Friday, January 31, 2003

free will and Islam

by way of InstaPundit, is this recycled polemic from The esteemed Reverend Donald Sensing, claiming that Islam has no free will:

Islam teaches that Allah's control over events of the world and human life is total and complete. There is no human free will, there is only rebellion against Allah or submission to Allah. Yet even rebellion is, somehow, under the controlling purview of Allah. Everything that happens, without exception, is the preordained will of Allah.


Bin Laden's sort of self-justifying extremism is not the mainstream of Islam, but neither is it as far removed as we might imagine. Fatalism is a characteristic of Islam. There is no human freedom. Human liberty, especially as Americans think of it, is literally a foreign concept to Islam, especially Arab Islam.

The esteemed Reverend Sensing is repeating stale antimuslim polemic a thousand years old. In actual truth, Islam has as a central principle th freedom of man and the importance of reason. Only with Wahabism has this ancient tradition within Islam been suppressed in favor of centralized theocratic control substituting for thought and rational exegesis. The esteemed Reverend Sensing makes a nod to the same trend in Christianity in the past but now claims that it has died out - presumably because he subconciously filters out the esteemed Reverends Falwell and Robertson.

Curiously, the esteemed Reverend Sensing equates Allah's omniscience with lack of free will by human agents. This is perhaps a reflection of his own religious background - not even the Wahabis believe that human actions are "pre-ordained". This is what, a Puritan belief? Only a child would fail to make the simple distinction between "pre-ordaining the future" and "knowing the future" - Allah's omniscience about what choices we humans make (as free will agents) does not negate the action of choosing. But ultimately we all do make one choice or another, and the outcomes are known.

To take an example, was Hitler pre-ordained to massacre 6 million innocent Jewish women and children, just because our history books say he did so? Would you kill Hitler as a child if you went back in time? The answer "YES" to that question is morally equivalent to what the esteemed Reverend Sensing accuses of Islam. Because if you judge a man for what he has not yet done (based on your knowledge of future history), then you do not truly believe that the man can act differently. This is what "pre-ordained" means.

But Islam says the answer to that question is NO. For example, the case of Ali AS. Ali was murdered by a former follower, Ibne Muljim. Years before his murder at Muljim's hands, Ali AS met with him and told him, "you will murder me.". Ibne Muljim, shocked, begged Ali AS to slay him so that he could never carry out such a deed. Ali AS refused, saying that he had not committed the deed yet. And yet Muljim DID murder Ali AS, despite having been informed of it beforehand!

Islam has a long tradition, spanning across the major madhabs (schools of religious thought), of holding the faculty of reason as the highest aspect of Man. Islam lays upon the believer a moral charge to excercise this faculty - the Prophet SAW himself (in a hadith that is accepted universally by both Shi'a and Sunni) exhorted his followers to seek out knowledge, even if it take them to "China" (metaphor for the far end of the world). And Ayat 2:256 within the Qur'an reminds the believer that there is no compulsion within religion - that choice is fundamental to faith.

UPDATE: Al-Muhabajah supplies a link to an exceedingly detailed essay on free will and Islam, grappling with the issues of predestination and causality in the Islamic context. It's no exaggeration to say that Islam has had centuries of philosophical debate about these issues, driven as always by study of the Qur'an.

whistling Dixie

via Atrios, I found this petition against the planned statue of Abe Lincoln in Richmond, VA:

We call on the National Park Service & the U.S. Historical Society to STOP their attempt to place a statue of Abraham Lincoln in Richmond at the National Park Service Headquarters at Tredegar Iron Works. The signers below publicly acknowledge our strong and eternal opposition to this supreme insult to Richmond, the State of Virginia and all of Dixie. Brag Bowling, the SCV Virginia Commander described it best as a �slap in the face of brave men and women who went through four years of unbelievable hell fighting an invasion of Virginia led by President Lincoln".


A statue to this politician is no more appropriate in Richmond than one celebrating Sherman who burned Atlanta to the ground or one glorifying the evil Third Reich to Hitler in Tel Aviv.

Abe Lincoln equated to Hitler? The United States of America, compared to the third Reich? Why is all this anti-American fifth-column treasonous hyperbole not openly vilified by conservatives?

Interestingly, an article about the fracas in the Washington Post mentions that a Virginia law forbids Union markings from being added to Confederate memorials. So, it would be illegal in Virginia to fly the US Flag from a Civil War memorial?

There are some rather funny comments on Atrios' post, including one wondering "why do Virginians hate America?" and another guessing that $5 bills are going to be banned in Richmond next :) there are also excellent links and more background information.

Thursday, January 30, 2003

SUV terror touche!

"I'll be happy to drive an electric car when Arianna Huffington stops flying private jets and uses solar heat in her 5,000-square-foot home,"

heh heh.

To be honest, the idea that driving an SUV promotes terror is laughably obtuse. Is there a special pump at the gas station that is labeled "terrorist gas", which dispenses gas only from Saudi Arabian madrassahs? UPDATE: Radley Balko (via Jim) makes a similar point, running through some basic calculations:

About 20% of US petroleum comes from the Middle East. And SUVs consume about 2% of domestic petroleum. So you can blame SUVs for 20% of 2% of the oil we get from the Middle East. Or to put it another way, four tenths of a penny of every dollar SUV owners spend on gas goes to the Middle East.

But you can't stop there. The argument says: "SUV owners support terrorists." So you then have to figure out what percentage of that four tenths of a penny for every dollar goes to those Middle Eastern countries who are known to support terrorists. Then you have to look at what percentage of that money those countries actually spend on terrorism.

We're looking at a really small number here. Small enough, I think, that you could just as easily make the case that patronizing or investing in any U.S. business with operations in terrorist-supporting countries holds just about the same potential of your dollar falling into the pocket of a suicide bomber.

Not to mention sheer hypocrisy. As noted in the NY Post, the founders of the Detroit Project campaign prefer gas-guzzling private jets to flying commercial:

THE four founders of the Detroit Project - the anti-SUV campaign that blames the gas-guzzlers for aiding terrorism - have a blind spot when it comes to the use of gas-guzzling private jets. ... Arianna Huffington, producer Lawrence "Reservoir Dogs" Bender, talent agent Ari Emanuel - brother of Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) - and Laurie David, wife of writer-comedian Larry David, all have gas-saving hybrid cars in their fleets of vehicles, but they all prefer private jets to commercial flights. Emanuel - who swears he sold his Ferrari for a Toyota Prius while his wife drives a non eco-friendly Volvo and a minivan - is said to love flying private jets. "Ari spent tens of thousands last year in private jet fees - he hates flying commercial,"

A far more meticulous approach to debunking the "SUVs support terror" campaign is provided by Reason Magazine, however. The most important conclusion however is the analysis of the real motives behind any attempt to label SUV owners en masse as immoral:

This is the subtext of the anti-SUV campaign: Consumers are too stupid to know their own interests.

Perhaps the answer is the State-Sanctioned Civilian Vehicle? (scroll down to Steve's second post)

UPDATE: Let's not forget the holier-than-thou campaign of "What would Jesus drive?" The anti-SUV camp makes some respectable points, but this is not one of them. Anyway, a Christian answer to the question might better be "moneylenders out of the temple" or perhaps more prosaically, "an ass". One irreverent wit on the Trash Talk forum even makes a decent argument for a TravelAll![1]

UPDATE: Many people have pointed out the Greg Easterbrook article in TNR, which is a review of Keith Bradsher's new book, High and Mighty. I've already seen this piece and am frankly disappointed - usually Easterbrook has rigorous analysis, but in this essay he indulges in anecdote and misleading and unsupported statements.

