Saturday, September 30, 2006

Yet more evidence that the Agricultural Revolution was humanity's greatest blunder.

Al Gore realizes that cigarette smoking is a significant contributor to global warming. Udolpho comments:
Of course it is. Cigarettes: deadly to smokers, even more deadly to non-smokers, and most deadly of all to the planet itself. Please wait, I am going to go out and buy a carton of Pall Mall. (I guess that Indian with a tear rolling down his craggy cheek is the real villain.)
Good luck getting the world to ban cigarettes Mr Gore! Countries like China and Iran are probably more likely to give up enriching uranium than giving up tobacco.

Just because you're a non-smoker doesn't mean that you aren't an environmental threat. Human respiration is based on the production and emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, thus potenially affecting the global climate. We're all sinners in the Church of Gore-ianity.

Monday, September 25, 2006

The repairer of reputations

Here's the situation. You're a top Hollywood star who has hit a really tough spot. You've got a DUI, so you've spilled the beans on your drinking problem. You've also got a big mouth, which has branded you with a reputation for potentially career-ending "controversy". But you've also got an expensive new movie coming out in a few months, and your "controversial" remarks have come very very close to flushing all of your production money down the drain.

In short, you need a repaired reputation and fast. Short of saving a drowning infant from Niagara Falls, the only way to do it is Bush bashing:
Mel Gibson has returned to the spotlight to promote his upcoming movie "Apocalypto," and to criticize the war in Iraq, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Almost two months after he railed against Jews when he was arrested for driving drunk in Malibu, the actor made a surprise appearance Friday at Fantastic Fest, an event in Austin, Texas, devoted to new science fiction, horror and fantasy films, the trade paper said in its Monday edition.

He presented a work-in-progress screening of his Mayan adventure tale, and then took questions. About one-third of the full house gathered for the film gave him a standing ovation. The film is scheduled for a December 8 release via Disney.

In describing its portrait of a civilization in decline, Gibson said, "The precursors to a civilization that's going under are the same, time and time again," drawing parallels between the Mayan civilization on the brink of collapse and America's present situation. "What's human sacrifice," he asked, "if not sending guys off to Iraq for no reason?"
That's a strange point of view from someone whose previous movie is essentially a two-hour redemptive human sacrifice.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

A Missed Opportunity for Democrats

The latest obsession of the Right wing blogosphere is President Clinton's meltdown on Fox news. Apparently the question that pushed President Clinton into an extremely vigorous defense of his administration was "Why didn't you do more to put bin Laden and Al Qaeda out of business when you were president?" The Right sees this as President Clinton coming unglued from a mixture of shameless egotism and a need to counter what Democrats perceive as the "Path to 9/11" propaganda from ABC. The Left sees this as President Clinton gallantly defending himself from yet another conservative smear campaign.

What really matters here is that President Clinton's shameless egotism has hurt the Democrats. Remember, this is an election season. That means that all Democrats, everywheres, should be excercising "message discipline" (insofar as Democrats actually have a message, that is). The interview question should have really gone like this:

Q: Why didn't you do more to put bin Laden and Al Qaeda out of business when you were president?

A: If I had had someone like Representative Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House in 1994, I would have had bin Laden's head on a silver platter. Vote Democrat.

In other words, whenever President Clinton would normally talk about himself, he should be talking about congressional Democrats instead. Good luck getting that to happen!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Hugo Chavez blows it, big time.

Apparently, word has gotten around in the World Dictator's Club that playing nice with American liberals is a great asset for keeping one's dictatorial power intact. The goal is obviously to end up like Castro or Gorbachev, not like Saddam Hussein or Noriega. But some dictators are better at impressing the liberals than others, and recently Hugo Chavez really blew it with liberals by comparing President Bush to the devil. Even Nancy Pelosi was pissed off by Chavez's remarks:
"Hugo Chavez fancies himself a modern day Simon Bolivar but all he is an everyday thug," House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said at a news conference, referring to Chavez' comments in a U.N. General Assembly speech on Wednesday.

"Hugo Chavez abused the privilege that he had, speaking at the United Nations," said Pelosi, a frequent Bush critic. "He demeaned himself and he demeaned Venezuela."

