Friday, May 21, 2010

Welcome to the 21st century

Pakistan blocks facebook because some Westerners were having a Muhammad cartoon drawing contest.

In a single generation, people in many underdeveloped nations around the world have been catapulted from traditional local society into modern globalized societies. It has been an extremely difficult transition for many people, most visibly for people in many Muslim-majority nations. Americans take it for granted that in the United States, our modernization took place over more than a century. We had time for social movements to gradually challenge societal norms.

For example, In the 1920s-30s we experimented with prohibition, and then decided that drinking alcohol is OK. We came to accept political involvement of women early in the century as well with women's suffrage. Civil rights for minorities and women's liberation developed over the next few decades and culminated in the 60's. Acceptance of homosexuality has been a gradual process over the decades as well, and look how far we still have to go. Maintaining the separation of church and state, as the Founding Fathers intended, has been a constant battle - but it has been an important one, to keep religion out of politics.

Imagine if the USA of 1900 was thrust into 2010 in a matter of a couple of decades. America in 1900 afforded women and minorities few rights. Homosexual behavior was unthinkable, at least in public. People were far more religious and would have tolerated religious assaults far less than Americans do today. Alcohol would soon be made illegal. This is a world not hugely different than the one seen in many Muslim countries today.

Muslims around the world need to develop thicker skin. I believe the freedom of speech is the most important right that Americans have, and that means I have the right to draw a picture of Muhammad without being threatened for it. Liberal apologists of Islam in particular need to remember that - it is the fanatics who are threatening violence, and not the people who are drawing pictures of Muhammad, that are the problem here. That being said, the visceral reaction we see to something so innocuous, such as in the case of cartoons of Muhammad causing Muslims to flip out, is the result of basically a massive culture shock experienced in those Muslim nations.

Americans wouldn't have behaved any differently in 1900 if people in some other country were mocking Jesus Christ or desecrating Bibles. We would have thrown a temper tantrum, too.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Double standards

I think this article brings up a good point.

Case 1: Harvard University bans military recruiters from campus because the US Military discriminates against homosexuals.

Case 2: Harvard University accepts the donations of princes from Saudi Arabia, which executes homosexuals, discriminates against women and religious minorities, et cetera.

I can accept case 1 or case 2 but not both.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The death of conservatism

The problem: online social media (twitter, facebook) is too liberal. The conservative solution? I bring you Ricochet:

"The distinguishing feature of Ricochet will be its unique format, which promises to look unlike any other site on the net. "It will not be a news aggregator, or a megachat like Daily Kos, but instead will be a feed like Facebook or Twitter or Tumbler," says James Poulos, Ricochet's managing editor. Approximately 40 contributors will have an online conversation that is akin to a conservative cocktail party."

The name of this new network is actually spot on. "Ricochet"; as in an idea bouncing around a closed room with hard walls. I cannot think of a more perfect analogy for the conservative mindset of today. Actually employing superior arguments than liberals is apparently not an option anymore. Conservatives just want to sit in a 40-person echo chamber and repeat their mantras:

No more taxes
No more debt
No cutting spending
No Mexican people
No black presidents non-American citizen presidents
No ending wars
No alternative energy
No regulating banks
No regulating oil companies

Sounds like a pretty effective strategy to me.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

A job for the Tea Party Movement?

That is, if they are serious about protecting our liberty, and stopping the inexorable rise of a bureaucratic monstrosity of a government which tramples on the Constitution. From Greenwald:

"A bipartisan group from Congress sponsors legislation to strip Americans of their citizenship based on Terrorism accusations. Barack Obama claims the right to assassinate Americans far from any battlefield and with no due process of any kind. The Obama administration begins covertly abandoning long-standing Miranda protections for American suspects by vastly expanding what had long been a very narrow “public safety” exception, and now Eric Holder explicitly advocates legislation to codify that erosion. John McCain and Joe Lieberman introduce legislation to bar all terrorism suspects, including Americans arrested on U.S. soil, from being tried in civilian courts, and former Bush officials Bill Burck and Dana Perino — while noting (correctly) that Holder’s Miranda proposal constitutes a concession to the right-wing claim that Miranda is too restrictive — today demand that U.S. citizens accused of terrorism and arrested on U.S. soil be treated as enemy combatants and thus denied even the most basic legal protections (including the right to be charged and have access to a lawyer)."

And for what danger are we prepared to surrender some of our most precious rights?