I have to admit at being actually offended at Easterbrook's assertion (borderline racist) that "poor people drive poorly". This was central to his point about preventing SUVs from entering the used market (you know, because only "poor" people buy used cars). Another essay in Reason also takes on Easterbrook:

If neither the environmentalist nor the nativist condemnation quite drives the anti-SUV argument across the finish line, there's still the symbolic attack ... Gregg Easterbrook makes it clear that these popular vehicles are nothing less than pure evil. Indeed, they are "sociopathic cars" and "anti-social automobiles" that create "the very emblem of contemporary selfishness." ... Yet despite his nods to the environmental, nativist, and safety debates, Easterbrook ultimately seems more interested in what he calls the "existential fiasco of the SUV." The SUV isn't a response to "road rage" but rather a "cause" of that dubious but newsworthy social problem. Automakers market "hostility" via menacing SUV grills and are "guilty of advancing the fiction that SUVs are intended for offroad adventures." Curiously, customers don't seem to be in on the con; rather, they're simply passive dupes of such a "romantic deception," not willing participants. "There are lots of self-centered and self-absorbed people with little interest in their neighbors," declares Easterbrook. "Somebody finally made a class of vehicles to bring out the worst in them."

Again, the bulk of the argument here is a social engineering rant - the classic case of a liberal argument of paternalistic wisdom, aimed at illustrating the foolishness of the common man. While Easterbrook mentions the more substantial debates over pollution, safety. and foreign policy, he does not add anything to the debate, merely rehashes them in the context of his ultimately symbolic criticism.

It's not just the left that critiques Easterbrook, it's also the right. Jonathan Adler in NRO also takes on Easterbrook's arguments about safety :

To make his case, Easterbrook carelessly misconstrues federal crash-test data to claim SUV models from the late 1990s were "death traps." According to Easterbrook, differential ratings in frontal crash tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) show that such some SUVs are substantially less safe than large passenger cars. Yet the NHTSA site makes clear that "the frontal crash test results can only be compared to other vehicles in the same weight class." (see here). This is because, as NHTSA explains, "a frontal crash test into a fixed barrier is similar to a crash between two vehicles of the same weight." When a larger car hits a smaller car, on the other hand, the difference in weight results in more damage to the smaller vehicle and its occupants.


While shrinking SUV size might improve car safety, it is incontrovertible that increasing the weight of passenger cars by 100 pounds would almost certainly reduce highway fatalities by over 300 per year. These results are consistent with other studies, such as that by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety which concluded that "the high risks of occupants in light (and small) cars have more to do with the vulnerabiltiy of their own vehicles than with the aggressivity of other vehicles. "Traveling in a larger, heavier vehicle reduces your risk of being killed in a crash," notes Dr. Leonard Evans, president of the International Traffic Medicine Association. "There is no more firmly established conclusion in the vast body of traffic safety research." In other words, if the primary aim is to increase automotive safety, the Easterbrook's target should not be SUVs, but smaller, less-expensive cars.


To his credit, Easterbrook admits that federal studies make clear that "the most dangerous vehicles for their occupants are compact and sub-compact cars," not SUVs. He even suggests that the government should ban such "econo-boxes." Yet all this demonstrates is Easterbrook's willingness to tell other people what to drive. He evidently places little value on the ability of consumers to purchase the cars of their own choosing.

Adler also has solid critique of Easterbrook's rollover argument, and I've already commented on the myth of unsafe SUVs (especially rollovers) before. Ultimately, though, this isn't a contribution to the debate, merely a rehashing. In that sense, I suppose, we should thank Arianna Huffington for at least saying something new!

[1] I mean no disrespect. If this offends you, let me know.

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

no surprises here

On WildMonk's War Personality Test, I scored a 48 (center-left). More pleasingly, I scored a 10 out of 10 on the Rationality scale :) Try it yourself...

UPDATE: Wildmonk writes: has been fortunate to have over 8300 visitors take the WildMonk Political Personality Test since I started the blog two weeks ago and the results are in and they are fascinating. I have breakdowns of the answers to all of the questions as well as some analysis on the site.

Did you know that among among self-identified "Greens", 66% (256 respondents) say that the US is the greatest threat to world peace? Self-identified European leftists vote the same way by 59% (243). Interestingly enough, 41% of self-identified Democrats (615) think that the US is the greatest threat and 10% (154 people) are unsure. Among Republicans, the figures are 5% and 2%. 92% of Republicans disagree or disagree strongly with the proposition that America is the greatest threat to world peace. If you wonder why the average American doubts the patriotism of the Democrats, this will go a long way toward explaining why.

There is much more (did you know that Republicans, on average, score 9.3 out of 10 on rationality while Democrats score only 7.4?) so I invite you to stop by to take a look.

I'd like to thank all of the bloggers that provided links to the Personality Test over the last two weeks. The results are more than I could have hoped for!

Monday, January 27, 2003

pacifism has its limits

Dirk Gently always stressed the fundamental interconnectedness of all things, a philosophy to which I also adhere. This is why during the Martin Luther King Holiday, which commemorates a struggle by a people in the face of brutal oppression from without and extremism within, I am reminded of the Palestinians. Not because I am muslim and so are they, but because they are human and so am I. Some struggles have been lost, others mostly won - but at great sacrifice. And some continue into an uncertain future.

What makes a struggle for freedom successful? Is it pacifism? Many have vilified the Palestinians for not being like Ghandi, whose peaceful rebellion ultimately drove the British from India. Though Ghandi's methods were pacifist, the ultimate outcome of the political movement he sparked was the Partition, which was far from bloodless.

I was interested to see that Porphyrogenitus also had blogged about Martin Luther King, in relation to Ghandi:

Many have emphasized his pacifism today. That's quite appropriate. But in my opinion it's also right to emphasize the struggle for freedom. Contrary to what one may have been told, peace and freedom do not always go hand in hand. Not nearly. If Gandhi were up against a Stalin rather than a Churchill and a Atlee, he'd have been shot, along with as many of those who were in his movement as necessary to repress it.

Excellent point. Not to mention that the British people were ultimately sympathetic to the Indian cause, even though the cotton boycotts and other economic resistance caused great hardship in the UK.

Porphyrogenitus applies this to our impending "liberation" of Iraq. Fair enough. But when you think of the Palestinians in the same context - one has to wonder. How would Ghandi's peaceful rebellion have fared in the face of Ariel Sharon?

There were Ghandis and MLKs among the Palestinians, such as Sari Nusseibeh and Dr. Mustapha Barghoutibut they have been arrested, detained, and beaten repeatedly by the IDF. Marwan Barghouti, a popular moderate elected to the Fatah leadership (whom Arafat greatly dislikes as a challenger to his authority) has been arrested and is being tried by Israel for murder, accused of being a terrorist. Eventually, there won't be any moderates left to beat, exile, or jail.

UPDATE: Al-Muhabajah (who I sometimes call AM for short, no offense intended), has some insightful thoughts in relation to the topic. I should make it clear that I also support the right of the Palestinians to use violent resistance, even though I do not support Palestinian terrorists. Most anti-P pro-I readers may think this makes my position muddled rather than clear, I suppose.

Sunday, January 26, 2003

radiation therapy

I blame the movie, The Day After. People see the word, radiation - and freak out, imagining giant mutated flesh-eating cockroaches and Mad Max landcapes of shatterred buildings under scorched sun.

Some concerns are legitimate - for example, the dangers of depleted uranium. Steven recently tried to debunk its dangers, correctly pointing out that the gamma radiation is miniscule compared to the natural background. But he also discounts the danger from alpha particles (which are teh main decay product of DU):

In fact, the dead layer of skin cells on your body is more than enough. External alpha radiation cannot harm you unless the concentration is truly mammoth, and it is impossible for U-238 to create such a concentration no matter how much is present.

