Monday, January 31, 2005

How Cheney Shows His Respect

Cheney looks nice in his green parka, doesn't he? Did he forget to bring any black coats with him? Does he just not care? Or perhaps he's going to play paintball later?


Food for Thought

Seeing HOTEL RWANDA recently has caused me to do some reading about the Rwandan genocide, giving me an opportunity to consider what such incidents, including the ongoing genocide in Darfour, Sudan, mean in a post-Holocaust world.

I am currently reading Philip Gourevitch's We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families. It is a sort of history of the genocide and the aftermath from the point of view of people subsequently interviewed by Gourevitch, with Gourevitch's commentary included.

Gourevitch notes that, after the Holocaust, the UN signatory nations pledged to stop genocide in the world whenever it happens. But the West not only failed to respond to the genocide in Rwanda, but several nations, including the US, actually obstructed with efforts to do anything. I had known that the US had failed to act in Rwanda, but until reading this book, I never fully realized that the US, seeking to stay out of Rwanda after the failure in Somalia, kept anyone else from calling the genocide "genocide" in order to avoid having to fulfill its obligation under the anti-genocide treaty.

I thought perhaps that Rwanda, like Somalia, was just too chaotic a situation for the US to do anything about. But it turns out that Rwanda is a very small nation, about the size of Vermont, which wasn't under the control of a bunch of warlords like Somalia. General Dallaire, the Canadian commander of UN peacekeeping forces in Rwanda, who was ordered not to interfere while the genocide took place, estimated that he could have stabilized the country and ended the genocide with only 5000 troops. The US didn't even have to provide the troops; it only had to allow other countries to do so.

Expressing an insight I have read in many texts dealing with the Holocaust, Gourevitch writes:
The West's post-Holocaust pledge that genocide would never again be
tolerated proved to be hollow, and for all the fine sentiments inspired by the
memory of Auschwitz, the problem remains that denouncing evil is a
far cry from doing good.
[emphasis mine]

Many try to claim that Rwanda was just another case of Africans killing Africans. They say the US and the West can't intervene everywhere.

If the Rwandan genocide were just Africans killing Africans, then the Holocaust would be just another case of Europeans killing Europeans. And the same would go for Yugoslavia, where the Clinton administration chose to intervene rather than sit on the sidelines. But there is a difference between the many conflicts and civil wars all over the world and events like the Holocaust, Yugoslavia, and Rwanda. Gourevitch points out that what make genocide different than mass murder is the idea behind genocide: To wipe a category of human beings from the face of the planet. Genocide is a thought crime that is carried out through mass murder. The difference is the intent of the perpetrators.

And that is why Rwanda wasn't just Africans killing Africans. There was a difference between Rwanda and Somalia, and the US State Department knew it. That's why the State Department fought so hard to avoid using the word "genocide:" using that word would have incurred obligations the US was striving to avoid. Knowingly striving to avoid.

The next time you reflexively think of a country, the US or any other, as good, think of what Gourevitch said and think again. Remember, "denouncing evil is a far cry from doing good."

And, more to the point, that denouncing genocide is a far cry from actually doing something to stop it. While we spend billions on a misguided war in Iraq, genocide continues in Darfour.

And yet the US, a self-proclaime force for good in the world, does nothing.

A far cry, indeed.

Dropping 'da Bomb

On the new Battlestar Galactica series airing on SciFi Channel, this week's episode involved a military munition of some sort, a guided missile or somesuch, falling off a rack, activating, and blowing up a bunch of people.

Okay, once and for all: Modern, solid-state munitions cannot activate or detonate themselves by falling a couple of feet, being jarred, or even by being dropped from an airplane. They can't. They have to be armed by the onboard electronics in order to detonate. The explosives in modern munitions are not sensitive to mechanical force. They can't be jarred or struck into exploding. And the arming mechanism won't activate itself by being jarred either. That would be like taking your computer and dropping it in the hopes that the impact will make it open Microsoft Word. It doesn't work that way.

A US bomber having engine problem dumped its payload of nuclear bombs into the Mississippi river delta in the 80s. Was there a big nuclear explosion in Lousiana in the 80s? No. Since the bombs weren't armed, they just fell into the water and buried themselves in the seabed.

Would you really want to fly around in a fighter plane or bomber where if your munitions take shock equivalent to a four-foot-fall, as in the Galactica episode, they explode? For one thing, if any of your bombs or missiles take a bullet, you would go up like a roman candle. For another, modern fighter aircraft can pull maneuvers that would exert enough G-force on your munitions to make them blow up. And, finally, whenever one of your planes crashed you'd end up with one hell of an explosion when the munitions hit the ground.

Modern munitions do not tick. They do not blow up if you hit them with a shovel. They do not activate themselves. Munitions in the future will doubtless be as safe or safer.

The scene in this week's Galactica episode was just so ridiculous and stupid that it really did break my suspension of disbelief. The idea that a rocket could fall off a rack and blow up twenty people is just nuts. Come on. If your munitions were that easily activated, wouldn't you at least think not to put them on a rack high enough that a fall will activate them?


Friday, January 28, 2005

Draft Day (and I'm not talking about sports)

Check out this article in Rolling Stone. I didn't believe for a minute the Bush regime's denials of plans to reinstitute the draft. For one thing, the regime has lied often enough that I give it no benefit of the doubt. For another, I believe the same as writers like The New Yorker's Seymour Hirsch and others that the regime has its eyes on Iran and Syria. If so, as this article notes, a draft is almost certain once those wars commence.

But what nutball in the regime came up with this idea of doing a selective draft of skilled people? Let's think about all the ways this will go wrong. First off, a selective draft would discourage people from gaining certain skills. If I know that, for instance, electrical engineers (specifically noted in the article) are vulnerable to the draft but, say, physicists aren't, then I'm gonna become a physicist.

For another thing, how can it possibly be good for our economy or the health care crisis to start drafting professionals and health-care workers? It's going to be hard for the US to stay ahead of the technology curve if we start drafting all those with technical skills into the military. Can you imagine what would happen in most companies in the US today if you drafted all their IT personnel? Chaos! And the same regime that claims that tort reform will lower health-care costs (it won't) is now going to draft all the doctors and nurses? What the hell do you think that will do to health-care costs?

And this idea that from ages 18-35 everyone would have to keep the Selective Service people updated on their skill base? What, are you going to prosecute people if they don't tell you they took a Microsoft class? Jeesh.

At least in Vietnam, the US government could make the argument that the military was protecting the freedom of the south Vietnamese. Disingenuous, yes, but at least they could try to sell it. But, in this case, I really don't see any difference between the Bush regime drafting people to fight its wars of conquest and totalitarian regimes doing the same. Iran has not attacked the US. Any attack on Iran is nothing more than an unprovoked attack, and a draft to support such an invasion is immoral.

Propaganda and 'Private' Accounts

Talking Points Memo and other sites have been discussing the PR campaign being run by the Bush regime to change the terminology from "private accounts" to "personal accounts." This comes along with the attempt to discard the term "privatization" for the whole enterprise.

And now they are claiming that anyone in the media who uses the terms "private accounts" or "privatization" is inherently biased for not switching to the Bush regime's new preferred terminology. But why should the media, or anyone else for that matter, switch from the terminology the regime used to originally set out its plan to the new terminology?

The change, after all, is intended to make the idea of privatization more palatable to the populace by obfuscating what privatization is. Why should the media choose to be complicit in that attempt? Only if the regime can demonstrate that the new terminology is more apt should the media make the switch. Otherwise, I see no difference between this and the German media obeying orders from Hitler to call the eastern extermination camps "resettlement camps" instead. In both cases, the intent of the change of terminology is to convince the people that the thing being referenced is something other than what it actually is. If the media blindly accept the change, they become pawns of the government.

Which is not to say that the media should not adopt the new terminology if it more accurately describes the government's policy. But only then should it switch. Some changes of terminology actually clarify rather than obfuscate and then they can be useful. For instance, I believe that it is important to refer to the current group in power as the "Bush regime" rather than the "Bush administration," because I believe that calling this group an "administration" obfuscates its anti-democratic policies.

Remember: until Bush shows us something to make us think differently, what he intends to do to Social Security is still "privatization." And that is the terminology we should use, no matter what the regime would have us use.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Privatization Cartoon

It just doesn't get any more dead-on than this.


On Nova this week, some new research in neuroscience was discussed. Researchers believe they have found parts of the brain that serve the function of interpreting the actions and feelings of others, causing an observer to feel as if he or she is doing and feeling what the person being observed is doing and feeling. The host said that this part of the brain may be where empathy comes from. I have to disagree.

Empathy isn't just feeling what another person is feeling, but also caring about what that person is feeling. When a person is feeling down, and friendss around him or her get annoyed because "you're bringing me down," the friends may well be feeling what the depressed person is feeling, but yelling at someone to cheer up is not a way of expressing what most people would consider "empathy." Selfishly wanting someone else's mood to change so they will no longer affect your own mood is not empathic, it is selfish.

Feeling another's feelings isn't enough, in and of itself, to qualify.

How To Start Your Job As Attorney General

Did you hear about a judge and others in Texas allege that Gonzales lied in his deposition to the Senate Judiciary Committee? Apparently, he helped Bush get out of jury duty while Bush was Governor of Texas because Bush would have to disclose his DUI if he were chosen to serve. But he told the Judiciary Committee that he didn't.

