Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Speaking of hyperbole and fearmongering...

"If we cannot stop the building of more coal-fired power plants, those coal trains will be death trains -- no less gruesome than if they were boxcars headed to crematoria, loaded with uncountable irreplaceable species."
- James Hansen, Climate Scientist / Political Propagandist

Really though, humanity doesn't even need global warming to precipitate the next great mass extinction. Soon there will be 9 billion humans who are all hunting, farming, and ever encroaching on the few natural regions left on the planet. Climate change is the very least of other species' worries.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Holy Embarrassment

Pun intended. Historically, artists have been instrumental in bringing about social change. Authors, poets, and playwrights were the ones that weren't afraid to challenge the status quo, to oppose social norms, and question authority. They did these things under the threat of arrest, torture, or possibly execution. I could cite examples from hundreds of years ago, when artists lifted civilization from smothering religious rule via the Renaissance. Even in modern times, artists were central to ending Communist oppression in some European nations (see Plastic People of the Universe). Back in those days, being an artist took considerable intelligence, and even more courage.

Not in modern times, it turns out. In Europe, this bunch is a complete embarrassment. At least they are honest about why they do not mock Islam. No excuses about cultural sensitivity or anything like that. They just say straight up that they auto-censor topics on Islam because they are scared shitless about reprisals if they don't.

Mocking Christianity is easy: there is no danger involved, and most importantly, nobody cares. Its old. Thus, when these artists go on a Christian-bashing spree in a triumphant declaration of their bravery and fearlessness, but won't even touch Islam with a 6-foot pole, I can only think of one word with which to describe them: cowards. Christianity and Islam are both ideas, and as such, should be subjected to critiques, criticism, and even mockery. So people should either feel free to insult them both, or neither. Just don't presume to make a dramatic statement about religion in general by mocking just one and chickening out when it comes time to criticize the other.

I think ultimately my disgust here has nothing to do with religion at all. It is about the pathetic shape of the collective mental state of our civilization. The most obvious manifestation of this is the fear that we have of terrorism. There have been barely a handful of terrorist attacks on the entire West, and yet it is almost as if we live daily in fear of attack. It manifests itself in other ways too, the fear does. Fear of real political compromises to fix problems like social security. We are terrified of global warming, but at the same time don't have the courage to implement any of the reforms required to even begin to address it. Politicians cannot get anything done in this country without using fear as a motivator for the masses.

Reading about the things that people did in Eastern Europe to fight communism, it is so inspiring. Those people went through so much, and there was so much physical fear - fear of having your door kicked down in the middle of the night and being dragged away by the Stasi and never being seen again. They were not emotionally fearful, however. Through it all, they still maintained the collective emotional courage to continue to struggle and fight. They fought for almost half of a century. I wonder if people in the USA would respond in a similar manner in an authoritarian police-state? Most likely, this generation would just roll over and submit.

If anyone in Western civilization today was still unafraid to say anything or challenge anyone, I would think it would be the artists. What a disappointment.

This Day in History

I receive via email a daily newsletter from the History Channel, which illustrates historical events that occurred on the same day. Today's story is particularly interesting - and extremely relevant. Funny what they say about history repeating itself. Almost everything then is the same as it is now, only the two religions are flipped. We're even still fighting over the same city!


On November 27, 1095, Pope Urban II makes perhaps the most influential speech of the Middle Ages, giving rise to the Crusades by calling all Christians in Europe to war against Muslims in order to reclaim the Holy Land, with a cry of "Deus volt!" or "God wills it!"

Born Odo of Lagery in 1042, Urban was a protege of the great reformer Pope Gregory VII. Like Gregory, he made internal reform his main focus, railing against simony (the selling of church offices) and other clerical abuses prevalent during the Middle Ages. Urban showed himself to be an adept and powerful cleric, and when he was elected pope in 1088, he applied his statecraft to weakening support for his rivals, notably Clement III.

