plotting his own spree against the cursed people of Ham by this ridiculous melange of consumerism, spirituality, self-help, and mawkish bourgeois sentiment.

What would have been prevented this was not more faith in public life but a bit of education. Instead of locking their children up to be homeschooled, isolated, inundated with superstitious, mind shrinking nonsense, and forced to endure personality engineering with all the compassion of Paris Island, it might have helped to try and teach them not to fear and loathe the entire modern world so they would have been able to see a place worth going to when the comfort of fantasy land they were living in disappeared.

Oddly enough they won't release his sermons anymore

"It doesn't embarrass me one bit to let you know that I believe Adam and Eve were real people." -Mike Huckabee 1990

Mitt, I knew John Kennedy. John Kennedy was a friend of mine. And you're no John Kennedy.

Not that I have any great love for JFK but I must say Romney's insipid speech on his religion didn't exactly meet that standard. I can't help but resent being told the requirements of freedom by a man who believes it somehow credible to think that Joseph Smith, a serial polygamist, rapist, fraud, demagogue, theocrat, and fantasist is a latter day prophet and revelator of the will of the creator of the universe. Apparently we need a person of faith in the White House but to even deign to wonder what that faith entails is hideousl un-American and tears at the fabric of our society. I can't help but notice a parallel between this and the importance Romney believes should be placed on the record of his entire political career before he began running for president This might be a clever way of preempting any questions on why a grown man in his late twenties and early thirties couldn't find it in himself to leave what was an officially racist cult until 1979.

Steve Chapman at Reason says it better than I, though I will have more to say so maybe I can gain ground.

Daily ejaculation of stupidity

No not Christians breeding, but a column by Pat Boone. Notice how easy it is to be welcomed by the religious right webzines as a commentator. No qualifications in journalism or even anything to recommend his intelligence. Just a washed up shitty singer willing to shill for the logically deficient and paranoid. What does Pat nominate as the number one threat facing the country? The ACLU. I would have gone with SARS but maybe he's more with it than I am. Nonetheless, for a lesson in how to ignore history, science, the Constitution, logic, and even the basic rules of causality, check it out.

I liked this little nugget of wisdom:

It's not just "happening." Somebody's got it in for us, and doesn't intend to stop until we are no longer the America we've been for 250 years.

Yes 250 years. I guess if you placed the founding at 1776 (the earliest possible date) 231 might equal 250 if you are either looking for a nice number that will melt warmly with a quartile ring into the ears of believers, or can't do second grade math.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Religion is child abuse

For those who take such objection to the notion that religious instruction constitutes child abuse I do wonder how they would answer two questions. If this had happened as a result of anything but religious belief would the judge have allowed it, and would there be any reason not to label the boy's indoctrination as child abuse. Its a filthy lie that kills and, unlike history's other great fantasies, we applaud it.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I am now a postgrad

I hope its not by virtue of unreadable writing but I have been upgraded to postgrad level blogging.

Marcus Ross and hilarious irony

Marcus Ross has a phd in paleontology from the university of Rhode Island. The only problem is he is a young earth creationist who was granted that phd because he wrote a dissertation which disproves everything one would need to believe to be a young earth creationist. How he resolves the cognitive dissonance as reported in the NYT is the sweetest irony:

'At the conference I asked Ross whether he still believes what he wrote in his graduate thesis. His answer confirmed him as the product of the postmodern university, where truth is dependent on the framework: “Within the context of old age and evolutionary theory, yes. But if the parameter is different, portions of it could be completely in error.”

So now to justify their nonsense creationists are making common cause with the only group of intellectuals who can rival them in the dubious category of bullshit artistry, post-modernists. This isn't new. I wrote about a Harvey Mansfield column defending religion when he claimed:

Atheists today angrily hold religion to a standard of justice that the most advanced thinkers of our time, the postmoderns, have declared to be impossible. Some of those postmoderns, indeed, are so disgusted with the optimism of atheism that, with a shrug of their shoulders, they propose returning to the relative sanity of religion.

It is a bit of poetic justice that I get to watch religious people attempt to salvage dignity for their beliefs by allying themselves with nihilistic nonsense developed by people who don't share their beliefs, despise them, and who rarely offer anything but obscurantist gibberish. The liberal university may yet be a friend to religious conservatism.

Defending the meaningless

An article by Stephanie Coontz makes the case for less government involvement in marriage. I've long believed the entire controversy over gay marriage could be diffused if the government restricted itself to granting the only thing it should grant, civil unions. There is less opposition to gay civil unions and granting the attendant rights. The battle is over nomenclature but as Coontz points out the practices surrounding marriage have been subject to such historical flux that aside from the one aspect of it being between a man and a woman nothing else is consistent:

For 16 centuries, Christianity also defined the validity of a marriage on the basis of a couple’s wishes. If two people claimed they had exchanged marital vows — even out alone by the haystack — the Catholic Church accepted that they were validly married.

In 1215, the church decreed that a “licit” marriage must take place in church. But people who married illictly had the same rights and obligations as a couple married in church: their children were legitimate; the wife had the same inheritance rights; the couple was subject to the same prohibitions against divorce.

Not until the 16th century did European states begin to require that marriages be performed under legal auspices. In part, this was an attempt to prevent unions between young adults whose parents opposed their match.

The American colonies officially required marriages to be registered, but until the mid-19th century, state supreme courts routinely ruled that public cohabitation was sufficient evidence of a valid marriage. By the later part of that century, however, the United States began to nullify common-law marriages and exert more control over who was allowed to marry.

By the 1920s, 38 states prohibited whites from marrying blacks, “mulattos,” Japanese, Chinese, Indians, “Mongolians,” “Malays” or Filipinos. Twelve states would not issue a marriage license if one partner was a drunk, an addict or a “mental defect.” Eighteen states set barriers to remarriage after divorce.

In the mid-20th century, governments began to get out of the business of deciding which couples were “fit” to marry. Courts invalidated laws against interracial marriage, struck down other barriers and even extended marriage rights to prisoners.

But governments began relying on marriage licenses for a new purpose: as a way of distributing resources to dependents. The Social Security Act provided survivors’ benefits with proof of marriage. Employers used marital status to determine whether they would provide health insurance or pension benefits to employees’ dependents. Courts and hospitals required a marriage license before granting couples the privilege of inheriting from each other or receiving medical information.

The article also does me the turn of obliquely demonstrating how the current battle over marriage has nothing to do with control over what relationships we feel are competent to rear children. If it were then the those involving a partner who was a "drunk, an addict or a 'mental defect'" would also be prohibited. But I suspect this smacks too much of eugenics to be said aloud so as the number of groups we can vocally discriminate diminishes, conservatives focus on those still sufficiently loathed.