You are 13 times more likely to die in a railway accident than from a terrorist attack
You are 12,571 times more likely to die from cancer than from a terrorist attack
You are six times more likely to die from hot weather than from a terrorist attack
You are eight times more likely to die from accidental electrocution than from a terrorist attack
You are 11,000 times more likely to die in an airplane accident than from a terrorist plot involving an airplane
You are 87 times more likely to drown than die in a terrorist attack
You are 404 times more likely to die in a fall than from a terrorist attack
You are 17,600 times more likely to die from heart disease than from a terrorist attack
You are 1048 times more likely to die from a car accident than from a terrorist attack
You are 12 times more likely to die from accidental suffocation in bed than from a terrorist attack
You are nine times more likely to choke to death on your own vomit than die in a terrorist attack
You are eight times more likely to be killed by a police officer than by a terrorist

Americans are a bunch of excitable little children. The Founding Fathers would be embarrassed that we are their legacy.

Addendum: a picture is worth 1000 words...

Laura Bush: hippie?

I didn't see this coming. The former first lady believes that women should have abortion rights, and that homosexual should have the right to marry. In fact, she urged her husband to not make gay marriage a major political issue in the 2004 campaign.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Now you know how I feel...

...every time someone in America claims the world is only 6,000 years old. Behold: the Iranian equivalent of the American creationist.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Dealing with the sexual abuse crisis

Pope Benedict shows that he gets it:

"This we have always known, but today we see it in a really terrifying
way, that the greatest persecution of the church does not come from
the enemies outside but is born from the sin in the church," he added.
"The church has a profound need to relearn penance, to accept
purification, to learn on the one hand forgiveness but also the
necessity of justice. And forgiveness does not substitute justice."

The rest of the Catholic hierarchy needs to follow Benedict's example.

Monday, May 10, 2010

"No lesbian is qualified to sit on the supreme court"

That's the American Family Association's view of Obamas pick.

Its funny that conservatives are surprised that everyone thinks that their Tea Party protests have racist undertones. Maybe its because of bigotry against homosexuals? Or racial profiling laws in Arizona that would make the Gestapo proud? Or racial profiling at airports?

I mean if it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck...
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Thursday, May 06, 2010

I'm not always right

Actually, I originally thought Joe Lieberman was a loser, so I was initially right. Then for some reason I warmed to him. He has been solidly back into my loser category for some time now, though. Here is Joe:

"I think it's time for us to look at whether we want to amend that law to apply it to American citizens who choose to become affiliated with foreign terrorists organizations, whether or not they should also be deprived automatically of their citizenship and therefore be deprived of rights that come with that citizenship when they are apprehended and charged with a terrorist act."

That's right. If you are accused of terrorism, you are stripped of your rights and presumably then shipped to Guantanamo. Awesome.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

This is why it is important keep American forces in Afghanistan so we can beat the Taliban:

Because if we don't, they will manage to find mentally unstable and technically incompetent American recruits to fail to start really big fires in Times Square.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Spy game

A great read if you like WW2 history, spy stuff, or both.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

An analogy

Imagine you live in a one room house without plumbing. Your much wealthier neighbor has a far larger house, and has plumbing to boot.

Now imagine your neighbor strolls into your house, goes to the middle of your one room, pulls down his pants, and takes a crap on your floor. When asked why he does this, he simply says that he was worried that his toilet would clog and overflow onto his bathroom floor, which his servant would then have to clean up. Better to just go to the bathroom elsewhere, he says.

I read something that was quite eye opening the other day. Nigeria has experienced massive oil spills almost on a yearly basis. The reason is because most nations don't have the strict regulation on oil drilling that we do here in the states, so oil companies operating elsewhere have a worse track record from an environmental point of view. When there is an oil spill off of the US coast, we are up in arms, but when it happens elsewhere those citizens can't really do anything about it.

So here's the kicker. After this Gulf of Mexico incident, what I hear a lot of Americans saying is "hey, maybe we shouldn't drill off of our coasts as much, and regulate it more carefully when we do". But what I don't hear as many Americans saying is "hey, let's use less oil".

If we are using the same amount of oil, but less comes from our shores, that means more comes from the shores of poorer nations - nations who are less politically able to stick it to the oil companies when they mess up. Since more oil will come from weaker regulatory areas, that means in net there will be more oil spills because of this Gulf of Mexico disaster, not less. But the spills won't be off of OUR shores, so its not our problem, right?

The solution: gas tax. Why do you think Europe uses so much less oil than we do? They have smaller cars, more public transit, and walkable cities because they tax gasoline so much more than we do. Start the tax small, gradually increase it over 15 years so as to let our economy absorb the impact with ease. Take the tax money and pay down the deficit, fund alternative energy research, hell just give it all back to the citizens as a tax return. That is an energy policy that would reduce oil spills. Not to mention the geopolitical benefits of reducing our dependence on terrorist-funding oil.

