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Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Imams, Germany and Turkey

I have been following the attempts of Germany both to lobby for a seat on the UN Security Council and to expand trade ties with Turkey. Germany is currently considering giving or selling some tanks to Turkey, and is apparently now supporting Turkey's bid for EU membership. One can't help but suspect that economic concerns dominate a lot of Germany's recent moves - if you can't build cars economically, you probably can still build tanks. At a guess, the plans to develop the new EU battle groups will mean additional arms and aircraft sales for Germany and France. (According to this Washington Times article, the current EU forces are dependent upon NATO for transport.) Germany would like to expand its arms industry and secure its access to oil.

Turkey is a good option, and so are Middle Eastern states. Not only that, but Turkey is sitting on the northern border of Iraq casting a hopeful eye in the direction of Kirkuk. Turkey is trying to get the census count of "ethnic Turks", Turkmen or Turkomen, as high as possible in that region, and has sponsored a coalition party of various Turkomen groups in Iraq. One suspects that any tanks Turkey gets from Germany will wind up somewhere near the Iraqi border, and not necessarily on the Turkish side of it. Of course, Turkey does have legitimate security concerns relating to the Kurdish population, who can and apparently do cross back and forth the country boundaries positioned within "Kurdistan". More on that later.

The question I've been pondering is whether Islamist forces will obstruct this alignment. Within Turkey there is resentment of Germany, and Germany's current strategy seems likely to produce small groups of radicalized Islamists within its borders, not reduce them:
Germany's leaders are also now realizing that the country's approximately 2,000 Muslim congregations and houses of worship are the key to peaceful coexistence. If the imams preach reconciliation and distance themselves from terrorism, it will force militant Muslims to the periphery. At the very least, this approach will help separate the radicals from peaceful, law-abiding Muslims. However, if the imams preach hatred, Germany is likely to face the same kinds of conflicts that are now happening in the Netherlands.

Should the Muslims distance themselves more decisively from radical elements in their ranks, as German President Horst Koehler is demanding? Koehler believes that "something has gone wrong" between Christians and Muslims. Interior Minister Otto Schily, echoing the sentiments of politician Guenther Beckstein, the Interior Minister of Bavaria, was a little more direct when he said that "tolerance doesn't mean tolerating intolerance."

The chancellor has also made his thoughts clear on the matter. In a speech over the weekend, he said, "We in Europe must defend the principles of the Enlightenment as the cornerstone of our policies." The Muslims, according to Schroeder, must "clearly and unmistakably declare their support for our legal system and our democratic rules of conduct."

The approach the Germans now plan to take is one the French have been using for some time. Last year, French Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin had about a dozen imams deported. In many cases, however, the agitators are not immigrants, but traveling preachers from Turkey, Jordan and Saudi Arabia who enter the country on temporary visas. To help prevent this from happening in Germany, a delegation of German members of parliament visiting Turkey last summer asked the Turkish prime minister to prohibit these radical imams from leaving the country.

Because organizations such as the Islamic Council and the Central Council of Muslims represent only a fraction of Muslims, Peer Steinbrueck, a member of the left-of-center Social Democrat party and premier of the German state of North-Rhine Westphalia, is calling for a "legitimate representative for political negotiation." He wants Muslims to become more organized.

Members of the Green Party in North-Rhine Westphalia would like to see a "mosque registry" based on the Austrian model. They want all congregations that honor the German constitution to be documented, so that their members can elect a governing body. Johannes Remmel, Green Party chairman in North-Rhine Westphalia, believes that this would give Muslims "more rights, but also more obligations," and that the best way to institutionalize these commitments would be for the government to enter into an agreement with mosques similar to that entered into with churches.

and finally
Agents have also been noticing an interesting phenomenon in recent months: The tone in mosques is becoming more moderate. "The problem is, we don't know if this is a sign of caution or a changing attitude," says one intelligence agent. Agents have discovered that, in radical mosques, small groups have taken to meeting privately.

Does a policy which will inevitably lead to the creation of a religious "underground" within your own country seem likely to be successful at limiting extremism and terrorist cells? To me it seems more likely to nurture them. Europe, as a whole, does not have the same institution of religious freedom the way Americans understand it. One benefit of our system is that everything, including churches, competes loudly in the marketplace, and public ridicule and distaste tends to limit the success of extreme rhetoric. This has forced the evolution of our churches toward moderation in their practices, and their beliefs have followed.

If our government were to suppress Unitarians, for instance, only the most committed Unitarians would stay within their groups. A correspondingly fervent and secretive expression of Unitarianism would develop. Those who were repelled by it would simply drift away from the group, and each Unitarian underground congregation would be progressively filtered to select those who were more and more extremist in their outlook. Since Unitarianism would be illegal, no public comment or criticism of its doctrines would occur, and if the government were to try to publish the pernicious nature of the conspiratorial Unitarian doctrine, curiosity would probably lead a lot of younger people to seek out these underground Unitarians. Within 20 or 30 years I would bet you'd get a very small group of Unitarians committed to the idea that Unitarianism was the only true faith, etc.

Now, back to the Turkish resentment of Germany's policy. I can not recommend enough this article from the Turkish viewpoint. It is long and detailed, and it addresses the underlying issue - will Germany be allowed to create a "German" controlled Islamic religion, in the same way that its other churches are largely funded and controlled by the state? I am going to give you a couple of excerpts to whet your appetite, although they cannot convey the overall sense of it:
The German efforts to divide the Turkish minority into different segments are not limited to Alevi or Kurdish issues. Islam, as one of the most important parts of the Turkish culture, has already been added to the list of separatist activities. Udo Steinbach, head of the Orient Institute financed by the German Foreign Ministry, explained the necessity of Germanising Islam, on February 21, 1998 at Bavaria State Parliament. Steinbach stated that ‘obtaining German citizenship should be made easier for young Muslims; Islam should be “tamed” by allowing azan and establishment of minarets; and Turkish Muslims’ ties with Turkey should be broken off’. [72]

In accordance with Steinbach’s suggestion, with the decision of the Berlin High Administrative Court, leaving Turkish state and Prime Ministry-Department of Religious Affairs outside, a project was approved on November 4, 1998. This project would ‘allow’ Turks to take Islam classes ‘in German’ organised by the Islam Federation that is bound to National Vision (Millî Görüş). The classes would be held under the supervision of German authorities and the lecturers would be graduates of departments of Science of Islam of ‘German’ universities. [73] The education language is identified as German because otherwise German authorities would not be able to supervise them. Besides, this decision was taken to fight against the ‘danger of Turkification of Islam’. [74] Otto Schily supported the project that envisaged the teaching of Islam by people who belong to a different religion, and in German at that time as today. Schily expressed that the ‘Islam religion needs to have an official statute. Teaching of Islam in German at schools would encourage integration of the Muslim children’. [75]

German media also supported the project. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung’s comment regarding the issue was striking: ‘Islam classes under the control of the German state is a very important step in removing this issue from Turkish monopoly’. [76]

Note the timing of these suggestions - these topics were being discussed in 1998 and 1999. The Spiegel article suggested that the current attention to the question of integration was forced by recent events. This can't be totally true. It was also the ZDF that recently taped the imam preaching that Germans were dirty people who stunk because they did not wash or shave the hair under their armpits, which seems to have riled the German people greatly.
Germans perceive Turks as threats and this was openly broadcasted on a German TV channel, the ZDF. The programme prepared by ZDF presented some interesting results concerning Islam, Turkey, and Turkish people. The findings were as follows:

- Germans appreciate countries with a similar culture and life style.

- Islamic cultures are incomprehensible for Germans.

- Turkey is a strange country for Germans. Turkish people seem strange and ‘threatening’ for Germans. [77]

In his interview, the Social Democrat Minister confessed that he would not recognise any minority group other than those already recognised linguistic minorities such as Sorbs, Frisians and Danes. When the journalist reminded him that ‘the proposal to add articles to the German Constitution aiming to protect the minorities was refused’, Schily answered ‘yes, and it will remain like that’.

One of the most striking statements of Schily is about the language issue. In the interview Schily declared ‘use of more than one language would, after a period of time, lead to great tensions and conflict’. While, on the other hand, German governments put pressure on Turkey to recognize languages other than Turkish and to allow them to be used in the media, publication, and education.

All through the article the Germans are portrayed as being intolerant, insecure and hypocritical. ( Turkey has been something of a secularized society by law - for instance, it was Attaturk that banned head scarves for women. An internal Islamic party has formed demanding more religious rights, and it has met with some success.) In light of the internal tensions within Turkish society, it is very possible that enough hostility could be generated to obstruct the de facto German/Turkish alliance I think is developing. That does not, of course, mean that Turkey will refuse the tanks - but it does mean that Germany may not reap the long-term benefits it hopes for in supporting Turkey's military and political position.

