10 November 2006

It ain't necessarily jihad!

What is being passed off today as jihad is not jihad. Let me tell you something about jihad.

In about A.D. 627 the first Muslim community al-Madinah faced destruction in what has come to be known as the Battle of the Trench. A champion of the pagan forces trying to wipe out Islam had managed to cross the trench and challenged the Muslims to send their bravest warrior to duel with him. The Prophet's son-in-law Ali took up the challenge, and bested his opponent. Just as Ali was about to strike the final blow, his opponent spat in his face. Ali sheathed his sword and walked away. Only when the man came at him again did Ali finally kill him. When he was asked why he had not finished his opponent at his first opportunity, Ali answered that when the man spat on him, he became angry. Ali did not want to kill the man because of his anger — that would have been contrary to God's will regarding jihad. He was willing to kill only to defend Islam and Muslims. He had recovered his purity of purpose when the man attacked him the second time.

What a contrast to the venom spewed out by the Global Fundamentalist Hirabah! They so deny the anger and hatred in their souls, and so conflate it with God's Will, that they twist centuries of Islamic tradition regarding jihad into justifying hirabah - the killing of innocents and non-combatants to achieve their own satisfaction.

And they do this as a way of achieving salifiyyah, a return to the ways of the Prophet and the Rightly Guided Ones. But what they pass off as salifiyyah is not salifiyyah. They want to yank the world back to the 6th century. But they forget that the Prophet and his Companions did not want to move the world backwards. They wanted to move it forwards. They were not conservatives - they were innovators, who respected certain traditions, but who made all things new. A true salifiyyah does not seek to run time backward, but to move it forward constructively. It asks not how to make the world like the world of the Prophet's time, but what the Prophet and his Companions would do if they were transplanted to our own time. How would they adapt? How would they innovate? What traditions would they let go and what traditions would they re-invigorate in order to make the world new again?

Again, what a contrast to the salifiyyah of the Global Fundamentalist Hirabah! They deny that Right Guidance act through a whole people in the form of Representative Democracy. To them Right Guidance is still the intellectual property of a few (themselves, of course) despite the historical fact that the few have guided Islam away from its position of world prominence since the early fifteenth century.

At least, that's how it looks to this Judeo-Christian outsider. Comments, anyone?

27 October 2006

Walking away from North Korea

China seems to delight in letting North Korea make trouble for the US. I have news for China. Your lenience toward North Korea will have consequences that the US cannot prevent and that you will not like.

Consider that Japan is watching the US. She is judging the steadfastness of the US posture in Afghanistan and Iraq. She remembers the way the US ran from Vietnam. She believes that even Israel does not trust the US nuclear umbrella for protection. If Japan sees that she must live with North Korean nuclear-tipped missiles, she will almost certainly decide that the prudent thing would be to have some of her own.

And so, I think that the US should begin walking away from North (and South) Korea. Either China will step up to the plate and bring this bit of proliferation madness to an end, or China will have to live with a nuclear armed Japan. And possibly (in time) even a nuclear armed South Korea.

Let's see. Nuclear India. Nuclear Pakistan. Nuclear North Korea. Nuclear Japan. That will be quite a nuclear neighborhood for nuclear China to handle. We should wish them luck.

21 October 2006


She has a perceptual deficit, a hole in her world from an old stroke. She ignores anything lower than her mid-thighs. She has vertigo whenever she gets up from lying down. Her standing and walking balance and coordination are less than ideal. She has osteoporosis. But the staff at the skilled nursing home where she was doing rehab for her hip fracture couldn't assemble these pieces into a coherent picture any more than she could. They told her she could go home, and so that is where I took her, back all those 3000 miles. Once they told her she could go, there was no persuading her to do anything else. She fell again within days, but didn't break any bones this time. I stayed with her there for a week, all I felt I could spare. I arranged for what in-home care I could. And now I've returned to my own home where I wait on pins and needles for her new medical alarm system to inform me of the next fracture.

Watching her decline, it seems to me that getting older means that whatever you do every day becomes the most you can possibly do any day. Which means that if you're middle aged, you are setting your limits right now. If you usually don't walk more than a block each day, then old age will mean that you can't walk more than a block in a day.

So, I exercise. To give myself breaks while I was staying with her, I walked an hour each day that I could. I walked on streets that are cuts in an otherwise uninterrupted forest. When I was young, I could hear my own footsteps on those streets, mingled with the songs of the forest inhabitants: birds, insects, frogs.

I can still hear my footsteps there, but mingled with new sounds. The whoosh and thrum of the new interstate highway that now links her little town so conveniently with the outside world. It sounds like the sighs and groans of a people in a constant and terrible hurry.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep
But they have promises to keep
And miles to drive before they sleep.

Time itself seems in a terrible hurry when I watch her slow struggle with a bottle of medicine, a pair of shoelaces, or a simple meal heated in a microwave oven. Time is going faster than she can keep up. She is falling behind. Soon, too soon, fracture or no fracture, it will race on without her, and the rest of us with it.

18 September 2006

The Passing of the Ages

A family medical emergency brought me 3000 miles back to my old hometown. Back to my boyhood house, that I sometimes visit in my dreams.

In my dreams, the apple tree that I used to climb is still standing. So are the twin maples just outside the window of what we still call "Grandma's Room." The grass grows thick. In my dreams, my old dogs are still alive. And the air is fresh and sweet.

In reality, the house reflects the energy of its owner. The bathrooms need to be remodeled up from the 1950's and the kitchen needs to be redone. The lawn is threadbare, and the daffodils and the lilies-of-the-valley haven't been replanted in years. The roses are wild vines. The back porch is listing badly, as if about to capsize. And I am allergic to something in this region that has now become too humid for me.

I walk the streets of my boyhood, ticking off the houses of the other kids I used to know. Red-haired, freckled Joan and her brother Joe, who had built some kind of radio in his basement. Jim, who at our first swimming lesson tore the water as if he were fighting bees. Bill, who toasted me so badly at our only tennis match that it was embarrassing, and whose sister had a smile that would make my mind go blank.

I wonder if any of their parents still live in these houses. Mostly not. The houses are too well kept up. The door with the knob in the middle has been replaced. The bushes are trimmed neatly, and the luxurious lawns are well mowed. New owners, with new energy to lavish on their new nests. The old folks are gone.

Except Larry, Butch's dad, sitting on his front porch. With a little prompting, he remembers me. He remembers my father, who died back in the '60s. What he doesn't remember is the beginning of our conversation. A few more turns of talk, and I leave as the same anonymous stranger I was when we first said, "Hello."

Even though it's all still there, it's all gone somehow, this land of my childhood and youth. What once was has died to make way for what is. The community we formed as kids and teens has been erased, like Larry's memory.

And then there is old age's inexorable ruin of one's parent. Butch must endure and care for what is left of his father, and I my mother, whom I have come to rescue. Again. My sister and I search the possibilities for in-home care, without sufficient result. We calculate the costs. The cold hard logic yields only one solution. Take her out of her home and even her state for intensive rehab. Do the experiment, and see if she can, with good enough healthcare, work her way back.

I hate to do this. Will she be able to adjust to her new situation? Will she be able to re-adjust if she becomes otherwise able to make it back home? Or will the daily poisons she must take to stay alive take away the last of her strength to adapt to change?

