Friday, October 29, 2004

OBL alive means Bush failed to defend America

In the debates, John Kerry's most solid blow was the Tora Bora point - that Bush let bin Laden go, he "outsourced" the hunt for the terrorist mastermind, to focus on Iraq. Mike Kasper's graphic nicely summarizes the timeline).

Now bin Laden is on tape - alive, and referring to the election in a fashion leaving no doubt that it's a new tape, not pre-recorded. And the best the far right can do is weakly suggest that the bin laden tape is an endorsement of Kerry?

"Your security is not in the hands of Kerry or Bush or al Qaeda. Your security is in your own hands," bin Laden said.

That's an endorsement? Dream on, red staters... unless the standard for endorsement is "he mentioned his name" in which case looks like an equal endorsement of Bush to me.

Well, OBL's just an ass in a cave who can be hunted, can be found, and can be killed. By the right leader, that is.

And if Kerry can capitalize on the opportunity provided him by OBL to illustrate just how NOT a leader Bush has been on the WoT, then America will have a good chance of making OBL eat those words - and some bomb dust too.

I should note that it is technically possible bin Laden is actually dead, having pre-recorded about nine similar messages from his cave. "Neither Bush nor Sharpton can save you. Take 7. Neither Bush nor Dean can save you. Take 8. Neither Bush nor Gephardt can save you...)

my Guardian ire has cooled

Thebit[1] offers a much better defense of the Guardian article wherein Shakespeare is professed to have Sufic influences:

As for Lings' theory, balderdash though it is, what he is suggesting is this: Muslim religious tenants and beliefs were not unknown, if distorted and misunderstood, to Elizabethan England. It is not so far into the realms of fantasy to suggest that Sufi pietism or Sufi asceticism *might* have been inspirational (very strong speculation, unfounded imho). Afterall, it is only about 50 years after Shakespeare's death that Edward Pococke, professor of Arabic at Oxford, walks into a bookshop in Aleppo and picks up _Hayy ibn Yaqzan_, which he translates into English. Lings, being a Sufi, suggests parallels in how Shakespeare expressed himself in his plays and poems and certain Sufistic ideals.

That there are parallels between some Sufi ideas and some philosophic expressions by Shakespearean characters is a valid observation indeed, and Thebit's point about Muslim beliefs having potentially had some exposure to Elizabethan society is well-taken - let us not forget that Othello was a Moor. With Al Andalus on the doorstep of Europe, how could it be otherwise.

Where Ling goes astray is to take such parallel ideas as proof - or at least suggestive of - a direct influence upon Wm himself. And I can't help but notice that the supposed ideals of Sufism that are expressed as the proof of the link are so vague as to be almost generic. You might well argue that Shakespeare was influenced by the way of the Samurai (the daimyo Date Masamune sent a trade expedition to Europe in 1613), based upon a reading of the exact same excerpts.

My main gripe is this. If Ling is arguing "Wm Shakespeare was directly influenced by Sufism" then the obvious fallacy of the assertion (which Thebit does not dispute either) should have been received more critically by the Guardian's literature critic. Thebit tries to defend the Guardian on this score, arguing "it is not the job of the Guardian journalist to play the role of Shakespeare-scholar." But such a specialist's knowledge is hardly neccessary to recognize Ling's argument as fabrication of wishful-thinking. It is common sense.

However, if Ling is actually arguing "I have observed that there are parallels between Wm Shakespeare and Sufism, here are examples" then the Guardian has misrepresented his position.

Either way, the Guardian is guilty of failing to do due diligence. Still, Thebit makes a convincing case for leniency (though his analogy to the grapes/virgins issue still fails my persuasion threshold).

On the other issue, Thebit's analogy of the letter-writing campaign to Putin's endorsement likewise still does not really acknowledge the basic differences between an endorsement and an intervention, as I laid out in my earlier post. Therefore I still maintain it was an irritating and condescending interference. As TheBit noted, it is unlikely that we will agree on this issue, however, and that is perfectly acceptable. I don't expect Europe to ever understand that America's elections are first and foremost about America, even if there are about half of us who then will indeed seek to promote policies that will make John Le Carr� love us again[2].