Every other tradition surrounding marriage has changed and this one will as well. And if we're to avoid the affront to good sense that is a marriage amendment, the government should simply stop issuing marriage licenses and restricting itself to granting recognition which has no relation to a shifting cultural institution over which it has never effectively exerted control and where it has, has usually reinforced the worst bigotries of the unwashed many.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Mumbling like he's on drugs

McCain rehashes the same tired lines of the supporters of the War on Drugs but on thing intrigued me. He claims that in his state (AZ) first time drug offenders are sent not to prison but a rehab program where their progress as they come off drugs can be closely monitored. I don't think they should be sent to prison or to rehab or even paid attention to by the state, but the lack of effort these days on the part of Republicans to even try to reconcile their proposals with what have traditionally been called conservative principles is shocking. I do remember hearing that government programs of social reform and behavior modification cast a net a bit too wide (and expensive) for those of the small government, personal liberties, and individual responsibility cloth but evidently John McCain sees no dissonance with these principles and endorsing a program that welcomes first time, private users of senselessly illegal substances into the loving arms of state run, tax payer funded rehab. I am sorry but I don't think I could be called indifferent to my civic duties if I don't wish to pay to rehabilitate someone who never asked to be rehabilitated for using a substance that I didn't give to him. But alas being soft on drugs must mean you are soft on hippies or some other pariah group conservatives fear.

And another question: Why the fawning and utterly obsequious thanks to the police officer for... being a police officer? The cop spoke about three times as intelligently as McCain and I doubt needed his gold star of approval for his life's work. Is it impossible to disagree with someone without thereby impugning the dignity of everything about them? Or was McCain just attempting to use another opportunity to pander to talk-radio conservatives who gain life strength from paeans to those who carry guns like Mormons from goofy underwear? Because I really doubt the cop cared at all.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Those Ingrates in Darfur

How Can We Raise Awareness In Darfur Of How Much We're Doing For Them?

A tragic lack of gratitude.

I use only the finest vests for my martyr missions

Yes it is their religion. It is not poverty, not depression, not mental illness, and not the injustices imposed by the West. The wealthier you are, the more likely you are to support terrorism. We've known this for a while but reluctance to seem intolerant and denounce one religion to the exclusion of others makes many silent. To all secular people suffering this malaise... psst: Their all laughably stupid, but they're not all as violent and crazy. Alan Krueger from Princeton synthesizes the data here well enough for me to read it on the bus ride home.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

More abortion logic.

From the LA Times, Gary Wills has a column raising some some of the objections to the anti-abortion crusaders that I've made here. He adds a few insights from science, Aristotle, and Aquinas. I reproduce here in full:

Abortion isn't a religious issue
Evangelicals are adamant, but religion really has nothing to say about the issue.
By Garry Wills

November 4, 2007

What makes opposition to abortion the issue it is for each of the GOP presidential candidates is the fact that it is the ultimate "wedge issue" -- it is nonnegotiable. The right-to-life people hold that it is as strong a point of religion as any can be. It is religious because the Sixth Commandment (or the Fifth by Catholic count) says, "Thou shalt not kill." For evangelical Christians, in general, abortion is murder. That is why what others think, what polls say, what looks practical does not matter for them. One must oppose murder, however much rancor or controversy may ensue.

But is abortion murder? Most people think not. Evangelicals may argue that most people in Germany thought it was all right to kill Jews. But the parallel is not valid. Killing Jews was killing persons. It is not demonstrable that killing fetuses is killing persons. Not even evangelicals act as if it were. If so, a woman seeking an abortion would be the most culpable person. She is killing her own child. But the evangelical community does not call for her execution.

About 10% of evangelicals, according to polls, allow for abortion in the case of rape or incest. But the circumstances of conception should not change the nature of the thing conceived. If it is a human person, killing it is punishing it for something it had nothing to do with. We do not kill people because they had a criminal parent.

Nor did the Catholic Church treat abortion as murder in the past. If it had, late-term abortions and miscarriages would have called for treatment of the well-formed fetus as a person, which would require baptism and a Christian burial. That was never the practice. And no wonder. The subject of abortion is not scriptural. For those who make it so central to religion, this seems an odd omission. Abortion is not treated in the Ten Commandments -- or anywhere in Jewish Scripture. It is not treated in the Sermon on the Mount -- or anywhere in the New Testament. It is not treated in the early creeds. It is not treated in the early ecumenical councils.

Lacking scriptural guidance, St. Thomas Aquinas worked from Aristotle's view of the different kinds of animation -- the nutritive (vegetable) soul, the sensing (animal) soul and the intellectual soul. Some people used Aristotle to say that humans therefore have three souls. Others said that the intellectual soul is created by human semen.

Aquinas denied both positions. He said that a material cause (semen) cannot cause a spiritual product. The intellectual soul (personhood) is directly created by God "at the end of human generation." This intellectual soul supplants what had preceded it (nutritive and sensory animation). So Aquinas denied that personhood arose at fertilization by the semen. God directly infuses the soul at the completion of human formation.

Much of the debate over abortion is based on a misconception -- that it is a religious issue, that the pro-life advocates are acting out of religious conviction. It is not a theological matter at all. There is no theological basis for defending or condemning abortion. Even popes have said that the question of abortion is a matter of natural law, to be decided by natural reason. Well, the pope is not the arbiter of natural law. Natural reason is.

John Henry Newman, a 19th century Anglican priest who converted to Catholicism, once wrote that "the pope, who comes of revelation, has no jurisdiction over nature." The matter must be decided by individual conscience, not by religious fiat. As Newman said: "I shall drink to the pope, if you please -- still, to conscience first, and to the pope afterward."

If we are to decide the matter of abortion by natural law, that means we must turn to reason and science, the realm of Enlightened religion. But that is just what evangelicals want to avoid. Who are the relevant experts here? They are philosophers, neurobiologists, embryologists. Evangelicals want to exclude them because most give answers they do not want to hear. The experts have only secular expertise, not religious conviction. They, admittedly, do not give one answer -- they differ among themselves, they are tentative, they qualify. They do not have the certitude that the religious right accepts as the sign of truth.

So evangelicals take shortcuts. They pin everything on being pro-life. But one cannot be indiscriminately pro-life.

If one claimed, in the manner of Albert Schweitzer, that all life deserved moral respect, then plants have rights, and it might turn out that we would have little if anything to eat. And if one were consistently pro-life, one would have to show moral respect for paramecia, insects, tissue excised during a medical operation, cancer cells, asparagus and so on. Harvesting carrots, on a consistent pro-life hypothesis, would constitute something of a massacre.

Opponents of abortion will say that they are defending only human life. It is certainly true that the fetus is human life. But so is the semen before it fertilizes; so is the ovum before it is fertilized. They are both human products, and both are living things. But not even evangelicals say that the destruction of one or the other would be murder.