And this guy is going to be the chief law enforcement officer in the US?

And this is the "rule of law*" party?

*From the Conservative Dictionary of English, 46th Edition:
Law, (n.), Rules and regulations for conduct of the non-wealthy and non-powerful. The powerful and wealthy are exempt.

O'Reilly At It Again

According to Bill O'Reilly, as featured over at Media Matters, the "anti-Bush crowd would rather have chaos in Iraq than a victory for the president." Uh-huh. Because you have your finger on the pulse of the anti-Bush crowd, Bill. Sure.

Those of us in the "anti-Bush crowd" don't want to see chaos in Iraq. That's why we argued against the invasion in the first place! I am anti-Bush because I oppose his policies and think they will have disastrous results. I argue against his policies because I care about what happens and don't want to see disaster and chaos. O'Reilly is assuming that the so-called "anti-Bush crowd" hates Bush for no reason and therefore doesn't care about anything other than Bush falling on his face. But we hate Bush because he's an idiot who makes bad decisions that are obviously bad before he makes them.

I can't speak for the whole "anti-Bush crowd," but as a card-carrying member, I can say that I do not hope for chaos in Iraq. I think there will be chaos, but it isn't what I want. Predicting that something bad will happen if the regime adopts a course is not the same as wanting something bad to happen. What O'Reilly is doing here is projecting. Methinks he doth protest too much.

O'REILLY: "Talking Points" believes that the goal in Iraq is noble, to have a
Muslim country embrace liberty. While that goal is obviously difficult, we are
not the bad guys in Iraq. We're trying to do something good and fight terrorism
at the same time.

This is an example of the one the things that drives me nuts about the right. Have you ever heard that "the road to Hell is paved with good intentions?" The right thinks that their good intentions should shield them from any criticism of the naivety of their policies and the disastrous results of those policies.

Sure, it's a noble goal to create democracy in Iraq. But it was a pretty pie-in-the-sky goal in the first place, not impossible, but damn near. And bombing the living shit out of the Iraqis, failing to provide sufficient troops to provide security for the population, torturing and humiliating Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, and trying to claim progress because of empty, meaningless gestures like the so-called "transfer of sovereignty" that changed nothing, are terribly stupid ways to go about fostering democracy in Iraq. Saying to Bush, "What you're doing isn't going to work and you're making the situation worse" is not the same as saying, "Trying to bring democracy to Iraq is wrong and you are therefore a bad guy." Jeesh.

A good example of this thought process is with the upcoming Iraqi elections. When critics note that the security situation is such that much of the country will not be able to vote, that the Sunnis are refusing to participate, and that the insurgency's threats of killing voters, candidates, and office holders, and the sword of Damocles of the US hanging over Iraqi's heads if they elect a government unpalatable to the US are all reasons that this election has little chance of reflecting the will of the Iraqi people and thus having legitimacy, the Bush regime says that it's amazing and historic that elections are happening at all.

In other words, "Give us credit for trying." Or, "It's the thought that counts, right?"

Well, Mr. Bush and Mr. O'Reilly, no. The regime's Iraq strategy was never going to work, and doggedly insisting it will while it fails, and then wanting credit for trying, is something you can get away with in kindergarten, not when leading the most powerful nation in the world.

Also, Bill, the "anti-Bush crowd's" strategy for dealing with terrorism and al-Qaeda was to focus on fighting terrorism and al-Qaeda rather than invading Iraq. Iraq never had anything to do with the war on terror. The regime's rear-view mirror justifications of the war make that clear, and to claim that Iraq was anything other than something the regime wanted to do and saw 9/11 as an excuse to do is beyond ridiculous.

It's Funny 'Cause It's True...

Elves Of Valinor Warn Of "Critical Security Flaw" In Palantír Browsers

Property Rights

Left2Right has three interesting posts on property rights, here, here, and here. I've only read the first two (I just discovered the third), and only part of the rather extensive comments. I never thought about property rights, as such, much before, so I'm not quite sure where I stand.

I think it is pretty obvious that natural property rights have little or nothing to do with property rights in a modern society. But I do also have a strong "what's mine is mine" feeling, which is probably why I hate eminent domain so much.

On the third hand, I definitely feel that modern, capitalist economies are nothing like a free market (nor should they be), and that therefore some people will have an advantage in whatever variety of modern economic system in place, not just by things like having rich parents, but because they happen to be well-suited to this particular system. By the same token, those who end up homeless may simply be poorly suited to the system, and may have been more successful in a different system. As such, I do also feel that those who have disproportionately benefited from the system, the wealthy, have a certain responsibility to those who have not benefited from the system.

I see it this way. You have two guys, one who is good at Trivial Pursuit but sucks at Scrabble, and the other who is good at Scrabble but sucks at Trivial Pursuit. Which one will succeed or not has less to do with the two guys and more to do with what game is being played. I feel the economic systems are kind of like that. For instance, in a system that is based on natural property rights, there is no such thing as "intellectual property." Therefore, under such a system, brilliant inventors will basically get screwed when someone who is better at implementing the inventor's ideas comes along and uses the inventor's idea to get rich. In a system more like modern America's, however, it's all about having the idea, so the inventor is the one who benefits rather than the implementer. The rules of the game don't entirely determine the outcome, but they make a significant difference.

Anywho, that's how I see it right now, with my amazingly poor grasp of the intricacies of property rights.


You may have noticed that I've been silent for about a week. I work in emergency management in Massachusetts and we had a busy week, what with the terror warning in Boston and the blizzard over the weekend. I intend to get back to normal blogging today.

I know you were waiting with baited breath. :^)

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Evil Empires

Via Dispatches from the Culture Wars, I found an article on evolution blog responding to Dennis Prager's claims that only theistic morality can be absolute. I have, of course, debunked such claims in earlier posts, but this is a good article to check out.

One thing struck me in the article, though, which was when Prager said:

That is why The New York Times, the voice of secular moral relativism, was
so repulsed by President Ronald Reagan's declaration that the Soviet Union was
an “evil empire.” The secular world -- especially its left -- fears and rejects
the language of good and evil because it smacks of religious values and violates
their moral relativism.

What is interesting about this to me is that I never thought the use of the word "evil" outside of explicity religious contexts "...smack[ed] of religious values..." I just think that 'good' and 'evil' are simplistic concepts that are difficult to apply in real life. They speak of a certain naivete which I do not necessarily connect with religion. I think nontheists are just as prone to black and white, good vs. evil thinking as theists, in fact.

Moreover, as Jason from evolution blog points out, Prager is missing the point of criticisms of use of confrontational language like "evil empire" or "axis of evil." Labeling the Soviet Union, Iran, North Korea, or Iraq as evil or having evil governments, no matter how appropriate that label, is not the job of the United States government, its leaders, or its foreign policy specialists. The job of the US government is to develop a foreign policy that helps protect America and American interests. Critics of phrases like "evil empire" and "axis of evil" are not claiming that the labeled nations are good. They're not claiming they're evil, either. They're simply criticizing the utility of such language in creating good outcomes for the United States. They are questioning whether or not calling one's opponents "evil" will help lead to a more secure, prosperous America, or a less secure, less prosperous America.

No one thinks of themselves as evil. As writers say, everyone is the hero of his or her own story. Once you paint an opponent as evil, you have lessened the chances of compromise and diplomatic success, both because it creates enmity with those labeled "evil" and because there can be no compromise with evil: It must be utterly destroyed. Calling other nations "evil" simply closes foreign policy options. If we choose to see the world in simplistic good vs. evil terms, then any accomodation or compromise with evildoers makes us evil as well. If the job of the United States government were to fight evil all over the globe, then perhaps this paradigm would make sense, as it would lead us to invade every corrupt regime in the world in order to set things right.

But that's not what the government of the United States is tasked to do. Invading every country that America perceives as evil will have disastrous consequences for the United States, as seen now in the invasion of Iraq. The United States is simply not powerful enough to correct all evils in the world with force. It would exhaust the US economy, cost the lives of countless members of the armed forces, weaken the ability of the US to defend itself, and cause widespread unrest among Americans. Only through diplomacy can the US protect its own interests and also hope to counter evil in the world, and critics of labeling other nations as "evil" believe it is a hindrance to succesful diplomacy.

Ironically, I personally disagree with these critics in part, as I believe that labeling nations as "evil" can actually aid diplomacy at times, but in a way that Prager does not consider. Reagan, whether he truly believed the Soviet Union was "evil" or not, was trying to force the Soviets to get into an arms race with United States that Reagan believed the Soviets could not afford and would thus topple the USSR. As it did. But the Soviets had to believe the US was truly a threat or they would not have taken the bait. It didn't matter whether the Soviet Union was actually "evil," nor whether Reagan actually believed they were. It was a foreign policy gambit of the first order, meant to accomplish the goal of removing the principle threat to American security at the time.

But calling other nations "evil" just to make your value judgment of them known, not as part of a greater foreign policy strategy, does nothing to advance the security of the US nor its interests. It's kind of like telling your asshole coworkers what you think about them. It may be satisfying at the time, and they may really be assholes, but is it really the best thing to do in the long run? Probably not.