Since John Kerry is poised to destroy George Bush decisively on Tuesday, I'm inclined to be magnanimous anyway.

Also, since the Guardian has taken down the assassination-insinuation piece and replaced it with an apology, the outrage of which I was most incensed and which Thebit wisely did not even attempt to defend, the main rationale for my irritation has cooled considerably. I am inclined to accept apologies with the benefit of the doubt regarding good faith.

If you haven't been to Thebit's blog, Muslims Under Progress, I urge a visit. His essay on secular fundamentalism in particular has been genuinely useful in articulating and clarifying a point that I've often tried to make for some time, but much more lucidly (and thus more persuasively).

[1] Thebit also informed me that his pseudonym is derived from the Arabic word thabet, and not "The Bit" which I had assumed was a reference to a computer background.

[2] James Maclean notes that he wasn't as offended by Carre's letter, except for the concluding paragraph. Frankly, that was exactly eth part that crossed my annoyance threshold.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Tertiary Phase continues...

Remember, the Tertiary Phase is almost over! The second-to-last episode can be streamed until thursday, and the last episode will be broadcast tuesday.

The Guardian falls

This British publication tried to interfere with the American election by irritating undecided voters in Ohio with smarmy, condescending letter-writing campaigns, puts forth the ridiculous suggestion that William Shakespeare derived inspiration from Sufi Islam in the writing of King Lear, and most outrageously, has indulged in Presidential assassination fantasies (don't miss Andrew Sullivan's comment on this).

I hope that no one I respect treats this magazine seriously anymore, because anyone who does has a serious judgement deficit, IMHO.

UPDATE: TheBit of Muslims Under Progress blog takes issue in the comments with my fit of pique:

I don't see any concern from Americans at Pootie Poot's endorsement of Bush. Why is this any better?

Further, how is this "interference" in the American election? Have they rigged the voting procedures? Made it difficult for American's to vote?

Endorsements are an expression of a personal opinion. Coming from a local newspaper, they are intended to sway opinion; coming from anyone non-local to the election in question, they are intended to serve as a statement of affiliation, and always have political overtones. Putin, of which neither TheBit nor I are fans of, endorsed Bush solely to influence the relationship of Putin with Bush, nothing more. Chechnya is of course involved.

The Guardian's letter-writing campaign is another matter. Rather than an expression of opinion, it was intended to sway - in effect, trying to co-opt the role of a local newspaper endorsement and affect the outcome.

Let's make the general principle explicit. If it's your election (ie, one in which you are eligible to participate), then swaying the outcome is not only allowed but verges on duty. The ideal vehicle for this is to express your arguments in the public forum, and expose themn to criticism and debate. That is the essence of free speech in the service of the common good. The First Amendment guarantees this process by which Americans can play an active role in the most basic function of our democracy.

However, if it's not your election, then your attempt to sway the outcome reflects your self-interest, and not the self-interest of the comunity holding the election. It is literally none of your business. Endorsements by individuals are fine because they are the expression of a personal opinion; if TheBit or any other aggrieved Guardian fan takes the time to assess the content of the letters in question, they will find that the letter campaign far trangresssed beyond that threshold, and into outright coercion, naked in its narcissism.

The campaign is being advertised as "How you can have a say in the US election" ! Even Presidential Daily Briefings from Aug. 6th don't get any clearer than that in their titles. Really, it's disingenous to pretend that its just Putin-endorsement level.

And the tone of the letters has been defined by celebrities explicitly recruited to set an example, such as John Le Carr�, who pleads in his letter, "Give us back the America we loved, and your friends will be waiting for you." Exactly what relevance does Le Carr�'s professed love of America have to how anyone should vote? The sentence encapsulates an arrogant self-absorption that is simply beyond my ability to communicate.

