31 December 2007

A World without Nuclear Weapons

In "The Old and New Shapes of Nuclear Danger," Jonathan Schell decries the failure of Reagan and Gorbachev to abolish nuclear weapons at their Reykjavik summit. He reasons that if the US and Russia abolished their nuclear arsenals, then China and the rest of the "nuclear club," would follow suit. We could have had, and can still have a world without nuclear weapons. Indeed, we must, before some terrorist group buys or steals nuclear arms or materials from some nation that has them.

But this thesis ignores the brutal calculus that in a world without nuclear weapons, the value of having just a few becomes effectively infinite. If nobody has a sizeable nuclear arsenal, then nearly everyone will cheat, because you can hide just a few. (Remember that North Korea is hiding its arsenal, and that Saddam Hussein hid his entire nuclear weapons infrastructure prior to Gulf War I.) And those few nukes can make a tremendous difference in the overall balance of power between you and your neighbors.

That is to say, the exact opposite of Schell's thesis is true. The large arsenals of the US and Russia reduce the incentives of proliferators to proliferate, because no country can hope to build an arsenal to rival them without being discovered in time for the superpowers and allies to take actions that become increasingly intolerable. Moreover, the "nuclear umbrellas" of these arsenals make it unnecessary for strategically challenged countries, such as Japan, to "go nuclear."

Thus the asymmetry between the nuclear superpowers and the rest of the world has resulted in nuclear weapons being less widespread, which means that there are fewer places for terrorists to get nuclear weapons. But there is also an asymmetry between the arsenals of the US and the former USSR. Had the USSR been unopposed, it would have exported its peculiar brand of totalitarianism to the entire world. The US, on the other hand, has been using the leverage of its arsenal to hold back this and similar threats, until they subside.

For the present, nuclear abolition is a childish dream that, if implemented, would quickly lead to regional nuclear nightmares. Because nuclear weapons do not cause war. Nuclear weapons were (and in some places, are) developed in response to war. If you want to eliminate nuclear weapons, you must first make peace.

And there is peace, in some places. For example, if the President of the United States were to say, "Hey, let's attack Canada," impeachment would be immediate. That this did not happen with regard to Iraq says that the relationship between Iraq and the US had not been peaceful.

So peace exists in some places, or rather in some relationships. It takes a long time, and a lot of hard work to make peace. Because nuclear abolition is so much easier, many intellectuals uncritically assume that nuclear abolition is peacemaking. It never occurs to them that the course they advocate would set the world up for wider war.

Making peace will lead to the abolition of nuclear weapons, not the other way round. Let us work harder to bless each other with peace in the new year.

25 December 2007

Merry Christmas

December 25 was once celebrated under the Roman Emperor Aurelian as Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, the Birthday of the Invincible Sun. Christians, calculating forward 9 months from March 25 (The Feast of the Annunciation) figured that December 25 was the likely birthday for Jesus, and appreciated the opportunity to sneak in a Christian holiday under cover of a pagan one. Because at the time, Christianity was forbidden under Roman rule. It is an irony of history that the the remnant of the culture that once forbade the practice of Christianity, that once executed Christ himself, now lives only in the Church Latin of Catholic worship.

Indeed, the little child born in a barn has overcome so much. Fear not the present danger.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

23 December 2007

New Look

I have published the new design of the Virtual Church of the Blind Chihuahua. At some point, I hope to update this blog template to match. But for now, the holidays are upon us, and it's time to get together with friends and have a life.

Merry Christmas, hope you had a blessed Hajj and Eid, a good Hanukkah, and may you have a great Boxing Day, Kwanzaa and a Happy New Year!

At least, that's what I take "Happy Holidays" to mean.

06 November 2007

A Statement on Clergy Abuse

Once is one time too many.

When James B. Nelson wrote Embodiment: An Approach to Sexuality and Christian Theology, he did not imagine the current crisis regarding sexual and emotional abuse of parishoners (expecially children and teens) by ordained clergy and other representatives of the Church. Such abuse betrays a person's basic trust — in God, in the Clergy and the Church, in the world, in humanity, and even in the person's own self. This basic trust is essential for the development both of Love and of Faith.

Thus, the abuser destroys what he or she is specifically called to build — a person's relationship with God. And the abuser selects his or her targets for virtues that can be exploited into vulnerabilities.

Consider the case of a young person who can be trusted to sacrifice his or her own well-being rather than harm another. That's the kind of virtue you'd look for in a firefighter, a doctor, or a priest. But it is also the kind of virtue that an abuser exploits in order to keep from being caught. Trustworthy people are so because they value trust so highly — hence it hurts them all the more when they are betrayed. And our society colludes by creating a culture of subversion in which the breaking of a vow or a promise seems to have no consequences, as long as the one doing it espouses the proper ideology.

A Bankruptcy of Bishops

by Vinnie Nauheimer
clergy abuse survivor
Once again with a great deal of aplomb,
One more bishop drops the bankruptcy bomb.
The way they're tearing survivors apart,
Devoid of humanity, they have no heart

Bishops like them, with hearts so callous,
Shouldn't be allowed to touch a chalice.
They know nothing of the miracle of the manger,
Rather they fit the bill of a moneychanger.

Bishops call for a separate church and state!
But when it's convenient, how quickly they mate!
Lewd and shrewd, they throw out the bait.
A legal maneuver to make victims wait.

Not having anything to do with Christ.
Plain and simple, it's a financial heist,
Getting the laity to wring their hands,
And curse survivors for legitimate demands.

At the last judgment they will stand
Thinking themselves all that is grand.
Helping themselves to the milk and honey;
So proud they saved God all that money.

Are Catholic bishops setting an example?
Upon how many people did they trample?
When Jesus opens their cold hearts
In all that is evil, they'll see their parts.

The Horror of Me

contributed by Art Cavazos
survivor of clergy abuse

My head is filled with salted slugs,
silent little screams in their writhing and drowning.
The ooze of their suffering drains through my nose,
tears of pus burst forth the mourning.

My soul is a ripened mass grave,
whispering its secrets through my pores.
Flatulent and busting in decomposition,
a malignant symphony of sounds and odors.

I vomit a worm and it licks my face,
with lust and pustulated tongue.
I curse in the language of the dead,
it spits its venom of acidic dung.

My intestines are loaded with secrets of maggots,
painful explosions from me in legion.
Discussing their plans as they move to the darkness,
I run on fresh stumps to escape the dungeon.

My heart pumps blood that is black with hate,
the collared one squeezes my scrotum.
So hard it gives way with a sickening pop,
blinding pain gives way to the schism.

My eyes have fallen out of their sockets,
lashes blink on nerves exposed.
Repulsive tether balls hang on my cheeks,
gelatinous orbs rest on stubble transposed.

Turned on my stomach by the faceless hood,
sharp nails dig in to my skin.
My spine is pulled out I'm a meat suitcase,
dragged in the dirt of my tortured kin.

I've been dipped in the wax until I harden,
others are with me and set ablaze.
We've been nailed to trees in Nero’s garden,
bubbling and screaming we do amaze.

The Roman Empire has not died,
they persecute the little Christians.
To wear the collar is to serve Caesar,
promise of harm to reveal their intentions.

Look at the man they have created,
they've poisoned the child supernaturally.
The soul is dead and they don't give a shit,
Mind and Soul are the horror, the horror of me.

01 November 2007

Paul W. Tibbets

Brigadier General Paul Tibbets, USAF (ret.), has died at the age of 92. He is best known for being the pilot of the airplane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945, killing 140,000 people.

It's the kind of thing one goes to Hell for.

But then, if he had refused to drop the bomb, and had somehow prevented the bomb from ever being dropped, many hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians would have died resisting the coming US invasion of Japan. Japanese cultural sites and treasures would have been destroyed all over the island nation. And of course, several hundred thousand American and allied troops would have died during the invasion as well.

In other words, stopping the bombing would also have been the kind of thing one goes to Hell for.

On the other hand, if General Tibbets (then a Colonel) had merely walked away from the mission, and let someone else take it, he would have been cravenly trying to save the purity of his own soul, while accomplishing nothing, and letting someone else face God's judgment.

That, too, is the kind of thing one goes to Hell for. At least according to Dante, who placed such selfish fools in its first circle.

Every one of Tibbets' choices with regard to the mission threw him on God's mercy. For him, God's Forgiveness was not an option, but an absolute necessity.

Perhaps you feel that your situation is different, that no choice you have ever made or will ever make will place you in a position of needing Forgiveness. That you will always have a choice between good and evil, and that you will always choose the good. May you be so lucky. May you be so blessed. You will be among the saints.