So, while Prager sees everything in religious terms, thus mistakenly assuming that critics of using the word "evil" in foreign policy are squeamish due to religious concerns, the truth is that, in the real world, determining who is and isn't evil and labeling them as such is not the most important thing. More important is choosing language and diplomatic tactics that will accomplish the goal of making America safer and protecting American interests, and as satisfying as it is to go around judging others, even the Bible knows that it isn't such a hot idea: "Judge not, lest ye be judged."

Bill O'Reilly: Scientist

There's a site called News Hounds whose tagline is, "We watch FOX so you don't have to." Priceless.

Well, News Hounds has the transcript of a segment of The O'Reilly Factor in which O'Reilly confronts a biologist about whether creationism is science or not. Here's a real gem from the segment:

O’REILLY: OK. But science is incomplete in this area of creationism, is it

GRANT: Science is always incomplete in all areas.

O’REILLY: Well, I don’t agree with that. Science is not always
incomplete and I’ll give you an example. There are twenty-four hours in a day.
Alright. That’s science. And there are four seasons. That’s science. So you can
state things with certainty in biology or any other science you want. However,
if I’m a student in your class and you’re telling me, well, there might have
been a meteor or big bang or there might have been this or there might have been
that, I’m gonna raise my hand like the wise guy I am and say “Professor, might
there be a higher power that contributed to the fact that we’re all here?” and
you say - what?

Well, first off, science has nothing to do with there being twenty-four hours in a day. Humans decided to divide the day up into twenty-four units of time and call them "hours." The length of time that a day lasts, outside the issue of units, is also not a scientific theory (which is what Grant takes O'Reilly to mean by "science" and thus I will too, since O'Reilly fails to object). Scientific theories are explanations of observed facts. The length of time that it takes for the Earth to rotate 360 degrees on its axis, which humans have chosen to call "a day" is a fact. It isn't an explanation for anything, it just is. Explaining why the Earth rotates on its axis in the same amount of time each rotation would be a theory. Theories explain facts.

By the same token, it isn't "science" that there are four seasons. For one thing, the number of seasons is arbitrary. Humans defined it. You could say there are just two seasons, winter and summer, or you could say there are eight including the four normal ones and also pre-Autumn, post-Autumn, pre-Spring, and post-Spring, or however else you wanted. But, the changes in temperature and precipitation that accompany the Earth's orbit around the sun are not scientific theories. They are also facts. The explanatory theory is the laws of motion which explain why the Earth continues to orbit the sun rather than spinning off on its own or something.

So, O'Reilly clearly doesn't know what science is, and yet he goes on TV and acts like an expert.

But he's disingenuous at the outset. Science isn't "incomplete in the area of creationism," and Grant should have called O'Reilly on it. Since creationism does not meet the definition of a scientific theory, since it lacks explanatory power, makes no testable or observable predictions, and is inherently unfalsifiable, creationism isn't science, and so science cannot be "incomplete in the area of creationism." In fact, science has nothing to do with creationism. Saying that "science is incomplete in the area of creationism" is kind of like saying "ice cream is incomplete in the area of tax evasion." They have nothing to do with each other.

Now, evolutionary theory is incomplete, as all scientific theories are considered to be, since new data and observations could come to light that would cause scientists to rethink those theories. But scientists don't hold off on testing and using theories because of all the improbable things that theoretically could turn out to be true but for which there is not a shred of evidence, like creationism.

O’REILLY: But, what if it turns out there is a God and He did create the
universe and you die and then you figure that out? Aren’t you gonna feel bad
that you didn’t address that in your biology class?

No. Because evolution doesn't deal with the creation of the freakin' universe, you idiot! Evolutionary theory and biology are neither confirmed nor denied by the existence or lack thereof of a creator of the universe. Or of life, for that matter, since evolutionary theory doesn't deal with the origins of life, either. Abiogenesis, a separate field of inquiry, does that.

O’REILLY (overtalks all words): ‘Cause then it would be science, wouldn’t
it? You know, if tomorrow the deity came down and proved himself, then it would
be science, wouldn’t it, sir?

I disagree with Grant on this one too. If God or some deity came down and proved himself tomorrow, it would be a fact, not a scientific theory. It is always possible that there are facts not yet in evidence that would affect scientific theory as we know it. In fact, it is certain. But the fact of the existence of a creator, supreme being, God, or deity is utterly without evidence to support it. As such, we must discount the possibility of the existence of such beings until and unless some evidence comes to light. If we were to suspend judgment pending the sudden appearance of facts that no evidence indicates are likely to be found true, then we would be unable to learn anything. After all, you could say, "You know, if tomorrow Santa Claus came down and proved himself, then it would be science," or, "You know, if tomorrow McDonald's-hating bugs from Mars came down and proved themselves, they would be science." Sure. But none of those things is likely to happen, and, in fact, are unlikely enough that we can safely ignore them until and unless they do.

O'Reilly continues making a fool of himself for the rest of the interview, almost calling the story of Adam & Eve "nonsense" in front of his evangelical audience, and claiming that human cloning is not "science" according to a nonexistent theory he claims Grant has put forward.

How does O'Reilly manage to tie his shoes in the morning? This is the problem with modern society: It has eliminated most pressures of natural selection. If not for modern society, a result of modern technology provided by science, O'Reilly long ago would have been eaten by a lion or something because of his own stupidity.

I Am Not Making This Up

Poll: Nation split on Bush as uniter or divider

This would be a great headline for The Onion, but in a surreal twist, this is the result of an actual poll on's Inside Politics. I think the headline itself answers the underlying question of whether Bush really is a uniter or a divider.


DUI as the Canary in the Mineshaft

In the rush to protect us from drunk drivers, it seems that legislatures and judges are allowing more and more violations of the constitutional rights of Americans. Most disturbing is that it sets precedents for the government when the government wants to expand the violations to groups other than drunk drivers.

Take this article. The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that the police can basically take blood whenever they want, even if you have submitted to not one, but three breath tests. According to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, your right to control of your bodily integrity and fluids is outweighed by the desire of the police to have just a little bit more evidence with which to convict you. As far as I can tell, this ruling allows the cops in Wisconsin to take blood any time they feel that it might help their case, as many times as they deem necessary. If you don't have the right for the government not to drain your blood from your body without good cause, you don't have rights.

And then there's this. In Washington State, inaccurate breath test results are now admissible as evidence. That's right. Even if the breathalyzer is broken or demonstrably unreliable the results can still be used against you. Allowing false evidence to be used against a defendant at trial essentially gives the government the power to arrest and imprison anyone they want at any time. Since you can be pulled over, given a breath test with a breathalyzer that is broken (or been tampered with, under this law), and convicted using the false positive given by the breathalyzer though you had not been drinking, this law not only violates the principle of "innocent until proven guilty," it puts in its stead the principle of, "guilty despite a complete lack of evidence."

And this. Police in some areas are now staking out the homes of convicted drunk drivers to catch them violating their probation. As the post states: "But where does it stop? If for DUI today, for what tommorrow [sic]? Do we really want the police watching our homes, waiting for us to make a mistake?"

Here, the US Supreme Court ruled that, even though roadblocks for DUI testing are unconstitutional, they were okay anyway.

As noted here, judges are being given information and instructions about how to defeat the defense's arguments in DUI trials. Yes, judges. The supposedly impartial part of the adversarial system is now being coopted as part of the prosecution. As if no one innocent people were ever charged with DUI.

Here, we find that, in New Jersey, a cop can order you to drive when you are drunk and then arrest you for drunk driving. Awesome!

Apparently, as noted here, the "right" of Americans to a jury trial is no longer a right.

And it's okay for the cops to destroy the breathalyzer test and not save it as evidence for you to impeach at your trial.

I'm not a fan of drunk driving, of course. But it's a mistake to allow our civil rights to be eroded in the zealous pursuit of catching drunk drivers. And that's just what's happening today.

On a funny note, did you know that both Dubya and Cheney are "Inadmissable Persons" to Canada due to their drunk driving convictions?

Finally, Someone Found a Use for Creationism!

If you're going to commit a crime and leave behind DNA evidence, make sure to do it in a red state, as discussed here. It just doesn't get any better than this. "You can't use the prosecution's DNA evidence against my client because accepting the existence of DNA conflicts with creationism and the Young Earth Theory. You must acquit."

Hell, this is just as dumb as the Chewbacca Defense from South Park, but this is actually real!


Take a look at this article about the GM limo Bush will ride to the inaguration in. It notes that:

The president's hand-crafted limousine is longer, wider and taller than the
production model, and it is equipped with state-of-the-art protection and
communication systems.

Now, what do you want to bet that one of the "protection systems" is armor? Of course, you say. What of it?

I'm just thinking about how Donald Rumsfeld, whom Bush is not holding accountable for his bungling of the war in Iraq, told us that "you can have all the armor in the world and a tank can still be blown up," basically saying that armor is useless and unimportant.

If Bush is standing by his Secretary of Defense's policies and statements, he shouldn't have any armor on his car. After all, armor is useless and unimportant. As Rumsfeld might say, "You can have all the armor in the world and a car can still be blown up."

This logic, after all, is Rumsfeld's justification for failing to provide sufficient armor for soldiers' vehicles in Iraq. So, either Bush's car is not armored, because he truly doesn't believe in armor as protection from attack, or Bush's car is armored, and Bush and Rumsfeld were just lying about the utility of armor, showing that simply chose not to provide our troops with sufficient protection intentionally.