Defenders of the fetus say that life begins only after the semen fertilizes the egg, producing an embryo. But, in fact, two-thirds of the embryos produced this way fail to live on because they do not embed in the womb wall. Nature is like fertilization clinics -- it produces more embryos than are actually used. Are all the millions of embryos that fail to be embedded human persons?

The universal mandate to preserve "human life" makes no sense. My hair is human life -- it is not canine hair, and it is living. It grows. When it grows too long, I have it cut. Is that aborting human life? The same with my growing human fingernails. An evangelical might respond that my hair does not have the potential to become a person. True. But semen has the potential to become a person, and we do not preserve every bit of semen that is ejaculated but never fertilizes an egg.

The question is not whether the fetus is human life but whether it is a human person, and when it becomes one. Is it when it is capable of thought, of speech, of recognizing itself as a person, or of assuming the responsibilities of a person? Is it when it has a functioning brain? Aquinas said that the fetus did not become a person until God infused the intellectual soul. A functioning brain is not present in the fetus until the end of the sixth month at the earliest.

Not surprisingly, that is the earliest point of viability, the time when a fetus can successfully survive outside the womb.

Whether through serendipity or through some sort of causal connection, it now seems that the onset of a functioning central nervous system with a functioning cerebral cortex and the onset of viability occur around the same time -- the end of the second trimester, a time by which 99% of all abortions have already occurred.

Opponents of abortion like to show sonograms of the fetus reacting to stimuli. But all living cells have electric and automatic reactions. These are like the reactions of Terri Schiavo when she was in a permanent vegetative state. Aquinas, following Aristotle, called the early stage of fetal development vegetative life. The fetus has a face long before it has a brain. It has animation before it has a command center to be aware of its movements or to experience any reaction as pain.

These are difficult matters, on which qualified people differ. It is not enough to say that whatever the woman wants should go. She has a responsibility to consider whether and when she may have a child inside her, not just a fetus. Certainly by the late stages of her pregnancy, a child is ready to respond with miraculous celerity to all the personal interchanges with the mother that show a brain in great working order.

Given these uncertainties, who is to make the individual decision to have an abortion? Religious leaders? They have no special authority in the matter, which is not subject to theological norms or guidance. The state? Its authority is given by the people it represents, and the people are divided on this. Doctors? They too differ. The woman is the one closest to the decision. Under Roe vs. Wade, no woman is forced to have an abortion. But those who have decided to have one are able to.

Some objected to Karl Rove's use of abortion to cement his ecumenical coalition, on the grounds that this was injecting religion into politics. The supreme irony is that, properly understood, abortion is not even a religious issue. But that did not matter to Rove. All he cared about was that it worked. For a while.

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Answer!

The answer to the question on which I ended my previous post, via Matt Yglesias:

The problem is exacerbated by a dramatic drop-off in U.S. expertise on Pakistan. Retired American officials say that, for the first time in U.S. history, nobody with serious Pakistan experience is working in the South Asia bureau of the State Department, on State's policy planning staff, on the National Security Council staff or even in Vice President Cheney's office. Anne W. Patterson, the new U.S. ambassador to Islamabad, is an expert on Latin American "drugs and thugs"; Richard A. Boucher, the assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, is a former department spokesman who served three tours in Hong Kong and China but never was posted in South Asia.

Its Cheney's influence. This kind of needless incompetence and cronyism populated Rajiv Chandrasekeran's book Imperial Life in the Emerald City like baseball hats at a frat party. Putting incompetents in places of high power has become quite the leitmotif: Remember Michael Brown, Harriet Miers, L. Paul Bremer, Rumsfeld, Karen Hughes and of course Alberto Gonzalez and his minions from Pat Robertson's Regnet University Law School.

Follow the Money!

The New York Times has an article detailing how the US's continued aid of Musharraf in light of his recent dissolution of just about every legal barrier to the establishment of a military dictatorship and declaration of a state of emergency, conflicts slightly with the Bush administrations rhetoric about spreading democracy.

Well, in the same story it appears that we never did actually support democracy in Pakistan:

While the total dollar amount of American aid to Pakistan is unclear, a study published in August by the Center for Strategic and International Studies estimated it to be “at least $10 billion in Pakistan since 9/11, excluding covert funds.” Sixty percent of that has gone to “Coalition Support Funds,” essentially direct payments to the Pakistani military, and 15 percent to purchase major weapons systems. Another 15 percent has been for general budget support for the Pakistani government; only 10 percent for development or humanitarian assistance.

We always supported a stronger Musharraf, and wanted above all for him to stay in power as an ally in the GWOT. They know this too:

They would rather have a stable Pakistan — albeit with some restrictive norms — than have more democracy prone to fall in the hands of extremists,” said Tariq Azim Khan, the minister of state for information. “Given the choice, I know what our friends would choose.

Its had some interesting results too. Osama Bin Laden is now registering an approval rating of 46 percent to Musharraf's 38, and leader of the secular opposition party Benazir Bhutto (a woman of all things!) is at 63. I would like to speak to someone who can make sense of a Muslim country where the electorate is split in large chunks between a theocratic fascist, a military dictator, and a female proponent of secular democracy (though I admittedly don't know Bhutto's agenda in great detail). I would be even more interested n speaking with someone who knows why we should keep pumping massive amounts of money to a leader whose commitment to our cause has been flaky, and whose help in it has been, thus far, useless.(Al-Qaeda and the Taliban remain ensconced in the mountains)

Andrew Sullivan has a bad memory

Consider Sullivan's sneer at what Chomsky says at about 5:00

in light of this post from Sullivan today, about John Podhoretz and torture, where he gets florid to a degree I've not yet seen, saying;

severe mental or physical pain or suffering

This standard has been the case since the Second World War. The argument that no permanent or even temporary physical injury means no torture is a canard, once deployed by the Nazis. Here is their defense of "enhanced interrogation" in 1948:

Most of the injuries inflicted were slight and did not result in permanent disablement.

The US rejected such cant and condemned those guilty of using the Bush-Cheney methods to death. It tells you all you need to know about some neoconservatives that they now side with the arguments of the Gestapo against the arguments of the US to defend their own willful ignorance and power.

So Chomsky is preaching nonsense for merely making the suggestion in 2004 that the Bush administration be subjected to prosecution for war crimes over their conduct of the war in Iraq but Sullivan now can imply that they deserve to be put to death? I'll grant that it has been 3 years and he is prone to changing his tune but this is Romneyesque considering the gravity of the treatment he is suggesting for Bush and Co.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Thou shalt not dispense!

Joseph Ratzinger has issued commands to Catholic pharmacists not to dispense prescriptions that conflict with their religious beliefs stating:

"Pharmacists must seek to raise people's awareness so that all human beings are protected from conception to natural death, and so that medicines truly play a therapeutic role," Benedict said.