Monday, November 29, 2004

The reality-based community drools again

Most of you have probably seen some news story or another about the woman with the back injury who is now walking again. South Korean researchers say they injected stem cells from cord blood directly into the injured part of her spine. The stem cells used were taken from umbilical cord blood frozen after the birth of a baby and then cultured. It will be many years of study before this concept is proved out, I suspect. (Research also continues apace on the use of embroyonic stem cells - here is a link to a current encouraging experiment in mice.)

Many hospitals in the US now offer parents the option to freeze this blood at the birth of the child. The cells from the frozen blood have been used in cases of leukemia to try to generate new healthy blood marrow. Because there is a total match from cord blood, anti-rejection drugs need not be used. This is a huge advantage. The downside is that there is not a whole lot of stem cells in cord blood, and reading in between the lines, it seems as if the South Korean scientists were replicating the stem cells for this experiment. I don't know the exact risks, but I do know some experiments with embryonic stem cells have caused other problems, and that cord stem cells are suspected to be safer to work with.

Yesterday I went to sleep thinking that the story about the South Korean woman was great news if a little dubious. It occurred to me when I woke up this morning, though, that Democratic Underground (being an organization composed of extremely reality-based members), would probably have something to say about this from another perspective. Somehow, in some way, I was guessing, this story would be given an anti-Bush spin. I have noticed before that some Democrats seem to have their own version of reality, and fight like tigers to maintain it in the face of any unfortunate contradictory indications.

I struck DU gold with my first click! I will present a short sampling for your viewing pleasure, but I can assure you that this reality-based thread is a fine DU vintage to be sipped slowly, savored sweetly, and drunk to the last frothing drop:
Laura will be so upset. This may give people false hope.

Science TRUMPS religion again

Amen, amen!!!

(Here one James T. Kirk, possibly influenced by his long friendship with his scientist friend Spock, attempted to introduce a note of reality into this discussion):
So, you are saying that umbilical cord stem cells are against a religion? Which religion opposes stem cell research using umbilical cord stem cells?
Perhaps you were thinking of embryonic stem cells, to which the miraculous (and dubious) cure were NOT attributed.

(But no note of fact can be permitted to disturb the sublimely reality-based community)
No I am saying that science has found the next step in curing people in spite of sanctimonious hypocrites trying to impose religious values on the rest of us. aWoL worships one thing only MONEY.

Wouldn't it be nice if we lived in a country that supports advances in medicine and technology? Under the Smirker, we are going backwards . It won't be long before the United States is no longer the only Superpower.

(I have noticed before that the reality-based community is extremely geographically challenged - think of Streisand faxing memos to poor Gephardt about Iran.)
How wonderful for China which will hold whatever patents are filed on this.

Perhaps stem cells can be used to grow Mr. Bush a heart.
........Or for that matter, a functioning frontal lobe would also be quite an improvement.

Stick that in your pipe & smoke it, you science-hating Xtian dumbasses Let the FLOOD of hypocritical paralyzed Xtian fundies BEGIN! Ooops, I'm sorry...I forgot, you aren't eligible to receive treatment because of your RELIGIOUS beliefs.

(Another person intervenes, desperately attempting to introduce elements of objective reality into the reality-based community. This one may be a doctor, given that his or her handle is Bones_7672)
Uh, no christian i know opposes using umbilical cord stem cells. n/t

(But the reality of these people's community is far too strong to be overcome by piddling factual details, although we do manage to get back into the correct country.)
God will punish the South Koreans for this outrage.

Maybe thanks to Bush, we got beat by S.Korea

If Bush had acted soon enough on stem cell research maybe like four years ago this success could have been an American success. Economically AND scientifically Bush has sunk us to second-world status.

(James T. Kirk, patron saint of lost causes, tries once more.)
What are you talking about? It was UMBILICAL CORD blood. Stem cells are collected from the blood in the umbilical cord after birth. How does this have anything to do with killing babies?

(There are some battles our fearless Captain can't win even with Corbomite. Spock has probably already keeled over from shock at the illogic.)
Yeah, but do they have cheese sandwiches with the Holy Virgin's face on them in South Korea?

Holy crap! That is friggin' amazing! Living goddamned proof that we need it legalized again in the USA! F***ing Bush...

(Here a guy named Intermixx gets into the fray. I suspect Kirk is off cradling Spock's prone form, yelling for Bones to do something. Intermixx must be Scotty!)
It is legal ya buffoon.
Note that this (which may entirely be a load of manure) was performed using cord stem cells. From what I've been reading lately embryonic stem cells are practically uncontrollable and therefore useless. Cord Cells and even adult stem cells show much more promise than the old baby killin embryonic kind. Despite all the hype, the religious right may come out on the correct side on this one. Bozo me.
I was all for embryonic research until I quit listening to Mrs. Reeves and Michael J Fox and started doing my own research. Again, keep in mind that this whole article may sit on a throne of lies.

(Fire the phasers, Scotty. There is nothing to do but STERILIZE, STERILIZE these imperfect life forms.)
But good old fashion American spin and sell. The fact seems to be that the rest of the world did it's homework, and now doesn't need us to open new frontiers. Thanks george.

Without Jerry Farwell commanding the woman to walk via some sort of head slap, moron won't listen and say it's voodoo medicine.

(You can't keep a good starship down. What follows must be Uhura. You can tell because she speaks with a note of calm authority. But the screen-name is Wunderkind, so maybe it's Wesley. Maybe the original Enterprise has been sent wheeling crazily into a sun by the dizzying flood of irrationality.)
Get the Facts Right
1. This research, if it is authentic, was conducted using stem cells extracted from umbilical cord blood. Not even the most avid religious zealot objects to this type of research because it does not result in the creation or destruction of a human embryo.
2. Embryonic stem cell research is not banned in the U.S. Scientists must simply choose between receiving federal funding and working exclusively on the lines designated by the President in 2001 or having the freedom to work on any embryos but without federal funding.
And don't just assume that this wonderful story must be a hoax because it goes against what you wanted/expected to see happen.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Danger, Danger Will Robinson!!!

You could be imprisoned for life if you travel into Canada and there is any documentation that you have expressed any support for Bush. I have it on the best of authority, complete with legal citations and all.

I got this story from Instapundit, who had it listed as "more crushing of dissent in Canada". What happened is that the Canada Free Press received a threatening letter from some language-challenged anti-Bushy named Gloria Bergen. This is pretty wild stuff:
"By your tone, and obvious despisal of the anti-Bush protestors, you and your free press is no more independent and fair than the corporate owned media. If you and your editors want to affiliate yourself with them, and should you have any say in Bush's visit here, as such you and your colleagues could be personally liable to prosecution under the Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes Act by virtue of section 21 of the Canadian Criminal Code, for crimes so serious that they are punishable in Canada by up to life imprisonment."

Frankly, the idea that the Canada Free Press is running the government seems a little off-base. Canada Free Press was supposed to be an independent oppositional type venture, and I can't believe they have any effect at all on who gets invited to Canada. For backup, this Gloria Bergen attaches some letters regarding Bush's war crimes, written by Michael Mandel and Gail Davidson. The first letter was to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration:
We wrote to Prime Minister Martin on November 19 2004 (see following letter) protesting the invitation of President Bush to Canada on the grounds of the President's flagrant commission of the most serious crimes against international law. Our letter is enclosed.

We are writing to you now to remind you that these crimes render President Bush inadmissible to Canada under our immigration laws. Because responsibility for the operation and enforcement of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act lies with you and your Ministry, we are calling on you to advise the Prime Minister of this fact and to insist that he rescind this invitation out of respect for our laws.

and in the letter to the Prime Minister, Michael and Gail say, in part:
Surely you are aware of the many grave crimes against humanity and war crimes for which President Bush stands properly accused by the world, starting with the Nuremberg Tribunal's 'supreme international crime' of waging an aggressive war against Iraq in defiance of international law and the Charter of the United Nations, and including systematic and massive violations of the Geneva Conventions Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War and Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, as well as the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. As recently as November 16, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and former war crimes prosecutor Louise Arbour called for an investigation into crimes against the Geneva Conventions in the assault by US forces on the densely populated city of Fallujah.

By these laws, Canadians and non-Canadians alike are liable to prosecution in Canada, no matter where in the world they have committed their crimes.

And if President Bush were to visit Canada after leaving office, we would be seeking the Attorney General's permission under section 9 of the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act and section 7 of the Criminal Code to commence proceedings against him.