Making speeches about protecting the nation and about the bravery of our troops, while simultaneously choosing not to provide them protection and trying to cut their combat pay is disgusting and wrong. The truth is that the Bush regime, and Rumsfeld in particular, don't care about our soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen at all. The troops are just the children of the poor, after all, and the Bush regime cares nothing about anyone who can't contribute $250,000 to his campaign, isn't a Saudi prince, or doesn't play golf with Bush Sr.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Bush's Real Stance on Personal Responsibility

An article in the Washington Post about an interview Dubya gave on Air Force One recently demonstrates, once again, that Bush is an inveterate liar and also gives lie to his supposed stance on personal responsibility. The article says:

President Bush said the public's decision to reelect him was a ratification
of his approach toward Iraq and that there was no reason to hold any
administration officials accountable for mistakes or misjudgments in prewar
planning or managing the violent aftermath.

"We had an accountability moment, and that's called the 2004
elections," Bush said in an interview with The Washington Post. "The American
people listened to different assessments made about what was taking place in
Iraq, and they looked at the two candidates, and chose me."

First off, Mr. Bush, you and your right-wing spin machine got the voters to choose you by lying and deceiving them, just like you drummed up support for the war in Iraq. You avoided taking any responsibility for your choices and actions by lying about them during the campaign. And now you are shielding Donald Rumsfeld from taking responsibility for mismanaging the war effort in a way that I can only describe as negligent and incompetent.

So, Mr. Bush, since you obviously care nothing about owning up to your mistakes, nor for making your subordinates own up to their mistakes, how can you stand before the American people and tell us that we must take responsibility for ourselves and our lives? That we shouldn't help the poor because it is the responsibility of the impoverished to figure out how to defeat the massive economic and social barriers to accumulating wealth in this country? That we should all take responsibility for our Social Security accounts and not complain if we don't have enough to retire on because we aren't stock-picking experts?


And, of course, Bush is now admitting he lied to voters to get them to vote for him, for instance when he told conservative Christians that he would support a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage:

Bush said he will not press senators to pass a constitutional amendment
banning same-sex marriage, the top priority for many social conservative

But these so-called "social conservative groups" have no one to blame but themselves. I, along with many others, have been screaming from the rooftops that Bush is not to be trusted. I guess they should have listened. He isn't even loyal to his own constituency.

Fools all, the religious right.

Petition for Rumsfeld's Removal

John Kerry is heading up a petition to get Bush to fire Donald Rumsfeld. Go and sign it. Now.

Preaching as Hate Crime?

According to NBC 10 News in Philadelphia, four members of Repent America, a Christian group, have been charged with a hate crime -- ethnic intimidation -- and rioting, for preaching the Bible and protesting at a gay and lesbian rally.

Amazingly, the Philadelphia police have managed to violate both the important rights guaranteed in the First Amendment: freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

I don't like the views Christians such as these hold of gays. I don't like Christians telling me that I'm a hellbound sinner. And I don't like Christians preaching to me from the Bible in public places.

But I don't have the right to stop them. And neither does the police and government.

Unless the Repent America members actually committed an act of physical violence which was not in self-defense, I see no just cause to charge them with crimes, especially crimes that could lead to 47 years of imprisonment.

An Evangelical Who Actually Follows Jesus' Teachings? Could It Be?

On The Daily Show the other day, Jon Stewart interviewed an evangelical Christian by the name of Jim Wallis. I thought it odd for The Daily Show to host an evangelical, and I was just waiting for him to begin reciting the standard evangelical rhetoric.

But Wallis didn't do that. Instead, he said (as best I can recall), "When did tax cuts for rich people and going to war become Jesus' priorities? There are 300 verses in the Bible about the poor, so I think Jesus is more concerned with helping them. How did we come to believe that Jesus only loves America?" I was shocked.

I wasn't surprised that an evangelical had read the Bible. What surprised me was that Wallis actually paid attention to what it says. Most evangelicals seem to fail at that important step.

For instance, I watched a Frontline episode on PBS about George W. Bush's religious life and its influence on his politics. And it was fairly obvious that Bush became "born again" out of frustration with failures in his life, such as helming a number of failed companies and his unsuccessful bid for Congress in 1978. And I think he did what a lot of American evangelicals do: they blame the failures of their past on a lack of faith, and take up faith in the hopes that Jesus will turn their lives around and make them successful. In America, "success" is defined as material success, accumulation of wealth and power, and so evangelicals expect Jesus to provide success at business and politics, and see failure as due to a lack of faith on their own parts. Along the same lines, this way of thinking leads them to believe that poverty is due to moral failings rather than economic realities.

But Jesus specifically does not promise worldly success. In fact, Jesus tells us that to give our possessions to the poor, that being rich is a hindrance in gaining salvation, that he came for the poor and not the rich, and that "the meek shall inherit the earth." About defending one's self, Jesus tells us to let someone who has hurt us to hurt us yet again! He also tells his flock not to fight against Earthly oppression, but rather to accept it ("render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and render unto God that which is God's.")

Jesus does not proclaim poverty a moral failing. He exorts his followers to become poor themselves through charity. He never promises that faith in him will alleviate one's position as impoverished and powerless, only that it will help one to enter God's Kingdom. Jesus tells us that it is right to let others hurt you if that is their will, not to preemptively strike one's enemies.

Wallis seems to actually follow the teachings of his prophet, unlike the majority of evangelicals. He understands that accumulation of power or material wealth, whether by an individual or a nation, does not demonstrate God's favor, nor does faith make one righteous if Jesus' teachings are ignored. After all, if it were true, as evangelicals believe, that Jesus' only important message is that belief in Jesus is required for salvation, why would Jesus have spent so much time on ethical and moral issues? He says that we "can only come to my Father through me." Does it really follow that one can truly be said to have Jesus in one's heart while ignoring Jesus' teachings?

Now, I would still disagree vehemently with Wallis on many issues, like abortion rights and gay marriage. But, at least, evangelicals like Wallis, few though they may be, who actually adhere to Jesus' teachings instead of paying them lip service, aren't hypocrites. They don't pursue personal gratification and wealth while agitating for war, yelling for tax cuts on the rich, and condemning the poor. They don't see Christian faith as simply the key to worldly success and power.

That, I can respect. It's all the hypocritical evangelicals who constantly have Jesus' name on their lips even as they cry out that the government shouldn't take their money "to give to lazy people" that I can't stand. I might disagree with Wallis and his compatriots, but I would at least feel they are arguing in good faith and not using Christianity for their own selfish purposes.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Rights? We Don't Need No Stinking Rights!

The 8th Circuit Court, in United States v. Frazier, ruled that post-arrest, pre-Miranda silence can be used against you in a court of law. That's right. If you get arrested by the police, asserting your right to remain silent, which you have regardless of when or whether the cops give you a Miranda reading, can be used as evidence of your guilt.

But the neat twist to the whole thing is this: Any statements made to police before they read Miranda can't be used in court unless you testify in your own defense. Then, those statements can be used to impeach you. In fact, in California, the cops are specifically trained to try to get suspects to say something that could be used to impeach them before they are Mirandized, just so to keep defendants from testifying on their own behalf. Juries, you see, tend to think people who don't testify on their own behalf are guilty.

This ruling creates a nice little catch-22 that completely destroys the idea of "innocent until proven guilty." If you say something before the cops Mirandize you, then you won't be able to testify in your own defense. If you don't say anything, they'll use your silence against you. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. Awesome.

But the Supreme Court has gone the 8th Circuit one better on nullifying our rights. The Supreme Court overturned the 9th Circuit to rule that, "Qualified immunity shields an officer from suit when she makes a decision that, even if constitutionally deficient, reasonably misapprehends the law governing the circumstances she confronted."

Essentially, the Supreme Court said that cops can violate your rights with immunity from being sued as long as the cop doesn't know the Constitution well enough to know he or she is violating your rights. For the rest of us, ignorance of the law is no excuse. But for cops, ignorance of the constitutional rights they are sworn to protect excuses them from responsibility.

This ruling actually encourages cops to remain ignorant of suspects' rights! It also allows cops to beat up, kill, shoot, torture, or do whatever they want to suspects as long as the cop afterwards claims, "I didn't know that was a violation of the suspects' rights." Awesome!

In what sense is a right "a right" when a government agent's knowledge or lack thereof of those rights determines whether they apply or not? Either you have the right not to be shot or you don't. Whether or not the cop knows your rights shouldn't be your problem! They are trained agents of the government and should be held to a higher standard of knowing the rights of the citizens they protect, not a lesser standard! I mean, knowing the rights of suspects is the most important requirement for that job, and here the Supreme Court says the exact opposite.

The Bill of Rights lists rights, such as protection from unreasonable search and seizure. It doesn't say, "Citizens have these rights unless an agent of the government is unaware of them, in which case they are null and void." But that's what the Supreme Court has just ruled.

Talk about judicial activism! I notice the conservatives are mum on this ruling as well. But what could be more an inappropriate use of judicial power than the judiciary, whose job is to apply the Constitution to laws and cases, instead overturns the Constitution itself?

That is true judicial activism. And, it seems, none of our rights are safe from it.

We Win One!

Just so this blog isn't all me bitching about things, here's an article about the ruling in Cobb county, Georgia, that putting stickers about evolution being "just a theory" on textbooks is unconstitutional. Yay!