Benedict said conscientious objector status would "enable them not to collaborate directly or indirectly in supplying products that have clearly immoral purposes such as, for example, abortion or euthanasia."

and continuing:

"We cannot anesthetize consciences as regards, for example, the effect of certain molecules that have the goal of preventing the implantation of the embryo or shortening a person's life,"

The Daily show did a bit on this a while ago when they interviewed a Christian (the particular sect escapes me) pharmacist who would not dispense birth control. What was startling was how confident the man was in asserting his right to not perform his job and how righteous he felt he was in claiming he could not be fired for it. I would be hard pressed to think of any other reason that a person can neglect their job and not be fired for it other than religious ones. It seems if you can simply dignify your neglect of civic, legal, social, and professional duties with faith you get a pass. Unfortunately the man was on pretty sound legal ground. The Civil Rights Act specifies that a person cannot be denied employment on religious grounds. What was intended as an effort prevent discrimination has now turned into a regulation inimical to free enterprise. I wonder if a Muslim could claim discrimination because a liquor store fired him when he refused to touch alcohol. I wonder if a Catholic doctor would escape legal culpability if he refused to perform an abortion to save a woman's life and it resulted in her death. I wonder if a Hindu could sue for being fired from McDonald's because as we all know he would object to the beef extract they put in French fries.

That the Civil Rights Act has unintentionally not only prevented a business from freely hiring who it deems fit, has not only created a legal shelter for the professionally negligent, has now made it impossible for a business to operate in pursuit of its own self interest, but has also had consequences with which its liberal authors would not have been pleased is no surprise to those who don't think the government should be delineate good from bad thought to its citizens. Vague legislation like this does not protect minority rights but rather creates micro rights. I can claim any set of religious beliefs I like and to escape punishment for almost any violation of the law I need only to convince a court that these beliefs are honestly held. The locus of determination over how laws are applied has now shifted from a written constitution to an individual's mental state. And I am confident enough in the existence of similar cases that I will assert their existence and let readers do their own research.

Instead of being duly fired for not filling a prescription (his job) a pharmacy must now waste time and resources to accommodate a person with beliefs it could not have asked them to reveal.

This will cheer you up

Max Blumenthal at the Values Voters conference. Why is it that these people never like to be filmed?

Monday, October 29, 2007

O'Reilly as postmodern linguistic perspectivist

I came across this video at Reason after clicking on a link to the "Drew Carey Project." Apparently Carey is a libertarian, though as a fan of his show when I was a young'un I suppose it makes sense. The interview is between O'Reilly and Jacob Sullum where Sullum advocates treating all drugs much in the same vein as alcohol. The piece takes its normal course 1) The pretense of a rational discussion is presented at the beginning. 2) O'Reilly makes a gross mischaracterization of the guest's position. 3) O'Reilly dismisses evidence that could counter his point. 4) O'Reilly calls guest a puerile and safe-for-TV name. 5) Full pitch hysteria with images of dead bodies and chaos if the world doesn't listen to Bill O'.

This is all pretty standard fr O'Reilly but notice the gross misuses of language and violations of all rules of argumentative good faith:

"You can spin data any way you want."

Okay, so lets just not use it then. Rather that collect evidence and facts to support our opinions and give our arguments a basis in reality we should rely instead on blind assertion of apriori intuition.

BO: You got[sic] 20 million alcoholics in this country, you got 0 million who are drug dependent either illegally or on prescriptions. That's 37 million Americans who have trouble because of drug dependence. Now why would you an intelligent guy want to put forth a theory that intoxicating oneself is beneficial.

Sullum doesn't actually say that. He says that other substances should be treated the way alcohol is, where personal and responsible use should be tolerated. His assertion that most people who use currently illegal substances was summarily dismissed because O'reilly doesn't like data, and when Sullum brings the work of a UCLA pharmacologist's work on the history of human search for altered consciousness O'Reilly claims that it is invalid because biologists don't agree (a statement we have to take on O'Reilly's authority apparently). This all leaves aside the fact that what Sullum is arguing for is not a theory at all but a conclusion based on evidence rather than an overarching explanation of data.

Sullum: The war on Drugs has tremendous consequences but people are reluctant to consider alternatives...

Bill O': And the alternative is do your own thing?

Gross and hysterical mischaracterization.

S: The fact that alcohol can be abused does not mean it should be illegal.


How nuanced! Again over looking the fact that of his supposed 37 million people with substance problems 27 million have problems with a substance that is legal. Yet he doesn't advocate making that illegal, just blindly persisting in the same useless course of proscribing use of these substances regardless of its efficacy for no reason other than the fact that it sends what Bill and his over 70 demographic think is the right message. A socialist couldn't think up such a futile show of solidarity.

BO: (yet angrier) Pinheads like you are encouraging intoxication when its one of the worst things in our society!

Sullum: [but responsible] people are going to jail for crimes that don't hurt anyone...

BO: I don't care about that. I care about the dead guy in the street who got run over by a drunk driver!

When did Sullum ever say that drunk driving should be treated leniently? He stressed nothing more than the need to eliminate penalties for responsible users, which drunk drivers are not. But as O'Reilly says, "ITS ALL THE SAME THING" so this distinction hardly matters. This all mixed with some apocalyptic hysteria and images of death and O'Reilly has successfully administered to himself and his audience the perfect panacea to reasoned argument from the opposition.

BO: You irresponsible libertines cause such damage to this society you should be ashamed of yourself.

If one were feeling generous this might be attributed to a harmless, Bushian malapropism rather than grotesque ignorance of the difference between a libertine and a libertarian, but my spider sense tells me he knows the definition of neither and has only a vague notion of the former while being wholly oblivious to the existence of the latter. This accusation leveled by the way after Sullum went to pains to make a distinction between responsible and irresponsible use. This was entirely ignored obviously.

BO: Let me break it to you this way. Getting intoxicated is not responsible. You want to get stoned have fun. But don't get in a car and don't come near my family.

Am I taking fucking crazy pills or did O'Reilly just make Sullum's point for him after doing nothing but ignoring everything he said and screeching fatuous, platitudes. "Have fun getting stoned but don't get in a car" is exactly what Sullum was saying, but O'Reilly gets so flustered by the presence of a cogent argument that he is totally unaware that in trying to obnoxiously take up cudgels against him he took his side. The whole confrontation was apparently not over a difference of opinion. Words surely could not have meant what they were intended to mean. In one breath O'Reilly says that getting intoxicated in never responsible but then gives his sanction to private, responsible use. By what he said it is impossible to believe that he actually understood what the words coming out of his mouth meant. Either that or he is engaging in some kind of postmodern technique of discursive and multi-perspectival argumentation. If you don't know what that means, well neither do I, but it seems to make as much sense as O'Reilly's diatribe does to me, namely none. I am led only to believe that Bill O' is so flustered by the presence of vocalized, coherent thought that his cognitive abilities (limited though they be) were suppressed by some kind of animalistic fight or flight response. Now what kinds of people start lynch mobs.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Its getting old but not the least bit less hilarious

Another preacher has plead guilty to public indecency and DUI. Oh the catch is he was caught wearing a miniskirt and offered to have sex with the arresting officers. But of course the problem isn't that Christian beliefs breed sexual anxiety, repression, and self loathing. The problem isn't that people like this man who may not have felt quite at home in their church had to overcompensate to defeat the inner demons by becoming a preacher and radio evangelist. And the problem certainly isn't that his community made him feel so tortured about his impulses that booze was the only way he could quell the fear of hellfire while pathetically and perplexedly seeking some kind of outlet. No no, the problem is that we're fallen and need God's grace. Yes.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

I'm sure the religious would love to be with the red dots

From this study the Pew Research Center.