So what if someone writes to me asking me to vote for X? I can read it or do what I do what any sort of spam and junk mail: file it in the bin. The only reasonable objection is that the paper got hold of voters emails and mailing addresses in some dubious way.

For the record, the addressses of undecided voters were purchased by the Guardian. I find that in itself objectionable, verging on an invasion of privacy.

On another issue, TheBit writes:

And it was Lings who put forward the 'theory' regarding Shakespeare not the newspaper (who were 'reporting' it). This is no different from Lunxenburg's 'theory' regading virgins and raisins which was trumpeted around

I've re-read the article, and TheBit is correct, the article was actually a report ON someone with the hare-brained idea that Sufism could underlie William Shakespeare's inspiration, constructed on such flimsy evidence as the line "We are such stuff as dreams are made of" (which could just as easily reflect inspiration from an ABBA song, IMHO). Some of my ire has thus cooled. Still, would it have been too much to ask Madam Arts Correspondent to do a little bit of extra work to find a Shakespearean scholar who could at least offer the opposing view? This isn't journalism, nor is it an arts critique (since the author writes in news style and does not undertake any literary criticism of the content).

I find the comparison to the virgins/dates issue (hinging on whether the word houris derives from Arabic or Aramaic) rather strained, though. That's an actual literary and scholalrly study; this Ling fellow is a bit too enamoured of his suibject matter to be even capable of a rigorous analysis. Note that he proffers not a single example of a Sufi text or source material to offer as comparative proof of a similarity, relying instead entirely on inference and assumption. Neither does the Guardian piece ask for any, which is by far the worse offender.

If the Guardian seeks to just be an opinion rag, that's its prerogative, but this changes my opinion of the magazine not one iota.

Kerry will kill terrorists, not let them go

enough reason for me, a 9-11 Liberal, to vote Kerry, not Bush in a nutshell - Washington Post, April 17th 2002:

The Bush administration has concluded that Osama bin Laden was present during the battle for Tora Bora late last year and that failure to commit U.S. ground troops to hunt him was its gravest error in the war against al Qaeda, according to civilian and military officials with first-hand knowledge.

The White House is of course LYING about this now.

More on OBL's escape from the Christian Science Monitor in late 2001.

and even more from the CSM in 2002.

Friday, October 22, 2004

apples and oranges

I have great respect for Steven den Beste, pine for his return to blogging, and will defer to his judgement on matters pertaining to engineering, World War II strategy, and anime. However, his recent analysis of polling trends[1], and especially his conclusion[2], are I think a validation of Razib's basic thesis, that ferociously intelligent people can often be quite dumb when they wander off their intellectual reservation. Steven den Beste is, simply put, not a statistician.

(Of course, if you apply that thesis to me, it means that I'm out of my league either here or here. Preferably the former, otherwise the past six years will have been a remarkable waste of effort...)

[1] It is statistically meaningless to assume that polls with different question methodologies, likely voter models, weighting (or not) of party ID, and sampling distribution between Republicans and Democrats, can be "averaged" together the way that Steven's source material tries to do. Plus, there is a severe misunderstanding of what "margin of error" means - it's not as simple as "if the lead is within the MoE then there is no lead". It's actually a measure of probability. The abuse of statistics aside, these are mostly national polls being analyzed, which can only measure the popular vote, which does not determine the winner by any means. Finally, the polls do not take into account the enormous surge in new-voter registrations across the country, which usually portends poorly for an incumbent,m especially one with approval ratings below the 50% mark, from which no incumbent has ever prevailed. The engineering analogies that Steven invokes are strained, to put it charitably. This isn't engineering, it's social engineering, which is as far removed from the mathematical kind of Steven's expertise as genetics is from Intellgient Design.