It's as easy as pie to see why Chavez pissed liberals off. It's because if President Bush is the devil, then by implication there must be a God. No liberal politician is going to stand for that kind of mean-spirited insinuation.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Ann Coulter on the Geneva Conventions

Ann Coulter's opinion about the recent Generva Conventions controversy is well expressed by her first paragraph:
It turns out the only reason McCain is demanding that prisoners like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed – mastermind of the 9-11 attacks, the beheading of journalist Daniel Pearl and other atrocities – be treated like Martha Stewart facing an insider trading charge is this: "It's all about the United States of America and what is going to happen to Americans who are taken prisoner in future wars."
Or to make her point in a different way:
Or as the New York Times wrote in the original weasel talking points earlier this summer: "The Geneva Conventions protect Americans. If this country changes the rules, it's changing the rules for Americans taken prisoner abroad. That is far too high a price to pay so this administration can hang on to its misbegotten policies."
If you believe that terrorists who couldn't care less about the Geneva Conventions might retaliate against the United States by, say, disregarding the Geneva Conventions, you might be a liberal.

The notion that other nations fighting wars with America might therefore disregard the Geneva conventions to retaliate against the United States is also for the most part unfounded. This is because the Geneva Conventions are grounded not in a single set of papers that various countries have signed on to, but in the common actions of belligerent nations. The protections that the conventions afford are inherent in what nations do. Even if the documents denoted by "the Geneva Conventions" did not exist, nations would still abide by the practices that the Conventions codify provided that their adversaries did so as well.

Confiscate-and-spend liberalism in action

The hallmark of contemporary liberalism is the imposition of "forced contributions" to pay for progressive policies. The essence of the forced contribution is the leveraging government power to force private economic agents to donate money to some government purpose, or else! In practice, the forced contribution is expressed in the liberal viewpoint that any industry that dares to show a profit (or that dares to show weakness) is a target for a money-grab. That this is one of the more illiberal means of funding government short of slave labor doesn't bother liberals in the slightest.

The latest example of a new forced contribution campaign is California's lawsuit of automakers over carbon dioxide emissions, which was filed immediately after Governor Schwarzenegger signs a new bill for curbing greenhouse gas emissions. Is this because American automakers -- and nobody else -- are entirely responsible for the planet's global warming problem? Or is this because California liberals have decided that it's payback time?

Monday, September 18, 2006

A few easy pieces

  • Madonna's latest gimmick is apparently suspending herself from a giant glittering cross while singing (hat tip: Drudge report). I call it a gimmick instead of an "outrage" because it's hard to see why anyone should care if an enormously wealthy entertainer wants to become slightly more enormously wealthy by comfortably suspending herself from a giant cross. Are there any other career "shock the buorgeois"-style performers who haven't been suspended from a cross by now?

  • Al Gore's latest book is apparently going to be titled "The Assault on Reason" (hat tip: Evolutionblog). The title is immensely humourous given that it is being penned by the career politician who infamously "reinvented" his public personality on a yearly basis. Perhaps Gore could do his readers a service and include the definition of the word "is" in his preface.

Friday, September 15, 2006

It's nice to see American values are spreading to Islamic nations.

If this week's outrage by Muslims over comments made by the Pope proves anything, it's that an American-style "gotcha" media presence is spreading in Islamic countries. There's just something about Muslim outrage over something the Pope said instead of outrage over the existence of Israel or the policies of the Great Satan that just screams "slow news week in Istanbul" to me.

Some of the articles list of responses to the pope's statements seem stereotypically American as well. For example, the article states
Many Muslims accused Benedict of seeking to promote Judeo-Christian dominance over Islam.
That's a lot like the American media's occasional hysteria over reports that "Democrats accuse Bush of seeking to promote Republican Party." What else do you expect? Promoting Christianity over other religions (What do you mean "Judeo-"?) is kindof the pope's day job.

There's also the "turning back the clock to the 50s" accusation:
"He has a dark mentality that comes from the darkness of the Middle Ages. He is a poor thing that has not benefited from the spirit of reform in the Christian world," Kapusuz told Turkish state media. "It looks like an effort to revive the mentality of the Crusades."
Usually, American liberals accuse President Bush of rolling back the clock to the 1650s at the earliest in order to emphasize Bush's anti-Enlightenment animus. Accusing the pope of trying to turn back the clock to the 1250s is a very gutsy move then, even by American standards. The closest President Bush ever gets to being a 1250s man is the occasional unflattering comparison to Genghis Khan.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

You bet your (political) life!

