Thursday, February 23, 2006


Sonia tagged me. I am supposed to tag 4 other bloggers, but I promised I wouldn't do this after the Book Meme:

1: Black and White or Color; how do you prefer your movies?
Color. Some movies belong in black & white such as "The Wind", "M", or even "Shadows and Fog". But some old movies are in black & white just because the director didn't have a choice.

2: What is the one single subject that bores you to near-death?
I am not easily bored, but there is still more than one. "Other People's Sex Life" springs to mind.

3: MP3s, CDs, Tapes or Records: what is your favorite medium for prerecorded music?
Probably CDs. I haven't really gotten into MP3s, and I don't quite trust the medium for long-term storage. I mostly listen to tapes in the car, but that is just because I am too lazy to install a CD player. You can probably tell that music isn't a big part of my life, huh?

4: You are handed one first class trip plane ticket to anywhere in the world and ten million dollars cash. All of this is yours provided that you leave and not tell anyone where you are going … Ever. This includes family, friends, everyone. Would you take the money and ticket and run?
Socrates refused to leave Athens when his life was at stake. I would be embarrassed to betray family, friends, and church for a mere $10 million.

5: Seriously, what do you consider the world’s most pressing issue now?
The most pressing issue has always been our long war against God. The most obvious manifestation of that war seems to be the spread of Islam. Go ahead and tell me in the comments how stupid I am for not acknowledging that Islam is a valid approach to God...

6: How would you rectify the world’s most pressing issue?
Pray. Evangelize. Try to set a good example. (Oh, wait, that's redundant.)

7: You are given the chance to go back and change one thing in your life; what would that be?
I never look back and I don't really subscribe to the Donny Darko school of Calvinism, so this question is kind of meaningless to me. There are plenty of things that I have done that a better person wouldn't have. But I suspect that changing those things would make me a different person, and I can't consciously will my own destruction.

To put this a little less abstractly, in High School I used to fight with my girlfriend constantly. While I shouldn't have done that, the knowledge of my failure to live up to even my own low standards eventually led me to Christ. And if I had stayed with her, I never would have met my wife and she might not have returned to the faith without my encouragement. So who would have been better off?

8: You are given the chance to go back and change one event in world history, what would that be?
This is just the Donny Darko question with a bigger bunny suit. The same principle applies.

That said, I do wish the crusaders had not sacked Constantinople in 1204. But that event came at the nadir of a whole series of disasters and villainy so I have a hard time singling it out for correction.

9: A night at the opera, or a night at the Grand Ole’ Opry –Which do you choose?
Uggh. Can't I just give them both my ticket and $10 million and make them go away? Unless you count Gilbert and Sullivan as opera which I adore.

10: What is the one great unsolved crime of all time you’d like to solve?
Jack the Ripper, if only because he is a discredit to the name.

11: One famous author can come to dinner with you. Who would that be, and what would you serve for the meal?
Ayn Rand and C. S. Lewis, together. I'm not sure what I'd serve. Probably pizza.

12: You discover that John Lennon was right, that there is no hell below us, and above us there is only sky — what’s the first immoral thing you might do to celebrate this fact?
Piss on John Lennon's grave? Seriously, this is the wrong question on so many levels I hardly know where to begin.

First, the assumption that Christians are motivated by threat of hell or bribery of heaven is inaccurate (though perhaps understandable). These are often motivations to convert (since the natural man is primarily motivated by self-interest) but after conversion one comes to love truth, goodness and beauty for their own sake (or for God's sake which ammounts to much the same thing).

Second, assuming there is no transcendant standard, it makes no sense to talk about committing "immorality". One never acts immorally from one's own conscious perspective, actions can only be judged immoral from an external standard (ie God's, Society's or Freud's inernalized Superego, which is distinct from the conscious Ego).

Third, it makes little sense to talk about committing immoral acts "in celebration". Immorality is only fun if it is contrast to a standard that is perceived as tyrannical or unreasonable. If there were really no such standard, immorality would be seen for what it is -- self-destructive and harmful to others. This is assuming you can get over the contradiction mentioned in point 2.

