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Saturday, April 30, 2005

Free Speech And Thought

Coyote Blog has an excellent piece on free speech on campuses and in society:
Speech limitations are a very slippery slope. So much so that I have never encountered speech or expression by adults aimed at other adults that I would limit. Nazis, communists, birchers, pornographers, racists, revolutionaries, militia, muslims, atheists: Have at it....

I have never understood why so many people think that the right approach to people who have stupid, awful ideas is to keep them from being heard. This applies not only to speech codes but the increasingly frequent attempts to ban speakers from campus or, if that is unsuccessful, drown their speech out with chants and interruptions. Why? I have always thought that Sunlight is the Best Disinfectant not just for government proceedings but for bad ideas as well. Let them be heard and ridiculed. After all, Hitler "called his shots" more than a decade before he began his horrible reign. The world would have been better off if he had been listened to carefully in those early years.
The point about Hitler is true. There is a lot more to the Coyote blogger's post, and I'd hope everyone would go over there and read it.

Now that "Mein Kampf" is back in vogue in a large chunk of the world, those of us who haven't read it might want to. It is a horrible and upsetting book, but it is worth reading. In it Hitler clearly laid out his guiding principles and his way of looking at the world, and when he got power he did pretty much exactly as he said he would. No one should have been surprised at what he did.

I have read historical excuses for the western world not offering a haven and a helping hand to the Jewish refugees from Germany, and they always amount to "we didn't know, who could have imagined". That is wrong and a lie, and when various Nazi functionaries were greated with applause at Harvard and Yale in the 1930's, those cheering should have known what they were cheering and generally did, but rationalized this knowledge away. In part they did so to justify their own anti-Semitism and racialism (which looked mild and gentle by comparison). This is what Hitler wrote in chapter 2:
When over long periods of human history I scrutinized the activity of the Jewish people, suddenly there rose up in me the fearful question whether inscrutable Destiny, perhaps Or reasons unknown to us poor mortals, did not with eternal and immutable resolve, desire the final victory of this little nation.
Was it possible that the earth had been promised as a reward to this people which lives only for this earth?
Have we an objective right to struggle for our self-preservation, or is this justified only subjectively within ourselves?
As I delved more deeply into the teachings of Marxism and thus in tranquil clarity submitted the deeds of the Jewish people to contemplation, Fate itself gave me its answer.
The Jewish doctrine of Marxism rejects the aristocratic principle of Nature and replaces the eternal privilege of power and strength by the mass of numbers and their dead weight. Thus it denies the value of personality in man, contests the significance of nationality and race, and thereby withdraws from humanity the premise of its existence and its culture. As a foundation of the universe, this doctrine would bring about the end of any order intellectually conceivable to man. And as, in this greatest of ail recognizable organisms, the result of an application of such a law could only be chaos, on earth it could only be destruction for the inhabitants of this planet.
If, with the help of his Marxist creed, the Jew is victorious over the other peoples of the world, his crown will be the funeral wreath of humanity and this planet will, as it did thousands l of years ago, move through the ether devoid of men.
Eternal Nature inexorably avenges the infringement of her commands.
Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.
Hitler declared Total War against Jews long before he ever rose to power. It's all here - he both feared Jews and wished to destroy them all. The social Darwinism and the Nature-as-God-and-Fate blather permeates his disturbed thoughts and his distress is focused on the Jews because he fears them. He doesn't consider them human - he really considers them a type of exceptional intellectual human, capable of taking over the world and exterminating all "real" humans by the force of their terrible ideas. He compensates for this perception with the belief that they are genetically physically weaker.

Hitler believed that the only way for his race (the Aryan race) to save themselves from extinction was by brute force and a war of extermination. He also dismisses the basic ideas of the Judeo-Christian tradition as an attempt by the Jews to fool society into not exercising its superior strength to throw off the fearsome power of the Jews. So mercy, and not killing the innocent, and helping the weak, etc were all false values in Hitler's view of the world, promulgated by the Jews in order to win the war of races.

The reason we remain confused about how the Holocaust could happen is because we have lied to ourselves about our own history. Social Darwinism, anti-Semitism and racialism (the denial of the essential unity of the human race) were concepts spread wide across the western world before WWII and most predominant among intellectual and scientific circles. Euthanasia was being openly recommended before World War II. Sterilization of those considered hereditarily unfit was a program recommended by the United States Surgeon General. We have pulled the horrors of the Nuremberg trials over our own culture's deficits like a curtain.

Darwin's basic scientific insights were magnificent, but they were almost immediately turned toward justifying the domination of the powerless by those in power in western society. And Darwin himself, for example, believed that women represented a more primitive form of life than men and in the "Descent Of Man" seems to be considering the Malthusian idea that racial varieties of man are doomed to fight with each other over limited resources, and that this may prove to be beneficial to the continuing evolution of the human race. He does say that the Negro is an intermediate form between apes and man. Darwin was a stunningly brilliant observer; his observations applied to public policy were anything but brilliant. You can find the Project Gutenberg text of The Descent Of Man here; here's a snazzy quote from Chapter 1:
The enquirer would next come to the important point, whether man tends to increase at so rapid a rate, as to lead to occasional severe struggles for existence; and consequently to beneficial variations, whether in body or mind, being preserved, and injurious ones eliminated. Do the races or species of men, whichever term may be applied, encroach on and replace one another, so that some finally become extinct? We shall see that all these questions, as indeed is obvious in respect to most of them, must be answered in the affirmative, in the same manner as with the lower animals.
And here's another couple of quotes from Chapter 1 "Man differs from woman in size, bodily strength, hairiness, etc., as well as in mind, in the same manner as do the two sexes of many mammals." and "The variability or diversity of the mental faculties in men of the same race, not to mention the greater differences between the men of distinct races, is so notorious that not a word need here be said."

Darwin wasn't Hitler, and he wasn't advocating Hitler's policies, but Darwin did blur causes and effects in this book. He thought apparently not at all about the effects of nutrition, education, religion, philosophy and ethics (i.e. culture and enviroment) on human populations and placed a great deal of importance upon what he could observe empirically, which was the current state of existence of different ethnic populations. From his observations he derived the ideas that white people were more "evolved" than black people and that women represented a more primitive form of the species than men. And thus, the western world was prosperous and powerful not because of certain cultural values it held, such as an emphasis on education and justice, but because our lighter skins were a sign of our more evolved race.

The incredibly seductive power of this type of reasoning to justify injustice was not long resisted by the older mandates of Judeo-Christian thought and the humanist tradition of the Enlightenment among western intellectual circles. Now feeding the weak and the hungry could be shown to be a futile resistance against the inexorable and benevolent
course of nature. Now policies intended to help the oppressed and the powerless could be shown to be intellectually and scientifically barren - to share power was to nurture the unhealthy and unfit and thus to weaken the best of us.

The reason the western world didn't react in absolute rejection against Nazi Germany was that its ideas were only extremist versions of western intellectual and popularized versions of intellectual thought.

Given our own cultural history and its terrible flowering in the Holocaust, we should not now ignore the reality that Hitler's "Mein Kampf" is again popular across areas of the world. It's selling well in Turkey and parts of the Middle East. No cognitively and ethically sane person can read this book without being appalled. We should not turn our eyes away from the implications of its popularty now. Both the sexism and the anti-Semiticism of "Mein Kampf" have obvious appeal to some segments in these societies. They can also be valiantly rejected by reference to the older traditions within those societies, including Islam itself. However, for this to occur open debate and freedom of expression must be permitted within those societies.

