Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Oh Novak You

Robert Novak writes today that the U.S. is "Losing Nicaragua, Again" on the WaPo editorial page. I didn't know it was ours to lose. Apparently the Sandanistas may regain power after 16 years after their fall. They weren't choirboys for sure, but they were better for the majority of Nicaraguans than the detestable dictatorship of Somoza. As always with Novak you get backward prose without a hint of moral uncertainty regarding the U.S. funded Contras, which with U.S. funding practiced a true terrorist war against the agrarian population of Nicaragua supportive of the Sandanistas.
The seemingly unavoidable outcome of next Sunday's election is a Nicaraguan tragedy, losing at the ballot box what was won two decades ago by the blood of contra fighters and the risking of Ronald Reagan's presidency.
This is truly a man of democracy and classical liberal philosophy. Robert, this is what elections do, transfer power from one government to the next at the behest of the people. It certainly is a tragedy when the people of one nation elect new governments that don't increase or preserve the strategic power of the United States in the Western Hemisphere. Novak must believe Monroe made it clear -- all the Americas are ours.

Oh, and he continues to lionize Oliver North. It's nice to see how terrorism is used by conservatives dualistically to divide their conception of good from evil when it's a tactic used by everyone, especially the U.S., whether directly or indirectly, since the end of WWII.

Continue Reading...

Ghosts in the Machine

Morality and Evolution

In a new book, Moral Minds, Harvard Biologist Marc D. Hauser argues -- seemingly correct to me -- that morality is a product of evolution and we are hardwired to make moral decisions as the brain develops. As the NYTs correctly surmises:
The proposal, if true, would have far-reaching consequences. It implies that parents and teachers are not teaching children the rules of correct behavior from scratch but are, at best, giving shape to an innate behavior. And it suggests that religions are not the source of moral codes but, rather, social enforcers of instinctive moral behavior.
As any look at the myriad religions humanity has believed in throughout its history, religion produces more destruction than peace. Also, the hypothesis that morality is ingrained in our genes makes perfect sense in the "fitness" department. We are slow moving animals that do not fend well for ourselves without the protective coat of society. In any setting, we are easy prey for any number of predators. Our greatest asset is our ability to cooperate in problem solving situations such as hunting, shelter, and child rearing. As the NYTs goes on to explain:
Matters of right and wrong have long been the province of moral philosophers and ethicists. Dr. Hauser’s proposal is an attempt to claim the subject for science, in particular for evolutionary biology. The moral grammar evolved, he believes, because restraints on behavior are required for social living and have been favored by natural selection because of their survival value.
Hauser argues:
[T]hat the moral grammar may have evolved through the evolutionary mechanism known as group selection. A group bound by altruism toward its members and rigorous discouragement of cheaters would be more likely to prevail over a less cohesive society, so genes for moral grammar would become more common.
Morality then becomes the essential part of our biology that allows us to group together without chaotic competition and therefore allows us to survive and prosper as a species. Without it, we would have just been dinner.

Continue Reading...

Monday, October 30, 2006

Pakistani Rules of Engagement

Pakistan reported today it destroyed a madrassa that was training Islamic militants. Here's the NYTs nut graf:
The Pakistani military said today that it had destroyed a religious school used for training militants in the Bajur tribal area, which straddles the border with Afghanistan. The attack killed at least 80 people, the military said, describing them as militants.

The strike started at about 5 a.m. local time, when helicopter gunships fired missiles into the religious school, known as a madrassa, that was run by a local cleric, Maulvi Liaqut, according to military officials. Ground troops then stormed the compound.
Is this how Pakistan deals with its Islamic militants?

Gunships firing missiles into a madrassa is not a proportional response, it is a crime that will now only create more legitimate hostility to Musharraf as a pawn of the United States. Of course Pakistan should begin to deal with Islamic militants that threaten Pakistan's stability, but it should learn that repression will only bolster and radicalize Islamists into jihadists, such as in Algeria or Egypt. Also, this is bad for the U.S. as we have moved closer to Pakistan since 9/11 with Musharraf's insistence that he'd help in Afghanistan and more generally help destroy terrorist networks. Hopefully, this madrassa did indeed double as a terrorist training facility because reaction was immediate.
But opposition Islamist parties were quick to denounce the attack and blamed the United States. Qazi Hussain Ahmed, the leader of Jamaat-e-Islami, alleged that innocent children were killed and that the Pakistan Army was covering up for the alleged Americans strike.

“This area is not an area where there can be any training camp,” Mr. Ahmed said at a news briefing in Islamabad. “This is actually tantamount to the declaration of war on Pakistan,” he said.
In this situation, who do you believe: the corrupt military dictatorship or leaders of an Islamist opposition whose possible ascension to power will be paved with indiscriminate acts of state terrorism?