Senator John McCain has finally found an issue that pushed him to the edge:
John McCain, the Republican frontrunner for the 2008 presidential election, has dramatically raised the stakes in a fight with the White House over interrogation techniques permitted for use at secret Central Intelligence Agency prisons by saying he is unwilling to back down on the issue even if it ruins his chance of becoming president.
Since I'm currently reading "Running Alone: Presidential Leadership JFK to Bush II", it's pretty clear to me that this is simply another iteration of McCain's textbook JFK-style political campaigning. Independence -- above all else, independence -- is the name of the game. So it's clear that, instead of seriously believing his future presidency at risk, McCain really sees this issue as a key to winning in 2008. Whether this strategy makes McCain electable in 2008 is questionable. Although, despite the obvious drawbacks, running for president as the "Republican JFK" against a Democrat at least has the virtue of having never been tried.

Speaking of people who have blown their presidential chances, Colin Powell's comment in the article is quite ridiculous:
“The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism. To redefine Common Article 3 [of the Geneva conventions] would add to those doubts. Furthermore, it would put our own troops at risk,” Mr Powell wrote in a letter to Mr McCain released yesterday.
Yes, I'm sure that the terrorists, who have absolultely no regard for the Geneva conventions, will be so outraged by President Bush's policies that they will retaliate against the United States by disregarding the Geneva conventions.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Eris, not Xena

The solar system object that started this year's planet dilemma has been officially named Eris, not Xena. The moon of Eris has been officially named Dysnomia, not Gabrielle.

This can be considered decisive proof that a voting majority of professional astronomers are not nerds.

You don't get promoted to Grand Ayatollah for nothing.

Captain's Quarters comments on a report that Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has defeated a partitioning of Iraq:
The Shi'ites had jealously viewed Kurdish semi-independence for years and eagerly pursued this proposal. With hardly any effort, Sistani swatted it down almost immediately. His pronouncement, as announced by Mashhadani, ordered the leading faction's politicians to stop considering the plan, and Mashhadani sounded happy to comply. He acknowledged that the country did not have a strong enough security apparatus to hold together in such a structure, and his allies quickly fell into line.
Obviously the people of Iraq as well as the Grand Ayatollah have more common sense than the American media gives them credit for having. A plan to break up Iraq into three semi-autonomous regions is a really dumb idea, partly because some American liberals were hyping such a plan as a cure-all for America's Iraqi quagmire, and partly because the one thing that all factions in Iraq can certainly agree on is what the borders of Iraq are at present. Besides, do we really want to leave behind a weak, rump Shi'ite state as a sitting duck for an Iranian Anschlusss?

Liberals should also remember that a weak confederal state is a prime target for a Right-wing coup launched by a very political military figure.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Another missing constitutional clause

Glen Greenwald comments on the constitutional views of a Bush legal theorist (hat tip: Daily Kos):
The Constitution is actually pretty clear on that score. Article I says "All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States" -- Article II says the President "shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed" -- Article III says "the judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in . . . inferior Courts." That arrangement isn't really a side detail or something that shifts based on circumstance. It's pretty fundamental to the whole system. In fact, if you change that formula, it isn't really the American system of government anymore.
I'm not a lawyer or a constitutional scholar, but I do know that Article II, Section 1 also says "The executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America."

Of course, it's the current day political agenda that drives this particular constitutional debate. Liberal Democrats are currently heavily invested in portraying President Bush as some kind of extra-constitutional monarch, presumably because accusing someone of monarchical ambitions is a still-effective political smear. The classic examples are the Whig Party's vilification of President Andrew Jackson and FDR's accusation that rich Republicans were "economic royalists".

As I understand it, the grant of executive power to the President in Article II, Section 1 gives the president additional authority over and above his powers as Commander-in-Chief. If I remember correctly, this is because the vesting of executive power to the president may include certain unspecified reserve executive powers that are inherent in the notion of the executive power. For example, the issuance of executive orders may be justifable in this way. So the Democratic case for a King George really depends on scrupulously ignoring the existence of Article II, Section 1.