It is best for any society that people who do espouse ideas like Hitler's are given a forum along with everyone else. This way everyone can understand the whole of their thinking and debunk their ideas. If you drive this sort of thing underground you give it a false legitimacy and rob yourselves of the opportunity to directly challenge it. Ideas do have consequences, and wars of ideas are always being fought out in human history. It is better to fight those wars intellectually before we must fight wars with weapons. "Mein Kampf" is still illegal in Germany. It would be better for Germany and Europe (not to mention America) to confront its own history openly and honestly. There is no free thought without free speech.

Burning Some Insense

With a sensation of startled joy, this morning I discovered Canada's Work Less Party. Once again, it seems to be based in British Columbia. Their platform is here, and contains a few main planks.
  • Full employment, achieved by limiting the work week to 32 hours,
  • Illegalizing unpaid overtime,
  • Saving the world from global warming by being slackers.
Here is the problem:
Last month, in a report to the G8 summit, a task force of British, American, and Australian climatologists gave this grim assessment: If we do not radically change course, in just ten years global warming on a catastrophic scale will become inevitable and unstoppable. If we continue on the course we are now on, by the time your children are your age, life on this planet will be difficult and scary. By the time your grandchildren are your age, their lives will take place against the backdrop of a real-life disaster movie.
Fear not - the Work Less Party has the solution!
We have come to a fork in the road. Either we embrace now that Age of Leisure the futurists have so long talked about, or we have no future. We in the Work Less Party invite you to help us make the rat-race HISTORY.
Personally, I think this one's a winner, especially if they manage to unite with the Marijuana Party and kill off all those nasty expensive old people warming up the planet. Better days surely lie snoozing just around the bong or is that the bend?

I'll campaign later. For now I'm going back to bed. I'll see you later, slacker. If you must persist in staying awake and warming up the planet, you could spend some time reading the truly inspiring stories section of the Work Less Party's website:
The siesta enjoying citizens of Cuba get by on a fraction of our hedonistic proflagate consumer spending. Granted, they are not living the miller high life....but, their basic living needs are meet. Corporate media advertising hasen\'t eroded their sense of balance towards being frugal, and not living beyound one\'s means. Good organic food, good expresso, good conversation, taking public transporation, and not being beholding to the corporate bankers via the plastic credit card....isn\'t that a close to normal life?? Take alook around the world....
billions of people live in poverty...yes....but billions of people live a gentle life of working hard and relaxing...and enjoying family life....without the burden of student debt...and the \"I must shop and continually go into debt\" mentality of our american society....
The change in our lifestyles is coming...for better or worse. Begin the gradual change in your own life by backing off and asking questions. Try deep think with alot of introspection and thought. Burn some insense and sip some green tea while you ponder our current box we humans find ourselves in.
I'll be burning some insense in my bed, wondering why all those Cubans keep trying to get into the US, and why all their relatives in the US keep sending them money. Don't they know that the Cubans are the ones who are truly blessed with the good life, free public transportation, excellent espresso and organic food?

Enjoy Yourself A Bit

Michele Agnew has outdone herself with the latest installment of the "All About You" test. Go and see.

Coming To A School Near You

Yesterday I linked to Mamacita's story about a child she called "Alucard", who cut a swath of terror through an elementary school until he finally went ballistic in fourth grade and was removed in a squad car. Today I read this story about an incident in a school in Philadelphia; a third grader pricked 19 classmates with what sounds like a diabetes tester. Of course this does amount to sharing needles, so they tested all the kids, and they have one preliminary positive for HIV. Hopefully it is a false positive:
The 8-year-old stuck her Taylor Elementary schoolmates Wednesday at the school’s breakfast, at lunch and in the classroom, using a needle that was about one-third of an inch long, on the end of a device that looks like a pen, school officials said. They were unsure why the girl did it.

She was suspended and will probably be moved to another school, said Paul Vallas, the school district’s chief executive.
Still, all these parents and kids are going to get a scare, waiting for tests. And if the one HIV positive test turns out to be positive, then the kids pricked after that child are going to have to have repeated tests for HIV and may be treated with some very toxic drugs as a precaution.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Teron Francis Passed Away

He was 13 years old. The story is here. There is too little known for me to comment much at this time, except that I am very glad that his mother was allowed to make the decision to disconnect the ventilator. This latest article says that the infection that killed him might not have been the result of the tooth abscess. On the other hand, the hospital has also said that it never told his mother that they were going to disconnect the ventilator whether she agreed or not and I am having trouble finding that plausible.

It is every mother's nightmare to watch her child die. There is something so wrong, so unnatural about watching the life you brought into the world leave it while you are still here. I can't imagine what it would be like to check yourself out of one hospital because you have no news of your son who is in another, and to be told that he is dead when you arrive.

I certainly hope there is a full investigation. Medicine is not a certain science, and the presumption should not be that medical mistakes were made. But the abscessed tooth wasn't treated, and that could not have helped this boy's condition even if a later infection was the final cause of his death.

Meningitis and encephalitis do kill young people very swiftly sometimes. I met a nurse who lost her 3 month-old baby to meningitis. She had the medical knowledge, she got him to the hospital very quickly, and the baby died before the lab tests could even confirm an infection. Sometimes there is nothing medicine can do. Sometimes there is. I hope Teron's mother gets answers and some peace. Say a prayer for this family if you are so inclined.

Beating Up My Psyche

Update: Ilona comes through again with further information, including this link to a story about the environment at Mifflin and what has changed at the school since the assault:
Nobody likes to snitch, freshman Amanda Harrington said.

"They feel like it’s not them, so it’s not their concern. If they opened up the door and saw a girl getting raped, they’d close the door."
"We want to get back to normal, but with all the added stuff . . . we’re in the news every other day," senior Candace Allen said.

It makes students and staff members angry. No one knows the real Mifflin, they say.

"It’s a normal high school. It’s a good school," Allen said.
"They didn’t really have control," Bailey said.... Students say they can’t wander the halls the way they used to, because staff members have cracked down.
Quite a bit of cognitive dissonance there. Still, at least they are trying to get physical control of the facility. As to why I think control is important, please see this post of Mamacita's. There are lots of Alucards out there. The problem is not the Alucards, it is the fact that they have never been disciplined and that the parents threaten the school for disciplining them. That is why kindergartners are being taken off to in police cars in handcuffs these days. It is the only way to avoid lawsuits. It is the only thing a school administrator or teacher has left these days. Pity the police. And think about a kid who has never been corrected (and therefore has never been loved as a child should be), sticking pins through his own lip and punching other kids and then think about that kid in high school, with your kid, and then sit down and think some more. Don't blame the teachers for this mess. Did you know that many public school teachers have seen kids physically attack their own parents? And that the parents don't do anything? They usually just ask why the kid is upset. See, it is never the kid's fault - it is something outside of the kid's control, so the kid is never taught any self-control at all.

I know. I was an Alucard when I was a toddler. The difference is that my parents corrected me. They fought it out with me. My twos were really terrible. I would beat myself up in a rage. Literally. By the time I got to kindergarten I was no less stubborn but quite well behaved, and I no longer threw temper tantrums and beat my own head against the wall. When I saw that video of the cute little girl in a flipping rage I felt like I was seeing myself. I know exactly how she felt. Everyone was being incredibly unreasonable. Only they weren't.

There are further updates on the Mifflin story at Ilona's blog - keep watching it. Not all of them are in the original post, though, so check the current posts as well.
End Update:

Ilona at truegrit has linked to a news update on the Mifflin High story. It is not very informative but it certainly makes you think. The current superintendent and a former assistant principal contradict each other about almost everything, including on whether sexual activity is widespread at the school. I am starting to understand homeschoolers a lot better:
A ninth-grade special education student claims she was forced to perform oral sex on at least two boys at the high school auditorium while others watched the acts and another student videotaped it.

Harris said parents should not think that these types of incidents happen on a regular basis.