However, as you also know, should President Bush come to Canada now, while still President, he would be clothed with both diplomatic and head of state immunity from our laws and we would be powerless to bring him to justice.

Indeed, we feel bound to point out that your invitation to President Bush may thus constitute an abetting of the crimes he and his administration and military continue to commit. As such you and your colleagues could be personally liable to prosecution under the Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes Act by virtue of section 21 of the Canadian Criminal Code, for crimes so serious that they are punishable in Canada by up to life imprisonment. Abetting a crime, as the Attorney General will advise, is regarded as equally criminal to actually committing it and is complete when one intentionally, knowingly, or with willful blindness encourages the commission of a crime by another.

Nor would President Bush's immunity be capable of shielding you and your colleagues from prosecution, because, as the Attorney General will advise, the immunity applies only to foreign officials visiting Canada and not to members of the Canadian government itself. Nor does the inability to prosecute a criminal affect the criminal liability of an abettor.

So, Michael and Gail are threatening their own Prime Minister for prosecution for abetting Bush's war crimes if he does not rescind his invitation. They say they are doing so on behalf of Lawyers against the War, which can be reached at law@portal.ca. Contact information for Michael Mandel can be found at the link above.

The article which aroused their wrath against the Canada Free Press poked fun at the scheduled protest of Bush's visit, in part suggesting the protesters get a map and look up Chile and Columbia:
"Because this will be Bush’s first trip outside the U.S. since his re-election, it will be important for us to build the biggest possible mobilisation (sic) to show our opposition in Canada," Rebick says in a rabble.ca email.

All of this should explain why the Canada Free Press will now appear on my links. I also should warn you all that the legal logic used to threaten Canada's Prime Minister and the Canada Free Press with life imprisonment could also be used against anyone around the world who has expressed support for Bush - probably even voted for Bush. Get the word out, folks. You may be imprisoned if you travel to Canada. I think we should all mount an immediate campaign to get the word out by writing letters to our local newspapers. Certainly we should all contact local travel agents. Perhaps we should also write the major Canadian newspapers expressing our sorrow for being forced to stay on our side of the border. We could ask for an amnesty law - what do you think?

Please pass this message along - it's a public service message: Save yourself from one of those Canadian life imprisonment terms! Do NOT cross that border! Friends don't let Bush-supporting friends wander into such danger!

Update: Len Kutchma has an interesting post on the planned anti-Bush demonstrations. His rhetoric is a little hot.

Job Posting

(I got the basis of this through a forwarded email and laughed pretty hard.)

Parent, Mother, Mom, Mama, Mommy, Ma, Father, Dad, Daddy, Dada, Pop

Committed, dedicated team players needed for challenging permanent work in an often chaotic environment. Candidates must possess excellent communication and organizational skills and be willing to work variable hours, which will include evenings and weekends and frequent 24 hour shifts on call.

Some overnight travel required, including trips to primitive camping sites on rainy weekends and endless sports tournaments in far away cities. Travel expenses not reimbursed.

Extensive courier duties also required.

This position involves training your replacement and will continue for the rest of your life. Candidates must be willing to be hated, at least temporarily, until someone needs $5. Must be willing to bite tongue repeatedly. Also, must possess the physical stamina of a pack mule and be able to go from zero to 60 mph in three seconds flat in case, this time, the screams from the backyard are not someone just crying wolf.

Must be willing to face stimulating technical challenges, such as small gadget repair, mysteriously sluggish toilets and stuck zippers. Must screen phone calls, maintain calendars and coordinate production of multiple homework projects.

Must have ability to plan and organize social gatherings for clients of all ages and mental outlooks. Must be willing to be indispensable one minute, an embarrassment the next. Must handle assembly and product safety
testing of a half million cheap, plastic toys, and battery operated devices.

Successful candidates will have an optimist's outlook but a pessimist's ability to forecast possible emergencies and to implement a plan to avert disaster. Must assume final, complete accountability for the quality of the end product.

Responsibilities also include floor maintenance and janitorial work throughout the facility.

None. Your job is to remain in the same position for years, without complaining, constantly retraining and updating your skills, so that those in your charge can ultimately surpass you when they leave your care and accept a position of their own.

Reviews of your job performance are administered by your trainees and often occur multiple times daily. If you are successful, these reviews will gradually diminish in volume and increase in eloquence and descriptiveness.

None required. You will receive mandatory on-the-job training on a 24-hour schedule.

You will pay the trainees in your care. You will be expected to offer frequent raises and bonuses. A balloon payment is due when they turn 18 because of the assumption that college will help them become financially independent.

When you die, you give them whatever is left. The oddest thing about this reverse-salary scheme is that it is considered a psychic reward. This position builds character.

While no health or dental insurance, no pension, no tuition reimbursement, no paid holidays and no stock options are offered; this job supplies limitless opportunities for personal growth and free hugs for life if you play your cards right.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Bush & Religion

Over at Betsy's Page I found a link to this article. I read Betsy's Page daily - she has a great blog. The only problem with it is that you get jealous of her students. I'll bet she's a great teacher.

The article analyzes Bush's religion and compares it to other presidents, concluding that Bush doesn't seem to be all that different. So why the fears of a theocracy, you ask?
George W. Bush, a man with deep Christian convictions, invariably includes Jews and Muslims when he speaks of religion, and welcomes the "faith of every person." He even goes the extra mile for agnostics and atheists. The day after he claimed a second term, Bush volunteered that people with no faith are just as American as he is.

"No president," Bush declared, "should ever try to impose religion on our society."

The historical record shows Bush's language on God and faith is like that of most presidents - and perhaps more temperate.

The article looks at Carter and Clinton, for example, and
An observant Jew, Fleischer counts the day Democrat Al Gore chose running mate Joseph Lieberman as one of the most inspiring he has experienced in politics. Lieberman translated from Hebrew a passage from Chronicles: "He twice praised 'the Good Lord,'" as Fleischer remembers it, "and he said he danced before the Lord and reveled before the Lord."

As I recall, there was quite a bit of favorable if slightly nervous media coverage of Lieberman's faith, but
Bush's detractors "have real political differences with him," says Michael Cromartie, vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington. "This just adds to their disagreements - they think that he's not only wrong politically but that he thinks he's right because it fits his religious worldview."

Fleischer says that the critics "believe their policies are so correct that no reasonable person could see things differently - unless people like President Bush are blinded by an extreme faith that prevents them from seeing the facts." To him, this is the same narrow-mindedness that critics claim to find in conservative Christians.

He has been at pains since Sept. 11, 2001, to speak up for Muslims and against religious bigotry, stunning some evangelicals and theologians with his assertion last year that "we worship the same God."

Bush, in fact, is as likely to use the word "faith" to articulate his belief in the power of democracy and freedom, a cornerstone of his rhetoric since the terrorist attacks.

It's a very interesting article. Part of the problem, I think, is that Bush can't tell his story without telling about his faith. He seems to have partied and muddled around for quite a while, and then suddenly changed the direction of his life. His explanation for what happened has a lot to do with his faith. I think this alone makes some people nervous.

Also, the last sentence I quoted about "faith" in democracy and freedom also has a pretty strong religious connection to a lot of believers, so I think it might be somewhat misleading to those who read the article without a religious background. The kingdom of God is created by the consensual acts of those guided by faith, so if you limit the freedom of the individual, you prevent that individual acceptance and thereby limit the actions of God in the world. God created us with the ability to deny him precisely so we would have the opportunity to accept him wholly. If you obstruct the chance to deny God, you oppose God's plan.

Islam has a comparable framing of the same issue - the complete and voluntary acceptance of God's will by the individual is what is required, and it's also notable that Mohammed prohibited the compulsion of belief. Of course, a lot of Christians or Muslims don't live up to this principle, but it's there in both religions. Quite apart from desiring a theocracy, a lot of religious people in this country are bent on opposing one. It's hard to even imagine a real prayer that would be acceptable to all the many denominations of Christians in this country, much less all the believers who aren't Christian. The best thing to do is leave all that out of schools and public life.

When Bush uses the word "faith" in freedom, he's probably partly referring to this religious concept. By expanding the freedom of the individual, you expand the possible kingdom of God. By prohibiting the establishment of religion you ensure that the religion of the heart, as opposed to a formal societal religion, will have room to thrive.

The story of Dr. John Wicks

Kevin over at Strategy Revolutions posted this story. I thought it was rather inspirational. A 69 year old doctor has volunteered for Iraqi deployment.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Upcoming elections in two countries

First, England. Elections there are scheduled for May, I believe. A while back Kingfish said he was going to be covering the election in England, and he's keeping his promise! (Thereby disqualifying himself for any future career in politics, I suppose.) This long post contains links to a number of articles, blogs, and columns, which present an interesting picture of what the real issues may be in the election across the pond.