The Nerd, part II

Another aspect of the concept of the nerd as a class stereotype is that some of the most perceptive anti-nerd writing seems to come from successful tech writers. For example, this writer for Wired News observes that:
"Blog" itself is short for "weblog," which is short for "we blog because we weren't very popular in high school and we're trying to gain respect and admiration without actually having to be around people."
The very clever implication is that being around people is a unmistakable sign of one's worth to contemporary American society. The absolutely indispensible people in American society are so coveted as companions that they are never not around people and even expect you to pay for the privilege of spending time with them.

Another example is the correlation of "geeks", mental derangement, and excessive masturbation:
The mental imbalance I refer to is most readily seen in the geek's masturbatory obsessions. Having no sense of perspective and lacking a personality, the geek attempts to kill two birds with one stone and form a personality around fanatical involvement in an arbitrary pastime. This pastime could involve watching Japanese cartoons, reading fantasy novels, playing video games, or literally just masturbating a lot. The pastime itself is not so significant and has only two universal attributes: that it not require physical prowess of any kind, and that it be impossible to distinguish between enjoying the pastime and not enjoying it.
Another perceptive observation that the only thing that contemporary American society values more than being around lots of people is having sex with lots of people (thus, America's greatest president). This has reached the point where foreign political movements hoping to attract American media attention have to start showing off protest babes to get themselves noticed. Anyone who isn't spending their formative years training themselves to have sex with as many people as possible is therefore mentally damaged and a bad person.

A misconception is that only nerds can understand things like physics or differential equations (author's italics):
At some point, Tom Cruise’s character, Ethan Hunt, is in Shanghai with some of the rest of his Impossible Mission Force buddies, and they are trying to figure out how to get into some super-secure building (part of the skyline to the right) in about 30 minutes. Cruise is hell-bent on doing it (for reasons I won’t go into in case you want to see the film) and starts planning a daring approach. He starts drawing the various buildings, noting the distances between them and their heights, and then he starts writing equations! He’s trying to figure out something or other to do with swinging from one building to another, and he’s -I repeat- writing equations. And mumbling to himself a bit as he calculates, if I recall correctly!
I suspect that this scene was added to disarm criticisms that multiple uses of deus ex machina were employed in previous installments of the "Mission Impossible" movie franchise. Unless one is Batman or Spiderman, obviously one has to plan out all of those death-defying jumps ahead of time. Another reason that this is at least moderately non-nerdy is that technological one-upmanship is an American sign of social status as well. Even jocks know that they are going to have to learn enough technical knowledge to buy and operate a top-of-the-line high-performance television for their future family room and/or babe lair.

Of course, the Middle Ages had a solution to the social problem of the nerd which was the monestary. Apparently, it was so much fun to learn how to read and write that people would spend the rest of their lives totally cut-off from society, doing nothing but reading and writing instead of having sex.

The Nerd, part I

This is another one of those clearing house posts where I clear out a number of related ideas that never germinated into full postings on their own merits. I like to think of it as the blogosphere equivalent of the television "flashback episode". The rules are simple: musings are aggregated as I consider the topic over the next few hours or so with iconoclasm and heresy, as always, being greatly prefered. Thus, without further ado, some musings on the post that started it all.

Sean at Cosmic Variance mentions the great blogosphere nerd-off of 2006, with some related social analysis about what being a nerd really means. He largely summarizes the difference between a nerd and a geek with:
Words like “nerd” or “geek” have two very different sets of connotations, and it’s hard to evoke one without the other. One has to do with technical mastery and know-how, or even a more broadly-based appreciation for things academic and intellectual. The other has to do with social awkwardness, the inability to comfortably converse with strangers at cocktail parties, and a tendency to dress in the least attractive way possible.
This is the conventional wisdom that being a nerd is essentially a social awkwardness problem. But when you really think about it, this is something of a "non-explanation explanation". Doesn't every marginalized subcultural grouping associated with negative stereotypes face a social awkwardness problem, one way or another?

I think that a more useful understanding of nerds as a social phenomenom is to realize that the term also has subtle class connotations in addition to skill connotations. The classical "Poindexter"-type nerd, for example, is always portrayed as wearing large-framed glasses conspicuously held together with tape as if he* cannot afford to wear unbroken glass frames. The "Comic Book Guy"-type nerd, on the other hand, is depected as overweight because the underclass are stereotypically unable to control vulgar impulses such as food consumption, and wearing ill-fitting clothing that was obviously purchased much earlier in the character's career of weight gain. The overweight nerd wearing ill-fitting clothing is either too poor or too unmotivated to buy fitting clothing, social apathy being another trait associated with poverty.