(emphasis mine). That's true. But external sources of alpha particles are not the concern. While dead skin is pretty much impenetrable, soft lung tissue is something else entirely. And one of the main concerns about DU is that fine dust containing trace amounts can be inhaled - which means that you could end up with alpha emissions inside your lungs. This is a bad thing.

However, other instances of radiation paranoia are completely absurd, such as the fracas over radiation-sanitizing of meat. This is a sensible and completely safe method of removing harmful bacteria and other microorganisms, and if such meat ever passes the hysteria legislation stage, I will only buy meat that has been zapped. I'll never buy non-zapped meat again, given the choice.

But now it's a sign of teh times that we have a thrd category of radiation paranoia, which is neither warranted nor unwarranted. Consider this case, of Police Detainment of a Patient Following Treatment With Radioactive Iodine (from the Journal of the American Medical Association, JAMA).

We recently treated a 34-year-old man for Graves disease with 20 mCi of iodine 131. Twenty-four hours after treatment, his radioactive iodine uptake was 63%. Three weeks after treatment, he returned to our clinic complaining that he had been strip-searched twice at Manhattan subway stations. Police had identified him as emitting radiation and had detained him for further questioning. He returned to the clinic and requested a letter stating that he had recently been treated with radioactive iodine.

This patient's experience indicates that radiation detection devices are being installed in public places in New York City and perhaps elsewhere. Patients who have been treated with radioactive iodine or other isotopes may be identified and interrogated by the police because of the radiation they emit.

Read the article, it seems that police in New York have set up radiation detectors in the subways to try and detect potential "dirty" bombs. Without any information as to what energies their detectors are calibrated for, it's impossible to tell if they are being reasonable or not - but the fact that they picked up a patient with standard iodine treatment suggests to me that they are casting their net at the wrong end of the pool.

If anyone wants to turn to a definitive source for both the types of radiation that occur from physical decay processes, and the biological effects of these decay products, I recomend these textbooks (all of which I am using in my own medical physics studies):

Johns and Cunningham: The Physics of Radiology

Knoll: Radiation Detection and Measurement

Khan: The Physics of Radiation Therapy

These are the Bibles of the field of radiation physics and radiation therapy. I know these are expensive, but they should be in your local library. It isn't light reading, but there really needs to be better education of the public about the various types and risk of radiation, and how it's societal benefits compare to the dangers. Maybe I'll start blogging about this more, myself...

Friday, January 24, 2003

relative numbers: an illusion of double standards

Another polemical meme about Islam that I want to address is the idea that there are more Fundamentalist muslims (of both Types A and B) than there are Christians. The most egregious purveyor of this meme is Daniel Pipes, whose "estimates" (ie, inventions) claim there are 100 million Muslims who are in complete agreement with Al Qa'edas world view and half a billion all together who are at least sympathetic. Anyone want to hazard a guess at how many muslims Pipes would have had to poll for these numbers to be statistically significant within two standard deviations? Others have done a better job of illustrating Pipes' dishonesty than I have - my main point is that these flights of hyperbole dominate any attempt to have a rational discussion.

This may poison my image as a moderate, but I label Palestinian terrorists (whose actions I have explicitly condemned!) as a different category - they are not Fundamentalists at all since their primary motivation is NOT religious, it is political.

As for FB(C)s, I don't buy into the weak defense that KKK, militia, hate groups, etc are atheist/masonic or "nominally" Christian, since no such benefit of the doubt is extended to me and my faith. This is as disingenious as it would be if I claimed that Al Qaeda is socialist, that the Taliban were Keynisian supply siders, etc. Put another way, was not a single KKK member who ever lit a Negro church on fire or threaded a noose, a Christian? The bottom line is another double standard. Antimuslim critics are well-prepared to ascribe deep flaws in Islam by extrapolating from the violent actions of it's Type B adherents. The same behavior by Type B's who (even if nominally) adhere to Christianity, is excused and ascribed to political and cultural forces.

One of my best commentators, Deoxy, took issue with me on this point in the lengthy comment thread attached to the fundamentalism post:

Christian vs. Muslim: If the KKK gets counted as Christian (despite overwhelming Christian disapproval), then so do the Palistinians. I would say that the KKK in particular are MUCH more political than religious, more so than the Palestinians, easily. And few Muslims say that the Palestinian Type Bs aren't really Muslims (you seem to be a wonderful exception - thank you).

Suffice it to say that there are groups that say they are Christian or Muslim which really don't seem to be. The issue, I think, is that most of these groups on the Christian side are widely, publicly denounced as not Christian (so much so for the KKK, in fact, that most people I've ever had any discussion about it with seem to attribute the "christian" elements in the KKK to general culture, merely incidental and not inherently part of the KKK at all, or that their beliefes are absolutely wacked out and bizarre), while muslim groups like that (the Palestinian Type B groups, Osama bin Laden, etc) are denounced rarely and supported loudly and in significant numbers.

Deoxy parallels the arguments that Muslims have made in defending the accusation that they too are guilty by association, and likewise strives to minimize his connection to such extremism. I have great sympathy for his position. In fact, I share it.

But the truth is, that I have never claimed that Palestinian terrorists are NOT muslim. In contrast, Deoxy is trying to argue that the KKK and other hate groups are not Christian, that they can be neatly excluded from teh circle of Christianity by a clever little definition here, a technicality there - forming a hermetic seal about his fellow believers to insulate them from these raging Type Bs.

What I have claimed is that Pealestinian terrorists are not "Fundamentalists" because that term applies to people whose terrorist actions are motivated by religious dogma. The messianic Israeili settlers dreaming of Eretz (greater) Israel are motivated by pure religious dogma - they say that God gave them the land and therefore they have a right to it. Liekwise, the rationale for hate groups and the KKK is deeply steeped in religious lore, and they turn to the Bible for justification of their essentially religious interpretations of the white race as superior, and all others inferior.

While some Palestinian groups (notably, Islamic Jihad and Hamas) do invoke religious concepts in their terrorism, these are used as supporting rhetoric for the underlying cause - which is to fight against an occupation of land. The land itself is not particularly holy (apart from the Masjid al Aqsa compound, which is already under effective Muslim control most of the time). Contrast this with one of Osama bin Laden's stated objectives, to expel "crusaders" from the Arabian peninsula - which is a purely religious argument.

Surely these are subtle distinctions, but subtlety is not falsity. The bottom line is that the Palestinian terrorists use religion for recruitment in pursuit of their political goals. The KKK are pursuing a religious goal. Hence I cannot agree with Deoxy that the KKK are not Fundamentalists.

However, to be absolutely clear, I am not denying that Palestinians are muslim, though Deoxy is certainly trying to make the case that the KKK are not Christian. In this I think I am being more realistic and not trying to wish the problem away. Embracing teh fact that extremsts lurk among your own co-religionists is the first step in purging them.

Thursday, January 23, 2003


As we as a nation prepare for war in Iraq, we have to make a comitment to support the sacrifice of our troops - regardless of whether we believe the war itself to be just or not. Of course, this commitment and support must spring from within, though President Bush will no doubt echo this call in his upcoming State of the Union address.

If indeed Bush lectures the American public on supporting our armed forces, then he is again displaying his colors as a rank hypocrite. I blogged a few months ago about Bush's "salute" to veterans - which demonstrates yet again that his commitment to partisan politics (tax cuts for the rich) trumps all other concerns.

Perhaps if Bush had actually served in the military with honor, he might have a firmer moral ground to stand on. But the truth is that Bush used family political connections to avoid active duty overseas by entering the Air National Guard (itself an honorable unit) and then proceeded to be AWOL and avoid fulfilling those responsibilties. In my previous post, I have extensive references to a wide-ranging variety of sources, illuminating all the pieces of the puzzle that is AWOL Bush:

Bush at HarvardOnly the most committed partisan would deny that Bush entered the Air National Guard as a pilot to escape Vietnam duty. He was sworn in as an airman the same day he applied, despite scoring only 25% on the aptitude test (the minimum) and long waiting lists for other more qualified applicants.