Some of the blogs are very absorbing, and a lot of them have elements of that wacky British humor. If you only have time for one, you definitely want to read the Nanny Knows Best blog. Try this post on food rationing or this post on the nanny police. The British version of the mutawi makes me laugh every time. This is a sort of unofficial police force empowered to roam around like teachers patrolling the highschool halls. They can send you to the principal's office, hand out detention notices and confiscate your drinks. You know who volunteers for this sort of thing, right? The most annoying, obnoxious, petty little people with delusions of grandeur carefully superimposed over their inferiority complexes.

Now let us turn to Iraq, where some people are incredibly excited about the chance to participate in their first real election. This is what it's all about. In this long post an Iraqi describes forming his own political party, and if you read it carefully you get an idea of why this process was both thrilling and terrifying:
We thought we couldn’t and shouldn’t depend on anyone but ourselves. Many Iraqis fought Saddam and his regime with outstanding bravery even with understanding the horrible fate that was awaiting them and their families. Others, like us kept trying to gather support, encourage people to take a stand and educate them about their rights, that they should be the ones who decide the way their country is run. However in each time we tried to organize a larger group than just us and our closest friends, we failed to gather the support of more than 5-10 people.

Trusting others was almost impossible and very risky. We had to consider that we were not only risking our lives but also the lives of our family, close friends and relatives and the future of our relatives to the 4th degree! One of these days at Saddam’s time some friends were gathering in our house. We were just chatting and having fun. Our neighbor who is a Tikriti and worked for the intelligence knocked on the door and when I opened he asked me about the cars outside our house. I told him that these were our friends’. He said to me, “You know that gathering is against the law and if it wasn’t for the fact that you’re my neighbor and I respect your family, I would’ve sent you behind the sun. Be careful, as I understand but other people may not” He said it in a warning tone not as an advice!

We reached the government main headquarter and entered without much difficulty. We went to one of these offices as we didn’t know were to go as this was our first time there. One of the government employees asked us what was our need. We said our prayers and told him that we want to change the regime. He asked us to wait until he call for the man in charge and I said to myself, “that’s it, they’re calling the Mukhabarat” the guy came back with another man who, after greeting us asked about our group. We handed him a file that contained our goals and a list of the people who supported us. He took it and told us to come back in 3 days after they study it.

“Study it!?” I said to myself “ they’re not going to hang us? Maybe they are letting the small fish to capture the large one?” anyway we went back and spent 3 difficult nights full of worries and nightmares.

On the 3d day we went back to the same place and another man was waiting for us, “are you a representative of this group” the man asked Mohammed, “no, I’m their leader” (man, that was brave of Mohammed! Now he’s gone and I won’t have the honor of being the first martyr in the group!).

“Pleasure to meet you Sir! Have a seat please” said the man to Mohammed and the rest of us with a broad smile. ( a trap! Ok so be it!) Our friend was encouraged by this gesture and asked for tea! They brought us tea and some cockies! (Maybe a last wish grant) After few minutes the guy looked into a computer and asked us about the name of our group. We told him the name and the guy said “Congratulations! Your demand has been approved and you’ll have a chance to layout your plans in public and if enough number of people agree with you, the current government would step down and let you among others take the lead”

That was not a dream, it’s for real and it didn’t happen in the “free and independent” Iraq at Saddam’s time, it happened 3 days ago in “occupied Iraq”.

To summerize it and although many of you know that already but I would like to announce that the party we have formed, the Iraqi pro-democracy party is now officially registered and will have the chance to compete in the upcoming elections.

So now this group of people will start to build their nation. What we are doing in Iraq is not primarily a military battle. It's a process of protecting the people enough so they gain the confidence to realize they can and should take control of their country. In order to do that the people shooting and bombing those who "collaborate" with the occupation (by, for instance, participating in the political process) must be controlled.

This Iraqi blogger and party-builder understands that, but I don't know whether the American public understands how much courage it takes for this man and his friends to conquer their learned fears and step forward under the current situation. By doing so they are still making themselves a target, because by doing so they are giving the lie to the propaganda being spread by many. Let us wish him well and pray for him and all those risking themselves in Iraq to move that country forward. That includes our military forces, by the way.

And no, I will never, ever forgive John Kerry for calling Allawi a "puppet" of the United States. It was a knife in the back to people like the man above who organized his political party in Iraq. It was a betrayal of our troops. It was the most blatantly selfish and inhumane political statement of the campaign. If he didn't know the implications of what he was saying, his failure to inform himself disquailfied him for the presidency. If he did, he is a David Duke, a disrespecter of human endeavor and hope, a man seeking to prepare his alibi for abandoning the Iraqi people. I saw it as a reflection, decades later, of Kerry's disgraceful accusations against our soldiers while they were still in Vietnam. To me, then and now, it was an unforgiveable disloyalty.

That single comment will live in my memory as a disgrace to our body politic. I don't think John Kerry truly represents the Democratic party. I am glad he was not elected. As for those pundits who want to know why people like me are voting against their economic interests, I invite them to explain why they would ever consider voting for a man like John Kerry to be president of the United States in light of the above. Hint: the above would be the sort of thing I would be thinking about when I answered a "values" exit polling question.

If John Kerry is the Democratic nominee again in 2008, I won't be voting for him. You can slap all the fancy tackle you want on a pig and call it a saddle horse, but I am going to exercise my right to vote in a democracy by refusing to take a ride on it. I believe Ali, the blogger quoted above, would understand my position. Please guys, give me a Democratic option in 2008. There are tons of decent Democratic politicians out there. They may not be as flashy, but they'll get you moving, and you won't look half as ridiculous as you did this year, trying to ride to victory on top of a pig while it is rooting for garbage in the mud.

Iraqi sculptor's tribute

I got this from AngelEyez, who wanted it passed on because she thought a lot of Americans didn't know about it. I didn't. . Click here to see the photograph of a sculpture made to thank our troops for deposing Saddam Hussein:
"Kalat was so grateful for the Americans liberation of his country; he melted 3 of the heads of the fallen Saddam and made the statue as a memorial to the American soldiers and their fallen warriors. Kalat worked on this memorial night and day for several months. To the left of the kneeling soldier is a small Iraqi girl giving the soldier comfort as he mourns the loss of his comrade in arms."

Shocking Discoveries

Don, who is in Iraq, blogs on it. Some of the Iraqis seem pretty grateful, don't they? Those bags they are holding are school kits - I heard a story on the radio on Tuesday about a disabled vet in Florida who has organized a drive to collect supplies. So far they have shipped about 40,000 school kits to Iraq. Giving to this type of cause is something that benefits both our soldiers and the Iraqis.

Tom has the contact site for the Army Emergency relief organization. He says that in his 30 years of experience he saw this organization come through for the soldiers over and over again. One of my private rituals on Thanksgiving Day is to figure out who I am giving to that year, and this year I'm including AER, thanks to Tom's mention of it. I always give to the Salvation Army, and I usually try to pick on small unknown charity and give something to it as well. There are incredible numbers of these types of organizations around, and they are truly something to be thankful for. Here is a good example of what a difference this type of organization can make.

And finally, a shocking discovery of my own:
I'm all right! Yesterday I was wildly busy, cooking and cleaning and doing all sorts of things, and I got it all done, and I got it all done right. By evening I was so astonished that I was overwhelmed with thankfulness. I never cry, except at funerals, but I have had tears in my eyes last night and this morning.

I have a disease which is incurable, and several years ago I was so bad off that I often couldn't even dress myself, and I couldn't talk very well, and I could hardly read or write. I was literally too stupid to boil water - I remember trying to boil water to make tea three days running and failing at it.

I have come back a long way, and yesterday drove it home. After 9/11 I became quite depressed for about nine months. I knew that we were at war, whether we wanted to concede it or not. I grieved for all the young people whose lives would be affected and those who would die or be maimed, and their families. I was despairingly angry at the knowledge that my useless life would be preserved by the sacrifice of those promising lives. It seemed so terribly, terribly wrong.

I remember a letter a 17-year old wrote to our local paper that October, saying that he was prepared to go but that he wanted to make sure that his brother wouldn't have to go, so that there would be someone left to take care of his parents when they got older. I read it over and over again, proud of him yet grieving at the thoughts this teenager was having. Yesterday I was conscious all day, even while I was so happy, that many were not with their families because they were serving us abroad or had died in our service.