"This is not anything that goes on every single day"It’s a normal high school. It’s a good school," Allen said. in our schools," Harris said. "It was a horrible incident. It never should have happened. We're taking all the appropriate steps to make sure it doesn't happen again."
Retterer-Helfrich spoke Monday about her role in the alleged incident.

"It's not at all about the child, not about the truth, because of the reaction taken by the top administration to remove all of us from our positions," Retterer-Helfrich said. "There was no indication that there was an injury, no indication there was an assault. The word wasn't being used at all."

Retterer-Helfrich said she believes what took place was consensual sex -- an all-too-common occurrence, she said.

"So we have these things happen on a regular basis," she said. "We know when we have to report injury, abuse, neglect. There was no sign of injury. There was no reported abuse and neglect."
I'm finding the Retterer-Helfrich woman (her name is a sad irony) to be her own worst accuser. Is she really saying that if a girl reported that she had been forced into a sexual act on school grounds but there was no obvious injury that the school didn't have the obligation to report it? I urge everyone to read the complete article. Another assistant principal said that she had been directed before (in the case of a fight) not to call police but to contact the safety and security office.

I am very upset and disturbed. I don't know that I would feel safe in sending a daughter of mine to this school. What would I be supposed to tell her? "Honey, if a bunch of boys grab you and force you to commit some sexual act, make sure to fight back enough to get some obvious bruising (but stop before you sustain a really serious injury, help may be quite a while in coming), because otherwise the school will assume that you were agreeing and decide that no crime or even abuse occurred?"

Please consider that this was not an off-the-cuff statement by this woman. She had time to think through what she was going to say and the implications of it. She obviously considers her position eminently reasonable.

You Paid For This

And if you want to find out what you paid for, and just how scintillatingly brilliant it was, you need to go here. Then go back to your gin-soaked raisins. I wonder if they have special courses somewhere in writing inane public-policy studies?

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Political Wife Alert

Whooooop, whoooop, whoooop. (That's the red-alert klaxon of Star Trek and my obligatory Trekkie reference for the week. I do not know why this is required but hey, if Lileks and Glenn Reynolds do it so must we all.) The sensors are sounding a political wife alert....

Ask yourself this - which political wife of the last 20 years has all the bubbly friendly charm of Hillary Clinton, the policy credentials of Laura Bush, the stylish aura of Madelaine Albright, the trendiness of Tipper Gore and the "I feel your pain" ability to convince the average voter that she understands their lives of Theresa Heinz Kerry?

Thinking hard, are you? Suck on a gin-soaked raisin or two for inspiration while you answer this question - would you recommend that this political wife throw her hat into the ring for a governorship? Would you donate money to her campaign?

Here's the scoop at Opinion Times. You can drink the rest of the bottle of gin now, whether for consolation because you are a Republican or to celebrate because you are a Democrat.

Tolerance And Polemics

Where are the limits of personal freedom of belief in our society? Is there a "values consensus" on which we can base a litmus test for qualification to be eligible for participation in public life? Can we form such a consensus? (I don't think so, but I am interested in hearing other people's opinions.) If we cannot, should we fight a prolonged war of cultures or just demarcate areas in which we won't dispute each other? That has been the relatively consistent tradition in the US.

Discussion at Gindy's. Post and some comments at QandO (Questions and Observations).

A depressing article in the National Post (Canadian) about the British academic blockade of Israelis:
The British Association of University Teachers has now created a blacklist against Jewish Israeli academics -- really a blue and white list -- reminiscent of the worst abuses of McCarthyism. And just as McCarthyism was a barrier to peace between the U.S. and the Soviet Union - by contributing to a dangerous atmosphere in which each side vilified and threatened the other - so too does the British lecturers' boycott endanger the progress now being made toward peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. It is not surprising therefore that even the Palestinian Al-Quds University in Jerusalem released a statement against the British association blacklist, saying, "We are informed by the principle that we should seek to win Israelis over to our side, not to win against them ... Therefore, informed by this national duty, we believe it is in our interest to build bridges, not walls; to reach out to the Israeli academic institutions, not to impose another restriction or dialogue-block on ourselves."

But instead of heeding the moderate words of those they claim to support, British university teachers will collectively punish Israeli academics in a manner that leading Palestinian academics do not support. They've become more Palestinian than the Palestinians, and at precisely the time when Israel is taking more risks and making more sacrifices for peace than it has since Camp David in 2000. A spokesman for the Union of Jewish Students got it exactly right when he said, "Things in the Middle East are moving forward while in the U.K. they are moving backwards. These boycotts have struck a blow at talks between Israel and Palestine." As Israel's ambassador to London Zvi Ravner noted, "The last time that Jews were boycotted in universities was in 1930s Germany."

Not only is the academic blacklist harmful and wrong; it may also be illegal. According to Jocelyn Prudence, head of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, "This would appear to run contrary to contractual law, race and religious discrimination law, and academic freedom obligations."
The case of William Pryor's filibustered confirmation to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals is interesting. On the one hand, his very publicly expressed opinions don't square with the Supreme Court's legal rulings. On the other hand, his history as a judge tends to show that he rules in conformity with the Supreme Court's decisions, not his beliefs. He has a good record of being upheld on controversial cases such as one in which he reined in an Alabama law trying to ban partial-birth abortions. Here is the case against Pryor. Here is some of what is not being said in the case against Pryor. The charge that he is being blocked on the basis of a religious litmus test doesn't seem very well founded, but there does seem to be a test based on his beliefs and not his judicial record.

What do you think? There are polemics on both sides that tend to obscure perhaps more truth than they illuminate. There has been a lot of anti-Catholic ranting by pundits, that is true. But after reading the above it also seems to me that it is wrong to represent the opposition to Pryor's nomination as anti-Catholic. Both sides seem to me to be miscasting the other side's opinions. This seems like a dangerous tactic. I can't deny that there may be a core of truth in what each side is saying either, because people do have differences of opinions on basic issues which sometimes do correlate to religious doctrines or the lack of them. But they don't fall neatly on religious lines, and is it helpful to represent all of our differences as religiously based? It is certainly not accurate.

Andrew Sullivan:
But one element of our politics - one that happens to have a veto on Republican social policy - does hold that religion should dictate politics, and that opposition to a certain politics is tantamount to anti-religious bigotry. They're very candid about that, as we saw last Sunday. As Bill Donahue put it: "The people on the secularist left say we think you're a threat. You know what? They are right." Very senior Republicans echo the line that there is a filibuster against "people of faith." This isn't just about gays, although we've felt the sting of the movement more acutely than most. It's about science, stem cell research, the teaching of evolution, free access to medical prescriptions, the legality of living wills, abortion rights, censorship of cable and network television, and so on. The Schiavo case woke a lot of people up. I was already an insomniac on these issues. Maybe I'd be more effective a blogger if I pretended that none of this was troubling, or avoided the gay issue and focused on others....
I'd like to think that a qualified doctor like Bill Frist could say on television that tears cannot transmit HIV. But he could not - because the sectarian base he needs to run for president would not allow it.
Here Sullivan is either uninformed or being disingenuous on at least two points; for the others see QandO's discussions lately. First, if Terri Schiavo had had a living will under Florida law there would have been no need to litigate. The living will would have settled the matter. To associate the two is flat wrong, and I know of no religious denomination that thinks living wills should be illegal. There are plenty of people that think they are misleading and that a lot of people don't understand what they are signing, but that's another issue entirely which is being dealt with by private organizations. Second, Bill Frist really said:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (Off Camera) Well, wait, let me stop you, you don't know that, you believe that tears and sweat might be able to transmit AIDS?

SENATOR BILL FRIST Yeah, no, I can tell you that HIV is not very transmissible as an element like, compared to smallpox, compared to the flu.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS(Off Camera) Let me just, I wanted to move to another subject, let me just clear this up, though. Do you or do you not believe that tears and sweat can transmit HIV?