May God have mercy on you, Paul Tibbets. The same mercy I pray God shows to me when I am called to account for my life.

14 October 2007

What I Hate about Hilary

According to The American Psychoanalyst, the quarterly magazine of the American Psychoanalytic Society (v 41, p32, Fall 2007) Senators Ted Kennedy and Hilary Clinton tried to "ram through the Senate a health information technology (IT) bill that would have eliminated the individual's right to health information privacy and the psychotherapist-patient privelege recognized in Jaffe v. Redmond." They tried to get the bill approved by the Senate without a hearing, a debate, or opportunity for amendments, just before the August recess.

Let's assume that Ted and Hilary actually care about patient privacy and psychotherapist-patient (I prefer the word client) privelege, and that there were some honest mistakes in the bill they had their staffers write. What bothers me is that they tried to push this piece of health care reform through without a thorough process in Congress. This shows that they have disdain for the process of multi-sided debate and amendment. They think they are both better intentioned and better informed than anyone else about what's good for the rest of us. In fact, they seem to think that the rest of us are just plain wrong about what's good for us, and that, for our own sakes, we should just shut up and let them run things for us.

Now I have no doubt that Hilary is one smart cookie. But there are names for her implicit attitude when it comes to governance. I could call it neo-Platonism. Hilary and company are the philosopher-kings that should lead, and the rest of us should unquestioningly follow, because they are right, by golly! But Plato was explicitly anti-democratic, and became so after the citizens of Athens voted to condemn his mentor, Socrates. (Yes, I know, the Athenian democracy was not liberal democracy, with limited powers of government - rather the power of government was unlimited, and resulted in tyranny of the majority over the minority). That's the kindest thing I can say about this attitude.

A more unkind thing is to point out that Lenin had exactly this same attitude, and that it is codified in Marxist theory under the name of "false consciousness." Marxists believe that the masses can be duped into believing things to be in their best interest that actually harm them. Distrusting labor organizers, believing in God, things like that. Only the revolutionaries can break through this false consciousness and re-educate the masses to accept the cadres as their new masters.

OK, Hilary and Ted are no Marxists. But they have this in common with Marxists/Leninists: they are so sure they are right, and know so much better than everyone else (especially their benighted political opponents) that it is necessary to subvert the democratic process in order to get their way. They don't really want to be dictators, but they think and act in ways that are totalitarian.

And that's what I hate about Hilary. She wants her ideas to get put into action in their pristine state, unpolluted by the rest of us getting a chance to work on them. She means well, and she has learned in the school of hard knocks to respect the power of the rest of us, but she does not truly respect us, period. Her contempt for our political participation subverts the foundations of our liberal democratic society and its institutions of self-governance.

What will happen if Hilary becomes president? She and the Democrat-controlled Congress will railroad through a host of measures (all for our own good) that will erode some important foundations of our liberty, we will finally get scared by some of this and vote the Republicans back into control of Congress after 2 years of her administration. To paraphrase Yogi Beara, it will deja vu of the Newt Gingrich era all over again.

07 October 2007


I haven't posted for a while because I'm studying in the CSS Zen Garden while preparing to redo the design of the Virtual Church of the Blind Chihuahua. If you have some suggestions, or would like to contribute a design, let me know. I'm not bad at coding, but I'm really challenged by graphic design, page layout, color palettes, etc. That's all done one the side of the brain that I've been neglecting for most of the last few decades. Maybe I've been priveleged to think things and experience life in ways that are unavailable to those outside the physical sciences, but when I try to do art, I realize that in some ways, I've only barely scratched the surface of understanding what it means to be human.

Anyway, VCBC now serves about 50,000 page views per month. Not bad for an all volunteer effort, with so few volunteers. But I figured that it might do even better if it looked better. So, I'm giving it a try.

But a redesign also means a pruning of the inessential, and a refocusing to stay "on message." Ah, but which message? Which brings to mind Alasdair MacIntyre's questions, "Whose justice? Which rationality?" He posed these questions as part of a lifelong inquiry into how we fashion consistent narratives of our lives in the modern world. He seems to think that reason is necessary, but by itself, not enough. We need a community with its own narratives into which we can weave the narratives of our individual lives. But even that is not enough. We also need a goal, and end toward which our strivings are ultimately directed - we need faith. Finally, discovering the truth about ourselves, even in the light of revelation, is mostly a trial-and-error process. We must have the courage to make those trials, the honesty to discover our errors, and the humor to deal with them and move on.

Hmm. Now to compress all that into a catchy tag line.


28 August 2007

Can you be radicalized?

So how does a nice, Jewish boy become a radical Islamist? You think I'm making this up, right? Wrong. It actually happened. It's okay - he outgrew it and went to law school – but his book about it is a good read, and an important testimony to how radicalization works, and is working. To this very day, maybe even in your home town.

Here's a review.

Forewarned is forearmed. Enjoy.

20 August 2007

The Politics of Harry Potter

Judging by their commentaries on J. K. Rowling's seven-volume Harry Potter series, Lakshmi Chaudhry (writing for The Nation) hates what Lisa Schiffren (writing for The Weekly Standard) likes. Chaudhry thinks Rowling's moral lessons in what is, after all, a work of children's literature, are "politically evasive." Schiffren is put off by Harry's not ever killing anyone, not even his worst enemy.

Come now. Do we really want to politicize our children? And do we really want Harry to become one of those "underage fighters" like those who are the scourge of developing societies in places like Africa and Central Asia?

Finally, Chaudhry decries the triteness of the personal - it seems that the great conflict wasn't really about some noble abstraction (like liberating the masses, one supposes), rather it was about the freedom to live an ordinary life. Schiffren celebrates this, rightly claiming that all the great causes are ultimately about the freedom to live our ordinary lives - that, ultimately, all political philosophy, political economy, all politics is about the personal life, and who should determine how we might best live it. Schiffren thinks that determination is best made by each of us. One wonders who Chaudhry thinks should make it.

The tug-of-war between the two reviews reinforces my opinion that Liberals and Conservatives each live in half of reality, more or less.

17 August 2007

Madness in their Method

We said to Moses: "Throw down your staff;" and it swallowed up their conjurations in no time. Thus the truth was upheld, and the falsehood that they practised was exposed. — al-Qur'an, 7: 117,118, trans. Ahmed Ali
At 21, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross was a left-leaning undergrad at Wake Forest University, the child of non-observant Jews who had converted to Joel Goldsmith's Infinite Way. At 23, he was, in his words, "a devout believer in radical Islam" working for Al-Haramain, a Wahhabi-funded charity that smuggled funds to al-Qaeda. His is a story of seduction, not by a woman, but by a religious sect that recruited his reasoning ability to overcome his moral sense. It is a cautionary tale for Muslims and non-Muslims alike, a psychological self-investigation, and a love story.

It seems that Daveed had been seeking a more structured theology than offered by the religion of his parents. His grandfather's death and his own experiences of life-threatening illness added urgency to his quest. We hear no answers from his parents' original Judaism or the Infinite Way. We witness clumsy attempts at evangelism by Daveed's Christian friends (too much structure for him at the time perhaps). At last, Daveed finds comfort with the "progressive" Islam of a Naqshbandi Sufi classmate named al-Husein. We also see that Daveed is seeking community: classmate al-Husein becomes his spiritual brother, and the community of believers (the ummah) his extended spiritual family.

Becoming a Muslim is easy: Daveed recites the shahadah (the profession of faith) in front of two Muslim witnesses. Becoming a good Muslim, however, requires learning. One must learn wudu (the proper way to wash before prayer), salat (the choreography of postures for ritual prayer), and of course, Arabic (the language of salat), with an emphasis on taweed (the proper pronunciation for reciting the Qur'an). All this is not even the barest minumum. One can go much further: the life, words, and actions of the Prophet Muhammad are far more extensively documented than any previous religious leader on earth. To an extent that varies among the branches of Islam, these are taken to be exemplary for a proper Muslim life. An observant Muslim can spend a lifetime perfecting his or her practice of Islam. Islam strikes a balance between orthopraxy (doing things right), and orthodoxy (believing the right things) that is tilted more toward the former than in, say, Western Christianity.

Daveed decides to work for a year between college and law school, and takes a job at the Islamic center in his hometown, where he can live with his parents while saving some money. Daveed needs instruction from more experienced and learned Muslims. The mosque he works for is funded by the aforementioned Wahhabi charity, and run by American salafists who are eager to teach. His radicalization has begun.