Yesterday I realized that although I'm still not fit to go in place of that kid or others, I am in a position to help his family and other's families, and I am so grateful for that. I am so grateful that I was able to cook dinner for my family. I am so grateful that Chief No-Nag stood by me through all of it, and turned to me the other day and told me that he was lucky to have me. I am so grateful to be contributing to life in any way at all.

I am so grateful to live in this country, and I'm so thankful that my parents taught me the habit of gratitude. It is one of the most healing, rational patterns of thought a human being can learn. I love Thanksgiving. It seems such a quintessentially American holiday. A day of gratitude for our blessings. A day of gratitude for our families. A day of gratitude for the blessings of others, and a day to remember those less fortunate and try to share what we have with them.

I hope you all either had such a day of happiness and gratitude with your own families or will have such a day in the future. It is what life is really all about.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Extremely funny

stories when someone has "mispoken" can be found here.

Interesting foreign developments

Five foreign fighters arrested by Iraqi police at checkpoint. Iraqi police said they were heading to Basra to join up with another group in Basra and that they had been told the arms they needed were already in Basra. That struck my eye because it seemed similar to the Beslan MO. Certainly it sounds like central direction of some type.

More arrests in Mosul and supposedly one of them is a top guy. Most interesting is the off-hand comment that the entire police force in Mosul disintegrated and outside forces (Iraq & US) had to come into the city.

A very interesting article on cell-phones and Swiss investigations:
Last year, Swiss lawmakers closed a legal loophole that allowed customers to purchase SIM cards anonymously. That change came into force in August.

In January, Swiss police discovered 300 SIM cards at the home of a suspect captured in a sweep on an alleged al-Qaida support network that investigators say supplied fake documents to enable collaborators to enter Switzerland and other European countries.

The alleged Swiss-based gang is suspected of ties to terrorists behind a series of attacks on foreigners' residential compounds in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in May 2003. The bombings killed 34 people.

Cell phones seized from terror suspects in Saudi Arabia were found to contain several Swiss numbers, which investigators here have tied to the men seized in the sweep in Switzerland.

Earlier this year, Swiss authorities said investigators concluded that Switzerland was likely used as a base for the financing and logistical support of al-Qaida, although it was not a hub for the terror group.

(I need to check the dating, but the article would lead one to suspect that the Swiss didn't crack down until the Saudis felt threatened internally. I could not hazard a guess as to the exact amount, but I think it's safe to say that an awful lot of Saudi money is sitting in Swiss banks. An AWFUL lot.)

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana says he met with Hamas. He thinks they're "getting more pragmatic". But wait! No he didn't! It was all a misinterpretation. When Javier Solana said in the BBC interview he had meetings, he was really talking about "indirect contacts". Whatever.

This story about a mob in Mexico City attacking and burning Mexican federal agents alive is chilling. In a chaotic atmosphere like this, it seems clear that foreign terrorists could find a home. One wonders exactly what Fox and Bush have been discussing.

The peace talks between India and Pakistan have been problematic, but buried in this article I find a reference to banks reopening in the other countries (i.e. India state bank branch in Pakistan), and a proposal to build a pipeline from India, through Pakistan to Iran. Well, well. Dovish bankers and gassy diplomacy. Iran, by the way, does have a pipeline into Iraq in the south. Interesting.

Here are some nice UN maps of Iraq. Click on the tabs to get population distributions, pipelines and all that good stuff.

Where Schroeder goeth, Chirac must follow. In this case, to Libya:
Chirac, applauding "an exceptional moment" for the two nations, met for an hour with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and spelled out the business benefits France hopes to achieve in this oil-rich North African nation.

The German high court stayed the extradition of a man indicted in Spain for links to Al-Queda. He is a naturalized German citizen. The plea was that the new system of European arrest warrants is unconstitutional in Germany. The man is charged with nothing in Germany. The German justice ministry approved his extradition.
Darkazanli, 46, was detained last month on a European arrest warrant issued by Spain. Spanish authorities accuse him of providing al-Qaida with logistical and financial support. He appears in a 1999 wedding video with two of the three Sept. 11 suicide pilots who lived and studied in Hamburg -- Marwan al-Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah.

The United States has labeled Darkazanli's Hamburg-based trading company a front for terrorism. He appeared on U.S. suspect lists after the Sept. 11 attacks but has denied any links to al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden or the attacks.

German police questioned Darkazanli shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, but he was freed for lack of evidence and continued to live in the northern port city.

"The police have found nothing -- neither money laundering, nor terror, nor Sept. 11. No weapons, no propaganda," Darkazanli was quoted as saying in an interview in Thursday's edition of the German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung. "But instead of admitting that, instead of protecting me, they are sending me to Spain."

But this is what Mama found. Illegal exports, joint bank accounts with Al-Queda figures and so on:
Darkazanli, 44, a naturalized German citizen who also goes by the name Abu Ilyas, is identified by intelligence officials in Hamburg as a longtime member of the Syrian wing of the ultra-radical Muslim Brotherhood.

Darkazanli nevertheless has a history of associations with high-level Al Qaeda figures going back at least to 1993, the year he told police he first met Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, described by U.S. prosecutors as a "founding member" of Al Qaeda who once tried to acquire nuclear weapons for Osama bin Laden.

In 1995, police files show, Darkazanli opened a joint bank account in Hamburg with Salim, who allegedly specialized in setting up bin Laden-owned companies in Sudan. Darkazanli told the police the account had been created for the purchase of a radio transmitter to be shipped to Sudan, where bin Laden then had his headquarters.

Even Canada's got this guy on their blocked list. (A version of our OFAC). Here's a nice little list about our innocent friend's activities. This is his entry on the UN Security Council's list:
43. *Name: 1: MAMOUN 2: DARKAZANLI 3: na 4: na
Title: na Designation: na DOB: August 4, 1958 POB: Aleppo, Syria Damascus/Syria *Good quality a.k.a.: na Low quality a.k.a.: na a) Abu Ilyas b) Abu Ilyas Al Suri c) Abu Luz *Nationality: na Syrian and German Passport no.: 1310636262 (Germany), expire October 29, 2005 National identification no.: na German identity card No. 1312072688, expires August 20. 2011 Address: Uhlenhorster Weg 34, Hamburg, 22085 Germany *Listed on: 17 Oct. 2001 *Other information: na

He also might be out there under the name Namoun Darkazanli. The Spanish believe he got money from Abu Thala. I guess the Germans have no intention of arresting him. It should be very interesting to see how this story ends.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Stone Cold Funny

Stranded On Blue Islands has a post with a collection of "Alexander" reviews. I laughed pretty hard just reading them. Several reviewers said the audience burst out laughing during Hephaistion's death scene. I am a collector of bad movies, so I'll probably try to see this one. Anything that irritates the Greeks so much is worth a few bucks.

And in case you were wondering, no, I was not searching for this. It was an accidental find - Stranded On Blue Islands is following the Ohio recount with constant updates.

!!!Declaration of Independence banned

Tom Carter picked this one up. A fifth grade teacher filed suit in (where else) California, saying he was being banned from giving his students reading assignments from American history that contained references to God.
"It's a fact of American history that our founders were religious men, and to hide this fact from young fifth-graders in the name of political correctness is outrageous and shameful," said Williams' attorney, Terry Thompson.

"Williams wants to teach his students the true history of our country," he said. "There is nothing in the Establishment Clause (of the U.S. Constitution) that prohibits a teacher from showing students the Declaration of Independence."

Once I began to recover from the idea of a teacher prohibited from handing out the Declaration of Independence as a history assignment (we had to memorize a part of it in fifth grade - that was back when we rode brontosaures to school), a wee memory nudged at my brain. Hadn't I read something about parents complained about an educational course on Islam required in California? So I searched and I found this:
In many California schools, middle-school students are required to take a three-week course in which students adopt a Muslim name, wear a robe, learn the tenets of Islam and stage their own "jihad." They pray in the name of Allah and chant to Allah, according to ASSIST News Service.

A federal judge on December 10 dismissed a suit by Christian students and their parents who objected to role-playing sessions of a Byron, CA seventh-grade history class that called for students to adopt Muslim names and recite language from prayers. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton held that the activities did not amount to an unconstitutional endorsement of Islam because the purpose was educational, not religious. She noted that California law requires seventh-grade world history courses to include a unit on Islam.

Well, I suspected some exaggeration. Surely the school course wasn't having students pray in class! So I kept searching and found this, alleging some connection between the Saudi government and the textbook consultant:
A top textbook consultant shaping classroom education on Islam in American public schools recently worked for a school funded and controlled by the Saudi government, which propagates a rigidly anti-Western strain of Islam, a WorldNetDaily investigation reveals.

In effect, she is responsible for teaching millions of American children about Islam, experts say, while operating in relative obscurity.