I also hate to do this to her circle of friends. Because her community of elders is being erased more finally than my community of kids. Even if she makes it back, who will have passed, and how many, during her absence?

This is my prayer: Please, Lord, let me do right by her. Please, sweet Jesus, help me see her safely to the shore.

18 August 2006

Forget Global Warming

Apparently Global Warming is not yet compelling enough to get the world to start using petroleum products for chemistry instead of fuel. How about guilt?

With the exception of Israel, all the governments of the Middle East, including Iran, are either despotisms or near-despotisms. They are propped up against the will of the majority of their peoples by one thing -- oil money. If we could dry up the supply of oil money, these governments would have to come to terms with their people, or fall. I'm betting on the despots' survival skills that they would manage a more or less orderly transition to something that the people would be more willing to support.

This would do two things. First it would remove domestic political oppression as a major source of grievance from the Muslim world. Second, it would replace the culture of dependency on foreign currency handouts (that's what oil money is, after all) with a culture of self-reliance as Muslim societies develop real economies. This would remove the sense of powerlessness (called humiliation in Islamofacist rhetoric) as a motivation for terrorism. Once these obstacles were removed, Islamic societies would either develop in a healthy manner, or would become impoverished. One way they would be less motivated, and the other way they would be less able to make perpetual war with their neighbors in this world.

In more succinct terms, the burning of petroleum products contributes directly to the oppression of Muslims (by both secular and Islamofacist despots). If President Bush wants to make a positive contribution to the future of all humankind would do better to take back his challenge to return Americans to the moon, and instead resolve to convert Americans to alternative fuels.

I favor hydrogen. We can make it at the pump from water and electricity (from solar, wind, or nuclear power). And it burns to create water-vapor. No more automotive pollution. No more smog. Yes, we have President Bush's Hydrogen Fuel Initiative funding some research. But let's do more than that. Let's make it our primary national priority until we achieve it.

Let's clean up our act, everyone. Burn hydrogen not oil! Free Islam!

31 July 2006

Slaughtered in Seattle

Naveed Haq is mentally ill. The experience of mental illness is unique to each individual so afflicted, but the expression of mental illness is often shaped by the culture(s) with which the afflicted individual identifies. So it is that Naveed forced his way past a employee opening a security door and entered the offices of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, carrying a 9-mm semiautomatic pistol.

"I am a Muslim-American, and I am angry at Israel," he announced before he shot 6 women, one of whom was pregnant, and one of whom subsequently died.

Hog on Ice has some choice things to say about the incident. But I think he misses the implications of Naveed being a nut-case who was acting alone without any connection to Hezbollah. This, even though he did his shooting a day after the FBI warned that Hezbollah (actually Hezb' Allah, or Party of God) leaders in Lebanon and al-Qaeda had called for the war in the Middle East to be taken to America.

Part of Naveed's cultural conditioning is his use of the politically correct English he learned growing up in western Washington state. He even used what John Tompkins calls "owned" or "Green Language," by describing his own feelings rather than disparaging the group about whom he has those feelings. It lets one know that political correctness is no bulwark against rage - one's own or another's.

The other part of his cultural conditioning is his apparent participation in the tribal system of managing violence. Under the tribal systems practiced in say, parts of Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Chechnya (among others), violence is not rampant, but contained. It is best explained by example.

Tariq murders Hasan. It is now up to Hasan's extended family to avenge his death, preferably by killing Tariq. But not necessarily. If Tariq goes into hiding, then any member of Hasan's family may kill any member of Tariq's family, and claim that vengeance is satisfied. This accomplishes two things. (1) It enables a kind of justice to be done in the absence of formal material and social structures for law enforcement. No elaborate police force, judicial system, or prison system is necessary, which is a big plus for societies that can't afford them because they are either on the edge of subsistence or nomadic. (2) It engages the basic structure of tribal society - the entire extended family - in discouraging the initiation of violence as well as over-reaction when violence is to be redressed. It works well enough for these societies, considering that they have been in existence for thousands of years, while Western Civilization is a relative new-comer.

Naveed's was a mentally-distorted act of tribal indirection. He wanted to redress what he sees as an over-reaction by Israel to Hezbollah's rocket attacks and the kidnapping of its soldiers. Since he couldn't get to Israel to kill some Jews, he did what he could. He shot a group of unarmed women whom he could presume to be either Jews or sympathetic toward Jews.

And so the shrinking of the world brought about by Globalization has not been entirely a "leveling up" as hoped by Thomas Friedman, and by those modernized societies who founded the United Nations. There has also been a "leveling down" of human behavior as tribal societies go global with their notions of how to run the world.

In part this is due to the West losing confidence in itself after the collapse of colonialism, and the collapse of Christianity in Europe and America as an undisputed source of meaning - as a way of knowing one's place in the universe. We no longer seem to know the way forward. Westerners want it to emerge as some kind of consensus between themselves and all the other peoples of the world. This creates a vacuum of leadership that sucks tribalism onto the Global scene.

The West is paying an increasing price for its lack of vision, unity and resolve. The tribalists so far have paid little that they cannot accept. So far.

But there is a price, and it will be exacted once some tipping-point in the West is reached. I remember a visit to the town where I grew up in Appalachia. It was dusk as I approached the front porch of an old friend. He waved his 9-mm semiautomatic pistol at me. It was a friendly wave - you can tell by the way the muzzle of the gun is pointed away from you at all times - and I thought nothing of it. Where I grew up that sort of gesture is normal. It was only when I got back to the West Coast that I realized that where I live now, that would have started a major incident with the law enforcement community. What the world and even the West itself little appreciate is how much of the West (in both Europe and the Americas) is made of people like my old friend.

So far, America has been a great place to be a Muslim, or anything else for that matter (at least since formally instutionalized racism was ended in the 1960s). I would recommend to Hezbollah sympathizers that they keep it that way, and leave their tribalism in their tribal lands. It would be most regrettable if they were to awaken the West's own tribal past.

There is one last point to be made from Naveed's individual act. Although Naveed is a nut-case, unlike most terrorists studied by Marc Sageman, he is nevertheless a volunteer, a wannabe, a free-lancer, if you will, for Muslim Terrorism. Domestic terrorist organizations in the US often operate by stimulating free-lancers to act on their own, without any actual connection to the organization dispensing the stimulating ideology. It's almost the only way they can keep operating in our law-enforcement friendly environment.

So, don't look for too many actions by organized Hezbollah groups in the US (even though they are here). If they get active, look for more "volunteers."

04 July 2006

Ten Years Online

On this day 230 years ago, the King of England's subjects in the American colonies declared themselves subjects no longer. Henceforth they would be free citizens of an independent nation that existed only in their imaginations. As yet it had no national laws, but it did have a collection of gentlemen's agreements passed by a Continental Congress, and it had something of an army, led by an inexperienced Virginia planter.

The dream for which the army and the Congress staked their lives - their little rebellion was considered Treason against the Crown and punishable by execution - was an amorphous collection of values from the European Enlightenment, condensed in a little pamphlet called, "Common Sense." From those values they distilled the following lines:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
These words provide a postscript to the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, which set up the modern system of nation-states. It is simply this: Sovereignty does not reside with governments, but with the people governed. And this: Human Rights are not created by governments -- rather, governments are instituted to protect the Human Rights that people are given originally by their Creator.