A "Free" Country?

In what sense are we living in a free country when crap like this is going on? I mean, okay, there are certain professions that probably need to be regulated, like doctors and lawyers. But florists? Are you crazy? If the government can make florists get licenses in order to sell freakin' flowers, the government can make anyone in any profession do the same.

In what sense do we live in a free nation when the government can interfere in something as basic as earning a living by selling things as innocuous as flowers? Jeesh.

Putting the Ball on the Tee

In a recent interview, Bush said that he "doesn't see how you can be president without a relationship with the Lord..."

Well, I don't see how you can be president without intelligence, a grasp of foreign affairs, and a relationship with reality, and I think the Bush regime's record bears me out better than it bears out Dubya.

George W. Bush: Civil Rights Activist

In a so-called "town meeting" on Social Security yesterday, apparently held in a town where all the citizens are Republicans that had been vetted by Karl Rove, the same President that repeatedly refused to address the NAACP prior to the election, as his father and Reagan both did, said:

Secondly, the interesting -- there's a -- African American males die sooner
than other males do, which means the system is inherently unfair to a certain
group of people. And that needs to be fixed. It's not a -- (applause.)

So, now, let me get this straight: the Bush regime has, by word and action, effectively claimed that there is no racism in America, no gap of opportunity between African-Americans and white Americans, by moves such as supporting the ending of affirmative action at Michigan State when that case went before the Supreme Court. But here, Bush is admitting that African-American males have a shorter life expectancy than white Americans.

And his way of resolving the inequities caused by two centuries of racism and oppression is to fuck up Social Security for everyone so that it won't be unfair to black men? Because, I guess, doing something about the causes of the lower life expectancy wouldn't make any sense. Once everyone's Social Security benefits have been ruined, black men can say to themselves, "Well, even though I won't live as long as I would if I were white, it's all fair now because not only will I be paying into Social Security even though I will never get the benefits, everyone is paying in and not getting the benefits. I feel so much better!"

That is the stupidest thing I ever heard. By admitting that black men have shorter life expectancies than white men, Bush is either admitting that black men are disadvantaged economically, socially, and in availability of health care, in which case those would be the places to start trying to make things more fair, or he's saying that black men are genetically inferior to white men and will die sooner no matter what, and therefore there's nothing to be done but make sure that Social Security screws everyone so nobody is getting singled out for screwing.

Oh my freakin... The most powerful man in the world, with a straight face, told the American people yesterday that the only important problem about black men having shorter life expectancies than white men is that black men pay into Social Security but don't get the benefit.

Maybe I'm just stupid, but it seems to me that the main issue with black men having shorter life expectancies is that they don't get to live as long! If we fix the gap in life expectancies, the Social Security problem resolves itself! Plus, black men get more years of life! Wow! Doesn't that seem like a better response to the problem than ruining Social Security so it won't be unfair?

To all apologists for Bush's intelligence out there, I have only to say: If Bush is not an idiot, then the term has no meaning.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Mass DNA Collection

Here in Massachusetts, police in the town of Truro have been taking DNA samples from the men in the town without any reasonable cause or suspicion. They hope to link a sample with DNA from semen found in a murder victim three years ago. The ACLU has asked the police to stop.

Why? Giving the samples is voluntary. What's the problem with that?

Well, the problem is that they are keeping track of who refuses to give samples. And so, if the police ask you to give a sample and you don't want the government to have your DNA, which I certainly wouldn't, you basically get put on a list of suspects.

It's a catch-22. It's extortion. Either the government gets your DNA, and, as we all know, once the government has information about you it will use it however it wants, or, having done nothing to draw suspicion other than refuse to give up your civil rights, you get tagged as a suspect. Awesome.

That would be like if prosecutors were allowed to argue that by exercising your Miranda rights and refusing to talk to police you demonstrated guilt. If the government can use citizens exercising their rights as cause to scrutinize and intimidate them, it is tantamount to not having rights at all. "You can vote, but we're going to keep track of it if you do." "You can speak freely but we're going to put you on a list if you do."

Meet the new McCarthyism, same as the old McCarthyism. "We must protect the freedoms of Americans by violating those freedoms."

Bush and Homeland Security

51% of the American people seem to have felt that George W. Bush would do a better job keeping them safe than John Kerry. Despite the Bush regime ignoring Richard Clarke's and the Clinton administration's warnings before 9/11 of the threat from al-Qaeda. Despite Bush getting a Presidential Daily Bulletin before 9/11 titled, "Bin Laden determined to strike in US." Despite Ashcroft telling his subordinates at the Justice Department, prior to 9/11, that he "didn't want to hear about terrorism anymore."

Despite the Bush regime's failure to aggressively pursue Bin Laden in Tora Bora. Despite the Bush regime's opposition to the creation of a Department of Homeland Security (you see, Bush voted against it before he voted for it). Despite the Bush regime invading Iraq and turning it into a breeding ground for terrorists.

Well, the American people got what they voted for. In order to cover the $17.3 million that Washington, DC will have to spend on the inaguration -- up from an apparently thrifty $8 million in 2000 -- the Bush regime has refused to give the city funds to pay for the inaguration: "Federal officials have told the District that it should cover the expenses by using some of the $240 million in federal homeland security grants it has received in the past three years -- money awarded to the city because it is among the places at highest risk of a terrorist attack."

DC had "earmarked federal homeland security funds for such priorities as increasing hospital capacity, equipping firefighters with protective gear and building transit system command centers." But I guess the inaguration is more important than any of those things. Which is strange, because before the election, Bush and Cheney were out there telling us that a terrorist attack was coming any day, maybe even election day, and that if Kerry won he would divert funds and resources from Homeland Security, making America less safe.

But I guess you don't need the terrorism boogeyman anymore once you've won.

Oh, and at a time when the Bush regime is trying to destroy Social Security and has failed to purchase the armor and equipment needed by the troops in Iraq, the total cost of the inaguration to the Federal government is going to be around $100 million. By way of comparison, Rumsfeld is talking about cutting procurement of F-22 Raptors for the Air Force, which are the fighter plane that will carry American air dominance out into the middle of this century, replacing the thirty-year-old planes we're using now. Well, if the government wasn't spending $100 million dollars on the inaguration, we could buy two F-22s right there!

The problem is that Bush has a different definition of the word "Security" than everyone else, you see. Homeland "Security" actually means "securing massive, no-bid contracts for Halliburton." And Social "Security" means "making stockbrokers and companies rich while squandering benefits for retirees."

Well, America, I hope you're proud of yourselves.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Tae Kwon Do

I have sometimes wondered why Tae Kwon Do has such a bad reputation with many who practice other martial arts. I was poking around some websites and fora recently, and I learned that the Tae Kwon Do these martial artists are criticizing, which is the Tae Kwon Do being taught in many dojangs around the US, is not the Tae Kwon Do I learned.

I began studying TKD around 1982, long before it became, or even was under consideration to become, an Olympic sport. My instructor, Master Kim, did not teach us the "sport" TKD that seems to dominate American TKD today. We learned the original, traditional TKD.*

For instance, we learned roundhouse kicks that come across horizontally, at a 90 degree angle, not the 45 degree angle upward kicks being taught now. We were taught high kicks, but we were not taught that high kicks were the main part of our arsenal. Master Kim taught us that being flexible, strong, and skilled enough to perform those kicks would make us better fighters even if we never actually used one of those high kicks in actual self-defense (the whole matter of whether high kicks can be effective in street fights -- which I know for a fact they can -- I will leave for some other time). He taught us speed and power. He taught us the vulnerable points of the human body and how to target them with fast, powerful kicks to disable our opponents.

Apparently unlike most TKD schools today, Master Kim taught us locks, holds, and grapples. We spent a great deal of time doing step sparring, which are various self-defense techniques against things like kicks and punches all the way up to knives and guns. He taught us pressure points and showed us how to immobilize our opponents with them. We often did drills for learning how to defend ourselves in various scenarios, such as drills for fighting multiple opponents.

According to my reading, Tang Soo Do and Tae Kwon Do are very close to the same martial art, but with a more realistic, self-defense orientation in TSD as opposed to TKD, with more focus on proper technique and forms. But, as it turns out, a series of forms Master Kim taught us called Pyong An are actually the more traditional forms used by Tang Soo Do. We learned those in addition to the TKD Palgwe forms and also another set of forms that seems to have originated with Shotokan karate. I have learned that practically no students in any other TKD school (none that I have met, spoken to, or seen on the internet) learned both Pyong An and Palgwe, let alone the other set that seems to be unique to Master Kim's school.

Also, it appears that some of the elders of TKD have tried to eliminate any non-Korean influence from the art. As such, according to my reading, TSD has a much better variety of techniques than TKD. But Master Kim must not have been prejudiced against Japanese and Chinese influences, because we not only learned all the techniques commonly found in TSD, Master Kim taught any technique he knew about and thought useful. We also learned a lot of Hapkido, which Master Kim was also a Master of.

We learned proper blocks, punches, knife-hand techniques, and evasions. Apparently, today, the lack of punching in "sport" TKD, where it is difficult to score points with a punch, has led to both a lack of training with the hands and also to bad habits amongst "sport" TKD practitioners like not bothering to keep one's hands in guard position during a match. That never happened when I was training with Master Kim.