SENATOR BILL FRIST It would be very hard. It would be very hard for tears and sweat, I mean, you can get virus in tears and sweat but in terms of the degree of infecting somebody, it would be very hard.
He got cut off by Steffie both times. But HIV can be expressed in bodily fluids and it has been found in sweat. While there are no confirmed cases of transmission by tears and there are not likely to be, in part that is because of rules like this:
Ophthalmologists, Opticians, and Ophthalmologic Care Providers

Researchers have rarely isolated HIV from tears,(50,51) and then only in extremely low concentration. HIV has been isolated from the conjunctiva, cornea, iris, and retina of infected patients despite zidovudine (AZT) treatment.(51) There is no documented case of transmission of HIV by exposure to tears or ocular tissue.

All health care workers, including ophthalmologists, opticians, and others performing ocular examinations, should follow universal blood and body fluid precautions.(52) All workers should wash hands with soap and water before and after contact with each patient. Gloves should be worn when direct contact with ocular tissues, tears, and other body fluids is anticipated. Providers with cuts, scratches, or dermatologic lesions on the hands should defer direct patient care until these conditions resolve.
The above is pretty much from the CDC guidelines. There has been at least one case in which herpes virus was passed through sweat in a tanning salon. It's wildly unlikely but you still take precautions, including not using the same gloves for more than one patient. There was one confirmed case in which a dentist somehow infected six of his patients with HIV. Even lightning does sometimes strike people, and the CDC rules are designed to avoid that possibility.

So Frist was right on the scientific money with what he was trying to say. Only very small amounts of the virus are found in tears and HIV really isn't that infectious, thus chances for infection are extremely low. Still, medical authorities recommend standard precautions against contact with bodily fluids for this and other viruses. It is not Bill Frist's constituency that is determining his stance and Sullivan is indulging in polemics by writing that.

But back to the main issue - religion and the culture wars. Do you believe in hate-speech laws? I don't. Do you believe that in order to have a civil society we must have freedom from religion rather than freedom of religion and a barrier against the state promulgating religion in any way? I have been reading that "freedom from religion" quite frequently. You might want to read this article by Jane Kramer in the New Yorker, which discusses the French idea of freedom of religion against the US idea of freedom of religion:
The French are very clear that their laws have to do with freedom from religion. When a student under the age of majority enters a French school, that student enters the protection of the laws of the secular state: neither religion nor antireligion will enter that domain. They call it the sanctuary school, l’ecole sanctuaire, which is, of course, an irony—but the French public school does function as a kind of secular church. They are not preaching secularism so much as removing religion aggressively from the classroom.
and on why the no veils in school law was felt necessary (which tends to discredit Kramer's statement above about "not preaching secularism"):
But in France, with all its freedoms, so many young women seem to be capitulating to Islamist pressure. It usually starts with the young men who are recruited, and the symbols of successful recruitment are the women in the family. In other words, the women are the symbol of the new identity of the man. When you see a twelve-year-old girl coming to school in a chador, where for two or three generations no one had worn one, you have to look at this as the expression of an enormous pressure from the men in the girl’s family. You’re really dealing with a born-again movement, and the girls get the short end of the stick, because the boys don’t have to change what they study, how they dress, and so forth.
The reason why they did this is that perception was that it was unhealthy. That's the long and the short of it. I am not sure that any culture, much less ours, can eradicate a system of values. Something must guide us. However it does seem possible to concentrate on the fundamental issues themselves and drop the religious labelling as a political tactic.

I can't help but agree with QandO in the post linked above that if the left wants to persist in fighting a war against religion it will be wildly unsuccessful over the long term. That is why I believe that the Republicans tried to frame the Democratic opposition to Pryor's nomination as anti-Catholic. It concerns me no end that pundits of the left seem to be falling into the trap of firing away against religious denominations in the US. They are going to inspire the freedom crowd to align with the Republicans, because it is both unbecoming and unconstitutional to demand that a person practice their religion only in privacy. I don't think we can get gays out of the closet by shoving Pope Benedict in there and slamming the door.

There is a basic contradiction between demanding public tolerance and affirmative acceptance for same-sex couples, for instance, while demanding that committed Catholics or Baptists get their offensive Bible verses out of the public eye on the grounds that they are hurtful. It seems to me that a stronger position would be to argue for tolerance on an inclusive basis. Why can't the secularists define religion to themselves as an alternative lifestyle of which they don't approve but which they will defend on grounds of tolerance and peace? Strictly speaking, the teaching of most large religious congregations in this country demands kindness and support toward same-sex couples even while it maintains that this behavior is not the model.

The constitution sets forth no right to be publicly approved of and affirmatively accepted, and we have a long history of publicly tolerating behavior that we do not privately approve.
If we are going to abandon the standard of tolerance I don't know where we will find common ground. If you know, please tell me.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The Color Gobsmacked

Sundries Shack has injected a note of reality into the MSM meme of Catholics weeping and tearing their hair as they flee the PanzerKardinal's neo-fascist Catholic church in hordes. It's funny, and I've just been waiting for someone to point out the obvious, which he does with the assistance of the WaPo's poll:
Eighty percent liked the selection and 73 percent were “enthusiastic” about it? That can’t be right. Let’s read on.

The article notes that the traditionalist vs “update to our lifestyle” split is pretty much 50-50, but that the traditionalist opinion has increased 9 percent in the last month. And those who attend church more regularly, not surprisingly, favor not “updating” Church teachings. To leaven the numbers, I should note that the sample was only a bit under 300 people, taken over a few days, so its hardly comprehensive.

But still, color me gobsmacked.

So now I’m wondering where all this news coverage came from. Could it be that pundits like Maureen Dowd and Andrew “Professional Ninny” Sullivan were projecting their own desires just the teensiest bit on American Catholics? Could it be that there was a touch of general anti-religious bias happening in the news coverage?
Naw. We're just happy to learn what the color gobsmacked looks like. You'll have to go over to the Shack to find out. He's only saying the obvious here, which is that you could probably find roughly equal proportions of people who still deeply mourn the Latin mass and of people who want the church really liberalized in America. What your average Catholic in America wants is for the child molestation scandals to stop.

And if they do want the church liberalized, they have an option, and that is Catholic Lite, the Episcopalian church. But that church is really in trouble. It's not gaining, it's losing in the areas where liberally totalitarian bishops are enforcing the latest liberalism. The issue isn't gays or gay bishops, it is whether ECUSA is truly Christian at all.

How liberal has the Episcopalian church become? So liberal in some dioceses that alternative masses celebrating the Great Mother are passed around. So danged liberal that some of the ministers are Druids worshipping anyone but God The Father. And you know what? Quite a few Episcopalians are jumping ship to go under the supervision of orthodox African bishops, or to join Anglican churches, and some, weeping and tearing their hair, have shown up as refugees in Catholic churches. I don't know, you decide whether Catholics are just going to flood into churches like this, or whether they are going to look at such trends and decide that Pope Benedict XVI has a lot going for him:
The controversy had begun after a feminist liturgy written by Ruppe-Melnyk was posted on the Episcopal Church USA Web site. The liturgy, which had references to "God the Mother," was characterized by conservative watchdog groups as pagan and Druidic when they discovered it also posted on a Web site created by her husband.

Melnyk said the Web site was aimed at people who wanted to practice both Druid spirituality and Christianity. Ruppe-Melnyk denied that the liturgy had any Druid-inspired content.

Soon after, Melnyk resigned at the request of his parish vestry. His wife has kept her post as rector of St.-Francis-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church in Malvern.

After his resignation, Melnyk said he spent several months in reflection.