In this point of view, insofar as the stereotypical nerd has any aspirations at all, he could be characterized as someone with a lower class lifestyle who views education as a tool of upwards economic mobility. Part of the negative connotation of being a nerd might arise from the fact that this a decidedly pre-welfare -- almost 19th century -- strategy of social improvement: the poor literally attempting to lift themselves out of poverty by their bootstraps without assistance from a benevolent Big Government.

Another perspective is Paul Graham's essay "Why Nerds are Unpopular" which explains the unpopularity of nerds as being inherent in the public school system:
Public school teachers are in much the same position as prison wardens. Wardens' main concern is to keep the prisoners on the premises. They also need to keep them fed, and as far as possible prevent them from killing one another. Beyond that, they want to have as little to do with the prisoners as possible, so they leave them to create whatever social organization they want. From what I've read, the society that the prisoners create is warped, savage, and pervasive, and it is no fun to be at the bottom of it.
The essay also touches upon the seemingly natural antipathy between "jocks" and nerds:
What bothers me is not that the kids are kept in prisons, but that (a) they aren't told about it, and (b) the prisons are run mostly by the inmates. Kids are sent off to spend six years memorizing meaningless facts in a world ruled by a caste of giants who run after an oblong brown ball, as if this were the most natural thing in the world. And if they balk at this surreal cocktail, they're called misfits.
So part of the social awkwardness of being nerd comes from a lack of "character", which in the context of public schools is associated with successful performance in preferrably group sports. This is suspiciously similar to the old British Imperial notion that everything one needed to know to run the British Empire could be taught on the rugby field.

The television adapation of the Sherlock Holmes story "The Empty House" starring Jeremy Brett has a good illustration of this. One gets the impression that upper-class Britons list their leisure-time activities on their resumes, or that they would if their "character" ever dropped so low that they would actually need to go to the trouble of writing them in order to obtain employment.

So in a sense, the contemporary American jock is the spiritual heir to the British Imperial bureaucrat; this makes the movie "Gandhi" the most objectively pro-nerd movie ever filmed.

*Yes, there are female nerds. This post adopts the Murray Convention that third person singular pronouns be chosen to refer to the sex of the author.

Friday, September 08, 2006

The Anti-Disney crusade has finally gone too far...

with this mean-spirited smear against the reputation of the world's richest duck.

Seriously, if you don't like "The Path to 9/11", then just ignore it. If we conservatives can get past "Syriana" then liberals shouldn't have any trouble surviving "The Path to 9/11".

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Islamic fundamentalism discovers liberalism, in a bad way.

Here is an elementary observation for you. The Islamists try to topple the Bush administration with a massive terror attack, but this leads to Americans rallying behind President Bush and surging his popularity by about 30 percentage points. American Democrats try to topple the Bush administration by launching a non-stop propaganda campaign to undermine the President's goverment, and now six years on the Bush administration is getting really shaky.

So, if you're an Islamic fundamentalist who is willing to accept hard-line Republicans in charge of the United States getting replaced by eezy-breezy Democrats, what do you do? Act like a liberal!

For example, if you're wondering why Mike Wallace thought Iranian President Mahoud Ahmadinejad was such a reasonable person, just read the transcipt. Notice that Ahmadinejad makes sure to butter Wallace up with some liberal-style talking points:
I think that Mr. Bush can be in the service of his own people. He can save the American economy without killing people, without occupation, without threats. I am very saddened to hear that 1 percent of the total population is in prisons, and 45 million people don't have a healthcare coverage. That is very sad to hear.
Obviously someone has been reading Howard Dean's DNC press releases.