And it isn't even clear if Bush even served out his National Guard duties - there is abundant evidence and press investigation to suggest he went AWOL[1].

The AWOL Bush saga is extensively documented at the website,, with links to scanned documents, articles in eth press, and a mountain of other information. Now, UggaBugga has done a fantastic service and comprehensively organized the salient facts into a clear chronological chart. This is a wonderful visualization tool and clearly and effectively tells the story. I can't recommend it highly enough, and i hope that Bush's supporters who read this blog will be willing to discuss this issue.

And now, the Administration has the temerity to suggest re-instating the draft? UPDATE: Glenn emails to say that Rumsfeld has renounced re-instating the draft. It was actually Rangel who led that charge. Someone explain to me, however, why we still have Selective Service mandatory registration? UPDATE 2: I now recall why I blamed this meme on Bush - it was actually first floated last year by the neocon crowd at NRO. I knew this started on Bush's side of the ideological fence!

UPDATE TROIS: Tacitus has linked, and generated a great discussion thread. Take a look.

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

I'm next

Zack has been all over the special registration issue recently, but I think I just scooped him. The Karachi Dawn paper has this stunning nugget regarding special registration:

NEW YORK, Jan 20: Indian nationals (male 18-45 years) would be required to register under the new US government laws, beginning from May or June of this year, informed sources here told Dawn on Monday.

So far the United States has asked only nationals of 25 Muslim nations and North Korea to register with the US Immigration and Naturalization Services in an effort to curb terrorism. Nevertheless, countries like India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka are expected to be placed on the list of countries whose nationals would be required to register under such laws.

However, the US State Department spokesman Philip Reeker told news reporters last Thursday that the registration process was not Muslim countries specific.

"Eventually we will have structures in place for registering everyone from all countries of the world to register," he said.

One of the reasons why the US government had not included nationals of all countries immediately was to forestall the overwhelming rush at its immigrations offices. Hence the NSEERS programme is expected to proceed in batches.

The main argument that supporters of special registration put forth is that it amounts to a neccessary "profiling" - we are at war, etc. etc. Well, Suman and I apparently are next (Stop snickering, Zachary!). And after us, Andrew Sullivan and Chris Hitchens?

By way of Laura, I see The Statesman (one of India's oldest newspapers) posted a story contradicting Dawn's report. But Dawn fired back, quoting the INS Los Angeles District Director, Ronald Smith:

Smith said the Justice Department had decided to put all the countries into National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) by 2005. When asked whether the condition would be applicable to citizens of India and China, Smith said: "Yes."

In reply to a question why so far the names of only Muslim countries are coming up for registration, Smith said it was just a matter of priority according to national security concerns. However, that does not mean that Muslims or Pakistani community were being targeted and made victims of some sort of religious profiling.

The INS district director was upbeat on improving the registration procedure, saying, it was an evolving process.

He said already the registration process had gone through massive changes. The system had now become much milder, simplified and kinder to Pakistanis and Saudis and for upcoming countries, which fall in the second or third list of countries.

Note the inclusion of China now. And the denial that this is profiling (which really is bizarre, since a profiling argument is the only one that could justify this registration program!). AND note that the process will be "kinder" to Saudis?! (ahem, 14 out of 19, anyone?)

Curiously, the Webpage for the INS Los Angeles district lists "Thomas J. Schiltgen" as Director, not Ronald Smith. I doubt Dawn is lying - thoughit's possible they listed the wrong office. I'm still following this issue...

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

swordpoint conversion

I want to briefly discuss to false memes about Islam - the first is the "swordpoint conversion" one which accuses the Prophet SAW of forcing the world to convert to Islam by force. This is blatant historical polemic. Muhammad SAW in his lifetime only converted Arabia, his ethnic homeland. And that was by the message, not the sword. The image of the Prophet SAW forcing anyone to accept Islam at swordpoint is deeply offensive given that the very concept is antithetical to the spirit of Islam itself:

Ayat 2:256 - "There is no compulsion in religion"

Ayat 109:6, "To you be your Faith, and to me mine."

(click the image to hear a recitation in RM format, courtesy of

But it has been a very useful meme in antimuslim polemic.

UPDATE: Bill Allison provides extensive historical context. It's easy to assume that Islam's rapid spread was due to some bloodthirsty rampage, but the geopolitical stage was no less complex back then than it is today. Just like the fall of teh Ottoman Empire, there was a great confluence of events that contributed to Islam's ascension. This is how history winds...

Sunday, January 19, 2003

a primer: The Qur'an, Islam, and Muslims

it's difficult to tell people what Islam is. It is actually far easier to tell people what Islam isn't! For reference, here is a primer to some of my posts on Islam which deal with several misconceptions and issues. It's by no means exhaustive or complete but it should help guide the overall debate. I intend this post as a more general reference and to that end I invite other bloggers to contribute links, with which I will update the post accordingly.

Allah = God = YHWH?

There is pure free will in Islam.

Muslims fundamentalists don't outnumber Christian fundamentalists.

Islam was not forced upon conquered people at the point of a sword. (historical context).

Calls for an Islamic Reformation make no sense - Wahabism actually fits that description best!

Muslims have continually, explicitly, and consistently condemned terrorism.

The Qur'an does not condone intolerance against Jews, or call for aggressive war against infidels.

The Qur'an does not call for wars of aggression.

,The Qur'an condemns terrorism ("hirabah").

The Qur'an supports freedom and liberty.

Parallels between the burka and the bikini.

The history of Jews under Muslim rule, compiled from Jewish sources.

Courtesy of Al-Muhabajah, here are Islamic perspectives on: terrorism. women. torture. rape. and also some more about hirabah, parts one and two.

She also has a summary of her posts about why an Islamic State should not mandate wearing of hijab.

If anyone has questions about what Islam teaches, it's always better to go straight to the source. It is available online, with a searchable index in English with multiple translations available here: however, I do feel translations of the Qur'an are inherently flawed.

And I highly recommend the teachings of Ali AS, the chosen successor of the Prophet SAW according to Shi'a belief. Ali is also highly regarded by Sunnis as their fourth Caliph. A collection of his sermons, titled Nahjul Balagha (Peak of Eloquence), is available on line for free, as well as in traditional printed version on

Finally, I also recomend the book, Mullahs on the Mainframe (available from Amazon as well), for a description of my own religious community as an example of how Muslims have embraced modernity and freedom without sacrificing their belief or practice.

Saturday, January 18, 2003

the ancient art of persuasion

Thomas Nephew is back from hiatus! and jumps right back into blogging with some thoughts on the evolution of his stance regarding war with Iraq:

I continue to agree with war skeptics on this: for our own sake and the sake of our standing in the world, I think it would be best that the case be clear, that a "smoking gun" be revealed. Best, but not absolutely necessary: I accept that Iraq is a big place, and American military and intelligence organizations are not omnipotent in finding something an absolute dictator does not want found. If the Bush people are as certain as they claim, a "smoking gun" should be doable, perhaps as a final card that reveals some "assets and methods" or whatever the intelligence phrase is. If it's not doable, then that should be explained, and the continued push towards war should be explained as well. That could be done. American voters are grownups (generally speaking). We can handle the truth.