Daveed is not allowed to have his own opinions on matters of Islamic practice. How can he? He is new to Islam, and prone to confuse correct practice with his own foreign ideas. His employer and co-workers correct him one behavior at a time. One day, they tell him his pants are too long, another that he must not wear silk, yet another that he must not touch a dog or a woman to whom he is not married. They get him to accept that his own judgement is faulty — his ignorance of things Islamic allows his judgment to be contaminated by his will, which is as yet incompletely submitted to Allah. He begins to accept that the only remedy is to strive for complete submission, which he can achieve by learning all the rules to which he must submit. Each correction consists of a verbal admonishment, a reference to the Qur'an and/or a hadith, and an article or book to read on the subject, by a suitable (salafist) Islamic authority. Is is backed up only by forces of social pressure to conform, and the apparently self-evident logic of the salafist method of determining correctness.

To determine what is correct, the salafists proceed logically — scientifically, they maintain. Who should know what is correct better than the Prophet and his Companions? Thus one consults the Qur'an, which interprets itself. To understand one verse, one need only compare it with others that contain the same word, phrase, or concept. If clarity is still lacking, one may consult the ahadith — the collected sayings of the Prophet. No other sources of information or ways of knowing are allowed, because they are potentially corrupted and unreliable. This is the salafist method of interpreting their texts — the salafist hermeneutic. If the correct course is still unclear, they consults somone more practiced at this hermeneutic — recognized (meaning salafist) Islamic scholar of Qur'an, ahadith and sharia (Islamic Law).

Daveed is becoming more ill-at-ease as his Islam "improves." But he feels he can't talk about his unease with his parents or his liberal Christian girlfriend. The one person with whom he could have unburdened himself, al-Husein, is undergoing his own radicalization. Daveed is alone and unhappy, but unable to overcome the logic of the salafists that is superficially so airtight. He finds himself praying for the success of the salafist mujahideen (fighters) against his own civilization. When the year ends, Daveed goes away to law school in the fall of 1999, and grows away from radical Islam. He eventually leaves Islam altogether (despite the death penalty that salafists believe must be visited on apostates), converts to Christianity, and marries his girlfriend. After the shock of 9/11, he discovers that al-Haramain had smuggled money to al-Qaeda, and begins a career as a counter-terrorism consultant.

The book, in much greater detail than the thumbnail sketch above, takes you on Daveed's journey into and out of Islamic radicalism. He details the techniques of what is essentially a form of brainwashing. In this, Daveed has made a valuable contribution to the literature on radical Islam. But he does not provide details on how one might resist such techniques. He does not deconstruct salafism and the line of argument it makes for itself. In the language of Harry Potter, he provides no lessons in Defense Against the Dark Arts of salafism.

For example, let's examine salafism's basic premise: We can restore the pure practice of Islam by imitating the salafs, the Prophet and his Companions. Can we really know in detail what Islamic practice was like during the Prophet's prophethood? The salafist answer is yes, we have the Qur'an and the ahadith. All else is unreliable and corrupt.

There are good theological reasons to believe that a wooden, literal imitation of the salafs was neither their nor God's intention, but let's be generous. Let's accept that idea for the moment in order to question their method. Can we rely only on the Qur'an and the ahadith and nothing else? I must first point out the obvious truth that any reading of any text always involves at least two acts of interpretation — the author must interpret from the author's mental processes or imagery into written language, and the reader must interpret from symbols on a page into the reader's mental imagery. When it comes to the Qur'an and the ahadith, these two acts of interpretation, writing and reading, are separated by 1400 years, and sometimes thousands of miles. Meanings can change, and the cultural context which could preserve the meaning can be lost.

In English, for example, the word "prevent" in the King James Bible meant "precede," i.e., to go before, in the Elizabethan English in which the King James translation was written. It would be surprising if there were not comparable instances of meaning alteration between classical and modern Arabic. As for context, consider that 1400 years from now the average English (or successor language) speaker will probably not know the difference between our current words "outhouse," and "outbuilding." A future context of ubiquitous indoor plumbing may erase an ancient cultural context of outdoor privies.

Now the Qur'an and the ahadith assume, but do not explicitly state the details and cultural context of their times — which everybody knew in the Arabia of 1400 years ago. Everybody knew the context of each Qur'anic verse as it was revealed and spoken to them by the Prophet himself. Moreover, the ahadith are collections not of narratives, but of disjointed fragments of individual memory, as in "Ibn Abbas said, 'The prophet (pbuh) made circuits of the House riding on a camel, and every time he came to the Corner, he made a sign with something that he had with him and said, Allahu Akbar" (Bukhari 25:61, trans. Muhammad Ali, A Manual of Hadith, 1941, p196).

So, since we must interpret texts whose meanings may have changed and whose cultural context is no longer entire, we must employ some principles of interpretation ( hermeneutics) to minimize our errors. We could use rigorous historical, cultural, linguistic and anthropological research, to recover as much context and to infer as much meaning from that context as possible. But this is rejected by the salafists, who insist that the Qur'an interprets itself, that when it doesn't they use the ahadith, and that when these fail, they can turn to one of their own who is "rightly guided." Sorry, but this amounts to retrojecting (projecting backwards) the salafists' current customs, practices, and prejudices into their interpretation of the texts. To accept the salafists' hermeneutic is to abandon critical thinking — to open oneself to believing anything, whether it is true or not.

The salafists' insistence on abandoning critical thought has two consequences: first, it materially disadvantages Islamic cultures in this world. Consider that when Islamic temporal power was rising, its politics were dominated by the "Mutazilites, who sought to combine faith and reason," according to Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy (Physics Today, August 2007, p49). But, he continues, a "resurgent religious orthodoxy" eventually overcame them, and led to decline. Today, the scientific output of the entire Islamic world (which led science during the European Middle Ages) is less than that of Brazil. Here I use scientific output as a surrogate for the popular acceptance of critical thinking. In short, the salafists' basic premise is wrong, and they have made Muslims suffer for it.

Second, the salafist abandonment of critical thought corrupts Muslim minds to the point that many Muslims will believe any lie about their chosen enemies as long as it flatters their egos by conforming to their prejudices. For example, when asked what the Talmud is, Daveed is cut short by one of his co-workers who claims it is "the Jews' plan to ruin everything." Apparently, the co-worker had confused the Talmud with the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which is famous for being a heinous and long-exposed forgery. Would the co-worker be embarassed to know that the Talmud is actually the record of several hundred years of scholarly debate about the halacha (Jewish religious law), which plays the same role in Judaism as sharia does in Islam? Would he be receptive to the idea that the correspondence between the Hebrew halacha and Arabic halal (that which is permitted under sharia) is not accidental? This willingness to believe that which is well-known to be demonstrably false makes such Muslims look backward and foolish in the eyes of the non-Muslim world, which brings shame upon the religion of Islam. Such is the rationalist argument against the salafist method of interpretation.

There is also a literary argument against the salafist method of interpretation. Any good poem, play, or narrative transcends the time and place of its authorship by being pregnant with more meaning than its mere words can carry to any given audience. It evokes fresh insights to successive audiences as the historical development of their culture proceeds. If this is true of mere human creations, how much more must it be true of Divinely Inspired literature? Indeed, the Qur'an was viewed as literature as it was being revealed — one argument for its authenticity was that the power and beauty of its prose and poetry was beyond the capabilities of Muhammad, who was illiterate. The salafist hermeneutic, on on the other hand, does not allow the full imaginative encounter with the Qur'an necessary for it to reveal ever deeper insights as persons and cultures mature. In a manner of speaking, the salafist hermenutic is a case of arrested religious, psychological and cultural development.

In particular, the salafists confabulalate what they uncritically imagine to be seventh-century Arab culture with the universal Religion of Islam. In this, they contaminate Islam with their own bida (innovation), rather than search Islam honestly with their whole minds and souls. And they do this to achieve certainty that they are doing the right things, and thus that they are right with God. But their certainty is not won — it is stolen from their texts. So great is their hunger for certainty that they steal it from their stunted interpretation of the Qur'an and the ahadith, because ultimately, they can't bring themselves to risk trusting the living God.

One cannot fault Daveed Gartenstein-Ross for failing to cut the salafist knot with this particular sword of reason, however. He was young and inexperienced, which made him open-minded. They know a lot about Islam, so let's try to see how they understand things, he must have thought, at least pre-consciously. His willingness to try new things, to attempt understanding by going a little way along another's path — the "tolerance" that we so value in the West and which is so opposite to salafist thought — is what made him vulnerable to being co-opted by the salafists. Tolerance and open-mindedness are good and necessary both for civil society and honest faith, but they can be abused.