Another example is Ahmadinejad's demand for a public debate with President Bush. You can't blame the guy for trying. Cindy Sheehan has been beatified by the American mainstream media by doing the exact same thing.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Democratic Party's new plan for winning the war in "Shi'ite-nam"

Captain's Quarters comments on an open letter to President Bush from Democrats which states a set of policy points about what the United States should be doing in Iraq:
Therefore, we urge you once again to consider changes to your Iraq policy. We propose a new direction, which would include: (1) transitioning the U.S. mission in Iraq to counter-terrorism, training, logistics and force protection; (2) beginning the phased redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq before the end of this year; (3) working with Iraqi leaders to disarm the militias and to develop a broad-based and sustainable political settlement, including amending the Constitution to achieve a fair sharing of power and resources; and (4) convening an international conference and contact group to support a political settlement in Iraq, to preserve Iraq's sovereignty, and to revitalize the stalled economic reconstruction and rebuilding effort. These proposals were outlined in our July 30th letter and are consistent with the "U.S. Policy in Iraq Act" you signed into law last year.
Captain's Quarters hits the target dead center when he concludes (author's italics):
This letter gives the perfect reason why Democrats can't be trusted with national security -- anyone's national security. They want the Middle East to dismember Iraq with our blessing instead of against our opposition. They want the peace of surrender ... or phased redeployment.
I think that Captain's Quarters is mistaken about the political subtext of some of the points. I think the real message that Democrats are trying to send is: (1) reduce U.S. casulties, hopefully to zero; (2) start removing troops from Iraq to jumpstart negotiations; (3) rewrite the Iraqi Constitution to give the insurgents a permenant position of power within the Iraqi government; (4) neogiate with the insurgents and with Iran over the future government of Iraq.

By the way, this is exactly the Democratic Party's position on the Vietnam war after 1968!

It seems that the Democratic Party leadership has become so delusional that 1968 and 2006 have merged into one; Iran and Iraq have now become "North and South Shi'ite-nam" as far as the Democrats are concerned.

Hidden ironies of the War on Terror: Part II

The Mark Steyn column that I discussed in part I makes another interesting point with an unintended irony. The point is made in the context of Sir Arthus Conan Doyle's novel "The Tragedy of Korosko":
Don't bet on it. In my forthcoming book, I devote a few pages to a thriller I read as a boy -- an old potboiler by Sherlock Holmes' creator, Arthur Conan Doyle. In 1895 Sir Arthur had taken his sick wife to Egypt for her health, and, not wishing to waste the local color, produced a slim novel called The Tragedy of the Korosko, about a party of Anglo-American-French tourists taken hostage by the Mahdists, the jihadi of the day. Much of the story finds the characters in the same predicament as Centanni and Wiig: The kidnappers are offering them a choice between Islam or death. Conan Doyle's Britons and Americans and Europeans were men and women of the modern world even then:

"None of them, except perhaps Miss Adams and Mrs. Belmont, had any deep religious convictions. All of them were children of this world, and some of them disagreed with everything which that symbol upon the earth represented."

"That symbol" is the cross. Yet in the end, even as men with no religious convictions, they cannot bring themselves to submit to Islam, for they understand it to be not just a denial of Christ but in some sense a denial of themselves, too. So they stall and delay and bog down the imam in a lot of technical questions until eventually he wises up and they're condemned to death.

One hundred ten years later, for the Fox journalists and the Western media who reported their release, what's the big deal? Wear robes, change your name to Khaled, go on camera and drop Allah's name hither and yon: If that's your ticket out, seize it. Everyone'll know it's just a sham.
Glenn Greenwald's post criticizing Mark Steyn's article uses the chickenhawk accusation as part of its critique (hat tip to The Daily Dish):
The ironies of this disturbed war dance are virtually infinite, the most obvious one being that the Steyn Warriors can never point to any sacrifices they make or risks they incur.
An interesting point of irony to be observed here is that, in these quotations, both Mark Steyn and opponent Glenn Greenwald are arguing for exactly the same thing! In both cases, the authors are arguing that a society in which most citizen's actions conform to the strength of their convictions has practical advantages over a society where this is largely not the case. In Steyn's article, he points out the propaganda advantage that the West receives when Western Christians are seen as being willing to die for their faith. In Greenwald's case, he points out the propaganda advantage that the West receives when its governing elites display personal sacrifices equivalent to those of its military membership. The real difference between the two authors in this respect is that each has a different solution to the long standing problem of "liberal malaise" that has been afflicting the West for at least a century if not longer.

Steyn's article briefly argues that one solution to the problem of liberal malaise is Christianity. This simply springs from the fact that the Christian component of Western societies -- familiar to any student of the Roman Empire -- often exhibits more civilian morale than the non-Christian component. In the context of American society, the political program implied by this approach is usually refered to as conservatism: "conserving" the institutions of the American founding that made the United States the amazingly successful nation that it is today.