This really encapsulates my own views on the matter as well. I was invited to join StandDown (NoWarBlog) as a contributor, but I've only linked to it, not actually joined, because I still haven't firmly decided that war with Iraq is absolutely necessary or uneccessary. And it's absolutely true for me as well that a MASSIVE fraction of my skepticism is the Bush Administration's continual record of lying, hypocrisy, pandering, poll-driven opportunism, cover-up, and its sheer naked pursuit of political power at all costs. I cannot and will not excuse Bush for his domestic "policy" and this does factor into my evaluation of his foreign policy.

Friday, January 17, 2003

irony, sanctified

Bush's announcement of National Sanctity of Life Day is a good example of the bizarre absurdities that the Bush Administration seems to revel in. The basic premise is that the American public is comprised entirely of Sean Hannity (opportunity bulb! bwahaha) clones and 5-year old Young Republican junior members. . Mark Moforford, writing in the SF Gate, has sharpened his knives brilliantly:

Let us reiterate: It is National Sanctity of Life Day, as declared by ShrubCo, as applauded by the quivering masses of right-wing anti-choice exceptionally misguided Bush voters gathered to hear the little speech and for whom the Bush admin created the completely nonrecognized, nonfunded, token-bone day in the first place.

To make them feel vindicated, is why. To make them feel that, sure enough, the government should decide their personal, sexual and reproductive life-choices for them, and their daughters, and the nation, and poor women in foreign countries, because their God said so, all of them cheering and applauding and acting as if Ashcroft's very misogynistic homophobic anti-choice existence hasn't, all by itself, already sufficiently slashed at the very heart of divine self-realized feminine energy.

This is the Bush message. This is the smirky, self-righteous dogma. Life only has any sort of sanctity if you are, you know, unborn, as in fetal, and belonging to a nice blandly married Republican couple somewhere in Ohio or Colorado Springs, blindly supportive of both the multiple ongoing wars and the overturning of Roe v. Wade and the creation of the Homophobia Merit Badge for the Boy Scouts.

Fundamentalist, Type A, anyone? BY a staggering "coincidence" - it also happens to be the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade.

Still think it's about sanctity? consider:

- the record 150+ executions carried out under then-Governor Bush's leadership. Despite widely-recorded severe flaws in the scientific method used by Texas prosecutors, Bush obtusely defended the system by claiming, "If you�re asking me whether or not as to the innocence or guilt or if people have had adequate access to the courts in Texas, I believe they have."

- Bush cut the funding for the United Nations Population Fund by $34 million. The money went to women's health services, preventing with education hundreds of thousands of unwanted pregnancies, induced abortions, maternal, infant and child deaths.

- Bush has severely cut federal support for stem cell research, meaning that sufferers of spinal

cord injuries, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, or Multiple Sclerosis (to name just a few) have even longer to wait and less hope for a cure.

There is also the complete lack of any mention about the AIDS crisis in Africa, for which Bush seems to have completely overlooked in his quest for the sancity of life.

I'm not surprised. Disgusted, but not surprised.

UPDATE: it seems that the American public is also starting to agree. MyDD has a nice analysis of the latest poll results:

In the latest approval ratings for Bush, the Newsweek Poll conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates shows Bush with a 56% approval rating, and a 33% disapproval rating. In the latest CNN/Time Poll conducted by Harris Interactive, Bush scores a 53% approval rating, and a 41% disapproval rating.

For both polls, these are the highest disapproval ratings ever during Bush's reign in the White House. The lowest Bush approval rating for Harris and Newsweek was in May of 2000, 52% and 50% respectively-- Bush still has a majority of think ones to shake off, but more Americans than ever are disgusted with Bush.

not to mention this short, but direct comment left by one of his readers:

Bush has never had to earn his keep--either in college, business, or politics. 9/11 was a big slow softball that Bush hit well, and he's milked it for all it is worth. Americans are now realizing the poor economy and other Bush just don't lose two million jobs and no one notices. Americans are realizing that Bush has been given too much without earning it-- the presidency in a dispute, with fewer votes; high approval ratings for 1 1/2 years; and now control of Congress. Folks are saying: Now wait a minute--what has this guy really done for the economy and the health of our nation? For the middle class? ...

Thursday, January 16, 2003

moral equivalence

Tacitus has a vibrant comment thread sparked by the assertion that "Moslem fundamentalists and Christian fundamentalists are not very different." (with which, obviously, Tacitus disagrees).

The comment thread has a few lone dissenters, but the overwhelming consensus is that as a faith, islam elicits violence (and thus is inherently pro-terrorism) compared to Christianity (which, it shoudl be pointed out, is not the actual focus of the original question that Tacitus wished to discuss). The usual examples abound - stereotypes about what Muslims believe, grosssly innaccurate/polemical views of history (such as the reference to the swordpoint-conversion meme), etc. It reads like an LGF thread (my favorite of which is this one, for purely egotistical reasons). To his credit, Tacitus does not ascribe terrorism to Islam but rather to cultural forces, pointing out that Muslims in Indonesia etc don't seem to be susceptible to terrorism as those in Saudi (I'd like to point out that he forgot to include American muslims in his peace list). But the comments left by his readers is telling, as indicative of public perception as a whole (especially among conservatives).

I'm hardly interested in defending Islam against this kind of attack - mainly because I don't feel Islam needs to be defended, and it woudl simply be a waste of my time (does anyone with that view of my faith really have enough of an open mind to be convince-able? I sincerely doubt it).

However, I do want to point out that teh question as posed is inherently comparing apples to oranges. It has to do with a double standard, applied to Muslims and Christians, about the very word "fundamentalist". Fundie Christians (FC) actually comprise a significant fraction of mainstream Christianity in America, because it's a diluted concept. It simply means, "Christian who is aggressive about prosletyzation, and about judgement". The former leads mainly to annoyance, the latter to often overt discrimination since Christians are still the most powerful majority in the US. Judgement means, "I'm right, you're wrong, you're hellbound, I am saved". This often leads FC's to bizarre morality judgements - Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson are obvious examples, blaming 9-11 on homosexuals (the irony of this is clear when you consider the actions of Mark Bingham, a hero of United Flight 93.).Despicable, but hardly violent.

There ARE violent Christians - most notably the abortion doctor murderers, but also fringe groups such as the KKK and most militias and white-supremacy groups, for whom Christianity is an integral part and motive for their terrorism. But no one (myself included) includes these in the definition of "fundamentalism" when it is applied to Christianity.

For clarity, let's call these two types "A" and "B".

Contrast this with the word "fundamentalist" as applied to Muslims - there are both Robertson/Falwell types of Muslims, as well as the terrorists. Both are lumped together in the word when it comes to Islam. In fact, most people who argue that Islam is inherently violent often invoke the words of Muslims of type A as proof that the actions of type B are mainstream. This is fundamentally dishonest (pun intended), though to be fair it is also unconscious.

As a result, the righteous outrage evoked in Tacitus' thread that Falwell could be compared to Bin Laden is actually justified - because Falwell is type A and bin Laden is type B. Falwell is not OBL.

But if you hold Islam as a faith accountable for the actions of its type B minority, then it is hypocrosy not to do the same for Christianity (which has plenty of type B examples to go around, without any need for invoking the Crusades). And likewise if you use the words of type A muslims to suggest a predisposition towards type B, likewise hypocrisy.

Overall, the vast majority of Christians and Muslims are type C. Normal people. With families jobs, desires, dreams. They live and let livem practice their faith, and go about their business. But the double standard bias which exists, especially in America (which is not unuual, given that the US has a strongly Christian majority), certainly obscures these parallels.

As i will argue in my upcoming oft-promised vaporware finale post on the silence of the media, this double standard exists and muslims need to accept it. It is useless to try and fight it, which is why you don't see me on LGF or in Tacitus' thread.