Moreover, even if Daveed could have voiced such thoughts as those above, it would have had no effect on the salafists surrounding him. They need to maintain their stolen certainty that they earn God's Love by conforming to their rules. Arguments like those above would have been dismissed, and corrected by the same methods — more of the same stunted hermeneutic as before. These arguments are not for the salafists, but for those either resisting or leaving salafism or any other religious fundamentalism. That is to say, Muslims might consider that Christian and Jewish fundamentalists use the same hermeneutic as Islamic fundamentalists. They just apply it to different texts.

And the results are more or less the same. Fundamentalists of all religions confine God's infinite well-spring of meaning to a box no bigger than their imaginations. Their own superficial reasoning from this small box then negates the moral sense that God planted in them. After that, they can rationalize any action they need to maintain their world view, which is the source of their sense of their own goodness — anything from assassination to the mass slaughter of innocents. This is the ethical argument against the salafist hermeneutic. To invert a line from Shakespeare's Hamlet, though this be method, yet there is madness in it.

There are other arguments against the the fundamentalist hermeneutic and their idolatry of the rule book, but ultimately the decision to resist or leave salafism or any other religious fundamentalism goes beyond merely rational arguments. The other major thing one notices about Daveed's narrative is the absence of spirituality during his al-Haramain period. I think Daveed left fundamentalism because he was homesick for God.

I suspect that homesickness for God may even be driving the more militant salafists (such as al-Qaeda and the like) to violence. If they can just get rid of the rest of us, if they can just eliminate our noisy interference, they will be able to tune into God clearly, and feel finally at home. To further this they not only fight, but (to use Irshad Manji's term) they colonize in order to dominate — the Muslim world, and the Muslim disapora in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America — by targeted application of charitable funds and personnel to set up and maintain madrassas (Islamic religious schools), charities, news media, and so on.

What Daveed Gartenstein-Ross has given us is a vivid and personal account of how Islamists colonize. How to stop them is up to the rest of the honest, thinking world — Muslims and non-Muslims, together.

14 August 2007

I couldn't resist this, either

Your Brain's Pattern

Your mind is a multi dimensional wonderland, with many layers.
You're the type that always has multiple streams of though going.
And you can keep these thoughts going at any time.
You're very likely to be engaged in deep thought - and deep conversation.

09 August 2007

I couldn't resist

Your results:You are Geordi LaForge.
You work well with others and often fix problems quickly. Your romantic relationships are often bungled.

Click here to take the Star Trek Personality Quiz

08 August 2007

Political Delusions

Sometimes I think that (in the United States anyway) political parties can be characterized by the delusions shared by their respective leaderships. For instance, the Republican delusion seems to be that everything can and should be run like a business. That this doesn't work with war - that you can't fight and win with bean counters (think Rumsfeld) forcing you to do it on the cheap - is only beginning to dawn on them. They even think you can run the National Laboratories like businesses, and have replaced the old University-run management with business consortia. Yes, the University of California is still involved, but the business is changed for the worse, including the compensation plan that used to help retain seasoned scientists. (And the Republicans are mouthing the same platitudes I heard at the now defunct Bell Labs when it began to be run like a business 20 years ago.) Indeed the Republicans think the business delusion applies to everything and everyone but themselves - no business could stay in business, or its managers out of prison, if its finances were run like our government.

The Democrats, on the other hand, labor under the delusion of Amerocentrism. They think everything in the world revolves around us, and therefore it is our foreign policy that determines everything that happens in the world. For example, they think we would have no war against the Bin-Ladenists if we had treated the 9/11 attacks as an international police matter. [Never mind that we treated the attacks leading up to 9/11 as police matters, which gave the Bin Ladenists the time and shelter to organize, recruit and grow strong. It was not our response to 9/11 that led to a surge in recruitment - it was the images of the towers collapsing all over the internet, which the Bin Ladenists downloaded and incorporated into their recruiting videos. More...]

Amero/Euro-centrism is also the reason why many people (not just Democrats) think that if we were only nicer to everyone, they would like us and adopt our values. Sorry, huge portions of humanity see things differently. While we might think that earning a reasonable living at a tolerable job and coming home to watch TV without fighting with our neighbors or being repressed by my government is the pinnacle of human achievement, others find it unbearable. To them, a life without struggle (other than to earn the next dollar) is a life without honor, without glory, and therefore without meaning. Therefore the culture that promotes such a life is inhuman and must be stamped out. While our enemies might complain about our foreign policy, we need to understand that what they really hate is us. And that we can only change that by ceasing to be ourselves.

05 August 2007

Reparations for Slavery

On the question of possible reparations paid (presumably) by the US Government to descendents of Africans enslaved in America, the answer is NO. The institution of legal slavery in the United States ended 144 years ago in 1863. The Confederate States of America continued the practice until its military defeat by US forces in 1865. In other words, the US fought and won a very costly war to end slavery, so the cost of reparations must be deducted from the cost of the war, with interest. But more to the legal point, there is nobody alive today who can show that they themselves have been personally damaged by the above referenced slavery.

On the other hand, there are plenty of people who can show that they have been damaged by the Jim Crow laws that used to be common throught the United States until the middle 1960s. Or the discriminatory hiring practices that were not stopped until the then farcical "Equal Opportunity" was replaced by "Affirmative Action," in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Or even the red-lining and steering practices of the banking and real estate industries that continued into the 1980s. Folks who have been on the receiving end of such practices are still very much alive, but somehow the idea of reparations for slavery always seems to push their causes out of public view. Could it be because someone might actually have to pay up if we could keep public attention on our more recent practices?

03 August 2007

Silly Barack, Bin Laden is for Grown-Ups

Dear Barack Obama,

I like you, and I may support you for President someday, but not this go-round. You have more book-learning than many of your opponents. But today, you proved to me that you lack the necessary real-world experience, by raising the specter of US troops on Pakistani soil.

President Musharraf's regime is poised on the edge of a knife. On one side he is undermined by the Pakistan People's Party composed of ethnic Sindh's led by Benazir Bhutto (widely believed to have been corrupt both times she was Prime Minister of Pakistan), and on the other by a collection of Islamofacist parties openly sympathetic with al-Qaeda. In the middle is the Pakistani military led by Musharraf, trying to keep Pakistan together.

At the same time, we have a nuclear arms standoff between Pakistan and India. Yes, Barack, both countries have already built and tested nuclear weapons. They even got close to having a war which might have gone nuclear, when Islamofacists based in Pakistan bombed the Indian Parliament a few years ago.

Now it may be that one of the things that keeps the Islamofacists from gaining enough sympathizers to topple Musharraf's government (and take possession of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal) is that, so far, Musharraf has managed to keep massed US troops from crossing into Pakistan. You have just signaled that in an Obama administration, this might no longer be the case.

Even the mere talk of US military incursions into Pakistan by a candidate for US President might have potential to destabilize Pakistan. Such destabilization could lead India (in an attempt to pre-empt a nuclear attack by a new Islamofacist regime) to try to sieze Pakistan's nuclear weapons. The Islamofacists, knowing that they cannot prevail against India in a conventional conflict, might opt to use their new nuclear weapons, rather than let India take them away. In other words, your remarks may court the possibility of igniting a regional nuclear war.

Your are correct to note that the Pakistani army has been unable to control Pakistan's mountainous Northwest Frontier Provinces and Federally Administered Tribal Areas where Bin Laden and company are widely suspected to be hiding out. But no army in history ever has.

So maybe we could get Bin Laden if we sent troops into Pakistan, and maybe we couldn't. But one thing is clear: all hell might break loose if we tried it. The irony of it is that, in a manner of speaking, Bin Laden (if he is there, if he is even still alive), may be hiding under Pakistan's nuclear umbrella.

If you want to get the al-Qaeda senior leadership thought to be in Pakistan, Barack, then you had better have a really good, well thought out plan, not based on book learning, but on ground truth knowledge. You would also do well to make sure they are really there. And it would be best to keep quiet about it.

01 August 2007

Pride and Paranoia

It isn't about policy, it's about pride. Or as it's known in the Christian world, the sin of pride, and the self-deceptions, the paranoid fantasies that whole peoples will adopt in order to save face in the face of cultural change.

Cultural change is the inevitable result of globalization bringing cultures into such close contact that they interpenetrate: people from different cultures are trying to live on each other's turf. And the cultures that are dying are the old honor/shame cultures of northern Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia that date from the Time of Ignorance before the coming of Islam.

To be respected in a traditional honor/shame culture, you must know more than your children. You must force all your family members to retain the details of your cultural dress and lifestyle, because the source of your honor is adherence to the code of honor that prescribes that dress and lifestyle, and any other choices they might make reflect badly on you. Yet you are surrounded by media which your kids are more savvy at using than you are, and it carries appealing images of alternative dress and lifestyles. You almost begin to feel like a left-behind loser with a rag on your head.