By the end of the 11th century, the Holy Land--the area now commonly referred to as the Middle East--had become a point of conflict for European Christians. Since the 6th century, Christians frequently made pilgrimages to the birthplace of their religion, but when the Seljuk Turks took control of Jerusalem, Christians were barred from the Holy City. When the Turks then threatened to invade the Byzantine Empire and take Constantinople, Byzantine Emperor Alexius I made a special appeal to Urban for help. This was not the first appeal of its kind, but it came at an important time for Urban. Wanting to reinforce the power of the papacy, Urban seized the opportunity to unite Christian Europe under him as he fought to take back the Holy Land from the

At the Council of Clermont, in France, at which several hundred clerics and noblemen gathered, Urban delivered a rousing speech summoning rich and poor alike to stop their in-fighting and embark on a righteous war to help their fellow Christians in the East and take back Jerusalem. Urban denigrated the Muslims, exaggerating stories of their anti-Christian acts, and promised absolution and remission of sins for all who died in the service of Christ.

Urban's war cry caught fire, mobilizing clerics to drum up support throughout Europe for the crusade against the Muslims. All told, between 60,000 and 100,000 people responded to Urban's call to march on Jerusalem. Not all who responded did so out of piety: European nobles were tempted by the prospect of increased land holdings and riches to be gained from the conquest. These nobles were responsible for the death of a great many innocents both on the way to and in the Holy Land, absorbing the riches and estates of those they conveniently deemed opponents to their cause. Adding to the death toll was the inexperience and lack of discipline of the Christian peasants against the trained, professional armies of the Muslims. As a result, the Christians were initially beaten back, and only through sheer force of numbers were they eventually able to triumph.

Urban died in 1099, two weeks after the fall of Jerusalem but before news of the Christian victory made it back to Europe. His was the first of seven major military campaigns fought over the next two centuries known as the Crusades, the bloody repercussions of which are still felt today. Urban was beatified by the Roman Catholic Church in 1881.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Farm Subsidies

I saw this graphic and I had to blog about it. Link here is the blogger's post from whence it came.

Farm subsidies don't make sense economically. They make even less sense ethically (impoverished African farmers are put out of business by rich subsidized American farmers). For these two reasons, I've always been strongly opposed to these ridiculous price supports. Now, as if I needed it, I have another good reason to be strongly opposed to subsidies - they are a major reason why we have such serious health problems in the USA.

The pyramid reveals that subsidies for meat and dairy are roughly 200 times larger than our subsidies for fruits and veggies. In other words, we are making meat and dairy products cheaper relative to fruits and vegetables.

And we can't figure out why we have an obesity epidemic.

The original author had a great quote: "For all the talk of the health costs, the most economically rational purchase on earth is a Big Mac." That should not be the case. If we are going to subsidize anything, it should be the fruits and the veggies, not the meat and cheese. It's hard for me to say that, considering how much I love meat. But if meat was more expensive, I'd eat less - and so would everyone else. And we'd all be much, much better off for it.

Here is something to think about next time you are pondering your position regarding the health care debate. Increasing the cost of meat and cheese while decreasing the cost of fruit and veggies would have a bigger impact on national health outcomes than any changes we could make to our system. It wouldn't even be close. Here in the USA, however, we don't like the obvious, simple solutions. If it doesn't involve a brand new bureaucracy, we're not interested. Thats why we're going to go with (maybe) a complex cap-and-trade system for reducing CO2 levels instead of just levying a simple carbon tax.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Clinton isn't going to win.

No way.

Then again, I don't really understand the electoral process, so what the heck do I know?

Just seems to me that people are hearing a lot of things about HRC and most of them are less than flattering. This isn't new, but what is new is that now a lot of it comes from the left. Hatred of Bush united the Democratic Party for the last few years, but now there is a primary on and someone has to win. It has a bigger impact when people on the left expose Hillary's negative personality traits.

I don't have a personal problem with Clinton. I don't think she is evil; she is simply a business-as-usual politician. I don't think that is what this country needs right now. Aside from that, she probably can't win the national election. Sure a lot of Democrats love Hillary. But which are there more of: Dems who love Hillary, or Republicans who hate her?

Why would Dems pick HRC when they could have a Washington outsider with real idealism in Obama, or at least a sure-thing in the general election in John Edwards?

I am on a social networking site called "facebook", which is extremely popular among the college crowd. One might imagine that the overall political leanings of such a network would be to the left. Months ago I joined a subgroup in the network titled "One Million Strong for Barack". There are currently 400,000 members. Why do I bring this up? Months later, someone took this idea and created a group called "One Million Strong Against Hillary". It already has almost 600,000 members.