Pic from BBC

Continue Reading...

Saturday, October 28, 2006

My Greatest Fear

Robert Kaplan echoes my greatest fear if American forces are withdrawn from Iraq: Sunni genocide at the hands of the Shia majority.
Because it turned out we had no postwar plan, our invasion (which I supported) amounted to a bet. Our withdrawal, when it comes to that, must be different. If we decide to reduce forces in the country under the current anarchic conditions, then we are both morally and strategically obligated to talk with Iran and Syria, as well as call for a regional conference. Iraq may be closer to an explosion of genocide than we know. An odd event, or the announcement of pulling 20,000 American troops out, might trigger it. We simply cannot contemplate withdrawal under these conditions without putting Iraq's neighbors on the spot, forcing them to share public responsibility for the outcome, that is if they choose to stand aside and not help us.

What we should all fear is a political situation in Washington where a new Congress forces President George W. Bush to redeploy, and Bush, doing so under duress, makes only the most half-hearted of gestures to engage Iraq's neighbors in the process. That could lead to hundreds of thousands of dead in Iraq, rather than the tens of thousands we have seen. An Iran that continues to enrich uranium is less of a threat to us than genocide in Iraq. A belligerent, nuclear Iran is something we will, as a last resort, be able to defend against militarily. And it probably won't come to that. But if we disengage from Iraq without publicly involving its neighbors, Sunni Arabs—who will bear the brunt of the mass murder—will hate us for years to come from Morocco to Pakistan. Our single greatest priority at the moment is preventing Iraq from sliding off the abyss.
This is America's moral obligation to Iraq after an illegal and immoral invasion and occupation of their country.

Continue Reading...

Friday, October 27, 2006

Shameless Plug

I've never done this before, so let's see if it works. Please, if you like what you read here and the links and commentary I provide, send my url to those you love or hate, it doesn't matter. It's better if you send it to people that disagree so I have interesting ripostes to write. It makes my life more fun. I'd rather discuss politics and culture with those that are of different opinions than my own. It may be hogwash, but argument is better than lock-step. In other words, send this url to every evangelical Christian you know.

Continue Reading...

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Walling Ourselves In

You know the allusions to the Berlin Wall are coming, so bad comics and even worse pundits beware! I said it first before it's even erected: "Mr Bush, tear down this wall!"

Now can we get on to serious conversations why this is genuinely a horrible idea and why Fortress America is stupid and self-defeating for a country that's supposed to stand for openness and democracy?

There has to be another way.

P.S. I should be clear -- thank you Bob -- that President Bush signed a bill that will lead to the construction of a 700 mile long fence, not a wall. Nevertheless, it serves the same purpose, only in a more cost-effective manner.

Continue Reading...

Bergen on Withdrawal

New America's Peter Bergen outlines why an American withdrawal from Iraq would be handing Al Qaeda a victory tantamount to the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989. It's an eminently reasonable analysis from a responsible journalist and scholar.

Continue Reading...

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


The NYTs asks the right question: Why is President Bush floodlighting the Iraq War when almost every Republican candidate for Congress is fleeing away from it faster than Madonna from Africa?

Continue Reading...

New Jersey Goes Gay for Equal Rights, Bigots Bewail

I want to thank the New Jersey Supreme Court for having the balls to understand its state constituion promotes the equal rights of all citizens. Via the NYTs:
The State Supreme Court in New Jersey said today that same-sex couples are entitled to “the same rights and benefits enjoyed by opposite-sex couples under the civil marriage statutes.”

But the court, in its 4-3 ruling, said that whether that status should be called marriage, or something else, “is a matter left to the democratic process.”

The court’s eagerly awaited decision found that an arrangement akin to that in Vermont, which authorizes civil unions between same-sex couples but does not call them marriages, would satisfy the New Jersey constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law.

The court gave the legislature a six-month deadline to enact the necessary legislation to provide for same-sex unions with rights equal to those of married couples.
I used to jokingly call New Jersey "the armpit of the United States," but now I have new found respect for those four justices that demonstrated principle should never bends before politics or prejudice. I hope gay rights groups understand this is a victory and do not start fighting semantics. Civil unions are as good as marriage as long as gay and lesbian couples have the same rights as "married" couples -- meaning they can share healthcare, pass property, etc. Maybe it's time to define marriage as an exclusively religious term and promote state sanctioned civil unions for both heterosexual and homosexual couples as different than marriage. This would also preserve the separation of church and state if you believe, like I do, marriage is religious by nature. That way religious conservatives can keep marriage for themselves and the rest of us can go about living our lives with whom we choose to.

Continue Reading...

A Shit Smeared Congress

Gonzo Matt Taibbi skewers the GOP Congress in his "The Worst Congress Ever." That sums it up. Cynical prose at its best.

Continue Reading...