But, wait! There's a quick fix! A paranoid fantasy that makes the surrounding culture evil and you good. The other culture consists of devils who are attacking your religion! You are good and wise, they are depraved. But they are winning, and must be stopped! KILL THEM!!!!!

See? You're feeling better (meaning superior in an honor/shame culture) already. Never mind that Islam is universal and transcends culture, never mind that Islam as a religion is almost nowhere under attack, and that with over a billion adherents, shows no sign of going away.

Now once you've adopted the paranoid fantasy, all you need do is twist any facts you can into supporting your fantasy, and disregard those you can't. This is the dynamic behind the film, "Valley of the Wolves," in Turkey, for example. The film purports to be a documentary and depicts the current Iraq conflict as what yesterday's Wall Street Journal calls, "an organ-harvesting operation run by greedy Jews and fundamentalist Christians."

Unfortunately for us, the paranoid fantasists will think what they want to think and do whatever they can to inflict mega-violence on all their designated enemies, regardless of any of our words or actions. But fortunately for us, their cause is already lost, partly because their culture is simply not competitive, and partly because their ideology is rooted in idolatry and blasphemy. Idolatry because they imagine that God is as wedded to their culture as they are, and blasphemy because they impute their own rage (and evil intent) to God.

So have a good look at the picture above. These are the faces of the defeated, but they are not going down without a fight (even a nuclear one, if they can get the wherewithal). The pity is that the fight is unnecessary: nobody is insulting Islam (because in modern culture it is meaningless to try to insult a revealed religion), nobody is even insulting them, because we're all too politically correct to do that. It's just that they feel insulted (dishonored, shamed), because the surrounding culture does not afford them honor in their traditional ways of getting it. Rather than open their minds and hearts to new ways of being Muslim, they trap themselves into thinking that they must subjugate the rest of us, or live with dishonor.

Finally, contrast their behavior with that of the surrounding culture. People like those in the photo rioted over the "Muhammad" cartoons, because they feel genuinely (culturally) threatened. If the British were as touchy, they would have responded to the above provocation with riots and mass deportations. But they can afford to be less touchy, because their cultural identity and sense of self-worth is not threatened. They know that ultimately, it just doesn't matter what these people think.

21 June 2007

The Irrational Part of Atheism

A fine article on the subject is right here. Neither the will to believe nor the will to disbelieve is grounded in rationality. Enjoy.

18 June 2007

We are going to win the "War on Terror"

First of all, I hate the term "Global War on Terror" or GWOT because you can't win a war if you can't name your enemy. If we are fighting a war on terrorism, then it is a very old war, beginning with the Jewish Sicari (named for the short swords they used for political assassination) of 1st century Roman-occupied Judea (which the Romans disingenuously called Palestina, or Palestine).

No we are responding to a war brought upon us by Islamofacists - facists who hide themselves in Islamic clothing - which many are calling the Global Salafist Hirabah (GSH). Salafism refers to a desire to return to the simpler, purer times of the Prophet Muhammad and his Companions, in itself a laudable thing, provided that would-be salafist realizes that the Prophet and his Companions were innovators who looked forward, rather than fundamentalists who looked backward. Hirabah is a term connoting illegal war, brigandage, banditry, and terrorism. It stands in contrast to Jihad, or Holy War, sanctioned by God, a term with the Islamofacists misappropriate.

The Global Salafist Hirabah had a beginning - the fatwa of Ayatollah Khomeini calling for the murder of Salman Rushdie on charges that he wrote a book, The Satanic Verses, that Khomeini didn't like. TSV satirized both the West and Islam in general, and Khomeini in particular. I nominate the fatwa as the beginning of the GSH, because a head of state of one government seeking to incite the murder of a citizen of another government simply for exercising his right to free expression is de facto a declaration of war against the civilization that recognizes and upholds the right to free expression. Khomeini had declared war against the West.

The GSH will also have an ending, brought about by social change in just one or two generations. This is because the Islamofacists are fighting to preserve and extend their priveleged status as Muslim men. Their sense of self-worth depends on their subjugation of Muslim women. Continuing this subjugation is ultimately a lost cause. Eventually, Muslim women will decide that they do not want to have their bodies mutilated, that they want to show their faces, that they want to drive, to study subjects both sacred and secular, that they want to work, that they want to choose whom they marry, and they want to vote. After that, this particular war will be over, because there will be nothing to fight about.

"But it's not a war!" one of my colleagues protested. It is a war because our enemies say it is a war. Denying that it is a war is just manipulating the definition of war because one wants to manipulate the conduct of the war. Is is also Eurocentric bigotry. Eurocentrists fight wars wholesale, with massed armies. Their way of war descends from the Greco-Roman way of trying to get the war over with as fast as possible so as to return to normalcy, to farming, to peace. In contrast, the horse peoples of the steppe pursued war as a part time occupation. You could raid the Roman Empire for a goods and glory on any given afternoon. You didn't want the war to come to a swift and decisive conclusion, because then what would you do? The Islamofacist way of war is descended from the tradition of the steppe nomads, but fought with modern weapons, and enabled by the internet.

But all this is not a problem if we realize that the war need not be won militarily. We can switch from fighting war wholesale, to fighting retail - where most of the action is not in shooting but in having tea with the right local leaders. We need only strive not to lose. Muslim women will eventually do the rest.

Of course, it would be nice to help them achieve their Islamic Reformation. If Western Feminists could get over their navel-gazing disregard for the condition of any women but themselves, they could help in ways that governments cannot.

In closing I present the photo above as evidence for my thesis: World War IV, the War of the Islamofacists against Western Liberal Democracy (the Cold War was World War III) will be won, not by the West, not by the Islamofacists, but by Islamic women. It is a picture of Iraqi women lined up to vote.

Their victory, like the victory of the Central European and Russian people over Communism, will be a victory for the whole world, and, in the world of Islam, a victory for God.

13 June 2007

Useful Deaths

On the radio I heard Harry Reid (Democrat from Nevada and currently the US Senate Majority Leader) asking for a moment of silence to mark the 3500th US soldier to die in Iraq. The implication is that 3500 is too many, and that we should pull our troops out of Iraq now.

I'm not buying it. In the 4 years it took for those 3500 troops to be killed, 170,000 children, women and men were killed in traffic accidents on US roadways. Senator Reid did not call for a moment of silence for them, because he can't make some political use of their deaths.

Harry Reid is implying that 3500 deaths fighting against Islamofacists are bad, while 170,000 deaths in pursuit of bourgeois mobility are acceptable. And he is counting on you not to see it that way.

The conflict in Iraq is not a war in itself - it is a battle in the larger war against Islamofacism. True, it was not a battleground in that war until the US made it one (and that appears to have been a mistake), but Harry Reid wants the US to lose that battle as quickly as possible, so he can win his larger war against the Republican Party.

See also: Retreat, Defeat, Cowardice and Treason

24 May 2007

Globalisation: Tribalism v Liberalism

Melanie Phillips has posted "Liberalism v Islamism" in which she decries the apparent suicide of liberalism. She claims that by abandoning its principles for multiculturalism, liberalism is appeasing and succumbing to the Global Salafist Hirabah (aka the Jihad against the Jews and Crusaders - and if you are not an Islamist, then you're at least a Crusader). She also refers to London as "Londonistan," because of the increasing frequency of honor killings and other cultural baggage brought by immigrants from certain predominately Islamic countries.

She's a bit over the top, but well worth a read, nevertheless. We all need to recognize that the Hirabah is simply another facet of Globalization. Globalization was once thought to be a form of economic and cultural imperialism on the part of the West. Now we see that Globalization is a leveling of the world's playing field, so that not only money, but values - cultural values - can compete for territory, like players in a multi-way game of Go. In this case the counters on the board are not little round stones, but immigrants and less recent immigrants, or "natives."

Back in the old days, when it took months to travel from one country to another, new immigrants found themselves isolated in their new homelands. Messages to and from the old country took those same months to travel. It was almost impossible to keep reinforcing the values of the tribe you had left back home. (I use the word tribe, because the tribe is the fundamental unit of human societies, and has been so for as long as humans have lived on earth. If it seems less true in America, that is because everybody in America is from somewhere else, and has lost their tribal affiliation in the immigration process - except, of course, for the First Americans, who have had their tribal cultures overrun by the immigrants.)

Nowadays, you can migrate across the globe by stepping on an airplane. In a few hours, you are in your new country with your old affiliations and values. If you want to reinforce them, you need only pick up a telephone. Or tune into internet or satellite radio. Thus has Globalization made smooth the path for values from outside the prime Globalizers' (the "developed nations") core.

