Monday, August 30, 2004

Reichenbach Falls

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle hated Sherlock Holmes. The intense fandom surrounding his literary creation repulsed him, and he felt that the character was a diversion from his real talent. Of this love-hate relationship with his most famous character, he wrote to his mother in November 1891: "I think of slaying Holmes ... and winding him up for good and all. He takes my mind from better things." Two years later he did just that, sending Holmes to his death with arch-nemesis Moriarty - the two plunged to their deaths at Reichenbach Falls in a story unambigously titled "The Final Problem." And with that, Doyle thought himself free.

He was wrong. Public outcry forced him to resurrect Holmes, who now instead of dying with Moriarty, managed to climb the cliff face. The gap between stories was explained as a period of seclusion and recovery before returning to his active career as a crime-sleuth. Years later, Doyle finally suceeded in retiring Holmes, in a fashion that suggests (IMHO, having read the complete works myself) that he had to come to terms with being eclipsed by his creation.

There's a parable here for any writer who writes for the love of the craft, and in pursuit of a higher ideal, but whose writings themselves become popular and a success beyond the author's original expectation or design. It is with no small measure of sadness that I see Steven den Beste has sailed USS Clueless down Reichenbach Falls.

I've praised Steven's writings even as I disagreed with his opinions many times before. What is more praiseworthy is the rationale behind his writing - a desire to express himself, to excercise the right of free speech, and to submit his opinion to the debate in the hope of perhaps influencing it. And influence the debate I think he has, even though I think that Steve's vision of how the War on Terror should be conducted was not remotely akin to the actual execution of same by the present Administration. Had it been, IMHO things would be different indeed. I don't think anyone can claim that Steven's ideas about the war on terror have been refuted, since they were never truly tested. They were only given lip service by the most cynically self-absorbed Administration in history.

It's not relevant whether Steven continues to defend the Administration or whether he undergoes an Andrew Sulllivan-esque conversion on the road to Tehran. What is relevant is that the forces that drove Steven den Beste to write at such epic length remain. And if John Kerry wins in November, I anticipate that USS Clueless may yet return, climbing up the rock at Reichenbach, and biding its time in seclusion. Because we need visionary critiques and idealists such as Steven to keep the debate moving forwards.

Tariq Ramadan: Us and Them

My last post on Tariq Ramadan's denial was one of only a handful in the blogsphere, but I think it's an important barometer of how off-the-rails our policies are at present. I often rail against the "vs." in the phrase "Us vs. Them" when it comes to domestic politics. But the broader (and quintessentially pragmatic) principle, of seeking alliances based on commonalities rather than strife based on (often artifically exaggerated) differences, applies to much more than election-year unity. Here's an interview with Tariq Ramadan where he goes into some detail on how "Us vs. Them" has harmed muslim integration in the West, by creating a false identity wich ultimately does more harm than good (hat tip: CMatt) :

You wrote in "To Be a European Muslim" that Muslims need to get past the us vs. them worldview, the old concept of Dar al-Islam, the Islamic world, opposed to the non-Muslim world (the Dar al-Harb, the House of War), and propose the new concept of a House of Testimony, a Space of Witness, available to Muslims anywhere.

That is exactly what I was saying about the way we are reading the text. Some Muslims are saying, "We are more Muslim when we are against the West or the Western values" -- as if our parameter to assess our behavior is our distance from or opposition to the West. They are promoting this kind of binary vision of the world that comes from a very long time back in the Muslim psyche. We have to get rid of this kind of understanding and evaluate if an act or a situation is Islamic or not, on the scale of the Islamic ethics and values per se, not against any other civilization

Our values are not based on "otherness." Our values are universal. We have to come to the understanding that it's not "us against them," it's us on the scale of our own values. This defines the place I live in. That is to say, my role in this world is to understand that I am a witness to the Islamic message before mankind. We need an intellectual revolution within the Muslim world. We are Muslims according to our spirituality and these universal values, and not against the West, not against the Jews, not against the Christians, not against secular people. The way I'm trying to re-read our texts is based on the awareness that this message is universal: that is why, for instance, the definition of our Muslim identity could by no means be a closed one against the others. This definition will help, God willing, in the way we deal with others.