The response to the Gulf of Mexico spill is not "drill baby, drill...just somewhere else" - it is to use less oil. But I mean, the most powerful response we could have had to 9/11 was to use less oil, too, but we didn't do it then either.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Finding humor in racial controversy

A third year law student @ Harvard got herself into some hot water for
the following remarks:

"I absolutely do not rule out the possibility that African Americans
are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent. I
could also obviously be convinced that by controlling for the right
variables, we would see that they are, in fact, as intelligent as
white people under the same circumstances. The fact is, some things
are genetic. African Americans tend to have darker skin. Irish people
are more likely to have red hair."

Obviously, there is an academic taboo on the questioning of any
group's average intelligence. And, as much as I am a person who
generally doesn't like thought taboos, this one is a relatively
acceptable one because when a cause for a problem is found, the search
for other causes might also cease. I went to the London museum once
and read a quote by a rich man who was convinced that the poor
vagabonds and riff-raff on the streets were just the unintelligent
half of Londoners. But amazingly, some of these people were sent to
Australia and prospered. The problem wasn't intelligence, it was a
lack of opportunity. Similarly, up until about 1980 China was dirt
poor and experiencing no economic growth. To have assumed that the
cause was a lack of average intelligence among Chinese would have been
clearly incorrect.

At any rate, I laugh at the outrage of this comment by this Harvard 3L
because the strict, literal interpretation of what she said is
actually, undoubtedly, and unquestionably true. The whole concept of
race, from a genetic point of view, isn't particularly water tight.
That being said, we can still attempt categorize human populations at
least from a basis of recent shared ancestry since some groups of
people split off and multiplied in relative isolation. The legend is
that the Japanese were originated from 1000 Chinese sent to the island
by the emperor. Those 1000 Japanese were of course genetically
Chinese, but by sheer luck some genes among those 1000 might be over
represented or under represented; furthermore, you have other
indigenous groups that those 1000 may have had contact with. This is
known in evolutionary biology as the founder effect, and its an
important cause of diversity. Thus the modern population of people of
Japanese descent undoubtedly has a different genetic composition, on
average, than people from mainland China - again, by sheer luck.

We could classify groups of humans in any numbers of ways (which as a
complicated variable is part of the reason this can be so touchy -
because people with ulterior motives can draw the maps based on their
biases), and then *in theory* we could quantify the attributes of
those groups. And the averages would undoubtedly be different,
probably ever so slightly. Nobody of course gets into hot water when
they remark that the Dutch are the tallest people in the world, but
there are genes for height as well as for intelligence. And in fact,
to deny that intelligence lacks a genetic component is actually to
deny the theory of evolution. The entire theory of evolution is based
around the principle that advantageous genes get selected and
propagated. If intelligence wasn't at least partially genetic in
character, it never could have been selected upon, and humans never
would have had the runaway growth in intelligence that we saw in human

So cut up the human species any way you like...say by those whose name
starts with "K" rather than "L", and you'll find slight genetic
variation among the averages. How useful is this? Well, not very
useful. For one, as I mentioned above, the separation in the first
place is very arbitrary. Second of all, while height is very easy to
quantify, intelligence is not. I for one am convinced that there are
probably dozens of subcategories of intelligence. Some people are
more creative, some people are more street smart, some people are more
book smart, some people are better at reading emotions, more musical,
better at organizing, or whatever. We really can't quantify
intelligence in a meaningful way, so at least until we can its not a
very promising place to be looking for the source of our problems.

So back to this law student's original statement. Taken literally, in
the first sentence she said something that is undeniably true: it is
possible that African Americans are less intelligent. But of course,
its also possible that they are more intelligent. And it also depends
on what aspect of human mental function we are analyzing, and it
assumes we can measure that function with perfect accuracy, and that
we know the complex relationship of nature and nurture in the
formation of intelligence. Since we don't know any of those things,
its kinda silly to say one way or another. Actually, it was her
second sentence that really struck me as the racist one, not the first
one. In the second sentence, she sets white people as this sort of
intelligence benchmark that maybe African Americans could hope to get
close to or even reach.

Moral of the story. Intelligence is at least in part genetic, and
there will undeniably be at least some differences in intelligence
between groups depending on how you chop humanity up. But
intelligence is a really complicated thing, and so is anthropology,
and we cannot even begin to quantify intelligence, or to categorize
humanity in a meaningful way. Thus, to tie the two together when
making social observations is unscientific, and probably ill advised.