So, for those of you who want to be nice people, and who think it wrong to impose our Western Liberal values of limited government power, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, equality of women, etc., on other cultures, think again. If we do not live by, trumpet, and enforce those values in our homelands, and sell them abroad, then those other values that we think are "good enough for those people" will be lived by, trumpeted, and sold everywhere, even where you live.

No, pushing Western Liberal values isn't cultural imperialism anymore. In the Global Bazaar of ideas, it is just one voice among many, competing to be heard. Time to stand up and shout, before we are terrorized into silence.

17 May 2007

Farewell to Jerry Falwell

The Rev. Jerry Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority has died of an apparent heart attack in his office at Liberty University, which he also founded. Guided by his Love for God and his concern for the well-being of his country, the United States of America, he gradually outgrew his early racism and anti-Semitism to focus on anti-feminism, anti-homosexuality, and anti-scientism. While some like Christopher Hitchens have impugned his sincerity, I have always assumed that he truly believed what he preached, even as it changed. That he did not preach violence to achieve his agenda, I find praiseworthy, given the world's recent struggles with clerics who do.

Perhaps one might wish that he had been guided by God's Love for him and for us all, and that he had outgrown his other anti- stances. Yes, he helped form the Christian Right into a more or less cohesive voting block. But the people who make up the Christian Right would still be with us even if he had not done so. Without him, they might have splintered into disenfranchised and bitter groups, some of which might have turned to violence in their increasing frustration. It's better to have them inside our polity than outside of it, and Jerry did his part.

So, thanks, Jerry. You did the best you knew how. I hope that you don't mind sharing Heaven with homosexuals, feminists, liberals and scientists, and I hope that at your eschatological banquet they don't serve you too much crow.

15 May 2007

A Christian Kama Sutra

Stimulated by The Deadliest Things, one of our readers has contributed her own parody of a fictitious book to be released by a noted Christian publishing house.

Just click here and enjoy!

Oh. The image at left is from Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, Folio 25v - The Garden of Eden in the Musée Condé, Chantilly. It appears here courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

13 May 2007

The Deadliest Things

(Tune: My Favorite Things - from The Sound of Music, Rogers & Hammerstein)

Anthrax in orange juice and toxins in water
Chemical agents as means of mass slaughter
Plumes of chlorine wafting over DC
These are a few of the deadliest things.

Toxic nerve agents unleashed on civilians
Mutating strains of bird flu killing millions
Cattle with blisters transmit FMD*
This is what we have been analyzing

Suicide bombers blow buses to splinters
Slolen devices cause nuclear winter
Railcars torn open by an IED**
These effects we have been calculating

When the dog bites
When the bee stings
When I'm feeling sad
I simply remember what we're modeling
And then I don't feel so bad.

*Foot and Mouth Disease
**Improvised Explosive Device

Jim G-, my colleague who wrote this parody of sorts, wishes to remain anonymous. It's a bit hair-raising, but part of the tasking of our lab is to help the nation and its allies prepare to deal with the consequences of major natural or human-made disasters. We think them through, we model them with as much precision as we know how, and we report our results to our sponsors. We also work on attribution - figuring out where the stuff came from, and whodunit - so others of our sponsors can deal with the guilty parties and those who sponsored them. That's part of the Homeland Security side of the business, anyway.

It's scary stuff. It's only natural that it gives some folks in the government the willies, and induces them to occasional over-zealousness. To counter that, we also model which security measures make the greatest difference for the least amount of effort, money, and social change. The hard part about that is that politicians are used to doing what they want to do. They don't like rational calculation indicating priorities. The priorities are theirs for political posturing. A bunch of scientists trying to calculate priorities is received as stepping on their turf. And when it comes to turf, the politicians are the pros and the scientists are the amateurs. The pros always win. Our priorities are set by our politics, not by our systems analysis.

So we are still knee-jerking our way to greater homeland security, and the press tries to be "neutral," or as Mark Steyn puts in the Chicago Sun-Times:

According to genius New York Times headline writers, "Religion Guided Three Held In Fort Dix Plot." You don't say. Any religion in particular?

In other words, Homeland Security is only part of the solution to the present danger. Another part is making the bad guys feel insecure in their homelands. This is always problematic, and even more so when their homeland is our homeland. There is an essential tension between security and freedom, which can never be finally resolved. We must constantly strive for balance.

Yet another part of the solution is Religion itself. We must recognize that some of the greatest gifts God has planted in us - our capacities for Hope and Faith - can be perverted by the Evil One. As Pascal said, "Men never do evil so completely and so cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction." And Pascal himself was a devout Catholic.

Well. Got that off my desk. Happy Mother's Day everyone!

05 May 2007

Forgiving Google

It's been more than a year since VCBC decided to boycott Google Ads for hypocritically stiffing the US Government hunting for internet child pornographers in order to give the false impression to Westerners that Google was a defender of human rights. At the same time, Google was knuckling under to the Chinese government by deleting all references that might help pro-democracy dissidents. Google could have done worse. Yahoo is being sued on behalf of Chinese citizens for providing information to the Chinese government that led to their illegal (under international law) imprisonment.

But you get the picture. Google's major competitors haven't distinguished themselves either. Instead of fulfilling Tom Friedman's prophecy that the internet would lead to greater freedom on earth, they are enabling it to be used as a tool of oppression as well.

So has our boycott been effective? Our search engine ratings, traffic, and revenues have declined. But the effect on Google has been absolutely nil. We made our point, and took our hit. Now we have decided to forgive Google, renew our advertising, and take our cut.

Our boycott was futile. On the other hand, the lawsuits over contributing to false imprisonment are probably not. They put the calculus of whether to cooperate with despots directly into the profit and loss columns. Web portals may still decide that it is more lucrative to cooperate with tyranny, but it will now cost them something to do it.

03 May 2007

Dear Dr. Laura

by J. Kent Ashcraft

Dear Dr. Laura,

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and I try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind him that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate.

I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the specific laws and how to best follow them.
  1. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odour for the Lord (Lev. 1:9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odour is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?
  2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?
  3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness (Lev. 15:19-24). The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.
  4. Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?
  5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?
  6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination (Lev. 11:10), it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this?
  7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?
  8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev.19:27. How should they die?
  9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?
  10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev. 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? (Lev.24:10-16) Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev.20:14)
I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.

Your devoted disciple and adoring fan,

J. Kent Ashcraft

Editor's Note: This little gem has been circulating the net. It illustrates the absurdity of a selective and wooden literalism, even if it is not illustrative of Dr. Laura's thinking, other than her dogmatic stand against homosexuals. The copyright, if any, belongs to its author.

02 May 2007

Retreat, Defeat, Cowardice and Treason

That's what friend Gator Bob (retired Navy) calls the US Democratic Party position on Iraq, as well as the not-so-well-named Global War on Terror (GWOT) in general. Perhaps he's being uncharitable. Perhaps not.

He points to the death rate among American soldiers and civilians in Iraq. Measured in deaths per hundred thousand, it is comparable to the murder rate in say, Washington, D.C. Perhaps the United States should pull out of Washington, he suggests.

But Right or Left, the emphasis on the death rate in Iraq is misplaced. Compared to previous wars (but not to previous occupations) it is low. What is high is the rate of serious and permanent injuries, the number of our young men and women coming home with pieces of their bodies or brains missing in action. But a national debate centered on that subject would be expensive. We might have to take care of them, so best not to mention them unless we can use them to sack a general.

The dead are already taken care of. They are comparatively cheap, like the talk on the Left and Right that obsesses about them, not for moral reasons, but for political ones. Unlike the wounded, the dead can be trusted not to contradict to whatever claims politicians and activists might make in their names.

Leaving the dead to their graves, and the wounded to their fates, let us move on to the future. Both the Left and the Right seem to be staring at their toes, and thinking that whatever way their toes are pointing is forward. The Right says "Stay the Course," without articulating what that course is and where it will lead. The Left says, "We aren't getting anywhere, so let's get out fast," without hazarding a guess as to what will happen next, either to the Iraqis, the Middle East, Islam, or even us.

That is to say, there is no strategic thinking in evidence from either side. I'm not asking for much, here. I'm thinking of a game of pool, in which a player who's any good tries to hit the cue ball not just to knock another ball into a pocket, but to then position the cue ball so as to be able to make the next shot. What I want to know from both the Democrats and the Republicans is: (1) What position will we (all of us, the entire world) be in if we take your shot, (2) what is your next shot, and (3) how will your first shot line us up to make the next one?

So far, all I've seen and heard is spokespersons for either side looking at their toes and whining. I used to do that, too, when I was three years old.