Democracy is spreading, and has been doing so ever since the first liberal democracy began this day in 1776. The number of liberal democracies on earth is at an all-time high, and almost all countries on earth claim to be democratic whether they are or not. That is to say, the European Enlightenment value that liberal democracy represents is paid almost universal homage, even by its enemies.

And so, we chose this day to launch The Virtual Church of the Blind Chihuahua 10 years ago to affirm liberal democratic values as the only way we know that can enable people of all faiths to share our planet in peace. And the only way we know to practice our own faith with authenticity and without hindrance. As the Bible says, "Let my people go, that they may serve Me," and as the Qur'an says, "Let there be no compulsion in Religion."

In ten years, we have not been entirely without impact. Some 20 people or so have written to us that they were considering leaving Christianity until they stumbled upon us, and realized (in so many words) that Christianity is not the sole intellectual property of the Fundamentalists. Some vigorous debates have taken place in our Forum concerning sexuality, and war. A woman "came out" to her family and community about her having been abused by a priest when she was a teenager. And numerous clergy and laypersons from around the world have written to say they enjoyed the site. Our essays on nuclear weapons, the Challenger explosion, and some others have been discussed in college courses, and our Abrahamic Prayer (combining Jewish, Christian, and Islamic elements) has been used in interfaith gatherings. All in all, not too bad.

What we would like to see in the next ten years (if we go that long) is more participation by Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists trying to work out a way of affirming their own and each other's faiths.

On a more personal note, I want to mention that my mother-in-law passed from this world yesterday. Let us all be mindful that we are only passing through this world, and that it is our mission to leave it better for our having done so, to the extent we can.

13 June 2006

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi

We are pleased to announce that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, named by Usama bin Laden as the "Prince of al-Qaeda in Iraq," was wedded to the dark-eyed hounds of Hell on June 7, 2006 in the Common Era. He was a high-school dropout, sometime drug dealer, child-molester, and master-mind of numerous killings, bombings, beheadings (for the amusement of his fellow internet pornographers), and the deliberate incitement of sectarian violence in Iraq by killing both Shiite and Sunni Muslims, and destroying their holy places. To his dying day he denied that the Will of God could be made known through the Will of the People. Rather, he acted out the belief that the Will of God could only be made known through the Will of a Single Man, such as himself. By thus projecting his own demonic impulses onto a false god he created of his own stunted and bitter imagination, he joined the idolaters. By calling this idol of his imagination Allah, he joined the blasphemers. By representing this idolatry and blasphemy as the one true Islam, he joined those who insult the Prophet and his followers. For his idolatry, blasphemy, and insult he would have deserved a painful death in this world and an abasing chastisement on the Last Day. However, since he committed so many murders in the name of his perverted beliefs, and encouraged so many others to do likewise, it is impossible to imagine the doom that he must taste.

May those who take up his sword after him follow him to his Judgment swiftly and soon, for the peace of the world and the Glory of God.

28 May 2006

Immigration: Don't Fence Me In

Urination upon both Democrats and Republicans concerning illegal immigration from Mexico. Neither party has even tried to come up with a workable and humane solution. I stress these two words because, in the case of US-Mexican relations, workable and humane amount to the same thing.

Consider that, if Mexico exports workers to the US, the US exports money to the families of those workers. We have already been told that the remittances from Mexican workers in the US exceeds the revenues of Mexico's state-owned oil industry. This money empowers those families to do things for themselves instead of waiting for handouts from the corrupt Mexican government. Thus, the flow of money from the US helps build a civil society in Mexico.

That's a good thing and we should encourage it with a guest-worker program that is so easy to enroll in and so helpful to enrollees that people will want to join up rather than to come to the US illegally. The catch? The US gets to collect some biometrics and issue cards so we can know who they are and where they are, and make sure that they leave when they say they will. It should also include a path to US citizenship for those who want it, as well as an option to renew for guest-worker status as long as the worker is working.

But we also need to think about other US exports to Mexico, like the $8 billion to $24 billion in drug money that goes each year to the Mexican cartels. Those cartels are extremely corrupting to the Mexican government: if they can't buy Mexican politicians with US drug money, then they can assassinate them with the US guns they buy with their drug money and smuggle south. In other words, we tend to cancel the good export - money to families - with the bad export - guns and money to the drug cartels.

Instead of doing something stupid, inhumane, unfriendly, and ultimately self-destructive like fencing the border to cut off the flow of Mexicans to the US, maybe we should try doing something to cut off the flow of US drug money and guns to Mexico. Maybe we should change US drug policy.

I have a suggestion. Legalize drugs, but provide only minimal health care to US persons who use those drugs, and stiff penalties for causing accidents or committing crimes while using them. The money we would save on Drug Enforcement and prisons would probably be enough to subsidize drug treatment facilities and medications.

If that doesn't work for you, then lower the penalties on drug sellers and increase them on drug users.

Either way would drive down the price of currently illegal drugs, which would tend to force the cartels to go legit to make money. And that would be a very good thing.

In short, rather than try to fence in Mexico, we should try to help Mexico become a better place to live, so more Mexicans will want to stay there. Rather than building good fences, the US and Mexico should try to be good neighbors.

05 May 2006

Sentencing Zack

I'm conflicted over the sentencing of Zacharias Moussaoui. (And if I didn't spell his name right, it is because I refuse to do him the honor of looking it up.) He was the only 9/11 hijacker stupid enough to get caught before he could do his special crime against man and God. The jury sentenced him to life in prison, because he didn't actually do that crime. He merely claimed to have had knowledge of it before it occurred, and that he was supposed to have taken part in it.

In some sense, killing is too good for him. If he had gotten the death sentence, we would have kept him in prison for years while we went through a complex and lengthy automatic appeals process, giving him numerous "days in court" to make a spectacle of himself and us, before finally offing him in the most merciful manner we know how. He deserves the misery of prison terminated only by whatever death God chooses, which might be a good deal less merciful than one of our lethal injections.

On the other hand, we don't need al-Qaeda people in our prisons recruiting other prisoners with shorter sentences and better American acculturation into new al-Qaeda gangs. Since we can't seem to socially isolate prisoners who are gang organizers, even in solitary confinement, maybe it is better just to kill them. You see, I oppose killing anyone who is already in the power of the state. But criminal gang organizers do not submit to the power of the state, even while in prison. They continue to organize, and even to order crimes committed outside prison. The same would be true of al-Qaeda members in our prisons. So, yes, we would be killing them for our shortcomings, our inability to control their anti-social behavior. But then, they could just stop that behavior if they wanted to live.

And yet, Moussaoui is probably not an organizer. He doesn't seem to have the snap to organize anything, not even his own thinking and behavior. In prison, Moussaoui is probably not a serious threat. So the jury let him live, made him live. It boils down to this - he was too stupid to avoid capture, and he is too stupid to kill.

02 May 2006

What a Card!

Just a quickie about Orson Scott Card's novels, Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead. In these novels, Card does many things, and covers many themes. But for tonight, I just want to note that he explores the idea of consciousnesses so alien to ours that communication is rendered extremely difficult. In the first of these novels, misunderstanding leads to war. In the second it leads to multiple murders, which are done by vivisection of the victims.