Also, it seems that in many TKD schools these days, the students rarely see the Master, being taught by other high-level students. When I trained, I trained directly with Master Kim, at the time an 8th-degree (now 9th-degree) black belt and (at the time) tied for the highest ranked TKD practitioner in the US. He knew my name, he developed a training program for me, and he personally corrected my form and technique class after class.

Master Kim wasn't perfect, by any means. He pioneered some of the things plaguing TKD today, such as creating a lot of belt ranks in order to make more money with more promotion tests, being overly concerned with money in general, and not concentrating on punches enough in class (we were proficient with punching, but not as proficient as we should have been -- though, fortunately, a friend of mine from class and I spent a lot of time working on punches ourselves and so became the best punchers in the class).

So, in the end, I believe that the TKD that is so often criticized in martial arts circles is not the TKD I learned. Though TKD may be taught more often as a sport than a martial art now, I was not taught TKD as sport. I was taught TKD as martial art and as means of self-defense. I have read a lot Bruce Lee's writings on Jeet Kune Do and have found that Master Kim taught us all the techniques therein. The only difference is that Jeet Kune Do uses those techniques in different ways, with different strategies. All I had to do to was to internalize the new ideas of Jeet Kune Do in order to benefit from Lee's work. I didn't have to learn a single new move.

* While Tae Kwon Do as its own martial art dates only from the 1940s, it is based on Korean, Chinese, and Japanese martial arts each with long histories.

Monday, January 10, 2005

The Salvador Option

Oh... my.... fucking.... god...

Check this out.

They're calling it "The Salvador Option": Setting up death squads to kill "Sunni insurgents and their sympathizers, even across the border into Syria?" Oh, yeah, that's going to go great! No danger in that.

Christ. You think the Sunnis hate us now? Just wait until Kurdish and Shiite death squads start paying the Sunnis back for years of oppression. There's a word for that: genocide. The word that the Clinton administration wouldn't use during Rwanda, the word the Bush regime is afraid to use to describe Darfour, and the word the Bush regime will deny soon in Iraq.

And they'll be tasked to take out not only insurgents but also "sympathizers." As history shows, in situations like these, the definition of "sympathizer" pretty quickly becomes "anyone the death squads don't like." Massacres of whole families and villages. Extortion of protection money. Guilt by association. Shooting first and never asking questions. After all, you can't really prove someone was a sympathizer, and after the person is dead, who is going to dispute it? When Americans come upon row after row of dead Sunnis, and the death squads say, "They were all sympathizers," what are we doing to do? After all, we're the ones who gave them a license to murder.

For every Sunni murdered by these death squads five terrorists who hate America will be created.

And allowing these death squads, along with Special Forces teams, to operate over the border into Syria? Well, I'm sure that will go over just great. It's not as if the Bush regime is actually trying to instigate a conflict with Syria, is it? 'Cause it sure looks like the regime is doing its best.

You know, I like Israel and support its right to exist, but I criticized them when they renewed their poorly-titled "Track-and-Kill" policy. There's just no way that is going to go over well with Palestinians or the Muslim world. I mean, it's called the "Track-and-Kill" policy, for the love of!

And now Rumsfeld is thinking about creating death squads and the regime is even calling it "The Salvador Option." As if things went well with the death squads in El Salvador. As if Iran-Contra wasn't the result of El Salvador. As if murders weren't committed on a vast scale in El Salvador.

Hell, why not call it the "SS Sonderkommando Option?" Or the "Solution to the Sunni Question?" Hey, while you're at it, why don't we call the whole operation "The Resettlement of the Sunnis?" Yeah. Or just be blunt and call it the "Mass Murder Option."

I really, really hope they don't actually implement "The Salvador Option." Because it not only would be a disaster for the US, but it would be so amazingly wrong and immoral that I might just lose the last bit of pride I have in America or being an American. I don't think any of my remaining shreds of faith in the US would survive.

Eminent Domain

Check out this article on eminent domain. I don't have any further commentary. I just hate eminent domain.

Caught in the Middle

This funny-because-it's-true article over at Something Awful is pretty much dead on. The part that really struck me was:

Extremists (an increasingly meaningless term) within Christianity and Islam
are waging a war against one another. Caught in the middle are those who don't
believe in either's line of rhetoric and mysticism, like atheists and agnostics...

That's it! I have been saying this in various ways for some time now, but never in such simple form. That is exactly what is happening, and we're all being dragged down into it.

This is why I have come to believe that religion is inherently dangerous. When people think they have the The Truth and that everyone else is Wrong, everyone ends up suffering sooner or later.

Doesn't the Bible Say Something About Bearing False Witness?

The evangelical and fundamentalist American Christian movement seems willing to do anything to support its theocratic ambitions, including breaking their God's own commandments with false accusations against the ACLU.

If you have to make up accusations against your enemies, there is something wrong with your position. And the way these people act certainly reflects poorly on their God. You aren't going to convince me of your God's righteousness by lying and acting in ways your own holy book calls sinful.

The "Republic" For Which It Stands

As noted by Media Matters here, neither the media nor the populace seem to care about the massive voting irregularities in Ohio this past November, nor in the fact that the electoral votes of a state were challenged by Congress for the first time in over one hundred years.

I don't know who really won the election. And that's the problem. The voting irregularities and the tricks, lies, and intimidation used by the right to rig the election make it impossible for me not to at least think it is possible that those things determined the victor.

I am no longer sure that I really do live in a republic in even the broadest possible sense. Many contend that this nation has been an oligarchy for some time now, but I'm not even sure it's a secret any more.

"Gift to the World"

Catholic League president William Donohue is at it again:

The fact of the matter is that what -- we can't figure out exactly, as
mortal human beings, what is exactly at work. Job certainly didn`t understand it
in the New Testament [sic]. Talk about Murphy's Law. Everything that could have gone wrong for that guy went wrong.

But what did it do to his faith? He kept his faith in God.

Okay, once and for all. The message of the Book of Job is basically: Even though God may hurt you, kill your loved ones, and give you diseases despite your faith, it's really out of love and you shouldn't blame God or lose faith. Let's put that message in human terms and see how it stands up to moral scrutiny: Your boyfriend/husband may hurt you, kill your children, and give you sexually-transmitted diseases because he's unfaithful despite your faith, it's out of love and you shouldn't blame him or stop being faithful.

The whole point of Job is to absolve God from responsibility for the abuse He heaps upon the children he supposedly "loves" and to tell them that they should worship and adore Him for abusing them thus.

Job is taught to "take it and shut up, bitch," and he does. Even if I believed that the God of Job existed, I would not worship Him, for it would be just as immoral and unethical to worship an abusive god as it is to make apologies for an abusive husband.

But we do know one thing: that Catholicism in particular is a theology of

Well, sign me up! Jeesh. Why would I want to worship a God preoccupied with creating suffering?

There is no greater suffering than what Christ did. He died on the cross,
but that's a source of optimism. That`s a source of redemption.

I find the assertion that there is "no greater suffering than what Christ did" offensive. For one thing, Jesus is God and suffered only by His own choice. And don't give me the "He had to die for our sins" bullshit, because God doesn't have to do anything He doesn't want to. If he didn't want to die on the Cross he could have decided to make humans without sin, or not to penalize humans for the acts of Adam and Eve, or to absolve humans from sin in some other way. Jesus' crucifixion was, itself, nothing more than a passion play, the operative word being 'play,' because it was nothing more than a big show for the audience.

Secondly, even if we look at what happened to Jesus, scourging, beating, and crucifixion, many have suffered equally, and further, many have suffered worse. Mothers who lost their children when the tsunami swept the children from their arms suffered much more. There are mothers in southeast Asia right now who would beg to be scourged and crucified if it would bring their children back.

And what kind of torturous logic does it take to get to the idea that your abusive, genocidal (think Amalekites), immoral, unethical, violent God's crucifixion is a source of optimism?!? If your God tells you that His crucifixion is a good thing and a source of optimism, what would be a bad thing and a source of pessimism?

In one strange sense, then, what's happening to these poor Asian people is
their gift to the world. It makes us think about our mortality and about
salvation and about redemption. That's what we should be thinking about.

If Donohue really believes that his God would murder 175,000 Asians in order to teach fat, rich, self-righteous assholes like him a lesson, then Donohue believes in an immoral, mass-murdering God who deserves no adulation or worship, but deserves to spend everlasting eternity in the very Hell Donohue would send homosexuals to. And Donohue is guilty of desecrating the memories and graves of those people by implying that their lives were worth less than his and could rightly be taken from them in order to teach him a lesson.


If the Bush regime believes its policies really are good for the country, why did it feel it had to bribe pundits to support its initiatives? Shouldn't the regime be able to at least convince conservative pundits of the value of its policies on the merits? I mean, how little faith do you have in your own policies when you feel you must pay pundits on your political side to support your proposals?

The Dangers of Ignorance

In his ascendence to President, Bush ushered in a new era of fashionable ignorance. Educated, intelligent people became "elites," and the so-called "reality-based community" is now seen as worse at analyzing and making policy than the "faith-based community" who make decisions with their "gut" and wallow in their lack of qualifications or knowledge.

The perils in setting the course of the most powerful nation on Earth in willful ignorance are manifest.