13 April 2007

The House of Misrepresentatives

American politics has become ridiculously polarized, to the point where the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, is willing to travel to Syria in order to make her own foreign policy, but not to walk across the aisle of the House floor to talk with the Republicans. Our politics are so polarized that Democrats and Republicans fear and distrust each other more than they do, say al-Qaeda. (Because al-Qaeda may kill a few of them, but it can't really threaten their hold on domestic power.)

So how did this idiotic state of affairs come to be? I give you one word for it: Gerrymandering. Our state legislatures have drawn and re-drawn Congressional voting districts to advantage incumbents to the point that in any given year only a handful of Congressional elections are competitive.

The effect of this is that in order to win, you can't compromise. The voters in your district are dominated either by hard-over Moonbats (left) or Wingnuts (right). By showing any willingness to entertain the ideas of the other party, you merely show weakness to your own voting constituents. And then you lose. Compound this with a media that panders to the public's love of a good political fight, and you get politics that is progressively polarizing itself for no better reason that a positive feedback loop in the re-districting process.

What we need is for each state to have its districts re-drawn by a non-partisan committee of geographers, demographers, mathematicians, and a retired judge or two. People with a sense of justice and fair play with no major stake in the outcome. People who understand population distributions, and convex sets.

That way we could get Congresspersons who would have to demonstrate their willingness and ability to bargain and compromise. That way we could get a government that actually represented the Will of the People, rather than our current tragicomical lurching from left to right and back again. And maybe we could even get a more consistent and thoughtful foreign policy, that might do some good in the world rather than just kicking it one way or the other every four to eight years.

So Americans, unless you are a Moonbat or a Wingnut, your Congressperson does not represent you. Your voice has been Gerrymandered into silence. You don't count. And you won't count unless and until you get an anti-Gerrymandering measure on your state ballot, and vote for it.

18 March 2007

How Free is the USA?

The latest "big thing" is how President George W. Bush has sacked some US Attorneys. Maybe he sacked them in order to let the others know that they had better be zealous in investigating and prosecuting possible malfeasance on the part of Democrats. That kind of exercise of arbitrary power makes me suspicious. It reminds me of the time President Bill Clinton sacked all the US Attorneys and replaced them with his own people. Maybe he did it to insure that certain details about that Whitewater thing would never come out.

Both men could exercise arbitrary power within certain bounds. And if they did not exercise it, then they would lose power, because their opponents would chisel away at their power in other areas. In other words, they did what they could because they had to. It's the way our system works.

They were trying to protect themselves from accusations. Had they actually broken any laws, which would validate the claims of those who sought to accuse them? Of course. So have you, if you're an American. We have so many laws, which are so complicated, that you can't know them all. Chances are, you've fallen afoul of one or more of them somehow, somewhere in your life. All it takes for you to find out is to enrage someone who has the resources and desire to have you investigated. We have so many laws that we are no longer a nation of laws, but of people. The only reason you have freedom of speech or action or property rights is that nobody is currently willing to make the effort to take them away from you.

It's the kind of tyranny that creeps over all democracies, one well-intentioned law, regulation, rule, or judicial opinion at a time:

It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd. — Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Volume II, Chapter 4, Section 6, "What Sort of Despotism Democratic Nations Have to Fear"

The counter-argument is that as our society gets more complex, we need more complicated rules to govern it. On the other hand, it is a well-known result from the science of complex systems that "Simple rules lead to complex behavior - complex rules lead to simple behavior." Too many complex rules freeze the system up. None of its parts can do much of anything.

What to do? When a computer code gets too long and unreadable, the computer scientists "re-factor" it. They look at how it is supposed to work, and, having learned from their past mistakes and new developments, re-design it and re-code it from the ground up.

We need our Congress and our regulatory agencies to re-factor government. Not just to keep making up new stuff to pile on top of the old because nobody remembers what it does anymore. And not to re-factor with laws and regulations that are even more complicated than the originals because they are written by unelected staffers who promote for their own agendas without ever coordinating with each other or even - gasp - reading each other's sections of the documents they produce.

But until that happens (and Hell freezes over, I suppose) I have a word of advice. Once anyone gets elected or appointed to any office of public power, that person must be suspect. It is in the nature of power itself in a society governed by too many small complicated rules. One in power must abuse the system to protect herself or himself from those who are abusing the system to get at them. As the old saying goes, "Politicians are like diapers. They both should be changed frequently, and for the same reason."

17 February 2007

Teach the Boobs Economics

Now the poor in Mexico are facing hunger because the price of corn is rising on speculation, because the US is planning to up the percentage of ethanol (made from corn) in auto fuel. But that would require re-directing a substantial fraction of US corn production from food and animal feed to fuel. This in turn would raise corn prices. Moreover the demand for more corn acreage would displace other grains, like rice, and drive up the price of rice as well. And the poor of Mexico can't switch to wheat flour because they need the nutrients in corn flour to complement the rest of their diet. So, we are driving up the price of corn and rice worldwide, and pushing more poor people into malnutrition. Why?

The idea was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels. But (duh!) to make ethanol you have to heat the corn mash using - you guessed it - fossil fuels. The net result is that the ethanol will have a bigger "carbon footprint" in the atmosphere than the gasoline it is supposed to replace.

In other words, we are starving people and polluting the air so that our legislators and regulators can make a show of caring for our environment. I'm tired of people who know nothing but politics trying to run our world when they don't understand how it works.

So here's a resolution for you: Let's require all newly elected federal and state officials to take a three week crash course in Economics and Energy before they assume office. Heck, let's make them retake the course every time they are re-elected.

The effort on their part to learn the course material would be an act of loving their neighbors, namely us - the people they presume to govern.

08 February 2007

Flying Low

Speaking of technology, have a look at this video of low flying jets.

If you can't see anything, click Flying under the radar.

04 February 2007

Name Your Fear

Since the previous post mentioned fear, here is a post from my MySpace page.

The other evening, we got together with friends for a "Bring Your Own Barbecue." We talked about law school, career changes, psychotherapy, religion... And then we talked about the future. We must be in a time of great transition, because the dominant mood was not hope. It was fear.

I talked about how genetic engineering, implants, and other high tech "enhancements" could make the people of the future so different from us that they might not consider "non-enhanced" or "natural" people like us to be fully human. And how, by tinkering with human nature itself, we would undermine the basis of Natural Law.

Our host spoke of Global Warming, and how climate change could wipe out agriculture in some parts of the world, and sink coastal cities.

My wife talked about how the melting of the North Polar Icecap could decrease the salinity gradient in the North Atlantic that drives the Gulf Stream. If the Gulf Stream were to stop, that would almost shut down the transfer of heat from the equatorial to the polar regions. The result could be a rapid re-freezing of the northern latitudes resulting in a new Ice Age. In other words, our climate is metastable, with tipping points beyond which large and sudden changes may occur.

I suppose we could have mentioned asteroid impacts, and global thermonuclear war while we are at it. Or maybe the day some terrorist organization gets hold of a nuclear weapon and detonates where you would least like it.

So I'm just curious. Was it just us, or are other people having anxious thoughts about the future. What sort of thoughts?

02 February 2007

God's Balls

The other day LutheranChick wondered why there is so much resistance to inclusive language references to God in the Church. "Inclusive language" means either avoiding the masculine pronoun or using both masculine and femine pronouns for God. She offered her hypothesis that the resistance is grounded in fear, specifically the anxiety that God is out to get us if we don't act the way God wants.

That may indeed be the case for many. For me, it's different. I'm comfortable with someone beginning The Lord's Prayer with, "Father-Mother God," instead of "Our Father." I might even do it myself, if I were praying with people the majority of whom would find the traditional reference off-putting. But generally, I stick with "Our Father." I do it out of respect for those who have gone before me, who made extraordinary sacrifices that Christianity might be a living faith to my generation, who learned to say it that way. I do it out of respect, even awe, for the tradition goes all the way back to a wandering Jewish woodworker, healer, and lay preacher named Yesu (Jesus) who called God, "Abba," which is Aramaic for something like, "Daddy."

Now we could use the original Aramaic and say "Abba," instead of "Our Father." "Abba" doesn't mean anything in English, and therefore is not automatically associated with gender by English speakers. But for English speakers that would come at the cost of losing the emotional and spiritual impact of addressing God in terms of an intimate parental relationship. In the same vein, we could start the Lord's Prayer with the word, "God," but again we would miss the impact of what something like "Our Father," says about God.

I'm not afraid, just respectful. I can let the tradition bend. And yet, I get my back up when someone insists that I must use inclusive language. I know that the idea of God being masculine is God's sop to the patriarchal tribal society of Hebrews in which God first planted ethical monotheism. And I know that many of us no longer need that sop. But must we wrench things the other way, cutting off God's balls, as it were, in order to make God into an icon of gender-equality? Must God be treated like some kind of intellectual property, to be stretched in a tug-of-war between Fundamentalists and Feminists?