The solution to the problem of liberal malaise that the chickenhawk accusation implies is more ambiguous. The general conservative critique of the term "chickenhawk" is that the "Ich bin der erste Diener meines Staates." ruling ethic that radical Leftists expect Dick Cheney to adopt has exactly the kind of totalitarian connotations that the Left is presumably trying to avoid. More realistically, it seems to me that the chickenhawk accusation is simply an appeal to another solution to the problem of liberal malaise, namely, communism.

The whole point of communism is discipline and morale for everyone in society. The distinction between civilian leadership and military membership that is at the heart of the chickenhawk accusation would quite simply not exist in the ideal communist society. The civilian leadership, by definition, would be expected to adhere to the same stringent code of communist discipline as everyone else: if the Communist leadership decides that "Comrade X must die", Comrade X is expected not only to die but to happily die in order to make one final contribution to the success of the Revolution. On the other hand, the military membership would be as indistinguishable from the civilian population as possible; the ideal communist society's morale would be so high that its population would simply spontaneously organize into an effective fighting force to confront any military threat.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Hidden ironies of the War on Terror: Part I

A recent column by Mark Steyn serves as a brief update of his current thinking about the War on Terror. There are several broad themes to this column, but the one that interests me on this post is the theme that the mainstream media in Western nations is censoring information about terrorist actions in their territories out of political correctness.

The charge, which is very popular with the online Right, is illustrated with an example:
Down at the other end of the news business, meanwhile, one finds items like this snippet from the Sydney Morning Herald:

"A 16-year-old girl was tailed by a car full of men before being dragged inside and assaulted in Sydney's west last night, police say . . .

"The three men involved in the attack were described to police as having dark 'mullet-style' haircuts."

Three men with "mullet-style" hair, huh? Not much to go on there. Bit of a head scratcher. But, as it turned out, the indefatigable Sydney Morning Herald typist had faithfully copied out every salient detail of the police report except one. Here's the statement the coppers themselves issued:

"Police are seeking three men described as being of Middle Eastern/Mediterranean appearance, with dark 'mullet-style' hair cuts."
Believe it or not, the irony here is that exactly this type of media censorship may be an advantage, not a disadvantage, in winning the War on Terror. The reason is obvious: any putative propaganda value that the alleged terrorists might have hoped to derive from such an incident is getting studiously ignored by the media as well. Doesn't the whole concept of political terror lose any possible motivation when the supposedly terrorized population remains firmly committed to the belief that it is not being terrorized? If you really want to see what happens when the media wants to pump up propaganda when it comes to random mayhem, just wait until the next "disgruntled postal employee" incident occurs: "going postal" has entered into the American popular idiom in a way that "going muslim" is far, far away from approaching.

The second irony is that, from a historical perspective, the censorship that the liberal mainstram media has been applying to these presumed terror incidents is exactly the type of "Orientalism" that good liberal multiculturalists are supposed to despise. If the mainstream media doesn't take Islamic terror seriously, we shouldn't be surprised, because the mainstream media never took Islamic terror seriously. The myth that the only muslims that want to kill Westerners are the "mad mullahs" and the "lone wackos" goes back to at least the days of General Gordon of Khartoum, if not earlier. This point of view even explains most of the Democratic Party's position on the War on Terror: if one believes that the War on Terror is just another stereotypically Western "mullah hunt", then toppling the Taliban and capturing Osama bin Laden make good preconditions for declaring victory.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Conservative-baiting 101

Kevin Drum wonders how the economy got so screwed up:
The reality is that, in a way that's invisible to most Americans, the economy has gotten fantastically out of kilter over the past quarter century. Bill Clinton did a little bit to get it heading back in the right direction, but he didn't do enough and he didn't have much time to do it. Eight years out of the past 26 was too little to make a serious dent.
Let's think about the economy for a second. The United States has had, with the exception of roughly half-a-dozen years of mild recession, more than two decades of economic growth. This is economic growth that has made the United States economy the envy of the Western world. This is economic growth that makes the current era seem like a Silver Age in American history. What a dumb idea that was!