How appropriate to be reading these as we struggle through World War IV: The Free World vs the Global Salafist Jihad. It has hot spots in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Judea and Samaria (indicating my bias here), Sudan, and a warming one in Iran.

It is clear that we and our Radical Islamist brothers are having a misunderstanding. But part of their schtick is that they cannot afford to try to understand us as we understand ourselves. We, on the other hand, are secure enough in our own identities and religions to try to understand them "from the inside out." Indeed, we must do so if we are ever to win this long war. They cannot risk this kind of love. But we can. Military force and technology are powerful stop gaps. Love in the form of understanding is the winning edge.

19 April 2006

Contra Google et alia

In recent months, Google has refused to cooperate with the US government in hunting internet child pornographers, while it has knuckled under to demands from the Chinese government to censor all political references to Tianmen Square from its servers in China. Google wasn't willing to pay the price of China cloning its software and setting up a search service of its own to shut Google out of so big a market. But it is willing to take a stand against the US Government where a centuries old tradition of civil liberties not only prevents it from having to suffer any consequences - it guarantees that Google will get the marketing benefit of "good press" for its courage. In other words, Google has acted like a cynical, hypocritical and avaricious coward. Ordinarily this would be no big deal.

But ours is a time in which we cannot afford to bow to terrorists or tyrants. The Virtual Church of the Blind Chihuahua has therefore eliminated its Google Adsense advertising. We could also eliminate our Google search box and our Blogger account, but where can we turn?

Yahoo has done even worse than Google by turning over to the Chinese government the identity of a dissident who was subsequently sentenced to 17 years in prison. Microsoft and Cisco have also cooperated with the Chinese government in censorship and law enforcement.

So, shame on you, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Cisco. We will continue to use you to increase our traffic and visibility to get our message out. But we won't take your thirty pieces of silver.

26 March 2006

Who's Looking Out for You?

I couldn't resist copping one of Bill O'Reilly's slogans for this post. In answer, I can say that even if you took Mr. O'Reilly, President Bush, all the US military forces and intelligence officers deployed around the world, and all the Homeland Security and law enforcement together, they still wouldn't be enough to watch your back during this Global War on Terror. So who else is looking out for you?

Muslims. I think one big reason there hasn't been another major al-Qaeda like attack in the US, like those in Europe, is that American Muslims are not giving aid or shelter to would-be Jihaddicts. Like everyone else in America, they were caught with their guard down prior to 9/11. But now that they know the threat from these fanatics, I think they are watching out for suspicious characters and alerting the civil authorities.

So, next time you think about or encounter Muslims, show a little gratitude and a little respect.

Better yet, show a little love. Now we could say that it is a kind of love-in-action to pour blood and treasure into Iraq and Afghanistan in order to give the people of Islam a chance at anything other than autocratic government. But even if we win in those places (still in doubt at this writing), we can lose in others. This is because oil-rich Wahabbi-Jihadi fanatics are financing the construction and staffing of mosques all over the Islamic world. They are even funding the infiltration of fanatic clerics into mosques in America to try to take away the protection that American Muslims provide.

I have a counter-proposition. We should fund American Muslims to become missionaries back into the wider Muslim world. We should fund them to build and staff mosques, to run charities, to provide aid, care, and instruction. We should fund them to spread a message counter to that of the Global Salafist Jihad: the message that Islam need not be shackled to the honor-shame cultures in which it was born. The message that Islam does not dictate culture, but transcends it. The message that anyone can be a Muslim and still be themselves. The message of the Prophet, without the baggage the Jihaddicts load onto it.

We can use our technology and military might to keep from losing the struggle against the Global Salafist Jihad. But it will take love to win it.

23 March 2006

A Terrible Love of War

James Hillman's book published in 2004 by the above title is an investigation into war by a Jungian analyst. He explores war with his imagination, which well he might, since by his own admission he has never been in combat. This, however, presents no obstacle because of his experience with combat veterans and survivors and their written accounts. Indeed, he has read widely, and refers liberally to the classics, history both ancient and modern, and the literature of psychology, philosophy and social science. Hillman's book speeds over his sources like an insect called a water-strider speeds over a pond - never penetrating the depths, because it is too light-weight to break the surface tension.

His chapters are entitled

  • War is Normal - meaning that it is ubiquitous in history and geography and that psychologically normal people engage in it
  • War is Inhuman - meaning that war seems to have a transpersonal dynamic all its own. Hillman imagines it as the Greek/Roman war-god Ares/Mars. Indeed Hillman seems to prefer a multiplicity of simple, one-themed gods, rather than a single, complex, multi-faceted God, like that of Christianity.
  • War is Sublime - meaning that war calls us to serve and sacrifice for a cause higher than ourselves, that in conflict we can experience a kind of transcendence.
  • Religion is War - by his own admission an attack on Christianity as being warlike and therefore hypocritical.

    I'll give him this. He makes some interesting points. For example, he claims that Clausewitz had it backwards when he asserted that war is a continuation of politics by other means. Having worked for a political campaign I agree: politics is really a continuation of war by other means. He also states the obvious - in order to have a war, you need an enemy. This point was explored more fully by another psychiatrist, Anthony J. Stevens, in his book, The Roots of War: A Jungian Perspective in which discusses enemy-making as pseudospeciation, the portrayal of the enemy group as less than, or at least other than, human. Stevens also delves into the pervasiveness of war-metaphors in our culture, which Hillman merely decries.

    With regard to his attack on Christianity, Hillman would do well to read Thomas Cahill's Gifts of the Jews: How a Desert Tribe of Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels. That is to say, most of what he identifies with Christianity is what Christianity inherited from Judaism. That he attacks it might tempt me to brand him as an anti-Semite, but there is a better designation. I think he may be an Occidentalist, as described by Buruma and Margalit in their book, Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of Its Enemies, or perhaps a Bourgeoisophobe, to use David Brook's designation.

    All in all, I think much of what Dr. Hillman says in this book is said with more regard for its effect rather than for its accuracy. For example, he quotes a well-known hymn:

    Onward Christian soldiers,
    Marching off to war,

    Sorry, James. It's "Marching as to war," and that makes all the difference. If my impression its statements being made for effect over accuracy is correct, then A Terrible Love of War might fall into the category of discourse studied by Dr. Harry G. Frankfurt in his treatise, On Bullshit.
  • 18 March 2006

    Corrupting The Nation's Youth

    Letter Submitted to The Nation
    Re: Princeton Tilts Right

    I was delighted to see that my college friend, Robby George, is doing well enough to attract the attention of The Nation. Though Robby and I disagree on abortion and homosexuality, I have always had the impression that Robby's civility was not a tactic to disarm his critics. Rather, I think he believes that civility and civil discourse are more important to preserving our democracy than winning a particular argument.

    This point may be lost on Max Blumenthal, who characterizes George's Madison Program as an attack to which Princeton University has capitulated. It is more likely that Princeton is becoming tolerant of yet another form of diversity - that of opinion.

    Rather than seeing Robby as Princeton's token conservative, Mr. Blumenthal characterizes him as a corruptor of the nation's youth. If Blumenthal were an ancient city-state, I imagine he would call for Robby George to drink hemlock.