Finally, on a more personal note, I reject the entire premise of the question. When I was an atheist, I felt that the only intellectually honest response to a godless universe was a desire to destroy all false promises of happiness. That initially meant religion and social mores, of course, but I eventually came to see that it pretty much included all personal illusions such as emotion, pleasure and damn near everything else. Pain and pleasure are only truly appreciated in memory -- the actual experience is gone by the time you can identify it. But who will remember those subjective experiences five minutes after I am dead? The thing that kept me from being a full-blown anarchist/nihilist was that I could never answer an even more important question: who will experience my intellectual honesty five minutes after I am dead?

Friday, February 17, 2006

Hope for the Muslim World

Pastorius links to an interesting article in the New York Sun. The following excerpt caught my eye as it illustrates a point we both have been making in several different ways:

Ms. Darwish, 57, said she had not met a Jew until she moved to America at age 30. As a child, she was taught, "Don't take candy from any stranger, it could be a Jew trying to poison you."

Then, ten years ago, her brother in Gaza had a stroke. A panic ensued over whether to send him to Cairo Hospital in Egypt or Hadassah Medical Center in Israel. The matter was settled by an Egyptian diplomat in Gaza: "If you want him to live, you send him right now to Hadassah." And so his life was saved.

Ms. Darwish said that while her mother was in Jerusalem taking care of her brother, she noticed that Jews who had been kicked out of Egypt by Nasser, who had confiscated their property, had rebuilt their lives in Israel. "They are not left in refugee camps like we did to the Palestinians," Ms. Darwish said.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

South Dakota House Bans Abortion

The bill has not been passed by the State Senate yet:

Lawmakers in South Dakota overwhelmingly approved legislation Thursday that would prohibit almost all abortions in the state. House Bill 1215 passed 47-22, after representatives voted against inserting amendments that would exempt women impregnated as the result of rape or incest. The bill, which now goes to the state Senate, makes an exception if the women’s life is in danger.


Representative Roger Hunt (R-Brandon), the chief sponsor of the South Dakota bill, said the timing is right for the "Women's Health and Human Life Protection Act," in the wake of the new Supreme Court appointments: conservatives John Roberts and Samuel Alito.
I can't see how they arrived at that conclusion. Even assuming Roberts and Alito both uphold this law, that only gives 4 pro votes (counting Scalia and Thomas). But where is the 5th vote going to come from? The argument that technological advances change the nature of the debate is a good point, but I can't see any of the remaining judges reversing precedent on that basis alone.

And I don't think it is wise to count on either Roberts or Alito to vote to overturn Roe v Wade. They are beyond political consequences, but they will still want to establish their credibility on the issue of non-ideological jurisprudence which they both empasized strongly at their confirmation hearings. Both new justices must know that voting the party line so early in the game could very well scuttle any future judge's ability to use that argument. Which would in turn mean we will never get that 5th vote.

Army Chaplain Silenced

From the Washington Times:

An evangelical chaplain serving in Iraq has been forbidden to preach at chapel services after his comments about military intolerance toward certain Christian expressions got him into hot water with the Army.


The chaplain criticized one of his supervisors, Lt. Col. Phillip Wright of Fort Drum in New York, by name and gave details about how chaplains of all faiths were being pressured to offer up only nonsectarian prayers.
People should not over-react to this news, but I think it highlights a basic problem with a society committed to pluralism. On the one hand, we don't want the First Ammendment rights of our soldiers suspended (and the ability to pray in the name of Jesus is reputedly pretty important to Christians :). On the other hand, joining the Army does involve a certain obligation to follow orders and not criticize the leadership. And yet, how could Mr. Stertzbach have called attention to this matter without at least potentially running afoul of his superiors.

It is a difficult question and I confess to not knowing the proper balance. I tend to sympathize with religious freedom end of the spectrum, but I do realize that the Army can't function in war-time insubordination.

Of course, this problem would go away if we just instituted Sharia...

Monday, February 13, 2006

Cheney Shoots, Scores...

...own goal.

Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot and injured a man during a weekend quail hunting trip in Texas, his spokeswoman said Sunday.

Harry Whittington, 78, was "alert and doing fine" after Cheney sprayed Whittington with shotgun pellets on Saturday at the Armstrong Ranch in south Texas, said property owner Katharine Armstrong.
Note the photo attached to the story which includes a completely gratuitous reference to the NRA. Maybe if Cheney had spent more time studying the Gun Safety Rules published by the oldest firearms educational organization in the country, this might have been avoided.
(Via: Althouse)

UPDATE: Sonia has a hilarious take on the story:
Instead of invading a country to remove its crazed dictator from power, maybe Dick Cheney should just invite its leader to go hunting with him ?