"I had been working on a ministry seeking to find common ground between two traditions, but the bishop of Pennsylvania and vestry of St. James said 'you can't do that,' " he said Friday. "So I decided I had to make the decision that had the most personal integrity for me."

That decision was to renounce his ordination vows and become a Druid priest. He called it a "joyous occasion." But by the weekend he reversed himself and cut his Druid ties.
And just so I don't get accused of exaggerating, here is a little more about the liturgy on this couple's website:
She and her husband, Bill Melnyk, rector of St. James Episcopal Church in Downingtown, Pa., posted several ceremonies, which invoked pagan gods and goddesses, on www.tuathadebrighid.org.

One, an "erotic ritual" for the spring festival of Beltane, used Christian phrases for the rite, including an opening "litany" and an "invocation" of the "Earth Mother." The ceremony, which culminates with the lead couple engaging in sex in front of the other participants, ends with a "chant of Communion and Praise" to the tune of the Irish hymn "St. Patrick's Breastplate." The Babylonian god "Bel" honored in the rite has been linked to the Canaanite god Baal, whose worship was condemned in the Old Testament.
Even Bishop "There-are-many-Christs" Bennison finally got a bit twitchy about that after heavy pressure. That's a liberal church for ya! It's so darned liberal Andrew Sullivan wouldn't set foot inside it for fear he would be damned. (That's inside metaphorically speaking, because sometimes services are conducted at places like Stonehenge and groves.) And this is not just a case of several people quietly being pagan within the church. No, this is mainstream:
The Women’s Ministry page also advertises and recommends books both on the Women’s Ministries web page, and through the Episcopal Church’s official bookstore, that celebrate goddess worship. Such titles include: Descent to the Goddess: A Way of Initiation for Women, The Book of the Goddess Past and Present, Goddesses Who Rule, and Beginner’s Guide to Wicca.
Now let's go back to the question Sundries Shack posted "Could it be that there was a touch of general anti-religious bias happening in the news coverage?" Gee, I wonder. Because all you will ever read about the impending schism in the ECUSA is that it is about gays, and it is not about gays. Gays and lesbians have been ordained as ministers in the ECUSA for about 20 years without causing all this uproar, because the vestry chooses their minister so it didn't trouble a congregation if they didn't want a lesbian or a gay minister. The uproar occurred when the crop of "liberal" bishops started shoving their brand of Episcopalian/Many-Christs enlightenment down the individual congregations' throats.

Schism is pending over the question of whether the ECUSA will be Christian at all, and this is not a secret unless you don't want to know. So yes, there is more than a bit of anti-Christian bias in the news coverage. The hostility toward Pope Benedict XVI is because he is warning against ECUSA-type liberalism, is decisively Catholic and is a dogmatic monotheist to boot. In some quarters, that's considered extremely intolerant, old-fashioned and patriarchally oppressive.

(And btw, I am not slamming Druids and Wiccans. I can't, because I know nothing about them and don't intend to find out, because that Earth Mother ritual thing with the public sex is definitely not my cup of tea. But if I go to a restaurant and order a steak, I kind of expect to get a steak and not seafood. And if the waitress insists that I eat the seafood and pay for the steak, I'm going to get irked and ask for the manager. And when the manager comes out and informs me that the seafood is better for me and I most certainly should pay for the meal, I'm going to rebel. It's the American way.)

Important Stuff

First, this post at Redhunter about the federal investigation into flight 327. This is the flight that Annie Jacobsen was on, the one that terrified her and other passengers so much that she wrote an article about it:, and here is her latest update:
The four federal agents showed up exactly on time, in a rented green mini-van, carrying briefcases and wearing suits (it was 75 degrees). They came to discuss the events of Northwest flight 327, the now notorious Detroit-to-Los Angeles plane trip I took last June....
On the telephone, the agents explained to me that the Department of Homeland Security, Office of the Inspector General, has been investigating flight 327 and flying DHS agents around the country to talk to various parties -- the flight attendants, pilots, federal air marshals and the passengers. They had saved me for last.
They interviewed her for over 4 hours. This isn't over yet, and everyone needs to be alert. If everyone who had seen something suspicious leading up to 9/11 had reported it, the story of that day might have turned out differently. Stay alert for suspicious behavior and report it.

Second, Dr. Sanity comments on Social Security, the Galveston plan, and the Chile plan. These are good links and it is an important and pressing issue. Regardless of Pelosi's clueless statement about 2050, the problem with both Medicare and Social Security is terribly real and will become evident about 10 years from now, shifting into near-disaster about 15 years from now.

We are going to be making big changes to both programs from necessity. Social Security will have to change - we must save instead of spend. We could do that through government programs (such as the Federal employees have themselves) or through private programs, but the sooner we start to save instead of spend the better the position we will find ourselves in 2020 becomes. Unless you are over 75 today this discussion is highly relevant to you. If you are doing well load up on your private saving plan and mentally write off social security income for your retirement. If you are one of those scrabbling Americans actually (gasp) raising children, you need to climb into this dicussion and inform yourself NOW.

You might also want to take a look at the Trustees' report. The press release is available here. The report itself is available here (in text and pdf ). Anyway, the trustees report that Social Security starts running a deficit in 2017 (one year earlier than last year's estimate). This will continue to creep back as older Americans who have lost their jobs and medical coverage continue to retire at the first possible moment. Health insurance is the inexorable force accelerating this financial disaster.

Even worse yet, Medicare is already in deficit. You can read the combined summary for Medicare and Social Security here:
The fundamentals of the financial status of Social Security and Medicare remain problematic under the intermediate economic and demographic assumptions. Social Security's current annual cash surpluses will soon begin to decline and will be followed by deficits that begin to grow rapidly toward the end of the next decade as the baby boom generation retires. The Medicare Hospital Insurance (HI) Trust Fund that pays hospital benefits had negative cash flows in 2004 and annual cash flow deficits are expected to continue and to grow rapidly after 2010 as baby boomers begin to retire. The growing deficits in both programs will lead to exhaustion in trust fund reserves for HI in 2020 and for Social Security in 2041. In addition, the Medicare Supplementary Medical Insurance (SMI) Trust Fund that pays for physician services and the new prescription drug benefit will require substantial increases over time in both general revenue financing and premium charges. As the reserves in Social Security and HI are drawn down and SMI general revenue financing requirements continue to grow, the pressure on the Federal budget will intensify. We do not believe the currently projected long run growth rates of Social Security and Medicare are sustainable under current financing arrangements.
Talk about the trust funds is a red herring, because the trust funds are only promises to pay. When either program runs a deficit, it is funded out of general revenue. If the trust fund did not exist, the same would be true. So, for purposes of a reasoned debate, the "trust fund" chimera should be allowed to evaporate gently into the ether from which it was summoned. What the trustees are reporting is that the portion of the deficit related to these programs is slated to grow inexorably and rapidly as far as the actuarial eye can see. This is the projected graph of expenditures against GDP:

However, the real effect of what we are going to experience is not reflected in the graph above. We have been using Social Security taxes to fund general expenditures, and this will inflict a double whammy on our national finances. To continue these programs as they now stand, the trustees estimate that we would need to increase Social Security taxes right now by 15% and increase Medicare taxes by 107%. (An immediate increase of payroll taxes from 15.3% to about 20.5%)

Since these taxes are regressive and anti-competitive, this seems unlikely to be successful, especially if the public can't be assured that these taxes will be saved instead of spent, because even this tax increase doesn't solve the cash flow problem. They will spend it instead of saving it. One way or another (whether we tax ourselves by saving privately or tax ourselves by saving by public policy) we are going to have to start saving.

Look at this graph to see how quickly costs are expected to exceed income from taxes:

We should all be kissing complacency goodbye right now. This is not a political battle. This is reality. We can have a legitimate and lively debate about how to provide for our future, but people like Pelosi who don't believe there is an immediate problem should be sent back to kindergarten and made to learn how to count with colored blocks. They are either lying conniving deceivers or incredibly stupid people happily telling lies they believe; either way they should be ignored for the purposes of this debate.