The concept of Dar al-Islam is a hindrance today within the Muslim world. Even when we speak of Dar al-'ahd the House of Treaty, which stipulates that Muslims living as a minority among unbelievers should live peacefully but without truly joining these societies , it means peaceful coexistence but it also promotes this kind of binary vision, "us and them." It does not allow us to feel that we are part of the Western societies, that we are sharing with others our values and belonging.

This is perfectly in tune with what I've argued earlier - that when muslims argue that something is "good for the Ummah" they are abusing religion in the name of politics. The correct approach is not to validate that mindset (as Laura does in a piece that explicitly "justifies" voting as halal), but rather to denounce it outrght. Tariq Ramadan has the courage to do so, but that courage, and it's essential place in how we as Americans formulate our own response to the Islamofascist meme, goes not only unrewarded but punished. That's tragedy.

UPDATE: Paul Donnelly, writing in the conservative National Review, also lauds Ramadan for his courage. The article dates from 2002, however. Funny that the conservative establishment was in some ways clearer-eyed about Islam just after 9-11 than it is today.

Also, see Scott Martens's blog, A Fistful of Euros, for a detailed post and vigorous discussion in comments.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

without a trace of irony

Aides to the governor say he will sign legislation approved on Thursday that could allow up to 75,000 hybrid drivers, mainly those behind the wheel of a gas-sipping Prius, to use car pool lanes even when taking to the road alone. The governor hopes the perk will encourage more people to buy the cleaner-burning cars, but by doing so, he will give the Japanese-made Prius vaunted status in a state where nearly 30 million registered vehicles compete for every inch of open asphalt.

Since becoming governor, Mr. Schwarzenegger has pared his fleet of Hummers to three from seven and one of them is the subject of an experiment with General Motors to make it more fuel-efficient, a spokeswoman, Terri M. Carbaugh, said. The same philosophy, she said, is driving his support for the new car pool law.


Friday, August 27, 2004

Chinese woman forced abortion to qualify for death penalty

This is a horrific story:

Chinese prison officials have forced a pregnant inmate found guilty of transporting heroin to undergo an abortion so that she could be eligible for the death penalty, according to a report published on Wednesday, AFP/Yahoo! News reports.

Ma Weihua in January was arrested in Gansu province for transporting 56 ounces of heroin from Xinjiang province. Under China's criminal code, individuals convicted of trafficking that amount of heroin can be executed.

However, following Ma's arrest, prison doctors discovered during a routine physical exam that she was approximately seven weeks pregnant. Under Chinese law, pregnant women and people younger than age 18 cannot be executed.


Although Ma said she wanted to carry the pregnancy to term, officers from the anti-drug task force at the Chengguan police substation in February signed a consent form ordering an abortion "on her behalf," according to AFP/Yahoo! News.

The consent form stated that the substation director requested that Ma be forced to undergo the procedure because she was "uncooperative." The form also noted that Ma was given general anesthesia -- which put her to sleep -- instead of the local anesthetic usually used for early-term abortions, according to Ma's attorney Weng Weihua.

Forcing a woman to have an abortion is monstrous in itself (more so, I would argue, than a woman choosing to abort, though certainly conservatives may disagree). The death penalty angle is equally perverse - what's the rationale of the Chinese government here? That life is so precious, we must end it in order not to kill it? There isn't even a nugget of logic, however obscene, to mitigate the moral evil of such a policy.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Partition's legacy

Conrad has written a (typically) length and well-thought piece on the legacy of Partition into India and Pakistan, 57 years after. Conrad is a guest writer at Jonathan's blog Head Heeb, which has recently been featuring a lot of guest-bloggers and even more diversified analysis on world affairs. Conrad's post follows an earlier one by Jonathan which lays much of the groundwork.

The primary focus of the blog remains the democratic processes in African nations, and emphasis on Isael-Palestinian affairs, though Jonathan has made an tremendously successful effort to diversify. I'm strictly a lurker at HH nowadays, because it's so erudite - it's strictly a place for me to learn, not debate.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Tariq Ramadan denied visa

Tariq Ramadan is a controversial figure - that much we can agree on. Invited as a lecturer at the University of Notre Dame, his visa was suddenly revoked by the request of the US Dept of Homeland Security. Ramadan is the grandson of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, a lineage which most zealous Muslim-phobes equate to support of terror. However, Ramadan's life work is to espouse a basis of Muslim identity firmly rooted in Western ideals, and has written a book called "To Be a European Muslim" detailing that philosophy.