But which one ?

Happy Birthday

Carol Platt Liebau

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Meanwhile, Back In Iraq...

...Sistani emerges as a voice of calm and common sense:

Iraq's top Shiite cleric also weighed in on the controversy, condemning the publication of the cartoons, but suggesting Muslims were partly to blame for distorting the image of Islam.

"We strongly denounce and condemn this horrific action," Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said.

Mr. al-Sistani's remarks, posted on his website and dated Jan. 31, refrained from any calls for protests against the cartoons. Mr. al-Sistani referred to "misguided and oppressive" segments of the Muslim community and said their actions "projected a distorted and dark image of the faith of justice, love and brotherhood."
Sonia remarks, "It's quite ironic that the only Muslim country where there are no widespread anti-cartoon riots is... Iraq."

Ironic, perhaps, but hardly surprising. Given the increasing evidence that this entire "protest" was a ruse to distract Muslims from the failure of their tyrannical rulers, it makes perfect sense that the voice of reason should come from the epicenter of the liberation. Alternatively, you could explain this as a result of the Coalition military presence. Those most likely to protest would be the "insurgents" and they are too busy trying to stay out of American gun-sights to afford a public protest. In either case, I am happier about the war effort than I have been in months. Congratulations Mr. Sistani. You are a credit to your country!

UPDATE: But the French still don't get it! Note the paragraphs after the one cited above:
France's Foreign Minister said Friday he was shocked that Islamic hardliners have burned flags to protest caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed printed in European newspapers.


However, the minister told LCI television: "I'm shocked and I find it unacceptable that, because there were caricatures in the West, extremists can burn flags or adopt fundamentalist or extremist positions that would suggest the caricaturists were right."
Look, monsieur, the problem isn't the flag burning or the positions that they are adopting that is the problem. Those are perfectly legitimate (if somewhat misguided) expressions of free-speech. The problem is with the arson, death threats and other acts of violence.

That Infamous German Sense of Humor

Just when you thought it was safe to start praising Europeans vis a vis freedom of speech:

GERMAN cops will use sweeping powers to collar England fans doing Basil Fawlty-style Hitler impressions at the World Cup.
Yobs will be instantly banged up for TWO WEEKS if they goose-step like John Cleese in his most famous Fawlty Towers scene.

And hard core louts who give Nazi salutes — like the one jokingly made by Michael Barrymore in Celebrity Big Brother — could be hauled before a judge within 24 hours.

If convicted of inciting hatred they will face jail terms of up to THREE YEARS.

Wearing joke German helmets or any offensive insignia will also result in a stretch behind bars.

Reagan Economist Slams Bush

This book makes some points that we principled conservatives have been making all along:

The title is stunning: “Imposter: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy.” The author is Bruce Bartlett, an economist who worked in the Reagan administration. The publisher is Doubleday, not some highly suspect publishing company with a political axe to grind.


It is no secret that many conservatives who consider themselves true Reaganites are disdainful of Bush, but Bartlett doesn’t pull any punches in his indictment of a man who, in his opinion, has betrayed many of Reagan’s principles.

While the White House portrays Bush as a conservative president with a conservative agenda, he writes that conservatives know better.

“He is simply a partisan Republican, anxious to improve the fortunes of his party, to be sure. But he is perfectly willing to jettison conservative principles at a moment’s notice to achieve that goal,” Bartlett writes.

[Bartlett] faults Bush’s tax cuts, calling them ill-designed. He finds his trade policy too dotted with protectionist moves, adding that he has the worst policy on free trade since Herbert Hoover. The Medicare prescription drug bill is “the worst legislation in history” because of his massive future costs, he says, and he has not vetoed a single bill as he increased the size of government. Two of the unkindest cuts in the book: Bill Clinton had a better record on controlling the deficit, he says, and Bush has the many of the same kinds of policies as Richard Nixon.
I think it is unlikely that the Bush administration will take this criticism to heart at this late date. Hopefully, the contenders for the Republican ticket in '08 will do so.