Monday, October 23, 2006

The 4:34 Dance

WaPo's editorial page has an interesting op-ed by Asra Q Nomani. In it, she argues that the Koranic verse 4:34 -- "[A]nd (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them" -- which instructs men how to handle their wives when they get uppity, provides a continuum that leads to explosive laden belts.
As long as the beating of women is acceptable in Islam, the problem of suicide bombers, jihadists and others who espouse violence will not go away; to me, they form part of a continuum. When 4:34 came into being in the 7th century, its pronouncements toward women were revolutionary, given that women were considered little more than chattel at the time. But 1,400 years later, the world is a different place and so, too, must our interpretations be different, retaining the progressive spirit of that verse.
While I applaud Nomani for taking a public stand against domestic violence sanctioned by the Koran, I always must return to why she must argue this interpretively through the Muslim holy book. Look at the last sentence quoted above. Arguing through the Koran is silly. Literalists and Traditionalists have the heads-up in this argument based exclusively on their belief in a supreme, perfect God who revealed these laws and prescriptions to the Prophet Mohammad through the angel Gabriel. If God is immutable and perfect, his laws will not contain a "progressive spirit," but the just and right way to conduct oneself for all time.

Religious interpretation is a contradictory endeavor if you sincerely believe God revealed religion through some human conduit. This is not to say religious interpretation is a bad thing. It is one of the best things because it begins to liberate the individual from external religious constraints put on her by her mosque, church, temple and family. The more people begin to question their religious dogmas and the injustice codified within, the faster institutionalized and revealed religion will crumble. A very good thing if you even take the most cursory glance through history and the barbarity produced by religion.

There's a very simple solution to the ridiculousness of trying to prove the existence and validity of a god, or gods, that rule over humanity with divine law. One rule sums it up quite nicely: Do unto others as you would have them do to you.

It has a beat everyone can dance to.

Continue Reading...

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Why Fantasy Football Sucks

Nicholas Kulish deliciously rants on the contradictory loyalties fantasy football fans stomach for their diversion from the hum drum of daily life. Prime example:
[N]othing compare[s] to the promiscuous fandom that can be found any given Sunday in sports bars across the country. In recent years these locales have gone from bastions of devotion to polyamorous dens, where lifelong attachments now compete for a fan’s affection with complicated layers of one-game stands and waiver-wire dalliances.

Hands stained Denver-Bronco orange by Buffalo chicken wings shoot into the air for a Carolina Panther touchdown one minute and for a Baltimore Raven safety the next. A howl of joy greets a meaningless yardage gain in the closing moments of a game, even though the team in question is three touchdowns behind. Loyalty is now shattered into tiny shards, splintered by fantasy football teams.
In other words, being a true fan is lost once you step onto the virtual turf of fantasy football. And just so I don't sound too uppity, fantasy football does help fans appreciate the sheer athleticism and heart many players outside their loyalties display week in and out -- unless your an Eagles' fan of course. Then your team is still the best in the NFL regardless of their record or the players' statistics.

Continue Reading...

Friday, October 20, 2006

Game 7

Thursday, October 19, 2006

What About Iraqi Civilians?

I just want to put this out there: In this political season of ours, does anyone in American politics care about Iraqis?

Nobody wants to see American troops die for a war we should never have fought. As Senator John Kerry famously said during 1971 before the Senate Committee of Foreign Relations, "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"

This is a great question. Now while I don't have an answer, morality dictates I ask this question: How can the greatest military history has ever seen roll into a oppressed and devastated country, create instability and the possibility of civil war, even ethnic cleansing, and withdraw because our democratic nation didn't stop the rush to war?"

While I vacillate between support of a time table for withdrawal from Iraq, I'm afraid the evacuation of U.S. troops without a steady stream of UN peacekeepers as replacements will give jihadists exactly what they want, a new base from which to train and plan attacks, and provoke a civil war that will end in a Shiite genocide against Iraq's Sunni minority. The geopolitical ramifications of this would be devastating as jihadists radicalize more Sunnis and the sectarian violence in Iraq between Sunni and Shiite becomes regional in scope.

I still believe the Iraq War was incompetent, illegal, and immoral. But do we not have a moral responsibility to the people of Iraq because of our blunder? Have we not handed Al Qaeda in Iraq a devastating blow by killing Zarqawi, an enemy even more vicious than OBL and Zawahiri?

Like any war, we have had successes and we have had failures.

What America must do now is hand the daily security responsibilities over to Iraq's security forces while pulling back to Iraq's borders and providing border security so militant volunteers cannot enter the country and commit terrorist attacks. Border security shouldn't take 130,000 troops and therefore a good portion of our boys will come home to a hero's welcome. This is the only responsible and moral compromise I can think of if we are to try and leave Iraq a better place.

Continue Reading...