It is likely that the enmity towards Ramadan, despite his explicitly moderate message of tolerance and inclusion of muslims within the political and cultural mainstream, stems from his unwavering critiques of Israel's human rights abuses towards the Palestinians:

"What I'm saying as a Muslim is that when I criticize a policy, for example the Saudi policy or the Egyptian policy, I am not Islamophobic," he said.

"And when I am criticizing the policy of the state of Israel, of [Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon, I'm not an anti-Semite. It's just a political criticism."

That's not unfamiliar territory to me. His (Israeli-hyper-partisan) detractors such as Robert Spencer insist that Ramadan is a closet anti-Semite, though Ramadan has explicitly denounced anti-Semitism as an alien import to the Muslim mindset, urging Muslims to take heed of the moral tragedy of the Holocaust.

It's a tragic irony that the muslims most critical in bringing about cultural change in the Middle East and elsewhere, the potential saving bulwark against the rising tide of extremism, are lumped in with those they denounce. The reason is their refusal to denounce being muslim itself. Apparently, the only "acceptable" muslim is one who rejects the Qur'an as a divine text, Muhammad SAW as a prophet of God, and adopts a secular-fundamentalist approach to their "faith". Some are comfortable with this, others are not - count me among the latter. Tariq Ramadan is a hero to me and others like me who will always be a muslim and yet will not cede our right to be counted among the Men of the West.

UPDATE: via Brian Ulrich, I just discovered the blog Chapati Mystery, which also addresses the Tariq Ramadan issue in a nice post with useful links to more info on him via Muslim WakeUp! and Abu Aardvark.

Monday, August 23, 2004

correlation is not causation

in response to this post at GNXP, I left a comment expressing my skepticism that the mean IQ variation by country is meaningful. GC answered:

how the methodology for basing any argument on IQ manages to extricate the confounding effects of economic class.

Hmmm, Aziz - your argument seems to be that your parents' economic status determines how well you do on IQ tests. But we've blogged before on the result that (for example) your IQ correlates much more highly with *your* economic status than with your parents' economic status.

Valid point, but ignoring the fact that *my* economic status correlates with my parents'. GC mentions some anecdotal evidence in order to claim that immigrants from poorer countries do better on IQ tests, but I think that the barrier to immigration is itself an outbound filter - it takes a special breed of person to immigrate to the US in search of a better life, and those kinds of people tend to work a lot harder in pursuit of that goal than, say, indigenously-raised spoiled suburbanites. Often the children of those selfsame immigrants, mind you.

On the whole, there's far too much reliance on correlation as a proxy for causation. For example, GC links to some recent studies that suggest a correlation between IQ and brain volume - which is such a tenous foundation for the kinds of social analysis that GNXP performs much more robustly with genetic data, that I'm going to have to get off my rear and blog further about this gross misuse of MRI (especially fMRI) over at Reference Scan. But for a preview of the argument I shall make, consider the correlation between physical strength and the density of fast-twitch muscle fiber.

Friday, August 20, 2004

"self-inflicted" vs. "shooting yourself on purpose"

A trial balloon was floated yesterday. Despite comprehensive debunking and exposing of the Swift Boat veterans' claims that John Kerry's wartime heroism in Vietnam is fraudulent, the smear campaign is moving forward: the new talking point is that John Kerry's wounds (which earned him the Purple Heart three times, in addition to his Broze and Silver stars) were "self-inflicted".

Below is an email I've written to Michelle Malkin, author of a polemical book arguing that the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII was justified, regarding her recent appearance (video) (transcript) on Hardball with Chris Matthews. Malkin's purpose on the show was to float that trial balloon - Matthews punctured it immediately. But I don't think it will stop there.

Ms. Malkin,

Having watched your exchange with Chris Matthews on Hardball, and having read the transcript, I find these two lines to be the main point:

MATTHEWS: No. No one has ever accused him of shooting himself on purpose.

MALKIN: Yes. Some of them say that.

I think that you made a mistake in not clarifying the difference between a "self-inflicted wound" and "shooting yourself on purpose". The Swifft Boat Veterans' book never claims that Kerry "shot himself on purpose". They do, however argue that some of his wounds MAY have been self-inflicted. Here is the difference:

Non-self-inflicted wound: shranpel from an enemy's grenade injures you.