    01 March 2006

    Review: The Battle for Middle Earth
    Tolkien's Divine Design in the Lord of the Rings
    Fleming Rutledge
    No counsel have I to give those that despair. Yet counsel I could give, and words I could speak to you. Will you hear them? They are not for all ears. I bid you come out before your doors and look abroad. Too long have you sat in the shadows and trusted to twisted tales and crooked promptings. Gandalf to Theoden in The Two Towers
    Thus spake the editors of The Nation (a weekly magazine of the American political Left) on their cover of November 28, 2005:
    There can no longer be any doubt: The American war in Iraq — an unprovoked, unnecessary, unlawful invasion that has turned into a colonial style occupation — is a moral and political catastrophe. It has also become the single greatest threat to America's national security.... The Nation will not support any candidate for national office who does not make a speedy end to the American war in Iraq a major issue of his or her campaign.
    Not long afterward, the The Weekly Standard (a magazine of the American political Right) carried as its December 19, 2005 cover story, "Fighting to Win — With the proper strategy victory in Iraq is far more likely than many think," by Frederick W. Kagan. Both magazines are published in English from Washington, D. C. Other than that, they have nothing in common.

    Well, almost nothing. They both get the same news. They just draw opposing conclusions from it. If they were in the world of J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, they would each be staring into a palantir, one of the seven seeing stones wrought by the High Elves in the Elder Days, and brought to Middle Earth by the men of Numenor.

    The palantiri were "crystal balls" that enabled those looking into them to "converse in thought with one another." They could also show one scenes from across both space and time, if one's will were strong enough to direct them. To us, they are a metaphor for the technical means by which we gather and communicate both news and intelligence. The difference between them being that intelligence agencies try to get the truth and keep it private, while news agencies try to get a story and sell it to the public.

    In the Lord of the Rings (henceforth LOTR), palantiri were used by Saruman the Wizard and Denethor the Steward of Gondor. But a third palantir was controlled by Sauron, the Lord of Barad-dur, the personification of Evil, who used the palantiri to drive Saruman to evil and Denethor to suicide, as Gandalf described:
    'The Stones of Seeing do not lie, and not even the Lord of Barad-dur can make them do so. He can, maybe, by his will choose what things shall be seen by weaker minds, or cause them to mistake the meaning of what they see.' (The Return of the King: The Last Debate)
    And so it is with the news. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Iraq is the most dangerous place in the world to be a reporter. This means that all the news from Iraq is going to be bad, because nobody in their right mind is going to risk their neck to report the re-opening of a school or the recomissioning of a water treatment plant. That stuff doesn't sell papers, doesn't bring eyeballs to advertisements, so it ends up in the editorial waste bin. But a roadside bomb attack, now that's news. It becomes part of never-ending drip of bad news, and no end in sight. We begin to feel that we can never accomplish anything good there. Thus, Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia (aka Al-Qaeda in Iraq, or AQI) uses terror in theater to create despair on the home front.

    Now terror and despair are the weapons of Sauron (a stand-in for Satan), which Fleming Rutledge notes in her book, The Battle for Middle Earth: Tolkien's Divine Design in the Lord of the Rings. An Episcopal priest, Rutledge is more concerned to caution her fellow Americans against self-righteous bigotry than she is with the workings of the Enemy. She mentions Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo in the context of warning that we cannot allow ourselves the illusion that "they" are all bad and "we" are all good. For our own military and economic power seduces us, in the same way the One Ring — the Ring of Power — seduces its bearers.

    How men should conduct themselves in war, and why they should fight are great concerns for both Rutledge and Tolkien, who despite his devout Christianity, never explicitly mentions God in this pre-Christian, yet profoundly Christian epic. Rutledge devotes considerable space to explaining what amounts to Tolkien's action-portrayals of the Catholic tradition of Just War (both in deciding whether one must go to war — ius ad bellum, and how to conduct it — ius in bello).

    But her main concern, and indeed her greatest achievement, is to walk the reader through Tolkien's narrative demonstration of how Free Will and Predestination are not opposites. In Christian Doctrine and in LOTR, they are the same thing. Consider that if God has chosen you for His Service, you can refuse. But if you refuse, you turn away from realizing your true self, your rightful destiny. If you accept, you achieve the fulfillment of becoming who you were always meant to be.

    Such a short sketch of Predestination (or Election) does little justice to Fleming's exegesis of it in LOTR, and to Tolkien's brilliance. To best enjoy them, I suggest reading a chapter of LOTR first, and then reading Fleming's exegesis of it afterword. This is made easier by Fleming's approach of analyzing LOTR one chapter at a time in sequence as they are printed.

    Things that are missing from Fleming's treatment are an interpretation of the palantiri as symbolic of both intelligence and news (as above), and an exegesis of Tolkien's theological interpretation of depression. In LOTR, depression is evoked by Sauron in order to sap his opponents' will to resist him. Sauron induces depression in Theoden through the whisperings of Grima Wormtongue (propaganda), and in Denethor through the palantir. The first is cured only by the intervention of Gandalf (quoted under the title of this essay), while the second is too far gone. Not only does Denethor neglect the defense of his City, his attempted murder of his own son during a successful suicide attempt prevent Gandalf from reaching the battlefield in time to prevent the death of Theoden. For Tolkien, depression is one of the chief tools of the Enemy.

    And indeed, in the form of demoralization, depression is one of the chief tools of the terrorist insurgency we have been actively fighting since 9/11. All so-called "fourth generation" warriors use "asymmetrical" means such as terrorism to attack not only the their opponents populace, but more importantly their opponents will to continue the struggle. Their strategy is not to defeat a militarily superior foe outright, but simply to outlast their foe, all the while creating doubt in their foe's mind about the legitimacy and winnability of the conflict. It is even better to create division and conflict within the foe's body politic, as Denethor's subjects fought each other — some trying to carry out Denethor's suicidal orders, and others trying to prevent that suicide.

    Then there is the Ring itself. It was made by a craft that none but Sauron possesses, and as such is symbolic of a kind of destructive technological power. Frodo's mission is to take it back into Sauron's own territory and cast it into the lava from which it was forged in the heart of Mount Doom. Rutledge explores the dimensions of this quest as a journey enabled by the Cardinal Virtues and aided by what some might call chance, but is really Divine Providence. But to me (and I think to Tolkien who was a veteran of WW I) it is a covert Special Operation, with the entire War of the Ring as a diversion to keep the op's cover from being blown. As such, it has inspired many re-readings of LOTR by a retired SEAL Commander I know.

    On the other hand, imagine an al-Qaeda terrorist reading his story into LOTR. He could see himself as Frodo, bearing the One Ring — an Improvised Nuclear Device — into the heart of our, his Enemy's, territory — to bring to ruin the forces of evil, us. With ever more powerful technologies becoming ever more accessible, the most dangerous weapon is imagination. Although Rutledge neglects some of the more mundane and practical aspects of intelligence and conflict, she is right to draw our attention to how we conduct our side of the conflict. We must make it increasingly difficult for our enemies to portray us as evil and themselves as good.