For a bipartisan discussion of the situation, try the Concord Coalition. If you find yourself still stroking the lamp of the trust funds like Krugman in the childlike faith that a genie will appear with money, try this article. Reality hurts, but not as much as finding yourself paying 25% of your wages in Social Security and Medicare taxes in 6 or 7 years, plus paying income tax on that money you didn't receive:
The key point is that the same trust fund “assets” are a future liability for the Treasury. So while it may be comforting to think of the trust funds accumulating trillions in federal government bonds over the next twenty years, in reality that just means the government will owe itself a lot of money....
Thus, when the Trustees say that Social Security is “solvent” until 2042 they are only saying that the program will have sufficient claims on the Treasury (i.e., taxpayers) to pay full benefits until that date. The more important issue is how much paying off the IOUs is going to cost and whether it is affordable. When the time comes for the trust fund balances to be converted into benefit payments, the relevant question will be: where does the money come from?
From you, of course. That's where it must come from. One way or another, you are going to pay. You have already paid for your retirement in the form of the surplus SS taxes, but none of that money was stored or invested for the future. Now you are going to have to dig deep and come up with it again. Congratulations! This was what happened while we weren't paying attention. We probably should learn our lesson and start paying attention, especially to what is going on in Galveston and Chile.

I'm the only person in the country unperturbed by all this, because I don't have to worry about my retirement and I've already got my funeral covered. So I can afford to be honest, just like the Congressional Budget Office. Scroll down to nearly the bottom of this chapter, and you will see the projected impact of trust fund transfers on the budget. In 2004 it was about -192 billion. In 2005, it will be about -491 billion. We are talking about an additional negative impact on the budget of about 300 billion a year in ten years. That includes SS, Medicare, and federal retirement/medical trust funds. It is this number you must watch and this number that determines your future. You come up with that additional cash, or additional debt is sold to cover it.

Oh, and by the way - you will never see economists discussing how much in the hole we are to fund the retirement and medical care for federal government employees. But it is time to discuss that as well.

Spielberg And MoDo

Well, it turns out that Maureen Dowd may be correct. Theocracy is looming. The latest proof is this interview with Spielberg:
When the aliens finally arrive, Steven Spielberg expects them to be galactic good Samaritans like E.T. rather than the malevolent marauders of "War of the Worlds."

"I have to certainly believe what my heart tells me. That the first time there is a meeting of the minds between extraterrestrials and human beings, it's going to be friendly," Spielberg told The Associated Press in an interview looking ahead to his "War of the Worlds" saga, starring Tom Cruise.

"I can't believe anybody would travel such vast distances bent on destruction. I believe anybody who would travel such vast distances are curious explorers, not conquerors," Spielberg said. "Carrying weapons a hundred-thousand light-years is quite a schlepp. I believe it's easier to travel 100,000 light-years with their versions of the Bible."
Uh-huh. This is clearly the triumph of optimism over experience. He should spend a little time discussing this theory with some native Americans.

But I digress. The aliens will come bearing their Bible! Aeiiieieieieieiee! MoDo will dive under her desk at this news. Theocratic evil Bush-affiliated conquering aliens have infiltrated Hollywood. The end is nigh. Whimper.

Silence On The Marburg Front

WHO has not issued a Marburg update since April 22nd, which covered cases through the 21st. At that time the Angolan Ministry of Health's figure was 266 total cases, 244 deaths. Of those, WHO said 253 cases were located in Uige. However, Recombinomics noted that cases were being excluded from the total, perhaps erroneously. Since then, silence.

However today I saw the report about a person dying from some sort of hemorrhagic fever in Bata, Guinea. This may be Ebola as the news is saying, or it might represent a spread of the type of Marburg found in Angola as Recombinomics observes. But Ebola has been found in nearby primates, so that is probably why they are assuming the Bata case is Ebola.

The Angolan outbreak seems more lethal than any previous outbreak of Ebola or Marburg.

The French And The EU Constitution

This is an excellent column by Charles Wyplosz that looks at the reasons why the French may not ratify the proposed EU Constitution at the end of May. It reviews the history of the EU and France's position in it, and touches on the current economic trends that worry French voters:
At the same time, successive EU enlargements over the decades have brought in other powerful contenders, chiefly Spain and the UK, as well as smaller countries that are unwilling to bow before French-German leadership. In short, France has lost control of Europe. This is not new, but it has only recently started to sink in, and it hurts.

France is also economically wounded. Here is a country that has long cherished its "exception" from the normal rules of market economics, a foggy view that rejects both central planning and free markets and claims to offer a well-balanced middle ground. The French do not care that they have never been able to articulate their vision of a "third way," for they remain deeply convinced that the state has a key role to play in steering markets in order to defend "higher" values from the single-minded pursuit of materialism....

Of course, most French people would ultimately benefit from doing away with this inefficient web of big and small privileges, but most voters, depressed by poor economic prospects and unnerved by high unemployment, are simply unwilling to take the risk. They do not understand the roots of their economic troubles and are nostalgic for better times.
The Services Directive was probably the final straw in all this, but enlargement itself meant that the original EU members found themselves competing in a larger market with a much higher gradation between pay scales and benefits. That meant that the rules of competition favored the new members to a degree. We have the same controversy in this country, cloaked under the guise of illegal immigration, so we can't afford to sneer at the French.

"Ultimately" is not very promising to any individual voter. This column sets forth why the EU elite is now trying to sell the EU Constitution to France on the basis of maintaining their preeminence in Europe and defending France and Europe against international economic competition. The degree of the dilemma is evident in the dishonesty of the debate. In the European Parliament, all sorts of odd suggestions have been emerging to sell the Constitution.

One of the oddest, it seems to me, is this column by Peter Sain ley Berry, in which he argues both that the Constitution is fundamentally purely a technical document enshrining the current conditions and understandings in the EU (that is, it changes nothing) AND absolutely essential:
The fact is the Constitution, with its portentous appellation, has been desperately oversold. Right from the time an ageing French President with his eye on history decided to produce a document that he hoped would last for 50 years in a Convention that recalled both French and American Revolutions.

We are, however, not nation building. The reality is that the Constitution is a largely technical measure needed to ensure the continued smooth functioning of the Union. It is a well constructed and very necessary framework, but inside is little that wasn't there before. When people learn this they lose enthusiasm - worse, on the principle of nature and vacuums, they fill up the framework with their own skeletons and prejudices. In vain does President Chirac plead that the Constitution has nothing to do with Turkey or with liberalising the Services market.
This campaign should not sell the Constitution as something historic; this is not about European liberty leading the people. The message should be that the great steps in peace and prosperity that have been achieved in Europe have been achieved by member states working together. The Constitution will help them to continue to do that, preserving the advantages that have been gained. It is a vital technical measure that Europe needs desperately if it is to function properly and deliver what its member states want it to do and what much of the world, mired as it is in poverty and crisis, has a right to expect.
Now if you were a French voter, would being told to vote for the EU Constitution because it doesn't matter anyway and a "no" vote would make "the European Union would look pretty silly in the eyes of the rest of the world," convince you? The author concedes that "The egg on our faces might prove that we were human and democratic, but the Union's credibility would suffer, especially among emerging regional groups in Asia, Africa and Latin America, keen to follow the European model."

The truth is that the French workers are protesting against the current EU trend, and seizing this opportunity to do it. They don't want the EU to expand further. They are concerned about preserving their way of life, because while the Services Directive is going to be good for companies it will not help the French worker in the slightest - it will harm the French worker. And they wish to assert their "human and democratic" right to be heard in the face of an elite to whom appearances may be more important than a democratic process. It is no coincidence that the French intransigence is fueling a possible revision of the Services Directive.