And here's Kevin Drum's solution for getting the United States economy out of it's current disastrous state:
Nonetheless, we desperately need radically more attention paid to full employment policies; to labor organization in service industries; to the distributional inequities of free trade policies; to national healthcare; and to significantly more progressive taxation. It seems unlikely to me that we can get it without a sea change in public opinion, and that won't happen without breaking a few eggs.
In other words, Kevin Drum thinks we should be doing all of that stuff that we did in the 60s -- government-sponsored inflation (i.e. full employment policies), welfare statism, and massive taxation of the rich -- that produced the Great Economic Malaise of the 1970s in the first place.

And here is what convinces me that the posting is some kind of conservative-baiting joke (either that or pure insanity with a cherry on top):
So what to do? We now have an enormous tide to swim against, and let's face it: sober, incremental, smart rhetoric just isn't going to change things. Incendiary rhetoric, by contrast, might — and discomfiting though it may be, it's hardly likely to lead to incendiary policy. We don't live in Weimar Germany. Sure, a few stupid policies are bound to emerge from all the talk, but more likely it will merely succeed in scaring a few people into turning the battleship a few degrees.

Friday, September 01, 2006

A romp through the fever swamp

One of the easist ways for a political blogger to dig up posting ideas is trolling through websites with a diametrically opposite point of view. For a conservative blogger, that means web surfing away from the sunny conservative beaches and looking for the overcast liberal fever swamps instead. If one's luck holds, a website that perfectly displays some of the errors of one's ideological opponent's appears and the real work of blogging can begin.

Thus, inspect for a moment the essay Bush vs. Ahmadinejad: A TV Debate We'll Never See, which comments on a recent news report:
When Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, invited President Bush to engage in a "direct television debate" a few days ago, the White House predictably responded by calling the offer "a diversion." But even though this debate will never happen, it's worth contemplating.
So far so good, but here are the first really interesting paragraphs:
Each man, in his own way, is a fundamentalist: so sure of his own moral superiority that he's willing to push his country into a military confrontation. This assessment may be a bit unfair to Ahmadinejad, who hasn't yet lied his nation into war; the American president is far more experienced in that department.

By saying that it's an open question whether Nazi Germany really perpetrated a Holocaust, the Iranian president has left no doubt that he is dangerously ignorant of history. Bush's ignorance of history is decidedly more subtle -- though, judging from his five and a half years in the Oval Office, hardly less dangerous.
It is amazing how many misapprehensions can be crammed into a few sentences. To begin, the author apparently considers the moral superiority of a leader to push his country into a military confrontation as a bad thing by labeling it with one of the harshest of all liberal epithets: fundamentalism. But when you really think about it, isn't such a moral superiority the normal requirement expected of a national leader? For example, part of President Bush's motivation for confronting Iran is defensive: making sure America and it's allies aren't on the receiving end of an Iranian nuclear sneak attack. Given that it is moral to defend citizens of an allied nation from catastrophic casulties, is it not expected of President Bush to be steadfast in defense? Isn't that a form of moral superiority?

Also consider the ludicrous dismissal of Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial as mere "historical ignorance", as if the poor Iranian leader was somehow absent from school during "Holocaust week" of his teenage school history class and he never got caught up. World leaders who think that jews are dogs and pigs who should be physically (and, presumably, thermally and chemically) deported from the Middle East aren't historically ignorant. They are lying, and when they also maintain terror armies to persecute Israel, they are also lying in justification of war.

Bush's ignorance of history is apparently this:
So, we hear little about the direct CIA role in organizing the coup that toppled Iran's democratically elected president, Mohammed Mossadegh, in 1953. Or about the torture and murder inflicted on Iranian dissenters by the secret police of the U.S.-installed Shah for the next quarter of a century, until his overthrow in 1979.
First of all, I doubt that Bush is ignorant of this fact since his negotiators must be hearing this from the Iranians about a hundred times a day. Secondly, even Hitler was just claiming to be rectifying historical injustices perpetrated against Germany when he started annexing Easter Europe piece by piece. Thirdly, if Iran really is arming itself with nuclear weapons purely to right the historical wrongs inflicted upon it from 1953 to 1979, Bush would have to be a TOTAL FRICKING MORON not to do anything about it! This article actually inadvertently makes a point that massively supports President Bush's course of action with respect to Iran.

The official Rabbi of Vacuum Energy

Rabbi Daniel Lapin is the official Rabbi of Vacuum Energy. He doesn't care if you aren't jewish. He still wants to be your Rabbi!