WorldNetDaily has learned that up until last year Douglass taught social studies at the Islamic Saudi Academy in Alexandria, Va., which teaches Wahhabism through textbooks that condemn Jews and Christians as infidels and enemies of Islam. Her husband, Usama Amer, still teaches at the grades 2-12 school, a spokeswoman there confirmed. Both are practicing Muslims.

Do you think the fifth-grade teacher is going to win his lawsuit? I hope he cited the precedent and ruling of the Byron, CA case. Purely by coincidence, I found this blog entry about that case, ending with:
"I was an expert witness in the Byron case, and it seemed to me to be fairly clear there that the line was crossed, particularly in the workbook that was used, which asked students true/false questions that required them to affirm tenets of the Islamic faith as objective fact. But from the looks of the judge's ruling in that case and this present story, even though that program was suspended, evidently it was just the beginning."

Update: The complaint is online at the Smoking Gun.

Just asking

What do vegetarians do when a horde of mice and rats attack their stored corn? Do you kill them to preserve your food, or do you say you can't destroy an animal?

Suprising numbers

I found these numbers highly interesting (from the poll as reported in USA Today). I'm not surprised by George Bush's job approval rating being at 55%, or his personal approval being at 60%. Just the ending of the election news-and-opinion cycle would tend to give him an upward boost.

But if you keep scrolling down, you get to some really odd-looking results. The Republican party has a favorable rating from 66%, with 34% of that highly favorable. The Democratic party has a favorable rating from 58% of the respondents, with only 22% of that landing in the highly favorable category. I would have attributed these numbers to aura of victory or defeat, except for some that followed.

Question 37 has 64% thinking the church or organized religion has too little MORAL influence in America, while in Question 36, 48% thought the church or organized religion has too much POLITICAL influence, with only 40% thinking it had too little. Question 32 lists 53% of the population approving either civil unions or marriages for same-sex couples. Question 29 has 63% in favor of allowing openly gay or lesbian men or women to serve in the military. It doesn't seem as if we are falling into a theocracy, or in any danger of it.

I'm not going to cite all the Iraq-related questions, except to say that people's views are not blindly optimistic there. 47% think it was a mistake, and 74% of the population is very or fairly worried about it. Only 42% think the results of the January elections will be widely accepted in Iraq. So I asked myself, where is Bush's support coming from?

63% of those surveyed were at least somewhat confident that Bush would make good choices for his cabinet, and 61% were somewhat or very confident that Bush would make good choices in picking Supreme Court justices. 64% of the respondents thought hat that the state of moral values in this country was getting worse. 55% thought our government was trying to do to many things that should be left to individuals and businesses.

The overal picture I get from this survey is that people aren't unrealistically optimistic, but that a majority of the people in this country approve of the basic direction in which Bush has tried to move. This is not good news for the Democratic party, but it's also not good news for hard-core conservatives. People want compromise solutions, and they look like they are favoring market solutions.

It also looks to me as if the general population may be far more ready to accept that we have some difficult problems to face than the political class has been to talk about those problems. The Democratic party probably can't afford to take a blindly obstructionist stance against Bush's proposals without offering workable solutions of their own. It is going to be an interesting two years, for sure.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

A blogger day of silence

... to honor that last moment of knowing sacrifice by Sgt Rafael Peralta of 1st Platoon, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, and by proxy all the rest of those who are risking and sacrificing their lives in the armed forces. The story speaks for itself.

Monday, November 22, 2004

The Wandering Mind

has been posting on the question of our perceived differences and our real differences. I thought it fit well with the discussion Lancelot Finn and Nato are having. In this post and continuing in this post, Alex voiced some skepticism about the current round of political punditry:
"A few weeks after the election, we are once again comfortable in the mindless bashing. Rather than discuss relevant issues in a meaningful exchange, as BunkerMulligan has often stated, the next round of debates have begun- debates in name only, with the intent of silencing the any and all of the opposing voices."

Alex believes the perception of the great chasm dividing the "two Americas" is a perception manufactured for political purposes by two opposing propaganda machines. I disagree with some of what he says, but I feel pretty strongly that he is correct in picking out the lack of any real discussion of the issues of the day as feeding the frenzy. Let's face it - in the last election I didn't get the debate I wanted on the Patriot Act, the war, possible alternatives to the war or some of the structural employment problems. Instead I got a load of nonsense. The only way that political operatives can differentiate their candidates from the opposition while ignoring any difficult issues is to set up ideological straw men to knock down or scarecrows to guard their voting blocks. In short, the demonization tactic - one that they consider less risky, but one that shortchanges our national debate - that national debate so crucial to reaching a consensus in a democracy.

Alex continues:
"At times, we demand absolute Justice and at times we demand absolute Liberty, sometimes forgetting there may be a necessary friction so as to keep us on our guard. Neither liberty or justice are meant to be taken lightly. They are meant to be discussed, debated and at times, argued. These democratic attributes are to be regarded as the living and breathing embodiment of rights, the blood that runs through that living breathing body we call democracy.

"As I wrote yesterday, "Elections and issues are now emotional exercises, rather than intellectual ones. As any good Hollywood director knows, 'make 'em laugh or make 'em cry, and you'll sell tickets.' We are being sold tickets and the studio with the funnier or sadder film, wins. This cannot continue."

"This sorry state of affairs are the result of mass marketing of ideas and the oversimplification of ideas. Both sides of the political spectrum dismiss each other with generalizations and the deliberate mischaracterization of of beliefs and intent. Human nature being what it is, we are ever eager to have the difficult things in life explained to us or handed to us on a silver platter- and the Washington political elites know it."

Here I slightly disagree. Outraged mobs are fun, but my guess is that most of our population has outgrown the need to roar in a crowd and is looking for some measured answers. My guess is that the huge mass of the American population dislikes absolutist and radical solutions, no matter what political party you wrap them in. Alex goes on to discuss the way we characterize ourselves:

"There is no great chasm between the ideas between the groups and ideologies they share, only the paths taken. The chasm is an artificial one, really, a construct of the political parties themselves and the media:

"Liberals are all hard left wingers, wanting to usurp everything that America stands for- or they are progressive and forward thinking, always ready to stand up for the weak and oppressed.

"Conservatives are fascists or bigots- or, they are people of faith, values and patriotism, always ready to defend the just society based on the Golden Rule."

And so the two sides are mirror images in his view - the real competition is between the all-or-nothingers and those in the middle. In a later post he talks about common ground:
"As in economics, there is a free market of ideas and thoughts, as I like to say. That market place responds in the same way the financial ones do- laissez faire, or let the marketplace decide. Over a period of time, the wild sways of the pendulum tend to self correct and the markets, like ideas, reach a certain equilibrium."

Maybe, maybe not. They do only to the extent the marketplace is allowed to prevail. In the last twenty years we've conducted a lot of witch hunts which have tended to empty the forum of the middle ground. It is now more politically correct to announce that the other party is formed by hysterical, murderous idiots than to suggest publicly that maybe, just maybe, we have tipped the legal and social scale a little too much in favor of the woman alleging her child was molested by her husband in a divorce case, or that her husband beat her in a divorce case, or the woman alleging a hostile work environment due to sexual harassment.

See? You flinched or got angry with me, didn't you? Radicalism has become a thought pattern, and appeals to fairness or reasoned dissent to the consensus of the moment are neither admired or tolerated. We have managed to create entire social crimes for which the mere accusation is usually a preemptive strike, and even if the strike fails there is little penalty. We have created incentives to uncivil speech and actions within our culture, and we are now reaping the rewards of it.

Now let's look around

.... the US. Nato and Lancelot Finn have been arguing over whether Europe may get in trouble by barring the religious influence in public life. (See the post below for an introduction.) In one of his recent posts, Lancelot Finn referenced and linked to this article by Jane Daley that appeared in the Daily Telegraph, in which Jane Daley says that the EU is moving away from popular democracy:
"That is why the EU is busily moving away from the idea of government being directly and transparently responsive to the popular will.

"The monstrous global crimes of the 20th century - the collective guilt which is still the motor force of European political consciousness - were all thought to have been generated (or at least condoned) by popular will.

"The political instincts of the people are far too inflammable and mercurial to be trusted. Better leave the serious business of law-making and governance to a professional class of administrators, an enlightened elite who will not be subject to the whims and volatile passions of the mob whose vicissitudes have brought such disgrace on our countries."