UPDATE: Tacitus points out that he DID include American muslims in his peace list. My mistake, for which I apologise :(

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Southern Strategy II

Moira has a followup post to mine, pointing out that my example of a local mechanic was hardly unique:

Would it was just your own neighborhood, honey. You don't know the half of it. Ignorant and oblivious, my life on the road has been a blur of Kwik King Koin laundromats and Klean Kween Kampgounds. And all unawares I've been supporting the insidious, invidious Karen, whose "Karen's Kountry Kitchens" I've breakfasted in at least a dozen times, from one coast of the country to another. This racist Jezebel has spread her tentacles as far as Thunder Bay, Ontario. The giveaway is in the URL. Just look at the name of this .jpg file!

As Aziz has noticed, auto repair and detailing businesses appear to be heavily into this kode, as exemplified by Kinney's Kar Kare Service Center of Oneida, New York, and Kosmetics Kwik Kare in Hollis, NH. They run hand in glove with the vast krafts konspiracy, comprising such establishments as Kuc's Kozy Krafts of Ladysmith, WI, Kocer's Kountry Krafts of Wagner, South Dakota, and Kate's Kraft Korner. (The southern strategy. Not just for the South anymore.) "Krafty", indeed. Let's not even get into Kozy Kitty Korner, Kopy Kat Karaoke, or Kwazy Kristian Koalition. (Shouldn't that by rights be "Kwazy Kwistian"? Bet you can't say "Kwazy Ka-ristian" three times fast.)

The skales have fallen from my eyes. I shall have to raise an eyebrow even at that kwintessence of southern kulture, Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Well, that's just two K's. But that may merely be especial kunning, that leaving "Korporation" implicit.

(yes, I get it. But you still have to wonder.) Look, I'm not paranoid, but then again, do YOU live in a city where the local country music station is KIKK? Perhaps K really is the new C in much the same way that green is the new pink. But to pretend that there isn't some degree of wink-wink-nudge-nudge going on is probably also unrealistic.

The bottom line is - 3 K's in your name is enough reason for me to avoid patronizing a business. I doubt those businesses will miss me. (and for teh record, I much prefer Shipley's to Krispy Kreme, and I think Wal Mart offers better oil change service than Kwik Kar).

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

inflection point

Dwight Meredith makes a far subtler case than William Saletan did back in 2000 - or that I did back in August.

But the overall theme is there - Bush's honeymoon with the press, and the fearful obeisance by liberals in the media, is over. And we bloggers who have been in the forefront of principled, rational critique of Bush (as opposed to the knee-jerk anti-Bush crowd), have correspondingly higher responsibility to make our case.

I've critiqued Bush many times - and poked fun a few times as well. But all Bush critics are indebted to Dwight for his routinely thorough and systematic posts.

What would be truly useful would be a colloborative blog, akin to NoWarBlog (called, NoBushBlog?) where critiques against Bush could be organized and browseable and serachable (would need to be hosted on Movable Type). I know I have at least a dozen

posts that I could contribute, but there are so many other more dedicated bloggers out there that the site would rapidly become an inexhaustible resource.

And a potent weapon in 2004...

special registration

The INS has new rules that seek to register, fingerprint and interview young men from a variety of Muslim-majority countries (including Pakistan). Suman has perhaps the most important pair of posts in the blogsphere about the issue of special registration:

If the INS/FBI is so worried about young Pakistani men in terrorist sleeper cells scattered all over the American West, why are naturalized citizens and permanent residents exempt from this ruling..? Why? Because they can vote, they are better organized, they are less vulnerable than non-residents to the extra-legal shenanigans of a bumbling bureaucracy. They know how to kick some serious legal ass if an over-eager FBI prosecutor tries to profile their entire community over flimsy pretexts.. This program is almost entirely political in nature. They know that people on non-immigrant visas will stay down when kicked, and are not going to be missed. I remember how worried I would get simply listening to right-wing talk radio rant about immigrants from non-white countries. This was during the heyday of the Rush Limbaughs, of course.! If I were confronted then with the additional requirement of registering with the INS/FBI and subjecting myself to an enormous indignity (heightened by the normal fears of someone with fewer rights and recourse to legal help than a citizen) and the consequent loss of privacy, I might never have grown to love this country the way I do today.

Suman's last point is perhaps the most important - ultimately, American patriotism must be grounded in the freedoms upon which the republic was founded. Without that soil, there won't be fruit.

Zack also emphasises this point in the course of his own observations:

Another very important way in which racial profiling creates problems for the police is by fraying the relationship between law enforncement and the minority in question. And that is something most conservatives, especially those belonging to the white majority, don't understand at all. Randall Kennedy in an article in the New Republic argued for banning racial profiling due to the same reasons.

It's an axiom of American liberty that given the authority, the government will abuse it. Hence the strong distrust and libertarian impulses written directly into the Constitution. What then should potential citizens make of the fact that the government has made mass arrests of people who are waiting in line to voluntarily comply with the INS regulations?

According to media reports covering growing protests against the detentions, up to 700 Middle Eastern and Muslim men and boys were arrested in Southern California by federal immigration authorities after they voluntarily complied with a new program that mandates the fingerprinting and registration of all male visitors 16 years and older from certain Middle Eastern countries. It remains unclear how many others have been detained across the country, but reportedly a full one-quarter of all those who complied with the program were arrested in Los Angeles.


In most cases, it is apparent that the INS arrested men who were simply waiting for approval of their green card applications, or those with minor visa problems caused by incompetence in the agency itself, which has been plagued by an inept bureaucracy for years.

Fraying the relationship, indeed. It is because of this that several watch groups here in Houston actually waited outside the INS building to do headcounts, to make sure that every person entering for voluntary compliance actually left.

Ikraam points out this bit of related grim humor in the Globe and Mail article:

Every hour, a volunteer from a local Arab-American organization gathered men waiting to register from down the line and moved them to the front, where they were funnelled into a special line for processing. Many others who had spent half a day in the freezing wind complained loudly. "Hey, I missed work today!" yelled one Mexican man who had come to the INS on a visa matter. "Why do they get special treatment?"

Glenn chimes in, asking that of these two men, which would you think was the would-be terrorist, and which would you think was the guy who called 9-11 on him? Answer here. Note that it's the Bosnian muslim who was the terrorist (must be all that gratitude), and the Pakistani who saved the synagouge. Yet which falls under more suspicion according to the INS?

Overall, this is another disturbing example of the emphasis placed on the illusion of results rather than actual progress, by this Administration.

Monday, January 13, 2003

Illinois death penalty

Illinois is my "homeland" though I currently reside in Texas. Therefore, the recent comments and actions regarding the death penalty in Illinois by Illinois Governor George Ryan are of special interest to me, relataive to those of former George Bush.

Compare the words of GOP Governor George:

"Many people express the desire to have capital punishment. Few, however, seem prepared to address the tough questions that arise when the system fails. It is easier and more comfortable for politicians to be tough on crime and support the death penalty. It wins votes. But when it comes to admitting that we have a problem, most run for cover."

with those of former GOP Governor George:

"If you�re asking me whether or not as to the innocence or guilt or if people have had adequate access to the courts in Texas, I believe they have."

The death penalty system in Texas is by far the most prolific - and possibly the most flawed, as a study by The Texas Defense Service (TDS), a nonprofit group of defense lawyers, found. One of the charges against the Texas system is that it relies on "junk science" for its prosecutions:

The TDS report also criticizes prosecutors� use of what it refers to as �junk science� to win death penalty cases. In Texas, to impose the death penalty, jurors must be convinced, among other things, that the defendants will continue to be a threat to society if released from prison. The report dismisses the psychiatrists who testified in 121 cases that defendants would continue to be a threat to society. Such testimony, the TDS says, has been rejected as junk science and condemned by the American Psychiatric Association and various studies, concluding predicting methods can be inaccurate up to two-thirds of the time.