This is not a free country

A man's family was threatened with torture to get him to confess to a crime he didn't commit. The alleged crime was using a radio transmitter in a hotel room to converse with terrorists on the 9/11 planes. Well the pilot who had stayed in his hotel room before him later claimed the radio as his but it didn't stop the FBI from threatening to finger his family to Egyptian police (formerly mentors to Saddam's secret police) as terrorists. He confessed, he now been exonerated, and all information about this crime committed by the FBI has been yanked from the internet. Not before bloggers got to it though.

Story here.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

James Watson juggling dynamite

This will test the boundaries of academic freedom.

Haven't heard this in a while

M.J. Rosenberg, whoever that is, has claimed that if Rudy wins he will leave the country. He even goes so far as to concede that it is a juvenile sentiment usually the domain of students, but he doesn't give up the joke. I doubt the country will lose much from his departure so does anyone want to start a pool on whether he actually does it?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

S-CHIP/ Krugman is the worst

Paul Krugman recently opined that the reason Republicans oppose S-CHIP expansion isn't because it is ineffective "but because it works." I can't help but think of how Tucker Carlson asked him whether he thought it was helpful that he not only thought his opponents were wrong but also evil. He pretty much epitomize what is meant by bad faith argument. Cato has some goof reason why the program is a bad idea. I am as of now not fully enough versed for sustained comment but the post is worth a look.

More Cato...

The July discussion at Cato Unbound is also worth a look. Titled The Politics of Abundance it contends that since the 60's America has undergone a shift toward a more libertarian society. At once the governing economic philosophies have assumed a more classically liberal character, and traditional cultural values have ceased to command as much respect.

Both of these are good, and I would argue inevitable. Cultural norms can never remain static amidst a dynamic economy that allows for personal choice and freedom in the labor market. The Soviet Union had some of the most draconian morality laws imaginable, of which the most famous is the treatment of gays.But that is another discussion.

The title of the article reminded me of a piece I read while writing a paper in college that provided the most elegantly simple example of why central planning does not work I have read. It had to do with the Soviet planners attempt to predict the demand for ball point pens. A trivial enough matter but it elegantly illustrated how demand can assume a rational and predictable character only in economies of abundance (where production is responsive to changing market conditions) as opposed to economies of shortage (where a fixed amount of goods must sustain the population for a given time regardless of changes in the market).

My synopsis will be a bit crude but what happened was that the planners predicted the entire country's demand for ball point pens for an entire year and produced just that number. The surplus of pens on the shelves caused the Russians, accustomed to waiting in bread lines and general scarcity, to begin hoarding the now abundant pens in anticipation of a coming shortage. As a result the entire supply of ball point pens was concentrated among the few who had been lucky to find them early, while the rest of the country was left without a quill and loudly demanding the now scarce pens. The Soviets, through their history of unresponsiveness to changing market conditions, had created demand where it needn't have been, and had no way of easily meeting it. The lesson taken being that the only way to ensure predictable patterns of demand is in an economy where production is continually responsive to demand and an excess is can be expected. A free, decentralized, market economy.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Great Separation endures even here... barely

Mark Lilla's essay at Cato Unbound serves as a starting point for the interpundit sniping of internet discourse at Cato Unbound. Andrew Sullivan and others have offered reactions. I will focus on one important passage:

What we seem to have forgotten is how unique the circumstances were that made possible the establishment of the American compact on religion and politics. Perhaps now is the time to restore the much needed concept of American exceptionalism and remind ourselves of some basic facts. The most important one that set our experience apart from that of Europe was the absence of a strong Roman Catholic Church as a redoubt of intellectual and political opposition to the liberal-democratic ideas hatched by the Enlightenment – and thus also, the absence of a radical, atheist Enlightenment convinced that l’infâme must be écrasé. For over two centuries France, Italy, and Spain were rent by what can only be called existential struggles over the legitimacy of Catholic political theology and the revolutionary heritage of 1789. (Though the term “liberalism” is of Spanish coinage, as a political force it was weak in the whole of Catholic Europe until after the Second World War.) Neither side in this epic struggle was remotely interested in “toleration”; they wanted victory.

Looking beyond Europe, we note other things missing from the American landscape, quite literally. For example, there were no religious shrines to fight over, no holy cities, no temples, no sacred burial grounds (except those of the Native Americans, which were shamefully ignored). There also was a complete absence of what we would today call diversity: America was racially and culturally homogeneous in the early years of the republic, even if there were differences – in retrospect, incredibly minor – in Protestant affiliation. Yes, there were a few Catholics and Jews among the early immigrants, but the tone was set by Protestants of dissenting tendencies from the British Isles. The theological differences among them were swamped by the fact that everyone spoke the same language, cooked the same food, and looked to a shared history of persecution and emigration. It was a homogeneous country, and what comes with homogeneity, along with some troubling things, is trust.

I am forever amazed by the claim, or rather unsubstantiated assertion, that the values of 20th century democracy can somehow be traced to Christian principles. If anything, it can be traced to Christians existing in fear of each other. The separation was possible only because the similarities between these different groups were substantial enough to give hope that coexistence was possible if they simply relegated the differences to the private sphere. This homogeneity is no longer the case. Forgetting the racial, economic, cultural, and historical differences it is patently obvious that the mere theological differences are large enough that the kind of trust necessary to believe that one's fellow citizen will exemplify the kind good faith that will prevent grabs for power, is no longer possible. We are no longer talking about differences between Anglican and Presbyterians or Catholics and Lutherans. It might be said that these groups have histories of acquitting themselves murderously towards each other. This chastened them though. The groups vying for power now have greater theological differences and no history of violence to make them reticent to attempt coercion. The only proper response is not the provincial (in Lilla's terms) reassertion of the classic separation of church and state, a bourgeois secularism, but in the destruction of their intellectual pretenses and the removal of the mantle of respect they claim in our discourse.