I both see the need for restablishing economic competitiveness and the reason why many of the French people are unlikely to vote for this thing. For more, see No Oil For Pacifist's roundup. Lancelot Finn casts a brief look at the matter asking if the EU might break up and commenting:
But politically, the European project is philosophically misguided, out of touch with its people, and beset by economic sclerosis and long-term demographic decline. In this unpromising climate, the Europeans have abandoned traditional forms of legitimacy rooted in national sovereignty in favor of an experiment. While most of the hope and labor that has been invested in the European project could probably have been better spent, the experiment has done some good.
My opinion (and it is only my opinion, feel free to jeer at it) is that the EU in its current form is not a weak construction. However I suspect that trying to move quickly toward a federalistic construction might prove problematic. At that point, the differing national philosophies begin to clash. Any union founded on a concept of economic rights instead of human rights is perilous, because this parses to a union based on a result instead of a process. While processes can survive tough times and changing circumstances, results are bound to vary, and the conflict and resentment generated will then be oriented toward the federal structure.

But the EU is also founded on ideas about human rights, and there it has a powerful idea and the force of history going for it. It should strive to maximize that focus as a unifying theme but not a controlling culture. The difficulty of the path the EU walks is to prevent falling into the abyss of defining themselves as a secular culture with unwritten rules that dictate suspicion of other cultures. They have a demographic problem, so Europe must be truly open to immigrants. The Asian world is set on a path of hyper-capitalism, so they must adjust to that economic reality.

A culture can define itself as a series of negative rules (we don't shoot people down in the streets, we don't murder, we don't torture) but it also must have a powerful positive or aspirational focus. In Europe, that may be the concept of European culture, but that could easily resolve itself into an asinine us-vs-you construction like that of Hitler's Aryan Utopia, replacing racialism with Euro-centrism. On the other hand, Europe could re-orient itself to focus on its humanitarian efforts and outreach to other areas. In that case, Europe might evolve a very vibrant and open culture that used its excess productive capacity on humanitarian projects. Since the concept of "European" would be organized around objective actions, it would not become a narrow concept.

It's far too soon to tell, but if UN reform measures succeed, it is likely that Europe would be the prime beneficiary. A static, debating-club type of UN seems to be to be their cultural worst enemy.

Bird's Eye View On Littlefield Collection

If the picture below makes your eyes widen and focus, you need to hop on over and look at the Littlefield Collection with Bird's Eye View:

Blogging on Lebanon, Bird's Eye View writes:
What is happening in these countries is not just a matter of them catching up to us in the experienced democracies. They may very well sail right past us to a level of tolerance and unity that even the U.S. must work to achieve.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Dingo On Darfur

The Barking Dingo has worked on a committee to recommend solutions for Darfur. The situation remains critical, and Dingo has posted part of the committee's report to Bush. This is not a puff piece; it lists a series of steps that could improve matters. I urge you to read it and consider supporting legislative initiatives for action in Congress.

Dingo will be posting additional parts of the report at his blog for the next few days, so keep checking back.

Wise Words

Update: No Oil For Pacifists joins in with an interesting post and some interesting thoughts, among them:
There are extremists on each sides, Republican/conservative as well as Democrat/liberal. The recent shift of both political parties has pumped-up the volume. But I'm still convinced that liberals and conservative share the same goals--but disagree on how to achieve them.
I would agree, except I would qualify it as "most" liberals and conservatives. There are always truly bizarre people around. Still, Carl's conclusion points to the obvious - at the national level, there is relatively little debate on ways to achieve our goals. Mostly it's pure factionalism.
End update.

Sigmund, Carl and Alfred make some assertions about the nature of current political debate in the US:
Debate is just that: debate. At its best, debate can be a healthy exercise giving us pause and insisting that we think for ourselves. At its lowest, debate can be reduced to a toxic level, with the sole intent of poisoning what we call the free market of thoughts and ideas.
Read the whole thing, and then ask yourself the question - what will our national debate look like in this next year? The best, the worst, or something in between? Right now I would say we are hovering close to that "toxic level", and that it is poisoning "the free market of thoughts and ideas". Every society has its fringe element, but if it lets the most extreme positions dominate the debate then the society ends up being controlled by its fringes. That's not healthy.

Currently the US does not seem to be able to engage in honest debate on any of our pressing problems. Individuals can and do have excellent, thoughtful discussions, but not the US as a whole. That's a problem. I do have a suggestion, and it might seem weirder than weird, but it isn't in practice. I would like to direct you to the E-Prime page. The E-Prime theory is based about a set of observations of how the human brain appears to operate:
E-PRIME, abolishing all forms of the verb "to be," has its roots in the field of general semantics, as presented by Alfred Korzybski in his 1933 book, Science and Sanity. Korzybski pointed out the pitfalls associated with, and produced by, two usages of "to be": identity and predication. His student D. David Bourland, Jr., observed that even linguistically sensitive people do not seem able to avoid identity and predication uses of "to be" if they continue to use the verb at all. Bourland pioneered in demonstrating that one can indeed write and speak without using any form of "to be," calling this subset of the English language "E-Prime."
By practicing setting down our thoughts without using the verb "to be" (no "is", "are", "was" etc) we will generally phrase our thoughts in more accurate and factual ways that provide a better framework for reasoned debate:
Consider the following paired sets of propositions, in which Standard English alternates with English-Prime (E-Prime):

lA. The electron is a wave.
lB. The electron appears as a wave when measured with instrument-l.

2A. The electron is a particle.
2B. The electron appears as a particle when measured with instrument-2.

3A. John is lethargic and unhappy.
3B. John appears lethargic and unhappy in the office.

4A. John is bright and cheerful.
4B. John appears bright and cheerful on holiday at the beach.

5A. This is the knife the first man used to stab the second man.
5B. The first man appeared to stab the second man with what looked like a knife to me.

6A. The car involved in the hit-and-run accident was a blue Ford.
6B. In memory, I think I recall the car involved in the hit-and-run accident as a blue Ford.

7A. This is a fascist idea.
7B. This seems like a fascist idea to me.

8A. Beethoven is better than Mozart.
8B. In my present mixed state of musical education and ignorance, Beethoven seems better to me than Mozart.

9A. That is a sexist movie.
9B. That seems like a sexist movie to me.

10A. The fetus is a person.
10B. In my system of metaphysics, I classify the fetus as a person.
The reason why this works is that it implicitly acknowledges our personal limitations - we tend to be more realistic and honest when following this discipline. Another form of it is to recast another's statement in E-Prime and then respond to our recast statement instead of the original. So instead of having hysterics because Howard Dean called Republicans "evil", recast that as Howard Dean said "Republicans seem evil to me". Now the logical response becomes the question "Howard, why do Republicans seem evil to you?"

I warn you that this habit is not safe in a bar, because you may get physically attacked by someone who finds reasoned questioning very threatening. But online it elicits some excellent discussions.

Citizens Versus Subjects

No Oil For Pacifists is looking for a co-blogger. Try reading this post on Iraqi views and see if you don't find him interesting and wouldn't like to contribute. Among other tidbits, he quotes from an Iraqi analysis:
This is one of the main reasons why many Iraqis were and still are disappointed with America. No, these Iraqis do not hate America as most like to think, they're just disappointed with her for not fitting the image they had in their minds; the just tyrant that should've taken full responsibility for some time until they could find their own just tyrant who would make their life much better without forcing them to share a burden and a responsibility they never thought it was among their duties as citizens.
The burden and the responsibility being freedom and sculpting their own future. Well, what do you expect from a people who have been stamped into the ground for thirty years or so? But certainly many Iraqis have risen to the challenge of running their own affairs, and as the purple fingered revolution showed, they've got moxie and character of their own.