The recent tsunami gives us an excellent example of the dangers of ignorance. You see, as noted on NPR the other day, when the water on the coasts of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, the Maldives, etc., suddenly retreated far beyond normal even for low tide, many inhabitants and tourists ran down onto the beach in amazement. Locals in many places began gathering up the fish lying around, left behind by the water's sudden retreat.

At the same time, wild animals were fleeing the coastal areas in droves. Why? They knew something the people didn't.

Had the inhabitants known that a sudden, large-scale retreat of the ocean from the coast is a sign of an incoming tsunami, many of them would have lived. Very few wild animals were caught in the tsunami because, through instinct or whatnot, they knew. And, through whatever wisdom passed down from generation to generation, native hunter-gatherer tribes on many of the small islands in the Indian Ocean survived, to the great surprise of the authorities.

What most disturbed me about this story was that I know the signs of a tsunami, from my time living in Alaska where tsunamis are a big worry, but that the people living on the coasts of these tsunami-vulnerable countries didn't. I couldn't help thinking that I could have saved some of those people had I been there...

But here we see where ignorance leads. Ignorance leads us down onto the beach, our eyes dazzled by the odd sight of the retreated ocean and multitudes of fish for easy taking. Knowledge, on the other hand, tells us to run from the beach as fast as we can before the tsunami arrives.

The Bush regime, in its decision to invade Iraq, was the people running down onto the beach. They saw an easy target, a bad guy who they could topple, control of vast reserves of oil, and revenge for Saddam's attempted assassination of the Bush the elder. Critics of the march to war were the people running inland. They warned of insurgency, protracted nation-building, and creating a breeding ground for terrorists.

Someone needs to take Bush and the rest of his regime to a local elementary school and reacquaint them with what every fifth-grader knows: Knowledge is power.

Because the unspoken corollary is: Power without knowledge leads to folly.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Talk About Getting the Upper Hand...

I heard on NPR the other day that an Australian woman caught in the tsunami was faced with a sort of Sophie's choice as she was caught in the swirling water. She wasn't able to hold on to both her children, a 2-year-old girl and a 5-year-old boy, so she had to choose who to hold onto and who to let go of. She let go of the boy.

But guess what? The boy survived anyway.

That kid now has something to lord over his mother forever.

"Clean your room."
"I would, but I was just thinking about how you let me go to die..."

"You can't have a toy."
"Okay. I was just hoping it would help fill the hole in my heart from knowing you let me go to die..."

"Eat your vegetables."
"Well, I'd rather just have some dessert, but I guess you know best, like when you let me go to die..."

"Take out the garbage."
"Okay. It just makes me sad to throw stuff away, like you threw me away to die..."

Man. If that kid has half a brain, he is going to be the most spoiled kid ever. He can win every argument with his mother for the rest of his life by bringing up how she left him to die. She will never be able to live that down.

That kid is set!

Kill Them All; God Will Know His Own

Religious leaders around the world have been trying to make sense of the recent tsunami in light of a theistic worldview. Some have chosen to believe that the tsunami was God's judgment or wrath upon sinful Muslims.

On the radio this morning, a Christian said, "There were no innocent people killed in the tsunami." In other words, since God would never kill the innocent, and the tsunami is God's wrath and judgment upon sinners, by definition there could be no innocent victims. Every victim is, ex post facto, deserving of the fate of perishing in a wall of water.

It turns my stomach that, to add to the grief and death being experienced as a result of the tsunami, that people here in America have the audacity to sit back in their wealth and proclaim the thousands of people who lost their lives as evil sinners who deserved to die.

And, as so many Americans are buying into this "clash of cultures" bullshit, they still fail to realize that the forces driving us into greater conflict with the Muslim world act and think just like the Muslims do!

The same logic above is how the 9/11 hijackers justified all the deaths they caused: Since God would never kill the innocent, and God has told us to do this as his wrath and judgment upon sinners, by definition there can be no innocent victims.

What atrocities couldn't you justify with this kind of thinking?

Gonzales: Torturer-in-Chief

Slate has a good article on Alberto Gonzales' refusal to clearly answer questions on the legality of torture during his Senate confirmation hearing for the post of Attorney General.

Do you think Gonzales doesn't understand that there is a difference between the President not enforcing a law he deems unconstitutional and authorizing government agents to break the law? If the executive branch really has the power to immunize its agents against laws passed by Congress at the discretion of the President, then, essentially, the separation of powers ceases to exist, since the President can simply ignore any laws limiting the power of the executive branch.

And more scary is Gonzales' refusal to discuss the legality of torture on the grounds, basically, that "we aren't going to do it, so it doesn't matter." So, according to a guy who wants to be the chief law enforcement officer in the US, we should get rid of all these pesky laws and go back to the honor system? Why do we need a law against murder? Just get everyone to agree they won't murder anyone, and you're done.

Oh, but people will still commit murder, won't they? And we're expected to believe that a regime which has already allowed people to be tortured under its auspices and who wants a guy who wrote the legal opinion that torture is okay to be Attorney General won't do it again? Come on.

Senator Feingold asked Gonzales, "So the president's above the law?"

El Presidente Bush believes the answer to this question is, "yes." And Bush doesn't value dissent. He found this guy, Gonzales, who wrote memos on this subject, and his answer then was, "Yes," and his answer yesterday was no different.

I love the morality at play here. Getting a blow job in the Oval Office is grounds for impeachment. Torturing prisoners in violation of US law, international law, and the Geneva Conventions? Well, that's God's work!

The Difference Between Me and the Christian Right

So, here in Massachusetts, a guy has put up a three-story white cross in his yard. He shines a spotlight on it at night so it glows like the sun. There's also a mural, shrines, and other stuff. The man says the Virgin Mary told him to do it. His neighbors complained to the town and the town ordered him to take it down, citing lack of permits. He went to court and the ruling came down yesterday.

When I saw the story on the news, before even knowing what the ruling was, I thought, "They can't make him take it down. His display is protected by the First Amendment."*

And, lo and behold, the judge agreed. The guy doesn't have to take it down.

Of course, those on the Christian right would have agreed with me. But they would have come to the same conclusion by a very different method.

You see, for me, the method for determining whether a religious display should be taken down or not is: Does the display violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment? If so, the display must be taken down. If not, the display must be allowed to remain as free exercise of religion.

But the Christian right uses this logic: Does it promote Christianity? If so, it must be allowed to remain.

So, I ask you, gentle readers, who is more concerned with freedom of religion? The person who believes in the free expression and display of religion by the people with religious neutrality by the government to protect religion from government oppression, or the person who believes that his or her religion should be promoted by the government to the exclusion of other religions?

Think of this the next time a far-right Christian claims to be acting in the interest of "religious freedom." Just like "judicial activism" really means "judges making rulings I don't like," to far-right Christians "religious freedom" really means "government promotion and support of my religion."

*Yeah, it would really suck to live next to that guy. But the First Amendment guarantees free exercise of religion, which can't exist if the government, no matter how well-intentioned, gets to decide what is and is not an appropriate religious display.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Did You Know?

According to this NY Times article, in order to come up with the scary $10 trillion Social Security deficit number, the Social Security trustees, who usually project out to 75 years, projected out to infinity.

The truth is that Social Security is in the black until either 2052 or 2042, and in 75 years will only have a $2-3 trillion deficit if nothing changes. So, we're talking about a program that is going to be solvent for a length of time that is as long as it has even existed until now, but Bush thinks it is in a "crisis."

So, let's see. Osama Bin Laden is still on the loose. Al-Qaeda is bigger and stronger than ever. The war in Iraq is turning into a never-ending nation-building exercise with American marines and soldiers paying the price with their lives daily. And the fact that Social Security is only solvent for the next fifty years is the crisis?

I don't think it's too far fetched to say that it looks like Bush wants to change the conversation?

There is absolutely, positively no doubt in my mind that this is a give away to Bush's business cronies on Wall Street who will be the main beneficiaries of privatization. History and economics show us that there is virtually no way that privatization will be better for the American people as a whole. The average American is going to lose out big time in order to line the pockets of Wall Street brokers. It's clear.

But I guess Bush missed the part in the Bible where Jesus talked about a rich man, a camel, and the eye of a needle...

Mixed Feelings

Okay, so I have to admit I have mixed feelings about the Republican repeal of the DeLay Rule. I think it was the right thing to do, considering that Republicans ran on a platform of "morality" and "values."

But I also get the impression that it was the threat of the Democrats forcing a vote on the issue on the House floor that really made the Republicans decide not to embrace wholesale hypocrisy. That is to say, it was only the threat of their deeds being aired in front of the public on the floor of the House did the Republicans change course.

Ultimately, by repealing the DeLay Rule, the Republicans did the right thing. But I still don't feel good about them. It seems pretty sleazy what they tried to do. Is it more important that they came to their senses and changed course than that they tried to essentially destroy any ethical standards in the House?

I don't know. I don't feel vindicated here.

Creationism/Intelligent Design and Holocaust Denial

Apparently, there is a controversy brewing over recent comparisons of creationists/Intelligent Design proponents and Holocaust deniers. This article is a complaint over this issue, which is critiqued over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

At Dispatches, Ed Brayton notes that proponents of creationism and Intelligent Design have long been comparing so-called "evolutionists" to Nazis, and thus those proponents have little right to complain about being compared to Holocaust deniers. But that's not the point I would like to make. The reason proponents of creationism and Intelligent Design get compared to Holocaust deniers is that they use the same reasoning errors, logical fallacies, and word games to falsely get people to believe them.