Self-inflicted: shrapnel from your grenade, thrown at an enemy, injures you.

Shooting yourself on purpose: deliberately exploding your grenade in a manner calculated to deliberately injure yourself.

I think that had you simply answered Matthews' question above, "No, no one accuses Kerry of shooting himself on purpose." then you would have been on former rhetorical ground. However, by failing to make teh critical distinction, you were essentially arguing the point (which even teh Swift Boat vets do NOT make) that Kerry deliberately tried to injure himself.

I hope we can agree that a self-inflcted wound can be an honorable injury, whereas accusing someone of shooting themself on purpose is a grossly libelous statement.


Aziz H.Poonawalla

If Ms. Malkin responds, I'll post her response here (if she does not forbid me permission).

Jesse at Pandagon delves a bit deeper into the accusations that Malkin is trying to repeat third-hand, quoting Malkin's own post at her blog and pointing out the basic error of historical timing. Worth reading only if you aren't already bored by this topic, or if you're Michelle Malkin interested in making an honest attempt at responding to her critics.

Speaking of historical errors, the assertions that Malkin makes in her book have been comprehensively refuted by Eric Muller, Greg Robinson (a historian specializing on the topic), and by David Neiwert, a journalist with decades of experience writing about racism and fascist movements such as the KKK. His landmark essay on fascism is required reading.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Conservatism vs Republicanism

I've thrown down a gauntlet of sorts at Red State, asking whether Alan Keyes' support of reparations is compatible with conservative values (which I share).

The problem is perhaps exemplified by Red State's own title: Collaborative "Republicanism". The soul of the GOP is conservativism, not blind loyalty - though slavish devotion to the Party at the expense of principle certainly gives a new twist to the meaning of the words "Red State."

I hope the other Red Staters denounce Keyes, but I don't think it's that likely. If not, then there's a problem that needs fixing on the right - one that will get much worse before it gets better, especially in the likelier and likelier event of a Kerry win this November.

And that is a bad thing. We need a healthy Right. Just as we need a healthy Left. But I'm not the first to note how the fringe element, marginalized on the Left, has invaded the mainstream Right in recent years...

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

The Rising Sun

Asahi Shimbun reports that the US is pressuring Japan to drop its pacifist nature:

Pacifist Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution is an impediment to the alliance between Japan and the United States, according to U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

He made his comments Wednesday to Hidenao Nakagawa, chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party's Diet Affairs Committee, who is visiting Washington.

Armitage indicated that the present constitutional interpretation prohibiting the exercise of Japan's right to collective self-defense will have to be revised to further strengthen the military alliance between the two nations.

Armitage said much the same thing in a proposal he helped write four years ago when he was still working in the private sector as part of a bipartisan panel that outlined policy positions.

Armitage made his remarks in response to Nakagawa's comment that both the LDP and opposition Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan) would continue to discuss constitutional revision.

Armitage added that while the United States supported Japan's moves to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, any nation with that status has to be prepared to deploy military force in the interests of the international community. He said unless Japan was prepared to do that, it would be difficult to become a permanent member.

I have to ask, why wouldn't this be a good thing? New investment in military capabilities might well boost Japan out of its economic torpor, and allow for a stronger regional presence. Unlike the Imperial era, Japan today is a democracy, and closely tied to the rest of the world (Japan is the Globalization poster child). Its hard to envision a scenario where Japan renews its Imperial ambitions.

It also helps to have a strong Other to rally against - in this case, China. Japan could blunt Chinese regional ambitions, especially if it went nuclear - and keep in mind that the madman in Pyongyang is just offshore. The idea is balance, not domination, and I think a strong Japan would be an essential ingredient.

Of course there are benefits beyond geopolitics - Japan would be better able to help police the Malacca straits and other chokepoints plagued by pirates on world trade. And since the boundary between shipping piracy and global terror is probably a diffuse one, a beneficial impact on terror is not fantasy.

Overall, the idea has merit. The important question is, though, what role do the Japanese themselves want to play?

Tuesday, August 3, 2004

political intelligence

Over at Dean Nation, I've got a discussion (with full background) on the issue of Howard Dean's observation about the political nature of Tom Ridge's terror alert.