And thus European countries can logically come to the conclusion that the majority of the US voting population must be stupid because they voted for Bush. Now in one of Nato's posts he writes:
"So, saying that atheist states have a history of authoritarianism is something of a tautology, and applies to any state expressing any positive position on religion. As with most such pat chains of reasoning, of course, it elides some important distinctions. Norway is nominally Lutheran, for example, but it's difficult to really call it authoritarian, as the state works hard to avoid enabling Lutheran domination. Meanwhile the repression of any ideology that might conflict with "communism" in Poland was both brutal and onerous. The degree of interference with civil rights makes a big difference. In the very history of explicitly atheist states, of course, there are few examples of Norway equivalents and many Polands."

Nato wants religion to die a natural, unaided death by reason's hand, not the hand of a state. Lancelot Finn had earlier argued that inevitably a secularist democratic state would end up suppressing religion on the grounds of the general good, as the only rational choice available. If religion is superstition, than it is false, and why should the state permit the spread of damaging falsehoods? Nato concedes that such a development is possible but says it is not inevitable, and points to the Constitutional protections for religion in this country.

The Constitution is constantly reinterpreted on the basis of people's beliefs and ethical outlook of the time. I have no faith that the Bill of Rights will not be reinterpreted as excluding those with religious beliefs from public political life. This very interpretation is gaining grounds as we speak. Consider this thread from the Democratic Underground, in which the shocking news that Condoleeza Rice is religious is discussed under the header "The Religiously Insane Secretary of State:
"I think people who believe in a creator can never take themselves too seriously. I feel that faith allows me to have a kind of optimism about the future. You look around you and you see an awful lot of pain and suffering and things that are going wrong. It could be oppressive. But when I look at my own story or many others that I have seen, I think, "How could it possibly be that it has turned out this way?" Then my only answer is it's God's plan. And that makes me very optimistic that this is all working out in a proper way if we all stay close to God and pray and follow in His footsteps.

"I really do believe that God will never let you fall too far. There is an old gospel hymn, "He knows how much you can bear." I really do believe that.

"I greatly appreciate, and so does the president, the prayers of the American people. You feel them. You know that they are there. If you just keep doing that, it is so important to all of us."

Followed by various comments of which I give a sampling:
"It's official.... they are all crazy, and very dangerous."

"There is a global epidemic of religious insanity. The main symptom of the disease is that it alters brain chemistry to the point that the inflicted lose touch with reality causing them to manifest behaviors dangerous to their own survival. Unfortunately, their sickness causes harm to the healthy by way of spreading wars."

Someone objects:
"If she weren't the secretary of state and she had said this would she still be described as insane? I mean these seem like pretty mainstream religious sentiments. Describing them as insane seems pretty close to describing being religious as insane."

And others reply:
"You sound like honestly describing real or pretend religious zealotry as being insane is a bad thing."

"In a word, yes."

"Insane? Perhaps not. Self important & delusional? Sure. It's a great way to justify one's success with the pain and suffereing of others due to "God's Plan". Wait, I take that back, it's Insane and Selfish."

So there you have the fact, Nato, that the process Lancelot Finn describes is occurring in this country. You have already conceded that in Europe it is being used to suppress some religious ideas and symbols as being offensive, but you claim that we have constitutional protections in this country against such a development. Well, once those countries did too. Now the law is reinterpreted. Freedom of religious thought, belief and even speech in a church is being redefined to mean freedom of religious thought, belief and speech when it does not conflict with the prevailing secularist belief system. Why is it irrational for religious people in this country to look at these international and local developments and fear the suppression of their civil rights here?
(edited to fix the last question)

Saturday, November 20, 2004

The Kingfish brandishes

his wings. The thing about lawyers is that they know a thing or two about research and collecting witness accounts and so forth. If you have the slightest interest about what is going on in Iraq you must click over to this very long and well researched post. The Kingfish did some hunting through blogs and has compiled the information for us, the happily questing denizens of the blogosphere.

And really, it is always pleasing to the eye when someone hauls the pants down off the lofty posterior of BBC, leaving the Dauntless Duke with his family jewels swinging in the air. Call it an insurgency of knowledge, if you will.

Debt Relief for Iraq

Bloomberg reports that an agreement on forgiving 80 percent of Iraqi's debt run up under Saddam Hussein has been reached. The US had been pressing France and Germany for 90 percent. Is it a coincidence that this agreement was concluded right after the election? M.O.M. reports, you decide. NPR has been covering this story, by the way - you're not stuck with me!. Before allowing these governments to conclude new contracts Allawi and the US wanted to get a reasonable deal. The debt run up under Saddam Hussein was due to some very questionable agreements, or so National Public Radio, that bastion of BusHitler wingnuttery, was reporting.

Who are we?

I have been trying to work my way toward adding something to the raging debate between Nato and Lancelot Finn on civic virtue, and I felt honored when Lancelot commented on one of my posts that he saw some sort of connection. But work has been wild, and I have to go shopping and do housework (civic virtues, I tell you) as well as work this weekend, so I'm not going to get to add my two cents to this discussion. Instead I'm going to refer you to it with a short introduction. They are two profoundly literate individuals, and aside from the real substance of the debate, they're both a pleasure and an education to read. I find myself agreeing with both of them on a lot of points, and I'm not sure they're not converging to a basic agreement either. In his most recent post on the subject, Nato said
"I mean, if some atheist parent sends her child to a school and it "makes" her child a theist, then perhaps the child found the school's case for theism more convincing than the parent's case against it. The marketplace of ideas doesn't always spread the truth, but it's the best mechanism we've got."

I don't think Lancelot would disagree about the marketplace of ideas. I certainly don't. What Lancelot does disagree with is a sort of official exclusion of religious ideas from that marketplace, of the type I was trying to describe in several prior posts. Nato doesn't see the problem or the liklihood of that occurring.

The basic argument started when Lancelot opined that the basic virtues upon which secular humanistic states depend for their existence stemmed to some extent from the Christian belief that faith must be voluntary, and therefore he looks with some suspicion upon the ability of a society that essentially bans the exercise of religious thought to sustain itself as a free society. Lancelot suspects that all such societies will eventually wind up imposing an essentially totalitarian social dogma of their own, asking "Why let a belief system you think is absurd continue to exist, after all?"

Nato hotly demurred (see the comments on the link above), saying "As for 'secularized culture,' the very term implies something forced and invasive - something that can only happen under authoritarian regimes. Secular states, on the other hand, are very much associated with democratic freedom."

The argument continues in this post of Lancelot Finn's, and this post of Nato's. Lancelot Finn picks up on the schooling issue, and his profoundly worthy opponent Nato responds. By this time I was having so much intellectual fun that I think a Puritan would have regarded it as an immoral diversion from the recommended concentration upon my own sins, so naturally I was amorally delighted to read Lancelot's post on atheism and tolerance, concluding with the words "It is because America is a Christian country that I expect to remain free." The battle continues in the comments, and you don't want to miss Nato's comment ending "But because America has deeply entrenched expectations of civil-liberties, I expect it to steadily free itself." Not surprisingly, Lancelot was moved to contemplate the nature of secular democratic states, and more secularist reflections, to which Nato responded with a cheerful boiling of non-secularist blood.

This debate has not ended and I suspect it will not. The only real contribution I have to make is with the observation that no genuinely theocratic state I have ever known has truly succeeded, but that somehow the combination of disestablishment of religion at the very highest of levels, combined with civic tolerance of vibrant and diverse religions has produced these two thoughtful men, both of whom exemplify real civic virtue. I think the reason theocracies don't work is because they must inevitably suppress that "marketplace of ideas" that Nato wishes to preserve. Religious beliefs are not, in general, unthinking or unevolved, and so they also qualify as ideas.

To me the EU does seem to be evolving toward a sort of secular doctrine that could end up being a type of theocracy of the officially tolerated combined with a genuine suppression of what is not comfortable. With Lancelot Finn, I worry that it may come to naught because in the end it has no firm foundation. With Nato and with Thomas Sowell, I plead for the preservation of the marketplace of ideas and cultures, conducted within a civic tradition respecting thought, rationality, kindness, pragmatism and freedom.

Jesus was asked by his disciples if there would be prophets after him, and he told them there would be prophets both false and true. When they asked him how they would be able to tell the difference, he answered that they could be known by their fruits - by watching how their doctrines turned out in practice. It is certainly possible for someone who has no knowledge of any real religious teaching to conclude that religion is mere superstition. It is very possible that such a person could logically and rationally come to the conclusion that such superstition should be eradicated from society.

I am sure that God exists, and I'm sure that the God of Islam, Judaism and Christianity is that God which does exist. I don't know enough about other religious traditions to rule on whether their gods are creatures of man's conception or not. I also believe strongly in science and the benefits of scientific habits of thought. The commonality between my strong reliance on both my faith and upon the scientific tradition is that both paths have outward checkpoints. Scientific hypotheses may be tested against reality, and religious precepts may be tested against their results in practice. I reached my faith not by revelation but by a process of experimentation, and fell into faith as an accidental byproduct of experimenting with my own life by attempting to follow the practical precepts of the Jesus of the New Testament.