Yes, I know. God transcends gender. Balls are not God's problem. But the historical Jesus, recognized by his followers after his glorious Resurrection as the unique Incarnation of God, had them. Let's be honest about that while we are working to include each other, however we are gendered (male, female, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered only begin to describe the possibilities).

Finally, our concern over inclusive language must seem extremely parochial to non-English speakers. What about speakers of German, French, and Italian whose nouns have gender and for whom the word "God" itself is masculine? I think we have it relatively easy.

29 January 2007

None so Blind as Richard Dawkins

While driving this weekend, I tuned into NPR and caught a bit of a program about science and religion. It was biologist Richard Dawkins declaring that the question, "What is the meaning of life?" is no more worthy of an answer than, "Why are unicorns orange?"

I was struck by the realization that debating Richard Dawkins on religion would be like debating a congenitally blind skeptic on the reality of color. Dawkins appears unable to have anything resembling a religious experience, and therefore to doubt that anyone else does. Further, he seems to believe that there is in principle a completely naturalistic (or materialistic) explanation of any such experience.

Well, let's get really scientific about it. As a physicist, I can tell you that there is no such thing as color. There are different wavelengths of light, and specific retinal and neural responses to them. But the experience of color is entirely subjective. It's all in your mind.

Dawkins might object to my analogy because there is a neurophysiological explanation for color perception (but not, I hasten to add for its subjective experience). Yet there are also neurophysiological correlates of religious experience - specifically of Western-style experience of mystical union with God, and of Eastern-style experience of oneness with Everything, as documented in Why God Won't Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief. The authors take pains to explain that all experience is "all in your mind," and that the absence of an identified sensory organ does not make that experience any less real. Perhaps the brain itself is the sensory organ of religious experience.

Now Dawkins would argue that if there are neurophysiological correlates of religious experience, then religious experience is entirely neurophysiological - no supernatural ingredients required. But just as I cannot prove that there is a supernatural ingredient, neither can he prove that there is not. The only scientifically tenable position is agnosticism - because if your are an agnostic then you can prove that you do not know whether God exists by the methods of unaided reason.

Dawkins' argument that the supernatural cannot exist is equivalent to the argument that everything that exists can be apprehended by the methods of science. But that is something which science itself has known to be false ever since Goedel's Theorem of 1925, in which Goedel proved that within the confines of any finite, non-trivial, non-contradictory set of axioms, it is possible to construct a statement whose validity can be neither proven nor disproven. Therefore, Dawkins' insistence that any question which cannot be answered by science be declared inadmissible is his attempt to turn his erroneous assumption about the universality of science into a kind of Orwellian NewSpeak in order to make all sensibilities become as stunted as his own.

But I have to admire the Religious conviction with which he pursues his mission to make all nations disciples of his atheism.

27 January 2007

What is Church, anyway?

I feel moved to say a few words about bricks-and-mortar churches vs cyberchurches. But first, a few words from our Sponsor:

And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. - Matt 16:18 KJV

For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.

For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:- Eph 5:23,29 KJV

When I was a child, I thought church was a place you went on Sunday, because that's where people were supposed to go. It was the right thing to do, part of the proper way to be a person. I was shocked out of this way of thinking by my church's deafening silence after my father died. But its residue led me after 20 years to join another church, until a conflict among its members drew me in. After it was over, I became a wanderer, visiting many churches, joining none, and not going every Sunday. While I was still a regular churchgoer ("churched," they call it) I became a Stephen Minister. As an extension of my ministry I even started a cyberchurch, the Virtual Church of the Blind Chihuahua, of which this blog is a part. So again, what is Church? Am I still a part of it, and is cyberchurch really church?

Objectively, Church is the social network of all the believers, the clergy, and God (who, according to Church doctrine makes Himself available to the Church as a person - any and all of three persons to be exact). In the medieval Catholic way of thinking, the Church as social network formed an acyclic graph. Each person is represented as a node (like a Tinker Toy connector for you old folks), and each link represents an association or connection from one person to another (like a Tinker Toy stick). The graph starts with God, with links going from God to the Pope, from the Pope to the Cardinals, from the Cardinals to their Bishops, from the Bishops to their Priests, and finally from the Priests to the congregations of their People. The Protestant innovation was to make the network cyclic by positing a direct connection between every node (person) and the network hub (God). From a Social Network/Graph Theoretic perspective, the old Wars of Religion between Catholics and Protestants in Europe were over a change in topology.

Being a Protestant, I believe not so much that I keep up my connection to God through prayer, but that God keeps up God's connection to me, without my deserving the favor. This implies that I am still connected to the Church social network through its hub, through God. But there is more to Church than that.

Church has always meant communal worship. Not online, not in front of your TV, but in the physical presence of one another, the entire community of the faithful gathered together. A huge part of the love that Jesus commanded us to have for one another is attachment, a term which refers to the way mammals in close proximity influence each others' metabolic and neural (especially limbic system) rhythms. This occurs through postural cues (body language), gesture (including touch), and lots of other ways, including even the sound of each other breathing. This communal limbic resonance and limbic regulation is probably responsible for the statistic that regular churchgoers are healthier and live longer than the unchurched.

Perhaps the staid nature of worship in the mainline liberal Protestant denominations explains their decline in membership. We mammals crave limbic togetherness, which is mediated by our rhythms. Would it really diminish our neocortical liberalism if we had a little shoutin' and foot stompin' in the pews? But how much more would it revive the church if we took on the task of actually caring for one another?

Church is not only in your rational neocortex, but also in your emotional, soulful limbic body-mind - not only in your head, but in your heart. Cyberchurch cannot replace physical congregation. The Virtual Church of the Blind Chihuahua is merely an add-on, a sop to those of us who live too much in our heads, and a source of provocative ideas for those of us who don't.

Of course, there is infinitely more to Church than I have mentioned here. I have not even touched on the spiritual dimension, what it means to be a servant of God in community with other servants, the vulnerability of Church to the shadow-side of human organizations, etc. I've written about some of that elsewhere. For the rest, you might try asking your pastor.

[1] For more on social networks see Albert-Laslo Barabasi, Linked.
[2] For more on attachment, limbic resonance, and limbic regulation see Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini and Richard Lannon, A General Theory of Love.

23 January 2007

Search Sucks, Too

While we're at it, search sucks, too. Sure, once you've got the hang of using a computer, it's easy to type search terms into, say, Google. But finding what you're really looking for? That's hit and miss. Partly it's because there is no agreement on standards for making content findable.

But a huge part of it is because search engines don't really understand the language of the documents they are searching. This is about to change. Cognition Technologies has designed and built a search architecture that actually understands language, and that has been initialized for several subject areas in English. Stubs exist to initialize it for a wide variety of languages and subject areas.

But if someday we could put all the pieces together - standards for findability, natural language query and understanding, and learning the intention of the searcher (the shared computer-user state space of yesterday's article) we might actually have a search capability that finds what we're looking for.

Of course, that may doom VCBC. Most people find us by accident. In other words, we have a growing audience because search engines turn up unintended stuff. Oh, well. Nothing we do lasts forever.

22 January 2007

Why Personal Computers Still Suck

We have had personal computers for over a quarter century, and they still suck. Yeah, I know, they can play music and video now, and that's cool, but think about all the little steps you have to go through to get a computer to do what you want. Point here, click once there, double click that, drag down this menu which, by the way, is completely different from what it was before you did that other click...

What you are doing is navigating the large, but finite internal space of states that the computer can be in so that you can finally get to that last command that triggers the desired response. You do it using that part of your brain that lets you navigate through familiar and unfamiliar real spaces, like shopping malls, and lets you find your car in the parking lot when you're done shopping. If you have a stroke in your right vertebral artery, which keeps this region alive, you may be able to walk and talk, but you won't be able to use your computer. At least not until after a long period of retraining.

Which makes me wonder: why after all these years are we still navigating the computer's state space? Don't computers now have the processing power to start navigating our state space? After all, there are only a finite number of commands you can give a computer. Therefore, there are only a finite number of commands you can want to give a computer - at least from the computer programmer's point of view.

Why do we have to remember where to find the obscure command that formats the margins the way we what, or go through three click-and-drags to get a Greek letter? Computers now have keyboards, mice, microphones, and cameras. It's time for operating systems programmers to make computers that understand typing, points, clicks, scrolls, and some words and gestures - and that use those inputs to figure out what we want them to do.

It's time for the computational burden of learning and remembering the shared computer-user state space to shift from the user to the computer.