[2] In general, conspiracy theories are the sign of a weak argument, especially when the data can be explained easily by long-known phenomena. Polling is neither an exact nor a new science. The kind of manipulation that Steven imputes to his results (themselves false, see point 1 above) would require that polling be much more.. engineering-like.. than it can ever be. I am no engineer myself, but even I know it's not a stochastic process. Perhaps another fallacy of Steven's is the old saw, "to a man with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail."

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Outsourcing Osama

Andrew Sullivan falls into the Mickey Kaus anti-Kerry Spin Zone, posting a quote from a CNN transcript of Kerry seemingly endorsing the outsourcing of caoturing Osama bin Laden to the warlords in Afghanistan (for which he chastized Bush in the debates).

Except, the quote in question has absolutely nothing to do with outsourcing Osama's capture to warlords, it has to do with a caller's question about using flamethrowers in the mountain caves. Full context from the transcript follows:

CALLER: Hello. Yes, I would like to ask the panel why they don't use napalm or flamethrowers on those tunnels and caves up there in Afghanistan?

KING: Senator Kerry?

CALLER: My golly, I think they could smoke him out.

KING: Senator Kerry?

KERRY: Well, I think it depends on where you are tactically. They may well be doing that at some point in time. But for the moment, what we are doing, I think, is having its impact and it is the best way to protect our troops and sort of minimalize the proximity, if you will. I think we have been doing this pretty effectively and we should continue to do it that way.

KING: Congressman Cunningham, what do you think of that question?

CUNNINGHAM: I think Senator Kerry is right on the mark. To use a flamethrower, you've got to get right into the area close in. And plus, it doesn't penetrate that deep in those tunnels. You've got to go in there after him. So I think you have to neutralize that threat. And then you can get him out in a lot of different, various ways including what the gentleman spoke about.

The question being posed to Kerry here is clearly about using flamethrowers, and Kerry's answer is largely about the risk to our own troops being in proximity to such non-precise weapons. The issue of ourtsourcing the capture of bin Laden never arises. It's sadly typical of Kaus to try to smear Kerry this way, but Andrew should have actually read the full transcript before blindly accepting Kaus' spin.

By the way, its worth reading a bit further, as Larry King asks Kerry about the war on Terror. The exchange:

KING: What about enhancing this war, Senator Kerry. What are your thoughts on going on further than Afghanistan, all terrorist places...

KERRY: Oh, I think we clearly have to keep the pressure on terrorism globally. This doesn't end with Afghanistan by any imagination. And I think the president has made that clear. I think we have made that clear. Terrorism is a global menace. It's a scourge. And it is absolutely vital that we continue, for instance, Saddam Hussein. I think we...

KING: We should go to Iraq? KERRY: Well, that -- what do you and how you choose to do it, we have a lot of options. Absent smoking gun evidence linking Saddam Hussein to the immediate events of September 11, the president doesn't have the authorization to proceed forward there.

But we clearly are he ought to proceed to put pressure on him with respect to the weapons of mass destruction. I think we should be supporting an opposition. There are other ways for us, clandestinely and otherwise, to put enormous pressure on him and I think we should do it.

There's no doubt in my mind that Kerry does understand the careful balance between military power and other sources - and would use the selectively as needed for maximum effect rather than a one-size fits all strategy like Bush.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Ramadan begins on Ramadan 1st

For the benefit of non-muslims who have emailed me asking why I announced Ramadan had begun yesterday, whereas other muslims are beginning their fasting today instead, here's a succinct piece in the BBC.

Islamic events are governed by the Hijri calendar, which is lunar-based. This calendar is equally accurate as the Gregorian calendar and the days of the week for a given date can be predicted just as accurately for any year in the future or past.

The moon-sighting practice is defended by invoking a specific hadith, but in my opinion the interpretation of that hadith is too literal (my opinion is of course in accord with and completely determined by the theological teaching of our religious authority).