    28 February 2006

    On the Backs of the Poor

    One thing that you have to admire is the mindless gall with which a supposedly pro-business Republican Administration can ride roughshod over contract law when it comes to the public sector. Consider that Medicare has decided to cut back its reimbursements for psychological services - get this - retroactively. Now I can understand the need to save money, and the need to change a reimbursement schedule. But the heart of Capitalism is that "a deal is a deal." Changing the deal after the fact between private parties is a tort, in this case a breach of contract, which is an invitation to a lawsuit by the damaged party. Were I running a psychological services center, I would refuse to refund the money. I would also refuse to take any new Medicare clients until the matter is resolved.

    But this attitude of, "We can do what we want, we're the government," doesn't end there. Consider that it is not unusual for the Social Security Administration to make errors in determining how much money a recipient should get, and further, to fail to discover the error for months or even years. Upon discovery, it is standard procedure to demand immediate back payment, with interest, of any excess amount given in error to the recipient. If the recipient were a business, then the recipient's accounting department could have detected the error and notified the Social Security Administration. But businesses don't get Social Security. People do. And often enough, the person getting Social Security is living a hand-to-mouth existence. There is no way he or she is going to be able to decipher the complex formulae that would show that the pittance he or she is receiving is too great. There is also no way that he or she going to set aside some portion of that pittance as insurance against some bureaucrat's miscalculation. In other words, it is perfectly reasonable to warn him or her that the pittance is about to be reduced. But it is not reasonable to ask for any of it back.

    Instead, I recommend improving the system so that the bureaucrats don't screw up as often. If I were part of the Administration I would seek to make government a little less high-handed when dealing with the down on their luck.

    26 February 2006

    Edge of the Sword

    In Christendom it is now Transfiguration Sunday, five days after the Golden Dome of the al-Askari shrine in Samarra was heavily damaged by a gang of bombers. The BBC reports that no organization has come forward to claim responsibility for the attack. Iraq is balanced on the edge of a sword. If it loses its balance or falls apart, the descent into the chaos of a civil war like that which plagued Lebanon for 15 years will be swift and bloody. But there are signs of hope. The Iraqi government has instituted a curfew, and both Shiite and Sunni religious leaders have united in their prohibition of further violence.

    There is also a sign of despair. It is not that the joint declaration from the Shiite and Sunni leaders calls for the US to leave Iraq on a specified timetable. It is that they have made no such call for the exit of al-Qaeda, the organization that probably carried out the bombing of the Golden Dome. It is al-Qaeda that has the greatest interest in civil war in Iraq. They would exploit it by providing soldiers for one of the Sunni factions, hoping to achieve dominance in the Sunni provinces. The attack is certainly in line with their recent behavior. "Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia" (as they call themselves) have a history of reaching too far in their use of violence.

    Let us look for a Transfiguration in Iraq. Yes, surely the Western troops must leave when the time is ripe. But just as surely, the time is now ripe for the Iraqis themselves to show al-Qaeda the door. It should be clear enough from this incident that al-Qaeda is not the friend of anyone in Iraq, Shia or Sunni, and that further toleration of their presence will only bring more blood, destruction, and desecration.

    23 February 2006

    For the Beauty of the Earth

    I suppose a sufficiently obtuse scientist could concoct a post hoc explanation of why the appreciation of beauty is beneficial to our species, and how it is therefore a product of unguided evolution. But so many species do just fine without such appreciation. No, I rather think our ability to appreciate beauty in such an astounding variety of forms is a gift, as we sing in the hymn:

    For the beauty of the earth,
    For the beauty of the skies,
    For the love which from our birth,
    Over and around us lies:

    Christ, our Lord, to you we raise
    This our sacrifice of praise.

    Sometimes, to regain our perspective, we need to turn off the news, let go of our inner voices and thoughts, and just see, just feel.

    22 February 2006

    Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Does Not Exist

    One wonders what to do about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is widely rumored to be President of Iran. Recently he is reported to have denied the Holocaust, and in so doing, to have claimed that those who acknowledge the Holocaust (or Shoah in Hebrew) are idolaters, because, in his words, "they hold it higher than God himself, religion itself and the prophets themselves."

    It is useless to point out that the Holocaust is better documented than God, religion, and the prophets (we have photographs of the Holocaust, for example). It is useless to point out that there are still living human witnesses to the Holocaust (both victims and perpetrators), while there are no such witnesses to the prophets. Why is this so? Because we humans don't usually dig out the facts for ourselves on every subject of controversy. We make an estimate as to the believability of a truth-claim, and then move on, because we just don't have the time. A short-cut to that estimate is to see if someone you trust and respect as an authority accepts that truth-claim. It is this particular short-cut that dominates traditional societies. So much does it dominate, that a buddy of mine models the spreading of opinion in such societies as a "one-shot Nash demand game" in which the status of one party relative to another determines the direction and likelihood of belief-propagation.

    Thus, presenting evidence of the Holocaust won't sway Mahmoud, or his co-believers. Neither I, nor anyone who is not a high-ranking Iranian mullah, have the required status to convince. So, the Virtual Church of the Blind Chihuahua is left with one alternative: we must realize that the evidence for the Holocaust is just as compelling as the evidence for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, himself. In other words, by the standard of evidence prevalent in Iran ...

    Mahmoud Ahmadinejad does not exist.

    I know that this may be hard to accept, but consider that Ahmadinejad, by promulgating a lie (i.e., that the Holocaust didn't happen) brings discredit to his professed religion of Islam. After all, if he should believe such a lie, and teach others to believe it, then one cannot be absolutely sure that he has embraced Islam out of a desire for and knowledge of truth. Therefore, who would have it in their interest for such a man to exist and to be President of Iran? The Jews!

    Yes, once again, those super-clever, super-subtle super-beings have duped the Islamic World. The thing known as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is not a human, but a Golem! Essentially a Golem is a robot, which is created by, and serves the will of its Jewish master. And we know the Jews can make Golems, because their own literature says they can. In this case, it is clear that the Ahmadinejad Golem has been made by Israel's super-secret Mossad in order to goad the United States into striking against Iran (which would threaten its nuclear energy/weapons complex and its glorious Revolution), and to discredit its Islam.

    O People of Iran, you are in peril! Awaken to the danger! Unmask this impostor and be free!

    19 February 2006

    Less So Intelligent Design

    On the positve side, advocates of Intelligent Design try to use concepts from Information Theory that are divorced from physical reality. That is, information is physical - physical interactions must take place for information to be created, moved, or destroyed. And, contrary to the assertions of at least one ID supporter (William Dembski), all three things can happen to information. But that's the positive side. In this post, I want to look at the negative side: the arguments made by the IDers against Evolution.

    First, they try to use the notion of irreducible complexity. This is the notion that if you take a part away from a machine, and it stops functioning at all, then that part could not have evolved from nothing through a series of small changes. They try to apply this to biological systems, heedless of its fallacy. For one thing, consider that a substitute, but inferior, part could make the machine work almost as well. There could be a whole sequence of such parts, stretching back into the past. Indeed there could be such sequences for every part of the machine, such that at some prior time, the machine looked and functioned rather differently. Such is the case with living things and their multiplicity of subsystems and parts, many of which are redundant, and many of which are flawed. (Indeed, the theory of systems with multiply redundant, flawed parts seems to account well for the phenomenon of aging.)