Stadium Scare

Seven U.S. sports' stadiums have been threatened with dirty bombs over the weekend. Should we believe it? Probably not, but we should take the necessary precautions in the long shot this is no ruse. The FBI described the threat as "questionable" in its authenticity. Nevertheless, Americans should remember that OBL always announces an attack before striking. Also, it's election time and OBL tried to make his ghoulish presence known in 2004.

I don't forsee any Ryder trucks detonating and spreading radiological filth throughout any city skyline but then again, not many civilians saw 911 coming. Security officials shouldn't let any moving trucks get anywhere near any stadium on Sunday. Better safe than sorry as the cliche goes.

Continue Reading...

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Veiled Discrimination?

Yesterday's NYTs has a interesting article on Prime Minister Tony Blair's description of the full burka as "a mark of separation."

Honestly, I agree and I do find the full burka to be a mark of separation but there are two more important questions to be asked in this controversy.

The first is: Are women being forced to wear the full burkas out of fear of their husbands and their communities?

Second, is Blair only causing more enmity between Muslims and the other 97 percent of the UK that's non-Muslim?

The first question is of ultimate importance in a secular, liberal democracy based on equal rights for all its citizens. Minorities do not have the right to come into a liberal society and violate its norms and oppress and imprison Muslim women while hiding behind their religious beliefs. The rights of women override religious freedom in this case.

But the UK needs to remember that many Muslim women desire to wear the full burka to demonstrate their religious identity. This isn't hard to understand. Muslims in the UK are divorced from the disciplinary force of the mosque and the traditional society from which they or their parents came. Sometimes, the burka is nostalgia for their religious tradition and evidence of their personal religiosity. Think the yarmulke or the cross displayed publicly by adherents of these religions.

The hard part in this situation is how do you tell those woman that wear the burka willingly and those that are coerced or terrorized into it?

I believe the solution is simply enough though. The UK should take strength from its tolerance and liberal beliefs and know the more exposed Muslims are to Western ideals, most will come to cherish them like any good English person. Many Muslim immigrants are only first or second generation so their attempts to stay true to their homeland's religious and cultural norms is understandable. Time should heal these divisions if the British government doesn't do anything stupid by creating an either/or situation.

But it seems like this is what Blair has done. UK officials need to be more nuanced -- what we usually associate with the British -- and less blunt. The Iraq War and the cartoon fiasco should have taught Downing Street the impressive propaganda skills of Islamists in Londonistan. You give them a thread of rope and they'll hang you with it.

Sometimes it's incredible to think how Blair has become the more sophisticated version of President Bush. Is this Blair's "crusader" moment? Britain may be lucky Blair will be bowing out soon. Hopefully something more reactionary doesn't park itself on Downing Street and create even more problems with Britain's Muslim minority, which is overwhelmingly law-abiding and looking for a new start in the UK.

Continue Reading...

Friday, October 13, 2006

Who's Violent?

When I attended grad school at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, there was a general sneering that America had become a wasteland of cheap consumerism and violence. While we certainly have a lot of the former, it looks like those snooty UK chaps who thought we were a particularly violent breed need to think again. Via the BBC:
Scotland has been named the most violent country in the developed world by a United Nations report.

The study found that, excluding murder, Scots were almost three times as likely to be assaulted as Americans.

Victims of crime in 21 countries were interviewed by the UN, but senior Scots police officers criticised the study.

The survey concluded that 2,000 Scots were attacked every week. That figure is 10 times the number recorded in official police figures.

'Upward trend'

The figure for Scotland dwarfs that of other developed nations such as Japan, where people are 30 times less likely to be attacked.

The study, based on telephone interviews conducted between 1991 and 2000, said 3% of people in Scotland had suffered an assault, while the figure for England and Wales was second highest at 2.8%.

Both Australia and New Zealand had the next highest proportion of assaults among their population at 2.4%, exactly double the level reported for the United States.
Anytime Brits want to criticize Americans for their violent tendencies they should remember we were born out of their own imperial meatgrinder.

Continue Reading...

Thursday, October 12, 2006


Traveling home from Costa Rica yesterday, I had the opportunity to pick up Truman Capote's classic new journalistic account of a quadruple homicide of a farming family in Holcomb, Kansas in 1959: In Cold Blood. I can only give my highest praise and admiration for this mesmerizing piece of literary crime reportage. Capote is so good at weaving the myriad local personalities, recreating the crime and penning such a sympathetic account of murderer Perry Smith that it's the type of thing you read that either makes you want to give up on writing because prose this good is out there or just hunker down and attempt to create your own masterpiece of American letters.

Read In Cold Blood immediately. It takes you to the heart of darkness, but in a way that leaves you empathetic rather than vengeful -- a feeling only a great writer can produce due to the viciousness of the crime.

Continue Reading...