To the highlighted selection, I am baffled by the claims I have read on Catholic blogs that the Catholic Church somehow bears responsibility for the emergence of the values of the contemporary West. After developing a theology to inculcate servility and submission to the Holy See in Europe, they have the audacity to claim that the story of the emergence of modernity is not the story of our wresting the reins of temporal authority from the Church but instead its full ideological realization. This is absurd on its face, and even a scanty survey of philosophy and literature after 1300 will confirm this. I won't go into the history of it but would simply put one question to the believers: Can you name any example of the Church, in an official, sanctioned capacity, acting in belhalf of a democratic movement and against a theocratic/monarchical/autocratic one before 1917? I don't think it can be done.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Getting high to feel good... Medically

There doesn't seem to be much reason to maintain the ban on medical marijuana anymore. The senselessness of the prohibition of this substance which has no known lethal dosage, is less harmful in the long run than alcohol, and has never been linked to domestic violence and other types of social decay is apparent when considering the medical benefits. But why keep it illegal? Because it has a bad image. It was originally associated with black jazz musicians and later those horribly dirty hippies. And of course it causes pleasure, which the government cannot allow.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Who to toss overboard?

The Catholic Church has to pay over $600 million to families of victims of its molestation racket. And if you needed any more confirmation of their contempt for women then observe who they throw overboard first to pay for it. The nuns. Sometimes its a pity there is no hell.

More here.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Quote for the Day

"What influence have ecclesiastical establishments had on Civil Society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of Civil authority, in many instances they have seen the upholding of the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been seen the guardians of the liberty of the people. Rulers who wish to subvert the public liberty, may have found an established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate liberty, needs them not." -James Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments

The religious were much more openly hostile to democratic movements in Madison's time than now. The rise of Marxism accounts for this. If democracy was hostile to religion in consequence then Marxism was hostile to it in practice, and the Catholic church tentatively cast its lot with the less pernicious enemy. The ease with which they can abandon any alliance with democracy or affable relations with open societies, and take up a cosy stance with totalitarians, is easily seen in with the Lateran Treaties with Mussolini, the Concordat with Hitler, (which included adulations given on his birthday) and its endorsement of Franco's invasion of Spain.

In a sane world this all might have shamed them and reduced them to ignominy but people who believe they have a tin can on a string to the creator of the universe are rarely so self-conscious. I was reminded of this gem from Madison upon reading an article in Reason about the Danish cartoon controversy and was given to pondering Joseph Ratzinger's reaction to the deluge of rioting and violence enjoined upon the foreign embassies and citizens of Denmark:

In response to several requests on the Holy See's position vis-à-vis recent offensive representations of the religious sentiments of individuals and entire communities, the Vatican press office can state:

1. The right to freedom of thought and expression, sanctioned by the Declaration of the Rights of Man, cannot imply the right to offend the religious sentiment of believers. This principle applies obviously for any religion.

2. In addition, coexistence calls for a climate of mutual respect to favor peace among men and nations. Moreover, these forms of exasperated criticism or derision of others manifest a lack of human sensitivity and may constitute in some cases an inadmissible provocation. A reading of history shows that wounds that exist in the life of peoples are not cured this way.

3. However, it must be said immediately that the offenses caused by an individual or an organ of the press cannot be imputed to the public institutions of the corresponding country, whose authorities might and should intervene eventually according to the principles of national legislation. Therefore, violent actions of protest are equally deplorable. Reaction in the face of offense cannot fail the true spirit of all religion. Real or verbal intolerance, no matter where it comes from, as action or reaction, is always a serious threat to peace.

So the problem is not rioting, arson, and murder. The problem is blasphemy. And so bereft is he of any appreciation for the importance of free speech that he thinks not only should blasphemy be shunned, it should be banned. I know of no other way to read the statement, "The right to freedom of thought and expression, sanctioned by the Declaration of the Rights of Man, cannot imply the right to offend the religious sentiment of believers" as anything other than approval for the destruction of free speech. For there is no such thing as limited free speech. The problem is not that Muslims cannot conduct themselves within the bounds of civil society when offended. The problem is not that every expression of Muslim outrage is underwritten with either a threat or an act of violence. And the problem is not that a peaceful country had its security threatened. The problem is that in a free society people have the audacity to treat religion as they treat any other set of ideas, and mock it. The problem is that blasphemy is not a crime. I don't see how they can be confused as allies when they seek to subject our freedoms to the selective reactions of the faithful.

Not to beat it into the ground...

but my point about abortion is getting even further airing. Alas, not yet one citation. I should pursue plagarism charges. The fact that I keep seeing this argument turning up thogh is a good sign. Maybe the hysteria and demagoguery that once surrounded it is giving way to sane discussion.

Thursday, October 4, 2007


Ann Coulter apparently disapproves of torture as long as some one else is doing it. An odd reversal of American opinion towards the practice. She goes thusly:

Our bombers couldn't know with precision where the enemy was holding (and torturing) our troops. McCain and the rest of those POWs could easily have been hit and killed by an American bomb

I take that "and torturing" to mean she thinks torture is a bad thing. I really doubt if she were to write a column about American interrogation techniques in this war she would include such a moral caveat.

I was so ahead of the curve on this

Matt Yglesias notes the results of polling by Third Way. The results were presaged here. The findings indicate that while many people think abortion constitutes taking a human life very few would want to send women to jail. In my post I speculated that if people truly believe that a fetus is a human being, then the penalty for abortion should be commensurate with that for murder. I hazarded a guess that most people would be unwilling to do this and lo' I am right.

If one thinks of the convicts who have been sympathetic figures it is not hard to imagine that the popularity of the pro-life movement would evaporate when film makers and journalists started chronicling the travails of women imprisoned for having abortions. That only 18 percent would be more than neutral to this is shocking when you consider the fact that 30 percent of the country classifies itself as evangelical Christians. And a commenter on Yglesias' post brings up a good point:

There's an easier way of avoiding the contradiction. I would guess that many people think abortion should be enforced with prison time only on the supply side, much the way locking up drug dealers or prostitutes is more popular than locking up their customers, who are more to be pitied than blamed.

So the support for putting the women in jail may be even lower. This is a common thing when people base beliefs on religious dogma rather than sober thought.

Maybe the pro-lifer crowd wants abortion to be punished with a small fine then. A better thing to do would be to simply mandate a price increase on the procedure. After all a fine could only be instituted if the offender were caught, while a price increase would be a net of finer mesh. This would put them in an ironic position. Undoubtedly as many of them are Republicans, the pro-lifers would be forced to shed their supposed aversion (as advocates of a free market) to government intervention not only in health care but also to the concept of price controls. But there isn't going to be a penalty then what is the point of making it illegal. And if the punishments aren't equivalent to those given for murder then how can someone be convinced that a human life was taken?

A YouTube painfully illustrates this. They haven't given it much thought.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Doom and Gloom, No More!