    Second, they try to show that there simply hasn't been enough time since the beginning of the biosphere (about 4 billion years ago) for life as we know it to have arisen. They note the billions of parts of a DNA molecule, and point out that, given known mutation rates, random mutations could not account for the diversity of life that we now see. However, as I pointed out in my previous post on ID, mutations do not occur randomly. On this planet they are constrained by the stereochemistry of carbon compounds in solution in water. The process of change by mutation is neither random, nor even Markov. DNA , RNA, and their precursors, interacting with their environment are essentially computers with memory. Thus evolution proceeds far faster than the IDers (or most advocates for evolution) give it credit.

    So, while evolution is an observed process, and people have testable theories concerning how it happens, ID is not yet one of those theories. It is instead an intellectual and political power-grab by people who would rather believe a comforting myth than stare into the abyss of uncertainty. In particular, by trying to force its way into school curricula, it is an attempt by my fellow believers to co-opt the temporal power of the state to shore up the weakness of their faith.

    Well, we in Western Civilization have been down that road before. We have fought our way through the Protestant Reformation and the bloody wars of religion that followed. We should all know by now that when the power of Faith gets in bed with the power of the Government, their union breeds monsters. This is a simple fact of the Human Condition, and it applies to all religions, whether, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or Secularist.

    14 February 2006

    Anticipation of Reward

    I still remember the afternoon, over 40 years ago, when I came home after just finishing the First Grade. I had worked a good fraction of my life for this day, and I had been successful - I was an "A" student. The entire summer, days without number, lay ahead for me to play, to explore, to discover. The greens of the leaves and the grass, the blue of the sky were vivid, intense, like walking in a dream. And the dream lasted the rest of the day.

    "There is a circuit in your brain for that," remarked my wife, who is studying psychology. "Essentially it is activated when you expect to experience a reward - something that you will enjoy. It makes you feel simultaneously alert, confident and happy, which in turn enables you to engage in the kind of exploratory, seeking behavior that is needed to get that reward. It's the same circuit that is hihacked by heroin and other addictions."

    Yes, indeed. I was anticipating a whole summer. And then a darker thought intruded.

    "It's probably also the same circuit that triggers when a suicide bomber is about to blow himself up. He expects Heaven," I said. "It explains why they often smile when they do it. Or so various jihadi websites claim."

    Well, that was a downer. We changed the subject to something more fitting to the occasion.

    Happy Valentine's Day.

    12 February 2006

    Not So Intelligent Design

    "Why do the heathen rage so furiously together, and why do the people imagine a vain thing?" Rather than read that line in context in the Bible, try listening to Handel's version of it in his oratorio, The Messiah." Now we are ready to talk about the controversy over Intelligent Design (ID) as an alternate theory to Evolution.

    My grad school buddy Adrian Melott once wrote, Intelligent Design is Creationism in a Cheap Tuxedo, which I fear is true of most of its advocates. Now, don't get me wrong. I would love to see a real theory of Intelligent Design - a mathematical/logical framework that would enable me to methodically estimate the probability that a given object is natural or artificial, that is made by artifice, according to some design. A way to tell whether a stone is just a stone, or the earliest handmade tool. Today we use various arguments to convince ourselves one way or the other, but we have no formal theory.

    One of ID's brightest advocates, William Dembski, seems to start toward such a theory, in his online article, Intelligent Design as a Theory of Information. In it, he sketches the concept of Complex Specified Information (CSI) - which involves Actualization, Exclusion, and Specification. Actualization means that a possibility has been realized. Exclusion means that possibility excludes many other possibilities. Specification means that the possibility matches a pattern that is given independently of and prior to the possibility itself.

    Since exclusion is measured in terms of probability, i.e., the likelihood that the possibility could have occurred by chance, Dembski adopts the standard convention in information theory that the amount of information in an event is proportional to the negative of the logarithm (to the base 2) of the probability of the event's happening by chance. The base 2 is a nod to the idea that information can be reckoned in terms of binary digits or bits. But the log has significance in physics that Dembski ignores in his short article - the formula relating information in a system to the probability of the system being in the configuration in which it is found is related (by a sign change) to the Entropy of the system. More about this in a moment.

    Dembski goes on to say:
    Natural causes are therefore incapable of generating CSI. This broad conclusion I call the Law of Conservation of Information, or LCI for short. LCI has profound implications for science. Among its corollaries are the following: (1) The CSI in a closed system of natural causes remains constant or decreases. (2) CSI cannot be generated spontaneously, originate endogenously, or organize itself (as these terms are used in origins-of-life research). (3) The CSI in a closed system of natural causes either has been in the system eternally or was at some point added exogenously (implying that the system though now closed was not always closed). (4) In particular, any closed system of natural causes that is also of finite duration received whatever CSI it contains before it became a closed system.

    Not so fast, Dr. Dembski. There is a related law in physics, the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which says that Entropy must always increase, which it seems to do in the Universe as a whole. But there are localized regions in the Universe in which Entropy can decrease for a time due to a large input of Energy. One of these is the surface of the earth, on which the biosphere decreases its Entropy by means of the input of a huge amount of sunlight. Now the Entropy of a system is just an expression of the disorder in the system, which is the probability that the system would be in some actualized state by chance. In other words, Entropy is the negative of Information. And, since Entropy is physical, so is Information, and any theory of information must be constrained by what we already know about physics. (Actually, it goes much deeper than this: the scientifically inclined who have Adobe Reader can read Quantum Information is Physical by Di Vincenzo, et al.)

    Since we know that Entropy can decrease locally for a time, we know that Information can increase locally for a time. That is to say, there is nothing in the article cited above that necessitates a Designer for CSI to originate and grow on earth, at least for a while, say as long as the sun keeps shining, and the globe remains habitable. To put it simplistically, if the earth is getting more intelligent, it is because the sun is getting dumber.

    In fact, this may be true of the entire Universe, which seems to have begun in an extremely low-Entropy, high-symmetry (high Information) state. The generation of what appears to us to be CSI in the Universe is merely the creation of temporary, relatively low-entropy regions of the Universe, such as earth's biosphere, such as ourselves. Or more accurately, what appears to be Complex Specified Information in our DNA is actually not specified, at least not in advance by a Designer.

    To see this, consider that once you have a self-replicating molecule (DNA, RNA, or some prior molecule or molecules), you have a computer. By replicating or failing to replicate under different circumstances, it processes information about what allows it to replicate and what doesn't. If variations can occur in the molecule, it can essentially learn to replicate better in its environment, and it can learn to adapt to changes in its environment. Since learning involves structural change in the molecule, it keeps a kind or record of its past configurations. Now, sometimes parts of the record might get lost, and extraneous stuff might get in, but generally speaking the molecule (or more precisely, the current generation of the molecule) constitutes a record of its path of changes through time.

    Because the molecule is subject to the laws of physics, its stereochemistry (its 3D structure and how it interacts with other molecules because of its 3D structure and their 3D structures) is constrained. That is to say, not all variations are possible, and in particular, once it has gone down one path of changes, many other paths become less accessible, because its structure now no longer permits those variations.

    The forgoing two paragraphs imply that this process of changes cannot be strictly random, because the laws of physics and chemistry make it impossible for the variations in the molecule's structure to be completely random. Moreover, because the past changes in structure limit the possible (and the likely) future variations in the molecule's structure, the temporal process of successive variations is not even Markov. (In a Markov process, the current state of a system embodies all the information about a system - the future of the system is independent of its state at any other time in the past.)