UPDATE: From the same Chicago Tribune site, could this be a related story?
Claude A. Allen, the president’s domestic policy adviser, turned in his letter of resignation today at the White House, the Bush administration acknowledged tonight.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Safe Self-Harm

No kidding -- Safe Self-Harm:

NURSES want patients who are intent on harming themselves to be provided with clean blades so that they can cut themselves more safely.
They say people determined to harm themselves should be helped to minimise the risk of infection from dirty blades, in the same way as drug addicts are issued with clean needles.

This could include giving the “self-harm” patients sterile blades and clean packets of bandages or ensuring that they keep their own blades clean. Nurses would also give patients advice about which parts of the body it is safer to cut.

The proposal for “safe” self-harm — which is to be debated at the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Congress in April — is likely to provoke controversy.

At present nurses are expected to stop anyone doing physical harm to themselves and to confiscate any sharp objects ranging from razor blades to broken glass and tin cans.
The mind boggles. Back in the '80s, when we were debating the slippery slope of needle-exchange programs, I can confidently state that no one, No One! ever suggested this as a possible outcome. If ScrappleFace had published this as a satire, it would have seemed too surreal to be funny. Reading this article, I flashed on Alice Cooper's line "You'd even force-feed a diabetic a candy cane". And the one after that as well of course.

(Via Tammy)

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Sauce for the Goose

Iran retaliates against the Mohammad-as-terrorist cartoons with cartoons mocking the holocaust:

IRAN'S largest selling newspaper announced today it was holding a contest on cartoons of the Holocaust in response to the publishing in European papers of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed.

"It will be an international cartoon contest about the Holocaust," said Farid Mortazavi, the graphics editor for Hamshahri newspaper - which is published by Teheran's conservative municipality.
He said the plan was to turn the tables on the assertion that newspapers can print offensive material in the name of freedom of expression.

"The Western papers printed these sacrilegious cartoons on the pretext of freedom of expression, so let's see if they mean what they say and also print these Holocaust cartoons," he said.
Stupid as it may seem, this is actually a step up for the Islamists. Turning the tables on Western ridicule is a much healthier response than the typical fire-bombing-rioting-beheading schtick.

Still, one might find fault with the choice of subject matter. If it had been an Israeli newspaper publishing the original cartoons, mocking the holocaust might have made a certain amount of sense -- but Denmark? I am not aware that Denmark, or Europe in general for that matter, is particularly sensitive about aspersions being cast on the Jews. In fact, Europe has its share of holocaust-deniers and anti-semites, so the parallel to mocking Mohammad is pretty obviously off-target.

Or is the subtext another lame Jews-secretly-control-the-world conspiracy theory? Gotta get over that, Farid. Besides the fact that we've all heard it before, you have to ask yourself what difference it will make. Where is the retaliation if when we (speaking broadly on behalf of Western Civilization) mock your prophet, you ... do pretty much what you've been doing all along?

Still, nice try. If you manage to avoid getting yourselves nuked in the next few years, maybe this will mark the beginning of your return to civilization.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Is TV Teaching Criminals New Tricks?

This is something I've always wondered about:

When Tammy Klein began investigating crime scenes eight years ago, it was virtually unheard of for a killer to use bleach to clean up a bloody mess.

Today, the use of bleach, which destroys DNA, is not unusual in a planned homicide, said the senior criminalist from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

Klein and other experts attribute such sophistication to television crime dramas like "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," which give criminals helpful tips on how to cover up evidence.
As noted in my tag-line, I'm not a fan of TV in any form. The one exception I would generally make are the informative shows such as (non-evolutionary) science shows and some of the real-crime stories found on CourtTV. The article mentions CSI, which is fictional, but the same principle applies to the real-life forensic shows. Food for thought...

To be fair, the information provided is available in any number of sources, so one technically can't blame TV for spilling the beans. But, as mentioned elsewhere in the article, criminals are usually quite dumb and wouldn't normally be expected to research their crimes at the local library or on the internet. But TV, which rewards passivity, can broadcast ideas that the average criminal would normally be too lazy or too ignorant to obtain on his own.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Bethlehem Under Hamas

Speaking of paying the Jizya, this story is disturbing on many levels:

While Israelis struggle to come to terms with the election of Hamas in Palestinian elections last week, another group also is worried by the rise of the avowedly Islamist organization -- the Christian Arab minority centered here in Jesus' birthplace.