In addition, TDS investigators called the use of hair comparison evidence misleading and inaccurate. According to the TDS, a number if studies have shown that hair comparison is an extremely subjective procedure. The Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, the report says, created a testing program in various forensic sciences, including hair comparison. that showed that hair analysis was the least reliable of all techniques, with error rates as high as 67 percent. The TDS recommended that prosecutors use more reliable mitochondrial DNA technology.

Body and Soul has a thought-provoking post on teh courage and principled nature of Gov. Ryan's decision which is worth reading. My friend Suman has a dissenting view, which bemoans the fact that Ryan acted unilaterally:

I find it disgusting that one man... one man saw fit to overturn the decisions of hundreds of jurors, judges and cavalierly dismissed the hard work of an equal number of state prosecutors and their staff.

But isn't acting unilaterally the whole point of a Chief Executive? Someone has to step forward and make a hard decision when things break. And the "hard work" of the jurors and judges was quite assuredly broken in Illinois:

Professors Larry Marshall, Dave Protess have and their students along with investigators Paul Ciolino have gone above the call. They freed the falsely accused Ford Heights Four, they saved Anthony Porter's life, they fought for Rolando Cruz and Alex Hernandez. They devoted time and effort on behalf of Aaron Patterson, a young man who lost 15 years of his youth sitting among the condemned, and LeRoy Orange, who lost 17 of the best years of his life on death row.

It is also proper that we are together with dedicated people like Andrea Lyon who has labored on the front lines trying capital cases for many years and who is now devoting her passion to creating an innocence center at De Paul University. You saved Madison Hobley's life.

Together you spared the lives and secured the freedom of 17 men ? men who were wrongfully convicted and rotting in the condemned units of our state prisons. What you have achieved is of the highest calling. Thank You!

it's disappointing that Suman does not address these facts - or that other points that Ryan raised, like the inconsistency across rural/urban and racial lines in the application of the death penalty. And bad as it was in Illinois, one has to wonder just how much worse it is in Texas, where the governor answered to the prosecutor culture rather than the other way around.

Sunday, January 12, 2003

The Party of Big Government

Tacitus[1] points to this article in the WaPo, about how the federal government under Bush is the largest and most intrusive in history:

Two years after taking office, Bush is presiding over the biggest, most expensive federal government in history. He has created a mammoth Cabinet department, increased federal spending, imposed new federal rules on local and state governments, and injected federal requirements into every public school in America....

The pittance tax cuts that Bush has pursued with monomania simply disguise the fact that the average taxpayer will pay for the bloat through their nose[2], while the rich benefit. The War on Terror is hardly an excuse - the article points out that only a third of the additional spending is related to it. Thes rest of the bloat comes straight from pork and givernment intrusion. I'm sure that GOP defenders (hypocrisy blindness mandatory, as Volokh brilliantly demonstrates with a Modest Proposal) like Hannity, Limbaugh et al will point out that the Democrats had control of Congress during half of Bush's tenure and figure out a way to slam Jeffords (and the requisite homage to the Tubesteak Messiah). And of course, there are neccessary domestic initiatives that the federal government won't be able to afford (because the GOP will prioritize them less, seeing as they only benefit ordinary citizens, who are worthless in their calculus).

Well, the GOP has control now. Any GOP partisans want to argue that the fed govt will now shrink?

And it isn't just the size of the federal government that betrays conservative principles. The naked pursuit of raw power, shrouded in secrecy, is the hallmark of this administration. In essence, Tacitus is making the same general point as Paul Krugman:

Faced with a real problem--terrorism, the economy, nukes in North Korea--the Bush administration's response has nothing to do with solving that problem. Instead it exploits the issue to advance its political agenda.


Will these guys ever decide that their job includes solving problems, not just using them?

For the next two years, the average citizen in this country can be considered economic collateral damage.

[1]Tacitus is a member of that rare and diminshing class of honest conservatives who choose targets for critique based on their principles, not their political affiliation. I consider him, Jane, Steve, and of course my hero John Derbyshire to all be members of this class. Sadly, I think that in an era of GOP control over all branches of givernment, it is THEIR voices that are silenced more than mine.

[2] I am interested in and invite opposing arguments trying to rationalize away the effect that a massive budget deficit will have on the fortunes and economic growth of the middle class.

Thursday, January 9, 2003

get your money

You do realize that the music industry owes you $20, right?

This Web site was established to provide information about a proposed Settlement of lawsuits brought by Attorneys General of 43 states, Commonwealths and Territories, and by counsel for the Plaintiff Settlement Class entitled In re: Compact Disc Minimum Advertised Price Antitrust Litigation.

The lawsuits, which are currently pending in the United States District Court for the District of Maine, relate to the retail pricing of prerecorded music compact discs, cassettes or vinyl albums (collectively known as prerecorded Music Products).

You may be a member of the Settlement Group and your rights against Defendants may be affected if you are a person or entity that purchased these prerecorded Music Products from a retail store during the period of January 1, 1995 through December 22, 2000.


If you are a member of the Settlement Group, you do not need to take action, although to share in the Settlement Fund you must file a Claim Form as discussed below. If the Court approves the proposed Settlement you will receive the benefits of the proposed Settlement and you will be bound by all orders and judgments of the Court and your claims against the Defendants for the conduct alleged in these actions will be resolved and released.

If you bought a CD in the US between 1995 and 2000, you are entitled to up to $20 as part of a court-mandated settlement over the labels' illegal price-fixing. Just fill out the claim form and the RIAA will mail you a check.

The only way to deter price-fixing by the music industry is to make them pay restitution. Sign up and make them feel the pain. This might help pressure them towards a saner and ultimately profitable policy of encouraging peer to peer systems and micropayments.

The money was yours in the first place.

you have learned much, young jedi...

Tuesday, January 7, 2003

had Thurmond won in 1948...

Dwight Meredith has a brief but compelling and emotional history of the Freedom Riders, who tested the landmark 1960 Supreme Court case Boynton v. Virginia (which mandated that segregation on interstate travel was unconstitutional - not just seating on the bus, but also applying to waiting rooms, restrooms, lunch counters and other facilities in interstate bus terminals:

The Congress On Racial Equality (CORE) decided to test the impact of Boynton by traveling by bus through the South and insisting on integrated busses and facilities.

Thirteen volunteers came forward to integrate the interstate bus terminals of the South. They ranged in age from early twenties to over sixty. It was a racially mixed group, of course, with seven black males, three white women and three white men. Those volunteers became known as the Freedom Riders. Among the Freedom Riders was current Georgia Congressman John Lewis.

The Freedom Riders were given training in non-violence as advocated by Dr. King. On May 4, 1961, they set out to integrate public transportation facilities in the South. A map of the route taken by the Freedom Riders is here.

It took a great deal of courage to volunteer to be a Freedom Rider. Violations of the social codes of the Deep South tended to be swiftly and violently punished. The Freedom Riders were well aware of that fact but chose to participate anyway. They were willing to risk their own safety in the hopes of vindicating the principle of the supremacy of law and justice.

The Freedom Riders divided into two groups, one on Trailways and one on Greyhound. That sat in various parts of the bus, sometimes with whites in the back and sometimes with blacks in the front. Sometimes blacks and whites would sit together. All of those arrangements, of course, violated the rigorously enforced social custom of the Jim Crow South.