    Now this sequence of variations of molecular structure is the evolution of the molecule, which if the molecule is DNA, means that the evolution (variation of form through time) of life is neither random nor Markov. In other words, strict Darwinism is false - but what did you expect? Darwin knew nothing of DNA. On the other hand evolution is not a theory but a process which has been observed under controlled conditions, such as dog-breeding. What is theoretical about it is the details of how it happens.

    So far, we see that Evolution is not equivalent to Darwin's idea of natural selection of the fittest random variations of living forms. Rather it is eqivalent to natural and/or artificial (in the case of breeding) selection of non-random and non-Markovian variations of living forms (and the biomolecular computers which generate and encode them). Essentially the biomolecular computers are mechanisms for turning inputs of energy into temporary and local decreases of entropy (increases of information). In other words, it is not necessarily the case that the information in our human DNA is specified by a Designer. Physics and chemistry may have brought about the first very simple biomolecular computers with some low but not infinitesimal probability, and then the biomolecular computers and their environment did the rest. There may be no CSI in humans as biological entities. It would not be the first time that humanity has had to dethrone itself.

    But what about that low-entropy, high-information, priveleged state in which the Universe appears to have begun. Who specified that? Well, the state was a quantum vacuum state. Such states are characterized by so-called vacuum oscillations, in which virtual particle-antiparticle pairs spontaneously pop out of the vacuum and recombine to their original nothingness before the Time-Energy Uncertainty Principle is violated. In layman's terms this means that the original quantum vacuum state contained the virtual possibility of everything and its opposite. What changed this state was the spontaneous breaking of certain symmetries as the Universe expanded and cooled. The broken symmetries guaranteed that not all of the opposites would arise to cancel out all of everything. The universe began to differentiate into what we see today.

    This rather dramatic over-simplification of current cosmological theory is I hope still reasonably faithful to the original. If so, it tends to support the Hindu/Buddhist idea of the "Ten Thousand Things" falling out of the original perfect unity of All in All. On the other hand, the emergence of the Universe itself, and the cosmic radiation from the Big Bang tends to add support to the Judeo-Christian, "Let there be Light." Or maybe not. The point is that I still see no logical/physical necessity for an Intelligent Designer. As a Christian, I happen to believe there is One, and that I experience His Presence, but here I stand to say that so far, I don't think Dembski has proved His/Her/Its existence.

    Of course, the concept of Complex Specified Information is not all there is to Intelligent Design theory. But then, I'm not done with ID yet. It's just that this article is long enough for tonight.

    06 February 2006

    Cartoon Jihad

    You may have noticed that there is a Cartoon Jihad taking place in Europe over some cartoons published in Denmark that insulted the global Jihaddicts (aka the Bastard Jihad, because their violent jihad is illegitimate, even under Islamic Law).

    This is more than a series of violent protests calling for the blood of Westerners. This is war against one of the core values of the West: the right to engage in political expression. You see, the cartoons were meant not to insult God or the Prophet, but to insult the Jihaddicts themselves. In response, the Jihaddicts commit idolatry by failing to distinguish between what insults them and what insults the object of their devotion. Perhaps this is because they do not actually worship God, but rather they worship their own desires and rages, from which they produce an idol of their imaginations.

    The cartoon insult was a political expression. And even if it were also a religious expression, one other thing can be said about it. Freedom of expression, including religious expression, and especially political expression, is a core value of Western Liberal Democracy. And this is not the first time it has been attacked.

    The first time (in this wave) was when the Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa calling for the murder of Salman Rushdie, who had written The Satanic Verses, a novel which does tweak some cultural sensitivities of Muslims, but mostly which insults Khomeini. Now the attempt by a head of one state to have a law-abiding citizen of another state murdered, is an act of war. Fundamentally, it was an act of war against the West itself. That was the moment when Britain, Europe, the United States, and even Latin America should have banded together, invaded Iran, and deposed the regime. (Ah, but the moment has passed. War is no longer an advisable way to deal with Iran, mostly because peaceful paths have become available with the current generation of Iranian people, and they deserve exploration.)

    Another core value, not just of Western Liberal Democracy, but of humanity in general, is fairness - a sense of balance. Why is it that these Jihaddicts can become so enraged when anyone engages in political speech against them, while at the same time, the Jihaddicts utter all sorts of calumny against Jews, Christians, Israel, America, Britain, Europe, and the West in general? They are also at war with simple fairness, because they want the world to work their way.

    Well, besides core values, Western Civilization has a derived value: You do not have the right never to be offended. Because if you have that right, nobody else has any rights. In the functioning part of the world, you have the right to give offense, and sometimes the duty to receive it.

    We in the West (Muslims included) must stand up for our rights. To fail to do this would be to accept dhimmitude (second-class status, powerlessness) in the emerging global society. It would also sell out Islam, an otherwise noble religion, to its extremists.

    03 February 2006

    So how would you do it?

    On January 19, 2006, Usama Bin Laden released another audiotape warning that he had authorized another attack on the United States. He did the required bit of offering his enemy a "truce," i.e., terms on which his enemy could get him to call off the attack. This is required by Muslim martial tradition. What is not required is that the terms be realistic, and these were not. In other words, a new attack is coming.

    What can we say about it, given the message in his text, and his past history? Well, he operates fairly long term. That would mean that the attack leaders have presented their plans to Usama, and he has sanctioned them. He has probably given them financing. In other words, they are on their way.

    Now, if the next attack on the US is to be like the last one (9/1/2001), but bigger and more spectacular, the following things can reasonably be said:

    (1) The operatives (attack leaders) will not bring weapons or material or any other observables into the country. They didn't the last time. They used big bombs, and huge delivery systems, which would have given them away if they had brought their own. Instead, they used what we ourselves supplied: lots of jet fuel transported by big airplanes. All they had to do was hijack a few planes with improvised hand-weapons. They'll do something different this time, but the principle stands: travel light - turn the enemy's own resources against him.

    (2) The operatives will not necessarily fit seamlessly into our society. They will require social cover, and they will require "handlers," pre-emplaced sympathizers who will provide them with the necessities of life, shelter, and whatever items they will require for their attack.

    So, how do we deal with them? Why don't we make sure that President Bush can't use the NSA to intercept conversations between the handlers in the US and the operatives abroad as they arrange their travel? Let's refuse to streamline the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) court procedures for approving and keeping secret such intercepts. Let's spend all our energy trying to impeach Bush for not following those procedures. Let's hail those who leaked the information about the intercepts as heroes rather than try them for treason in time of war. (It was so much more appropriate to take the matter to the New York Times rather than to security-cleared Democrat members of the House and Senate Select Committees on Intelligence!)

    There. Don't you feel safer already?

    Seriously, though, there is an irreconciable tension between democracy and the secrecy needed to defend it. Eternal vigilance is indeed the price of freedom - vigilance of ourselves and our enemies. And still seriously, the danger to Liberal Democracy (in particular its concepts of privacy and freedom of expression) is al-Qaeda and its style of Islamic Fundamentalism, not President Bush. He is merely dangerous to a certain liberal (small "l") worldview. Because if he is right, then they are wrong, and if they are wrong, they lose their reason to be.