The Palestinian draft constitution of 2003 establishes Islam as the official religion while noting that Christianity will be "equally revered." It also names Islamic Sharia law as "a major source for legislation."


"I know they are not Taliban," said one Bethlehem mother of two, who did not want her name used. "But I wonder what they mean by 'Islamic.' We are Christian, we don't want trouble."


"There are groups putting rumors into the minds of Christians, that there will be registrations," for example, said the mayor. "I say, 'Don't worry. Hamas has promised not to.' "

But there are those articles in the Palestinian constitution. And there is persistent talk about a tax, or "jeziya" that could leveled on second-class, or non-Muslim, citizens.

A Hamas member of the Bethlehem City Council, Hassan El-Masalmeh, told the Wall Street Journal in late December: "We in Hamas plan to implement this tax someday. We say it openly, everyone is welcome to Palestine but only if they agree to live under our rules."
I don't want to sound unsympathetic to the suffering of my fellow Christians, but my initial reaction is "what did you expect?" Palestinian Christians have been siding with the terrorists against Israel for decades. Now that they have come to power (although in the form of Hamas rather than the PLO) it is a bit late to wonder if the bonds of "race" are going to prove stronger than differences of religion. Especially when one of the religions is Islam...

Nevertheless, the Christians have a hope that the Israelis do not. I am reminded of the letter to the church at Pergamum in Rev 2:12-17. The Palestinian Christians have been tempted by bonds of the flesh, but Christ will not forget those who dwell in the Devil's country, yet remain faithful to the death. Martyrdom may be all that they can hope for in the near future, but it is still a better fate than apostasy.

US State Department Pays the Jizya

The US State Department has never been particularly clueful when commenting on issues of freedom. Many suspect that diplomats in general prefer to deal with dictatorships rather than deal with all of the mess and uncertainty inherent in democracies. In that light, the following widely-reported remarks should come as no surprise:

These cartoons are indeed offensive to the belief of Muslims. We all fully recognize and respect freedom of the press and expression but it must be coupled with press responsibility. Inciting religious or ethnic hatreds in this manner is not acceptable. We call for tolerance and respect for all communities for their religious beliefs and practices.
(For those who haven't been following the story, the cartoons in question were first published in a Danish newspaper and depicted Mohammad as a terrorist. This has sparked massive riots throughout the Muslim world which in turn prompted many European newspapers to reprint the images.)

On the face of it, there is nothing particularly wrong with the State Department's comments. I would agree that newspapers are often guilty of anti-religious bias and with the power of the press should come responsibility. But the trouble is what is not said. Nowhere does the State Department condemn the over-reaction of Muslims or the threats of violence which resulted.

As we have noted before, the Muslim faith is built on a vision of conquest and there is no room for the secular ideals of tolerance and fair-play which the State Department is promoting. This sort of appeasement is morally wrong and it won't even work.

(Via the lovely but not remotely safe-for-work Sonia-Belle.)

UPDATE: Michelle Malkin has more, as does InstaPundit. Hmm. I notice that the AFP attributes these remarks to Justin Higgins while the Reuters story credited Kurtis Cooper. And CNN quotes Janelle Hironimus. But THEY ARE ALL SAYING THE SAME THING. Is this a coordinated media blitz?

UPDATE: Contrast the Muslim reaction with that of Americans to the portrayal of Osama Bin Laden as Christ:
The art show's producer Josh Wainwright, insisted he hadn't even made the Bin Laden connection. "Knowing what you know now would you have barred the painting from being part of your show?" I asked. "Absolutely not," he replied. Wainwright says he's a military veteran and despises Bin Laden, but he added, "I don't think it's anyone's job or vocation to limit the expression of artists."

UPDATE: One last thing. Here is the definition of Jizya, for those of you who were wondering.

UPDATE: Eugene Volokh found a more detailed statement from Sean McCormack that stresses the free-speech issue. Still no condemnation of Muslim violence and a suggestion that "in some cases, we condemn the views that are aired in public that are published in media organizations around the world". Not much improvement, in my opinion, over the abbreviated statements quoted in other sources.