I have never been one to believe that humans beings are rational animals, and though I have no formal training in their field, I think economists would agree with me. Bryan Caplan has a column at Reason that unpacks 4 ingrained human prejudices about the economy. The column is excellent though will require a bit more thought to discuss at length, but I will point to one section for the purposes of ego padding:

The danger of the make-work bias is easiest to see in Europe, where labor market regulation to “save jobs” has produced decades of high unemployment. But we can see it in the U.S. as well, especially in our massive employment lawsuit industry. The hard lesson to learn is that giving people “rights to their jobs” is a drain on productivity—and makes employers think twice about hiring people in the first place.

I'm sure I had a post mentioning this.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

A Waste of Time and Resources redux

If I had to speculate I would guess that the priorities of a federal prosecutor who took office only six days before September 11th would be oriented toward something slightly more important than say people selling glass bongs to each other over the Internet. But alas United States attorney from Western PA, Mary Beth Buchanan, thinks not. In fact she also seems to have made it her specialty to bring obscenity indictments against porn producers, novelists, and bloggers. As a result of this millions of dollars have been wasted in a quest which has accomplished nothing more than to saddle Tommy Chong with a hefty fine.

This is after all the Bush administration and when a person believes, as many of them do, that their prudish local pastor has a pipeline to god we might expect such opinions to permeate their professional life. It would be another tolerably risible misadventure in moralizing if not for the glaring contravention of good sense that at about the same time Gonzalez was firing eight competent and sane prosecutors, Ms. Buchanan was being promoted.

The fact that Ms. Buchanan wants to bring society's sensibilities into consonance with something like those of her Wednesday car pool to after-school soccer, does not surprise me but the fact that she has been allowed to spend 12 million dollars doing it and been promoted, should I think stand as quite a testament to the fact that religious conservatives have an affinity for government's ability to engineer society that even a Bolshevik could be proud of. And as such I will rename them Christian Bolsheviks (my own slight to Chris Hedge's misnamed book).

It is not hard to understand why the religious right has so destroyed the Republican Party if you ask yourself a few hypothetical questions. One I would start with might go something like this: If we must spend 12 million dollars of tax revenue on something would I rather it be used to take Tommy Chong's bong away or to subsidize health care? I doubt even Ron Paul would object to spending it on health care given this choice.

Monday, October 1, 2007

America Exhibits Dutch Courage

While the US House of Representatives is debating about the convoluted ramblings of a total moron, an eloquent critic of Islamic fascism and advocate for liberal democracy against the forces of theocracy has left the country. Ayaan Hirsi Ali has been forced to leave the US because she can't afford her security detail and the government is unwilling to help.

Forget the PR value she has as a woman who suffered terribly in life because of Islamic barbarity. Forget the fact that a death threat to her was pined into the lifeless body of Theo Van Gogh. And forget that she has become one of the most vocal advocates for our way of life against its antithesis and against that which seeks to destroy it. We might ponder that this was an opportunity for the United States to make a public display of solidarity with a famous dissident from the ideology we are supposedly fighting. Why would we not protect one of our own against very real threats on her life. Threats which have been enjoined on her for the crime of agreeing with us.

If something happens to her we will have it on our heads that abandoned one of our own to the forces of the ideology we re fighting in Iraq, and while we can spend billions each day on this war we have the audacity to deny the relatively inexpensive luxury of a bodyguard and some surveillance equipment to a woman who was our advocate, at her peril, when she didn't have to be. Our courage is truly Dutch. The truly disgraceful aspect of this is that while there existed some people who felt it necessary to start a fund to defend the servile functionary Scooter Libby, but as yet no one has started a fund to help Ali.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

From the World of the Fatuous and Banal

Tom Friedman manages to say nothing and whine vaguely about a lot. Nothing specific and all things we've heard before. Much more, with all the digressions, it reads like three essays that got copied and pasted together. At least he referenced The Onion.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

We've never seen this before!!!

I am sure that John McCain's illegitimate black baby would have something to say.

A Waste of Time and Resources

Such was Sam Harris' assessment of the mass Shiite pilgrimage to a nearby holy site shortly after the liberation of Baghdad. The march included fanatical displays of religious zeal such as pilgrims flagellating themselves into bleeding near-corpses and the requisite murder of a few Sunnis along the way. Now were my country to be invaded and rid of a murdering sectarian thug, its infrastructure badly damaged, and the rule of law quite precarious I don't think my first impulse would be to whip myself into a state of near catatonia. Truly a waste of time and resources.

In this spirit I couldn't help but think that a similar verdict could be justly rendered to the Bureau of Prisons' effort to compile a list of acceptable religious texts, as reported in today's New York Times.

In their wisdom they have seen fit to convene a panel of religious "experts" (which is about the same as being an expert in the metaphysics of Bambi) and-after having once removed all books deemed inflammatory, then replaced them-given this panel of "experts" (their designation as such has incidentally upset some others who won't have their say) the task of compiling a list of appropriate material.

I don't see the value in giving books, which have been known to incite violence in the simple minded and desperate, to people who are simple minded, desperate, and known to be violent. Much more the thought has doubtlessly not crossed their minds that rather than give prisoners books claiming to be the dicta of the creator of the universe, we should maybe educate them in the ethical thinking of those people whose thoughts form the basis of civil, western democracy. After all I have never heard of someone being incited to violence when reading too much Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Montesquieu, Kant, Hume, or John Locke. Too advanced for the prisoners? Well maybe the confusion will keep them sedate. Unfortunately no. The main concern of people like Moses Silverman, quoted in the Times, is that we not "throw the baby out with the bath water." My opinion on what we should be throwing out need not be repeated.

Much less why are my tax dollars being spent to compile a list of appropriate commentary on genocidal fairy tales for criminals? I am sure that even the most extreme crimes committed by these men pale in comparison to the incitements of the god of the Old Testament and Koran. And I am sure that not even the most schizophrenic and delusional amongst them can dream such insanity as to be found in the Book of Revelation or such vitriolic babbler-on-the-street-with-sign like prose to be found in the letters of Paul. There really is no separation of church and state, and apparently men who have lost the right to decide when they leave a 5x10 cell retain their right to the scribblings of religious demagogues.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Ron Paul is the Only Non-Stooge

I have often laughed at those who claim that despite disagreeing with someone we should still respect their opinion. After all, I do think that aggressively arguing against someone's point of view rather de facto shows you don't respect the opinion. I tend to take the view that while disagreeing with someone you can still have an appreciation for their intellectual capabilities. But I think in Ron Paul I have someone I respect regardless of his views, many of which I think range from wrong to crazy- his love of the gold standard coming to mind. I respect him because he is the only candidate from either party who is not a completely partisan, whimpering stooge. How easy is it to see Romney standing beside whatever on of those idiots actually wins the nomination and endorsing him with his full TV weatherman smile on display. A field of ten candidates with nine looking to find ways to disagree by parsing each others words and accusing each other of flip flopping. Is there any accusation which is more hollow, more vacuous, more asinine, and more a waste of time? It reduces to claiming, "I agree with you now but in the past I wouldn't have if we were debating like we are now and I promise never to change my mind like you claim to have done recently." Romney is a fraud, Giuliani is insane, John McCain's campaign is something like Hemmingway's old man at sea, and Brownback, Huckabee, and Tancredo believe in ghosts. Ron Paul is the only one who's not a phony stooge.