For instance, one of the similarities between history and science is that both depend not on one fact or one piece of evidence from which to draw conclusions. They both depend on a whole array of evidence all pointing in the same direction. As such, in order to disprove or falsify a historical or scientific theory, one must demonstrate that the bulk of the available evidence points toward a different conclusion than the current theory.

But creationists and Intelligent Design proponents don't do that. What they do is to try to take one or two pieces of evidence and raise doubt about them, and then act as if this makes the whole edifice of evolution crumble. Holocaust deniers use the exact same tactic. In this way, both groups ignore the vast bulk of the evidence in order to draw the conclusion that they want.

It's kind of like if your house burns down. The guy next door has been threatening to burn your house down for months. There are tracks leading from his house to yours and there's the smell of fuel along that route. When you confront your neighbor, he smells like gas and he has cinders in his hair. The neighbor says, "Oh yeah? What kind of fuel did I use?" Because you don't know, he claims that you can't possibly know he did it, despite all the rest of the evidence. That's what these guys try to pull. It doesn't matter if you know what kind of fuel he used or not! That doesn't in any way affect or change all the other evidence.

Similarly, both groups make challenges asking for someone to present "one piece of proof" that, by itself, will totally prove evolution or the Holocaust, such as a so-called "transitional" fossil for evolution or a letter from Hitler ordering the Holocaust. (We have many transitional fossils but, for creationists, a "transitional" fossil is one that is exactly have one species and half the other, which scientists never actually expect to find). They do so because they know that no single piece of evidence could ever prove something that happened over five years or millions of years, over large geographical areas. That's why science and history are both based on getting as much evidence as possible and seeing what the predominance of the accumulated evidence indicates.

The lack of a letter from Hitler ordering the Holocaust or of what creationists call a "transitional" fossil is sort of like not having a videotape of your neighbor burning your house down. Obviously, a videotape would be one piece of evidence that would make a pretty persuasive argument. But the lack of such a piece of evidence does not render all the rest of the accumulated evidence moot. In neither science nor history is there usually such a magical piece of evidence where the bad guy admits his crimes or where nature shows us exactly what happened in the past. That doesn't mean we can never know anything about history or natural science, though.

Those are only two examples of the methods that both creationists/Intelligent Design proponents and also Holocaust deniers use. My advice to creationists and Intelligent Design proponents who don't like being compared to Holocaust deniers is this: Stop using the exact same flawed reasoning and tactics and you won't! But, as long as you adopt the very same reasoning and tactics used by the Holocaust deniers, it is you, not those making the comparison, who are making the comparison apt.

Monday, January 03, 2005

The Difference Between Knowing and Explaining

What drives me nuts about creationists and supporters of Intelligent Design is that they constantly ignore the fact that there is a difference between knowing something happened and explaining how it happened.

We know that evolution happened. The evidence is clear. We just don't know precisely how. But creationists and supporters of Intelligent Design attack our knowledge of how evolution happened as if it somehow proves evolution didn't happen.

An example. You're an arson investigator. You get called to a house that burned down. While you're picking over the ashes trying to determine a cause, a creationist comes up and says to you, "What happened?"

You reply, "A fire. The house burned down."

The creationist says, "How did that happen?"

With a shrug, you reply, "I'm not sure yet. I have some theories."

The creationist says, "So, you make this preposterous claim that the house burned down when you don't even know how it happened? Why don't you just admit that God did it?"

You say, "Because there's tons of evidence here that there was a fire."

The creationist says, "Did you see it happen?"

You: "No."

Creationist: "See? Isn't it obvious that a house can't just 'become' a pile of cinders all by itself? It must have been God."

You: "Sigh."

That's how ridiculous this argument is. You don't have to know how the fire started to know that there was a fire. While we can't fully explain all the mechanisms of evolution yet, a mountain of evidence indicates it did happen.

Determinism and the Blind Watchmaker

A discussion from New Year's about the conflict between an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, immanent God and free will made me think about the blind watchmaker argument. During this discussion, an objection was raised to my argument about the impossibility of free will in a universe with such a God, being that my argument requires a deterministic universe and that God could simply be the blind watchmaker, setting things up without knowing and/or controlling how things will transpire. Without a deterministic universe, the objector claimed, then my argument was nothing more than the classic "God knows the future so it is already written" argument.

I disagree.

God cannot be the blind watchmaker. He cannot create something that runs on its own and that he can step back from and observe.

There is nowhere for him to step back to. God is all and all is God. God is immanent and nothing exists or happens without His will. The universe is part of God and inseparable from God.

A human watchmaker can make a watch and step back because the watch is separate from him, because the universe is separate from him, and because there are independent physical laws that govern the operation of the watch. None of these things is true with God. There is nothing apart from God. God is immanent and it is only by his will that universe exists at all. There is no will apart from God's. The universe does not, cannot exist on its own and run by its own laws, for God is infused in every atom, every quark, and every electron of the universe, and He must will all these things to continue to exist and act as we expect them to act from one moment to another. No electron changes energy states, no neutron is expelled from a nucleus, no photon is emitted when atoms fuse, except by God's will. He decides that all those things will happen.

As such, when the universe moves from one state to another, it does so by God's will. Because He can't just allow the universe to change from one state to another -- that would mean the universe is not contingent upon God but can somehow run without Him -- but rather, God must choose to make the universe change states in accord with the laws he has chosen for the universe, or not, but it does not run on its own. There is no matrix, no medium, no place for the universe to exist and run on its own apart from God.

Therefore, even if God chose to make a universe that was non-deterministic to its inhabitants, He could not make a universe that was non-deterministic to Himself, because He is the one who moves all the pieces on the board. He can make a universe where current conditions to do not determine future conditions, but God cannot make a universe where He does not determine future conditions. When the universe passes from state 1 to state 2, God does it. Whether He decides to base state 2 off the conditions at state 1 or not, He decides what state 2 will be.

God cannot be passive. He cannot allow things to happen or to run on their own. He is the source of all things, including change, and nothing can happen that He not only wills, but that He makes happen.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

A Few Words on Midichlorians

Okay, enough of shallow topics like politics and religion. Back to what's really important: Star Wars.

The whole midichlorians thing never really bothered me much. To me, the difference between "the Force is with you" and "you have a high concentration of midichlorians" is six of one, half dozen of the other. It's just another way of saying the Force is strong with some people.

But, a lot of people felt the midichlorians took away some of the mystery of the Force. I can understand that. But, I wonder, is that feeling tied to the idea that the midichlorians create the Force, that Force is the midichlorians?

Because that's not necessarily how it is. Qui-Gon says, "the midichlorians tell us the will of the Force," indicating that they are not one in the same.

What I am proposing is that the Force is still just as Yoda describes: an omnipresent energy field created by all life, not by the midichlorians. But suppose that the midichlorians do not create the Force, but rather that the Force creates the midichlorians. Suppose that the midichlorians are simply the means by which the Force is able to interface with living beings. The midichlorians are just a means of channeling the omnipresent Force.

Thus, when the Force decides someone will be "strong with the Force," the Force creates midichlorians in order that the Force can communicate its will to that person, and also so that that person can access the power of the Force to accomplish the Force's will.

In this model, all life still creates the Force simply by being alive. Whether a being has midichlorians or not, that being generates the Force and is surrounded and suffused by the Force. But he or she still lacks a means to access the Force. Kind of like being stuck in a raft on the ocean and dying of thirst: though water is all around you, you don't have the capability to remove the salt and turn it into a form you can use.

Using some of the life force generated by living beings, the Force is able to generate life itself: the midichlorians. Because, of course, since the Force is life force, it could only be accessed through something that is alive. And, since turning life force back into living matter uses up a lot of the Force's power, the Force has to pick and choose who will get the midichlorians.

As such, the only function of the midichlorians is to provide the Force access to living beings and provide living beings access to the Force. That is why everyone who is strong with the Force both can use the Force (he or she can access the Force's power) but also is saddled with the burden of hearing the will of the Force (getting visions, Obi-Wan feeling Alderaan's destruction, etc.) The Force gives certain people the ability to use its power but in exchange expects its will to be heard.

I don't know if that would make it any better for the people who don't like the midichlorians. I think it restores some of the mystery if the Force, for no apparent reason, creates symbiotes within the cells of some people and not others. Because the Force is once again the actor and has its own will, rather than just being a side effect of some microscopic organisms.

Also, I think this would solve the "can you clone a Jedi and get more Jedi" or "can you clone the midichlorians and inject them into someone's blood and get Force powers?" questions: No, you can't. The Force creates the midichlorians, so they don't reproduce naturally, and thus aren't replicable. At least not replicable in a way that they still work: the Force could just not allow access through midichlorians created artificially.

And, this theory fits well with the virgin birth idea from EPISODE I, since it presupposes that the Force can create life, if it so wills. So, when Qui-Gon says "it is possible he [Anakin] was conceived by the midichlorians," I think perhaps we could take this as a technical description, sort of like saying a sperm conceived a child. In this case, it doesn't mean that the midichlorians (the sperm) chose to conceive the child. The father (the Force) did that and the sperm (midichlorians) were simply the means.