So, muslims like myself believe that Ramadan begins on the known date of Ramadan 1st, and that fasting begins on Ramadan 1st. We do not believe that the date of Ramadan 1st is flexible, or that fasting should not commence until the moon itself has been sighted. The basic philosophical difference hinges on whether the position of the moon determines Time, or whether time determines the position of the moon. On that score, I rely not on hadith but on the Qur'an:

[31.29] Do you not see that Allah makes the night to enter into the day, and He makes the day to enter into the night, and He has made the sun and the moon subservient (to you); each pursues its course till an appointed time; and that Allah is Aware of what you do?

[13.2] Allah is He Who raised the heavens without any pillars that you see, and He is firm in power and He made the sun and the moon subservient (to you); each one pursues its course to an appointed time; He regulates the affair, making clear the signs that you may be certain of meeting your Lord.

The moon is servant, not master - and the appointed time governs what I do.

Ramadan mubarak!

Thursday, October 14, 2004

The muslim vote

The election and religion are two completely separate things. This should be obvious, but it often is not. There's a dangerous attitude among Islamic fanatics to equate their political aims with religious duty - there's an addictive quality to such a rationale that infects even well-meaning moderates.

I've posted a diary at Kos on the topic which reflects and summarizes my own thoughts on the argument that muslims must strive to always act according to some premise about the "good of the ummah." Such an attitude leads to pointless, and distracting, angst. Here's what I wrote at Kos:

we as muslims should not try to confuse religion with political motives. There is a concerted effort underway by some in the muslim community to try and paint the outcome of the election as crucial to the "good of the ummah". I feel that this is a false understanding of our civid responsibilities, and an artificial construct.

False because our duty in the election is to vote for America's future, not the ummah. Artificial because the Ummah is not an entity whose welfare can be affected by something so.. dunya.. as an election (important though it is on the civic sphere). The ummah is not a political party, it is the collective quality of the muslims' actions - and as such, if there is any action we must take, it is to make sure that this Ramadan, we perform our duties with piety, humility, and honor. Give Allah his due - not Caesar.

I've written on these topics before in these posts:

I also should mention that Laura (al-Muhajabah) has compiled a list of judgements (PDF) from many respected Islamic scholars that attempt to debunk the strange notion in some muslim circles that voting is not halal. Laura has been criticized by some for taking the argument seriously, but that's unfair. To those muslims who genuinely have been led to believe that voting is somehow at odds with teh concept of Islam, we must first reach out to them within the framework of their belief before we can change it. But change it we must. Islam is not only compatible with democracy, it mandates it.

Where I part ways with Laura is on the neccessity for a "muslim bloc" - at least until such a bloc can be guaranteed to interpret the self-interest of American muslims in a strictly American context, rather than the "ummah" false dichotomy mentioned earlier.

BTW, calling a muslim who donates to the Bush campaign an "Uncle Tom", is reprehensible. Such pronouncements are as closed-minded and ruthlessly political an appropriation of religion as the Taliban. Kudos to MWU for addressing the issue.

The challenge to American muslims to is to articulate self-interest from an American perspective - which means we should be willing to find ourselves at odds on occassion with muslims elsewhere. Especially on divisive topics such as Israel-Palestine, we must not allow our positions to be influenced by those of muslims outside the United States, who do not have our interest in mind, be assured. Just as Tariq Ramadan has begun forging a European muslim integrated identity in his books, so too must we do the same.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Shehrullah mubarak

As usual, it is Shaikh Mustafa, my friend, my mentor, my brother, who expresses the sentiment of Ramadan in prose both short yet laden with meaning and inspiration:

Its time again to take stock and do the things we should be doing

rather than what we end up doing.

May your Shehrullah be fruitful, may fulfil your hopes and make your

spirit soar. May the blessings of the month and of the Qur'an descend

upon you.

And whilst you make your connections with the Almighty, try, if you

can, to include us.

Your supplications and remembrances are always highly treasured. More

so as you are amongst those who He has favoured with the love for His

Wali. May his supplications benefit us all.

insha'allah! Mubarak to all, and iltemas e-dua for the fazil raat ahead.