At Least They Scorned Him

Buffoon that he is, Jim Gilchrist known mostly for founding the most visible manifestation of nativist paranoia and vigilantism, The Minuteman Project, could hardly be called as pernicious a fellow as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Nonetheless, at Columbia, where Gilchrist was roused off the stage, the President of Iran was given a forum. Well at least the forum had a hostile audience, which in its front page article the Times goes to great length to point out. Among the false, silly, and downright insane things uttered by Ahmadinejad:

“It’s not a crime to be a woman. Women are the best creatures created by God. They represent the kindness, the beauty that God instills in them. Women are respected in Iran.”

That there is not “sufficient research” on what happened to the Jews during World War II.

“We love all nations. We love the Jewish people. There are many Jews living in Iran, with peace and security.”

“In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals like in your country. We don’t have that in our country.”

I see it as a positive sign that he at least admitted they have women in Iran, though I doubt its outside the scope of his powers of fantasy. We are talking about a man who believes the apocalypse will come with the return of the 12th Imam. A doctrine that like all eschatology, has as much basis in reality as Resident Evil. I really wish someone could have asked him about that. Although a better question would have been why Al-Sadr decided to take a vacation there back in February.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Roger Cohen echoes Dragged from the Bottom!!!

In the NYT Roger Cohen writes an article about France that was presaged by yours truly. Well Cohen's article is admittedly a bit more polished and informative but it will suffice to say that I am always right and should be assumed to be without question.

What is right about Cohen's article is that unlike Will Cohen recognizes the importance of the character of Sarkozy, and goes through a list of political and cultural taboos that Sarko is breaking. He recognizes that his importance lies not in the technical policy reforms he is making, for those will take years, but in the fact that the personality of Sarkozy marks a sharp contrast with French tradition. No more hugging farmers, no more literary poseurs, and no more politicians drawn from the same incestuous group of friends at ENA France has just been liberated from 10 years of being run by cow kissing a slave to France's fascistic "fonctionnaires" with the energy of brain starved zombie. Not to mention that he was flanked by a wrinkled, weak chinned, aristocratic hangdog, dilettante who fancied himself half Rimbaud half Léon Blum, but could manage only half Gerald Ford half Jimmy Carter. Give Sarko some time.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Iraq is not like Vietnam

Matt Yglesias has endorsed the position of Steve Simon's pamphlet "After the Surge: The Case for U.S. Military Disengagement from Iraq" which advises withdrawal from Iraq on grounds that we have heard before but Simon does phrase them a bit more clearly.

Leaving U.S. forces in Iraq under today’s circumstances means the United States is culpable but not capable—that is, Washington bears substantial responsibility for developments within Iraq without the ability to shape those developments in a positive direction. In consequence, Iraqi support for the U.S. presence has collapsed. Polls indicate that most Iraqis want the United States to pull out. Moreover, the Iraq war has fueled the jihad and apparently been a godsend to jihadi recruiters—and the process of self-recruitment—as indicated by the 2006 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on the global war on terror. More broadly, the Iraq war has had a very damaging effect on the U.S. reputation in the Arab and wider Islamic world. Authoritative opinion surveys show this as well. The continued presence of U.S. forces is thus a severe setback in the canonical war of ideas, which the Bush administration has correctly assessed as crucial to American interests. [...]

In 2004, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the deputy to Osama bin Laden, said of the U.S. intervention: “America is between two fires. If it stays in Iraq, it will bleed to death; if it leaves, it will lose everything.” His forecast comes disturbingly close to describing current circumstances. It need not, however, be prophecy. More than three years after the intervention began, to be sure, the United States finds itself in an agonizing strategic position. The time has come to acknowledge that the United States must fundamentally recast its commitment to Iraq. It must do so without any illusions that there are unexplored or magic fixes, whether diplomatic or military. Some disasters are irretrievable. Having staked its prestige on the intervention and failed to achieve many of its objectives, the United States will certainly pay a price for military disengagement from Iraq. But if the United States manages its departure from Iraq carefully, it will not have lost everything. Rather, the United States will have preserved the opportunity to recover vital assets that its campaign in Iraq has imperiled: diplomatic initiative, global reputation, and the well-being and political utility of its ground forces. [...]

But raising the prospect of desperate deterioration in Iraq and its environs after an American military disengagement necessarily tends to obscure two things. First, the presence of U.S. forces has not stabilized Iraq thus far. Second, conditions for instability have become structural elements of Iraqi politics. Given these facts, how long should the U.S. keep troops in Iraq, when its military presence only delays an inevitable escalation of intra-Iraqi fighting?

Well said, but I have yet to hear a single advocate for complete withdrawal grapple with the consequences of allowing Iraq to fall into the hands of the forces of Al-Qaeda, or to the influence of its neighbors. One may see shades of the domino theory here and accordingly cry foul, but there is a crucial difference. Vietnam was at the not encircled by powers hoping to divide up the loyalties of its people for various forms of the ideology we are trying to fight. The neighboring countries of Laos and Cmabodia fell to Communist influence so the domino theorists may feel vindicated but at the time we entered, surrounding countries were not trying to make Vietnam a proxy state. The struggled in Vietnam was at it origin, one against colonialism.

Secondly in Vietnam we were not trying to reconcile two sides in a civil war. In Vietnam we were one side in a civil war, and were fighting against a people trying to expel us. The Iraqis may want us to leave but the fighting there is intra-Iraqi, and aimed at establishing hegemony of religious sect.

And thirdly cultural differences in between Vietnam and the Soviet Union would have made a long term alliance between the two untenable. Sino-Soviet relations were always hostile and a people that had been fighting colonial occupation for decades would not have accepted Soviet influence. Nor would they have accepted it from the Chinese with whom there was a centuries old cultural animus. The Iraqi people are not a nation. The territory is the result of European, colonial cartography and the Sunnis will find more to like with Saudi Arabia, the Shiites with Iran, and Kurds with Turkey. Iraq is thus not only already surrounded by various forms of the ideology we are trying to fight but the regional powers who represent it are know to be positively trying to export it.

If we leave Iraq we will leave it to the influence of powers who have international goals and the people will not be so resistant to their influence. The Vietnamese just wanted us, and everyone else, out. The Iraqis are not fighting a war of independence, rather for fear of each other they are fighting one for tribal hegemony.