Dwight provides a link to the map of the route taken by the Freedom Riders. In South Carolina, one Rider was beaten. In Anniston, Alabama, one bus was burned to the ground and its Freedom Riders sent to the hospital. The Freedom Riders on teh other bus were savagely beaten and tossed unconscious in the back. In Birmingham, Alabama, theose same Riders were met by teh KKK, who had an agreement with the local police that they would be allowed 15 minutes to "handle" the Freedom Riders before the authorities would step in:

Charles Person and Jim Peck, the latter�s face and shirt caked with blood, stepped first from the bus to the landing. As the designated testers for Birmingham, they stood quietly for a moment, surveying the avenues of escape that appeared little more promising than the terminal itself. Peck� glanced at his partner for a sign of intent. �Lets go,� Person said simply, heading slowly for the white waiting room as planned. Peck fell in behind him. Walter Bergman and some of the others followed�

On their approach, a confused Klansman muttered that they should kill the Negro, Person, because he must have hurt the obviously wounded white man, Peck, but as they came forward Peck said they should not hurt Person. This gesture of cross-racial friendship ignited the crowd�s rage, and the Klansman roughly shoved Person back toward the Negro waiting room. When he turned and tried to walk through them once more, a Klansman shoved him sideways against a concrete wall. Others came up behind him. �Hit him,� someone shouted, and a Klansman obliged with a fist to Person�s face. Person rose with a bloodied mouth, only to be hit again. This time he fell back into the arms of a Klansman, who held him to receive a third blow, after which he fell to his knees. Peck moved to help him up and was flattened by a rain of five or six punches. Then about a dozen Klansmen surrounded the two men and pummeled them with kicks, pipes, and object that looked � like heavy key rings.

ASIDE: The KKK is doing just fine today. About 15 minutes' drive from my home is this local mechanic, whose business is spelled "Kuntry Kar Kare". 12000 Highway 146, Texas City TX, 281-339-1301. Business such as these are the intended targets of the GOP Southern Strategy.

The KKK left their mark on the Freedom Riders - see this photo of Jim Peck :

Jim Peck was a middle aged white man. He was the heir to the Peck & Peck clothing fortune. He had attended Harvard University. He had nothing to gain, personally, from the integration of Southern bus terminals. He chose to be a Freedom Rider out of pure principle.

While at the hospital, a reporter asked Jim Peck about his future plans and whether the Freedom Rides had been worth the cost. In an act of almost unfathomable courage, Jim Peck replied:

"The going is getting rougher, but I�ll be on that bus tomorrow headed for Montgomery."

That statement exemplifies the courage and valor of the Freedom Riders. The Freedom Riders had been attacked in South Carolina. Dr. King had warned them that they would not make it through Alabama. Jim Peck and his friends had been beaten with fists, pipes, metal rings and kicks. Walter Bergman, a retired professor, had been stomped unconscious in front of his wife. Peck�s head, face and mouth were bloody and broken. His friends had been attacked and a bus had been burned to the ground. The Freedom Riders had proved their courage but had not completed their journey. Jim Peck, regardless of his injuries or the risk was prepared to face the mobs the next day in the pursuit of freedom and justice for others. That is nothing short of heroic.

Dwight closes his post with a link to an online full account of the Freedom Riders. His post has extensive quotes from Taylor Branch's book, Parting the Waters, America In The King Years 1954-63 which is absolute required reading for anyone trying to understand what the civil rights movement was about.

In one sense, Trent Lott was certainly correct (both in his recent comments and his earlier ones). Had Thurmond been elected in 1948, it is doubtful the Freedom Riders would have had "all these problems" - because it's doubtful the Supreme Court would have made the same decision in 1960.

UPDATE: I took some heat for my Southern Strategy tangent. No less a conservative than John Derbyshire (my hero) has refused to follow the trend of GOP apologists:

In the world of practical politics, as revealed most recently in l'affaire Lott, the dishonesty is at a level I simply cannot handle. It just makes me gag. All American politicians are liars and hypocrites about race, from Democrats like Hillary Clinton posing as champions of the downtrodden black masses while buying a house in the whitest town they can find, to Republicans pretending not to know that (a) many millions of nonblack Americans seriously dislike black people, (b) well-nigh every one of those people votes Republican, and (c) without those votes no Republican would ever win any election above the county level. (Am I being beeped out yet?)

UPDATE: An article on the continuing dominance of rightwing hate groups within conservative groups. This one discusses the Sons of Confederate Veterans. (via Electrolite)

Friday, January 3, 2003

US Constitution 101

"You said we're headed to war in Iraq. I don't know why you say that," Bush told reporters. "I'm the person who gets to decide, not you. And I hope this can be done peacefully." -- George W. Bush

Isn't it Congress who gets to decide?

Thursday, January 2, 2003

SCOI 1, refuseniks 0

The refuseniks are IDF reservists who refuse to serve in Gaza and the West Bank. The are acting out of conscience - they have a firm conviction that Israel is an occupier and that their beloved country's actions in those occupied territories is unjust (and brutal). They act of out concern for their own country's welfare, believing that the occupation exacerbates the tensions and thus ultimately harms Israel. The humiliation and suffering of the Palestinians under IDF rule form a pool of discontent which feeds the extremist networks of terrorists and suicide bombers.

Unsurprisingly, the refuseniks have been called traitors, and worse. I find that to be an unjust accusation, since they are truly operating out of love for their country. Whether their rationales are flawed or not is a matter of debate, but finding fault with their motives is a barbaric and dishonorable tactic. However, there has been support for the refuseniks in the general populace - see these three articles posted to UNMEDIA list for some background:

Support for Refuseniks

Israel's Conscience

Rebellion grows among Israeli reserve officers

(these links are to UNMEDIA archived copies, which have the URL of the original reference included. You can browse and search the archives without subscribing)

Public support is ultimately irrelevant though. The reaction from the IDF has been straightforward - their position is, that the refuseniks are in violation of their duties and has been jailing them. The refuseniks ultimately took their case to the Supreme Court of Israel (SCOI) to allow them to refuse to serve in the West Bank and Gaza on the grounds that the are "conscientious objectors" (which is a valid principle allowing citizens to be exempt from military service, both in Israel and here in the US during the Vietnam War draft).

The SCOI has now made its decision, ruling in favor of the IDF and denying "selective conscientous objection" to the refuseniks[1]:

Eight reservists who petitioned the court were part of a group of reserve combat soldiers who set off a national debate last year when they published a statement declaring their refusal to join "the mission of occupation and repression" in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where the Israeli army is battling an armed Palestinian uprising. They were sentenced in military disciplinary hearings to prison terms ranging from 28 to 35 days.

The court rejected the reservists' request to nullify their convictions on the grounds that they were conscientious objectors. The panel of three justices ruled that the army could not recognize selective conscientious objection, in which soldiers refused certain missions but were ready to perform others. Under Israeli law, a military committee may grant conscientious objector status to people opposed to any military service.


"Yesterday the objection was to service in southern Lebanon. Today the objection is to service in Judea and Samaria," the court added, referring to the West Bank. "Tomorrow the objection will be to evacuation of various settlement outposts in the area. The people's army might turn into an army of peoples, made up of different units, each having areas where they can act in good conscience and others where they cannot. In a polarized society such as ours, this is a weighty consideration."

I agree with this ruling. Military service can not and should never be "selective" - it shoudl be all or nothing. If you are willing to serve, then your duty becomes to serve. While there are good arguments against draft militaries like Israel's, there does remain the conscientous objector allowance, so that is not really relevant. The main point is, if these refuseniks feel strongly that the IDF is acting unjustly in the West Bank, then they are obligated to refuse all service entirely, not selectively.

The refuseniks should withdraw from all military service if they wish to be consistent with their principles (and I for one, will support them, since I do agree with their position, not out of concern for Palestinians per se, but more for the security of Israel itself). The "selective" objector status that they sought would have ultimately been as harmful to israel as the continued actions of the IDF in the West Bank and Gaza. For that reason I applaud the ruling of the SCOI.

[1] The article requires free registration to access. I will post it to UNMEDIA list shortly.