Freedom is only an opportunity rather than a result. Sometimes I wonder how many people in the US really want freedom any more. NOFP also links to this post by a milblogger (Dadmanly), who is basically making the same point as he rebuts claims of looming defeat in Iraq:
You also point out that, in Vietnam, soldiers could move about the cities, bars and restaurants, flophouses and the like. That's no doubt true, but your argument is disingenuous. We don't want to have that kind of presence here, Iraqis wouldn't like it. The whole point of the exercise is to make Iraqis responsible for their own defense, their own government, their own society. Absolutely, we toppled the dictator Hussein. Certainly, our forces are a critical part of preserving this emergent democracy. But you make it sound like anything less than complete occupation and domination is somehow defeat. Aren't you arguing against yourself here? If we were behaving that way, as occupiers in that sense, I'm quite sure you'd have much to criticize with that approach.
One thing one almost never finds in the traditional press is the recognition that our military contains a tremendous group of thinking, analytical, well-educated people. The press will interview generals with respect, and 18 year old privates from inner-city backgrounds, and any military person who will complain. But they never, ever seem to cover the real story, the towering story of our time - which is that we appear to have an incredibly efficient military that is capable of exercising extreme self-control, ground-level strategic initiative, professionalism and humanity in conditions that are extraordinarily difficult.

And it is this story that the press should be covering. The slow birth of representational institutions in Afghanistan and Iraq and the military which has been the catalyst for this chain reaction is the radical story. History is turning on an ignored axis of an army/people coalition - a citizen volunteer army that has been instrumental in liberating two of the most oppressed and desperate countries in the world and the startled, unbelieving cooperation of the people of those countries.

Doesn't anyone care, outside of bloggers? Oh well, at least there is Chrenkoff.

Doom XXI, The EU Constitutional Crisis

Well. Well. Well. The former European Commissioner is forecasting doom for all of Europe if France does not approve the EU Constitution:
In an interview with French newspaper Journal du Dimanche (24 April), Mr Prodi said that a French rejection of the document on 29 May would result in "no more Europe".

"We will go through a great period of crisis. The problem will not only be a catastrophe for France, but the fall of Europe.

"A No would be catastrophic for Europe, from a social and economic point of view, not only political. And that is the whole contradiction: everybody knows very well that there is no Europe without France, yet France does not realise the chance it has with Europe. She should reflect on that because an isolated France would be very weak", said Mr Prodi who presided over the Commission during the making of the Constitution.
But no pressure, folks. And now the German Parliament members (the Germans themselves aren't going to get to vote) are making snuffling noises that some of them might vote against the EU Constitution. The Dutch also are are reacting with extremely subdued enthusiasm to the proposed EU Constitution, or no enthusiasm at all, or indifference to the whole matter, according to which polling firm one believes:
Three new polls show that a majority of Dutch people are likely to vote 'no' in the upcoming referendum on the EU constitution, although many are still undecided.
In the article you'll see the numbers quoted as 24 anti, 22 pro; 58 anti, 42 pro, and 52 anti, 48 pro. Personally I believe the number that says that less than a third of the people will vote in the Dutch referendum which is scheduled right after France's. The Poles and the Czechs are just putting the whole matter off. Chirac-Schroeder, that unified entity, is now running around France and warning the poor French that Europe's deconstruction or whatever will be all their fault unless they vote yes. See this BBC article.

For instance, one of the horrifying consequences if the EU Constitution is not ratified will be the attack of Chinese textiles, swarming into France in a brightly colored horde that will overwhelm France as it has already taken the United States down to destruction:
Mr Chirac described the surge in textile imports as "further evidence of our need to unite to take a common stand in the face of globalisation".

Mr Schroeder said the dispute with China highlighted the importance of a Yes vote on the European constitution.

"If a country hit hard were alone, it would be much more difficult to defend itself than if it acted in concert with other countries."
Kick me if I'm hallucinating, but this sounds a lot like the Chirac-Schroeder entity is suggesting that the EU Constitution is designed to abrogate free-trade treaties and support protectionism.

Yet More On Bolton

In this WaPo column, the battle over Bolton's nomination is perceived as a front in the battle over a confrontational foreign policy:
In public, the controversy over John R. Bolton's nomination as United Nations ambassador has focused on his handling of personnel issues and his managerial skills. But the first big battle of President Bush's second term also reflects long-standing tensions among Republicans over the thrust of U.S. foreign policy.

Allegations that Bolton has been abrasive have become a metaphor for the broader problem of the United States' image abroad, with Republicans who favor a less confrontational and unilateral approach seeing an opportunity to press their point of view. It is all the more striking at a time when the Bush administration, led by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, has tried to rebuild relations with allies in Europe and Asia.
You have to read to the end to find out that Armitage (deputy to Powell) is rejecting the latest charge against Bolton - that he attempted to block military funding for new NATO members because they had not formally agreed to exempt US personnel from the authority of the ICC:
One set of current and former officials said Bolton opposed providing the funding until the countries signed what were known as the Article 98 agreements, even after a decision had been made to grant the countries a waiver. A second group of officials, including a former Defense Department official, said Bolton fully complied and in the end approved the funds. They said the Pentagon put up the obstacles.
There is also a strong implication that Powell's opposition is based on policy differences.

Court Maintains Headscarves Ban

It was the highest Turkish court who said no, on constitutional grounds:
Turkey's top judge said Monday that any move to ease a ban on Islamic headscarves in universities and public offices would be a breach of the country's strictly secularist constitution.

The head of the constitutional court, Mustafa Bumin, issued the warning in a speech to a high-level audience including Prime Minister Recep Erdogan who advocates the lifting of the ban.

"As long as secularist principles remain in the constitution, all legal arrangements that would allow women wearing the headscarf to enter universities as students and then public service as employees would be a breach of the constitution," Bumin said.
That is a blow to the AKP, Erdogan's party. See the end of the article for an explanation of the battle lines. The president is secularist and most of the army is too, whereas Erdogan is from the other camp. The AKP would like to change the rule at least in universities.

It is one of the ironies of our times that a Muslim woman who wears a headscarf has more legal rights in the US than in Turkey. These policies date back to Ataturk's times, who tried to implement a policy of equality for women and universal education. Here is a pretty good timeline summarizing changes in Turkey's constitution. Here is a link to the 2002 version of the Constitution which I believe has since been amended. However I think Article 174 has not changed:
Article 174 Preservation of Reform Laws
No provision of the Constitution shall be construed or interpreted as rendering unconstitutional the Reform Laws indicated below, which aim to raise Turkish society above the level of contemporary civilisation and to safeguard the secular character of the Republic, and which were in force on the date of the adoption by referendum of the Constitution of Turkey.
1. Act No. 430 of 3 March 1340 (1924) on the Unification of the Educational System;
2. Act No. 671 of 25 November 1341 (1925) on the Wearing of Hats;
3. Act No. 677 of 30 November 1341 (1925) on the Closure of Dervish Convents and Tombs, the Abolition of the Office of Keeper of Tombs and the Abolition and Prohibition of Certain Titles;
4. The principle of civil marriage according to which the marriage act shall be concluded in the presence of the competent official, adopted with the Turkish Civil Code No. 743 of 17 February 1926, and Article 110 of the Code;
5. Act No. 1288 of 20 May 1928 on the Adoption of International Numerals:
6. Act No. 1353 of 1 November 1928 on the Adoption and Application of the Turkish Alphabet;
7. Act No 2590 of 26 November 1934 on the Abolition of Titles and Appellations such as Efendi, Bey or Pasa;
8. Act No. 2596 of 3 December 1934 on the Prohibition of the Wearing of Certain Garments.

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