UPDATE: Ramadan Mubarak to my other muslim friends, for whom Ramadan fasting began a day later, because they follow the moonsighting practice rather than the hijri calendar.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004


A legitimate critique of Condoleeze Rice is that she has been utterly incompetent as the National Security Advisor, and that her expertise with regard to Russia as Brent Scowcroft's pupil has made her grossly overstate the importance of state-sponsors of terrorism, thus leading to the overly sponsor-centric approach to the war on terror that the Bush Administration has adopted.

Rice's race as a black woman is not relevant to a legitimate critique, and that is why this cartoon by Jeff Danziger (whose work I previously enjoyed) is utterly disgusting.

By bringing race into the critique, Danziger crossed the line, and in doing so did a disservice to the legitimate need for a debate on Rice's qualifications and job performance.

I am sure Danziger will say he is not a racist, has black friends, etc. He might even BE black for all I know. But using race as a vehicle for his critique of Rice speaks to an obsession with her skin color that is not appropriate. He should apologise to Condoleeza Rice immediately.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Death of a Superman

Christopher Reeve passed away today. Harry Knowles has the best tribute to his skills as an actor, and the Christopher Reeve Foundation will be his legacy to other victims of paralysis and spinal cord injury.

Reeve was a modern hero, an example of an actor whose roles on screen, and whose example in real-life, defined the term. But he was first and foremost an actor, trained at Julliard, and so the best tribute I can pay is to remember three movies he made, besides his iconic turn in Superman.

Somewhere in Time is an example of solid science fiction, where the fiction takes a backseat to the character story. Reeve plays a man who becomes obsessed with a photo of a smiling woman from a hundred years earlier - and finds a way to travel back in time using self-hypnosis. Wait till you learn why the woman is smiling.

In Death Trap, Reeve plays Clifford Anderson, a student to playwright Sidney Bruhl (played by Michael Caine). The plot centers on a play written by Clifford, a short murer thriller which Sidney immediately desires to take credit for - by trying to murder Clifford. The line between the play and reality gets blurred. The movie is solidly about the interaction between Sidney and Clifford - who are both gay - and their distrustful and scheming relationship. It's not clear initially just who is manipulating whom.

Finally, Speechless - one of my sentimental favorites from college. Reeve is second fiddle to Gina Davis and Michael Keaton, but steals the film every time he is onscreen as the insufferable celebrity journalist Bob "Baghdad" Freed. The pool table scene is hilarious.

There's no better way to pay tribute to Reeve's career than to see these movies, to get a real feel for his skill.

Saturday, October 9, 2004

Iraq partition watch

via Spencer Ackerman, mass demonstrations by Kurds for an independent Kurdistan, and now this manifesto by Kemal Mirawdeli. Excerpt, which demolishes the idea that Iraqi nationalism has survived in the post-Saddam era:

What is Iraq for the Kurdish people?

Iraq is not a state that Kurds can identify with. Arabization of Kurdistan did not start with Saddam. It started as early as 1930s with the banning Kurdish language and education in Mosul and with Haweja project in Kirkuk in 1937. Iraq has from the very beginning a doubly colonial state: plundering Iraqi and Kurdistan oil on behalf of British imperialism and exercising internal Arab colonialism against Kurdistan through policies of underdevelopment, Arabization, imposition of the Arabic language, culture and religion, political oppression, cultural assimilation and then murder and genocide.

As one of Ackerman's readers notes, the concept of "Iraq" was created by the British in 1922, and it's been a failed state since then.