The question is, how may the secular doctrines of society be tested? In essence, the "good of society" or the "good of the greatest number" is always a subjective measure - an unknown quantity. In chasing this unknown and essentially unknowable quantity is it not possible to fall into a self-referential circle? I must ask myself if the society which can feel it right to exclude any Jews bearing identifiable marks of their Jewishness from a march commemorating Kristallnacht - a pogram aimed at eliminating Jews from German society - has not lost any capacity for meaningful self-criticism?. With my entire being I assent to Rabbi Cooper's protest:
"Rabbi Cooper continued, "Mr. Ambassador, the Simon Wiesenthal Center protests in the strongest terms possible this outrageous, hypocritical and ominous development. Can one even imagine a commemoration of a solemn anniversary of the Shoah that itself is Judenrein? As the largest human rights NGO devoted to the memory and the lessons of the Nazi Holocaust, I can only urge Norwegians not to bother to shed tears for dead Jews if they show no respect for live Jews," Cooper concluded."

Whatever road led to the Oslo march, I don't want to walk down it. I regard both Nato and Lancelot Finn as allies in that struggle.

The 80/20 Country

The Radical Centrist makes an excellent point in this post.
"Most liberals are just a bit to the left of center, and most conservatives just a bit to the right. As Waldman has pointed out, the two "groups" (to the extent that they are really distinct groups) are not all that different. Unfortunately there are people out on the tails of the distribution (back to the bell curve) who do fit some of the stereotypes, and they get a lot of press. Most liberals believe in morals, but some don't, or at least believe in a sort of morality that is hard to recognize. Most conservatives don't want to force religious views on others, but a few very much do. There will always be folks out on the fringes who are trying to hog the microphone. I don't worry about that. I worry when I see those sorts of folks being handed the microphone, and getting warm applause."

I worry too, for several reasons. One, demonizing or misrepresenting your opponent obscures the real issues and prevents a consensus from forming. Two, inevitably such a strategy ends up stalling the national dialogue. Do we really want 20 percent of the population to control our public-policy perceptions? There is a libertarianish religious coalition of the right, of a sort, in this country, but it is not likely to want to entrench itself, because the coalition is constructed from many different religions with different precepts as well as those who have none. There is a "leftist" coalition in this country, but it too is a broad construct. To allow extreme voices, such as Michael Moore, to carry the banner for either coalition ends up sliming that coalition in the eyes of the massive middle.

In his post the Radical Centrist links to this article by Steve Waldman, which is worth reading because it will irritate you no matter what side you believe you're on. Steve writes:
However, not only are liberals not, by and large, Satanic or anti-Bible, they’re mostly quite religious. Voters who went to church monthly split 50%-49% for Bush and Kerry. Those who go to church "occasionally” went for Kerry 53%-47%, while people who attend church weekly went for Bush 58%-41%. More important, 61% of Democrats pray daily, 59% are "certain" there’s life after death, and most believe in God. The spiritual lives of Democrats are, statistically speaking, somewhat less based in houses of worship than those of Republicans but they are believers nonetheless.

Liberal columnist E.R. Shipp said conservatives wanted a "Christian Jihad." The Village Voice declared Bush had a "mandate for theocracy." Others have compared the current administration to the Taliban. This is profoundly insulting to most conservative Republicans in the same way it is insulting to liberals when they are called Communists or defenders of terrorism. Yes, religious conservatives want a greater role in public life -- perhaps more than liberals want or the Constitution allows -- but President Bush's faith based initiative is highly pluralistic and he has spoken out for religious tolerance. Equating him or his supporters with regimes that execute dissidents or blow up buildings is heinous.

The truth is that religion - many different religions - have only thrived in the US because none may be granted a monopoly. This has freed religious organizations to compete in the marketplace of individual hearts and minds, and that has kept religion alive and relevant to the majority of the US population. The banner-carriers of the conservative movement know this.

Furthermore, the religious coalition in this country is not indulging in hysteria when they talk about the religion of secularism. I live and work in the Bible Belt, and the small unit where I work is made up of three hard-core bible-carrying, oil-annointing fundamentalists, one agnostic skeptic, me, and the Catholic gay guy. It was one of the bible-carrying, oil-annointing fundamentalists who hired the gay Catholic man, and he is fully and warmly included in all social functions. He babysits the kids and is "one of us".

There are political and religious questions upon which we don't all agree, but no one perceives him as being "other" because he is not. He is going about the business of living in an uncertain world in precisely the same way as the bible-carrying oil-annointing fundies - trying to do the best he can and give the best he can - and they know it. They believe in sin, and would define sin as practices which cause harm to yourself or others. That is the biblical definition of sin, and you have to really read both the Old and New Testaments to understand the pragmatic nature of sin. The reason you talk about sin is that the harmful nature of some things is not immediately clear - it's like warning someone that people keep getting food poisoning when they eat at a particular restaurant.

Sleeping around is wrong because it spreads disease, can cause unwanted pregnancies, and ignores your own emotional needs - now and then. Being irresponsible or failing to give or help those in trouble is wrong because other people's needs are as important as your own. Walking around talking about your own holiness gets you nothing in God's eyes, and the worst possible thing you can do in this world is to tell someone else that God's mercy and salvation does not exist for them, because this is blasphemy against the Spirit. Condemning someone else leads to your own condemnation in God's eyes. That's what Jesus said, and they can quote him on it. They do believe that you will be judged by the same standards as those by which you judge others. Sexual sins abound, and they know darn well that theirs are the same as his. They would like to see him settle down with someone, preferably a woman because they know how that works, but one man would be a lot better than living his life alone. They would like to see him to a safe place, wherever that might be, but he's doing pretty well now and no one wants to rock that boat either.

The real worry that my fundamentalist friends have in countenancing same-sex marriage or hate-speech laws protecting homosexuals is that such laws will be interpreted as banning the Bible, in which they have found their own safe place. Their concern is not unfounded - that's why I posted European reflections. They know that the Supreme Court referred to the laws of other nations in Lawrence vs. Tribe, and they know we could very well get to the point in this country at which referring to biblical texts in a church would be cause for criminal prosecution - as has happened in Norway:
"During proceedings, the public prosecutor, Kjell Yngvesson, played a tape recording from the sermon. According to the church newspaper Kyrkans Tidning, he justified the arrest by saying, "One may have whatever religion one wishes, but [the sermon] is an attack on all fronts against homosexuals. Collecting Bible [verses] on this topic as he does makes this hate speech."

They don't believe that the constitutional prohibition against establishment of religion would necessarily protect them, because there is an even more explicit guarantee of freedom of religion in Norway and it did not protect that pastor against being convicted of hate speech. It is possible for them to approve of civil unions, because they aren't responsible for other people's behavior, and the likely effect would be to provide a way to safeguard those they regard as vulnerable, such as our friend and coworker. But before that happens they would like a provision in which their own rights to their "alternative lifestyle" would likewise be protected. Their religion predicts that the world will be angry at any genuine attempt to follow in Jesus' path, so they aren't surprised at all that, for example, Canadian courts have ruled that quoting certain texts in the Bible may be hate-speech:
"Janet Epp Buckingham, director of law and public policy for the EFC, told CT, "Christians have seen their rights to dissent restricted by case after case in the courts." In a recent case brought under the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code, the EFC said, the court ruled that certain Bible verses were used to incite hatred.

"Darrel Reid, president of Focus on the Family's Canadian branch, said the legislation might lead to self-censorship. "It is likely that this will inevitably influence the way the church speaks about marriage and family," he said."

My personal belief is that a public ethos supporting the right and duty of same-sex couples to take responsibility for each other would encourage healthy behavior, happiness and long-term relationships. Most of us are not equipped to live life alone, either in religious celibacy or in civil closets. There are plenty of same-sex couples who have had successful long-term relationships without legal sanction of them, but this doesn't mean a legal recognition of such relationships wouldn't encourage a few more.

But I don't believe suppressing people's rights to discuss the implications of religious texts would be a healthy thing, and I perceive a bitter irony in a cry for tolerance that expresses itself in a demand to censor the expression of traditional religious beliefs. I can not say for sure that either side is wrong on this issue, and slandering those who believe in a biblically based religion is just as wrong as announcing that all homosexuals are innately perverse human beings and should be persecuted for the public good. My guess is that the huge mass of people in this country wish to do neither, and would find themselves much more comfortable standing on this middle ground.

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