Friday, October 8, 2004

Aluminum tubes, case closed

The infamous Iraq aluminum tubes, used to argue the case for war against Saddam as proof of his impending nuclear capability, have now definitively been shown to be for rockets, not uranium enrichement.

n 2002, at a crucial juncture on the path to war, senior members of the Bush administration gave a series of speeches and interviews in which they asserted that Saddam Hussein was rebuilding his nuclear weapons program. Speaking to a group of Wyoming Republicans in September, Vice President Dick Cheney said the United States now had "irrefutable evidence" - thousands of tubes made of high-strength aluminum, tubes that the Bush administration said were destined for clandestine Iraqi uranium centrifuges, before some were seized at the behest of the United States.

Those tubes became a critical exhibit in the administration's brief against Iraq. As the only physical evidence the United States could brandish of Mr. Hussein's revived nuclear ambitions, they gave credibility to the apocalyptic imagery invoked by President Bush and his advisers. The tubes were "only really suited for nuclear weapons programs," Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security adviser, explained on CNN on Sept. 8, 2002. "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."

But almost a year before, Ms. Rice's staff had been told that the government's foremost nuclear experts seriously doubted that the tubes were for nuclear weapons, according to four officials at the Central Intelligence Agency and two senior administration officials, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity. The experts, at the Energy Department, believed the tubes were likely intended for small artillery rockets.

The White House, though, embraced the disputed theory that the tubes were for nuclear centrifuges, an idea first championed in April 2001 by a junior analyst at the C.I.A. Senior nuclear scientists considered that notion implausible, yet in the months after 9/11, as the administration built a case for confronting Iraq, the centrifuge theory gained currency as it rose to the top of the government.

Senior administration officials repeatedly failed to fully disclose the contrary views of America's leading nuclear scientists, an examination by The New York Times has found. They sometimes overstated even the most dire intelligence assessments of the tubes, yet minimized or rejected the strong doubts of nuclear experts. They worried privately that the nuclear case was weak, but expressed sober certitude in public.

For the record, I actually believed the Administration's line on this. Chalk that up to my gullibility.

anti-muslim watch

via Ikram, an attempted firebombing of a Muslim community center's children playground.

The president of the Islamic Center of El Paso said Saturday that he was shocked by the attempted firebombing of the center.

M. Omar Hernandez said he had never seen an incident like the one Friday about 2:35 p.m., after weekly prayer services had ended at the center.

Police say Antonio Flores, 57, of El Paso threw a homemade gasoline bomb into the center's back yard, site of a children's playground. About five children were in the playground when the bomb was thrown.

The bomb failed to ignite, and some of the children were splashed with gasoline. Another bomb was placed on the center's gas meter but was knocked over. Although the bomb was lit, the gasoline was quickly absorbed into the dirt. No one was injured in the attack.

"To find out that he chose this time (after services) shows he was definitely trying to hurt some of us," Hernandez said.

Debate tonight

"The biggest single difference between the debates this year and four years ago is that President Bush cannot simply make promises. He has a record. And I hope that voters will recall the last time Mr. Bush stood on stage for a presidential debate. If elected, he said, he would support allowing Americans to buy prescription drugs from Canada. He promised that his tax cuts would create millions of new jobs. He vowed to end partisan bickering in Washington. Above all, he pledged that if he put American troops into combat: "The force must be strong enough so that the mission can be accomplished. And the exit strategy needs to be well defined."

-- Al Gore, writing in the New York Times

I think that this debate will be definitive one way or another.

Wednesday, October 6, 2004

Veep debate

I have only one comment - Cheney lied through his teeth, repeatedly, consistently, flagrantly.

Kevin Drum collates the yeoman's work done by the intellectually-honest part of the blogsphere into one big table of Cheney's lies. And here's one that Kevin missed.

OK< I will also say that Cheney damaged Bush by appearing so much more knowledgeable. Despite the fact that his "knowledge" was all lies. Bush has a higher bar to clear on Friday.

punt on nuclear energy

Physics Today has a great Q&A on several topics of scientific interest, with both the Kerry and Bush campaigns. Well-worth a read to get a sense of how different the campaigns approaches are.

Bush had a good answer to the question of nuclear power, but it all sounds like his "Mars!" promises. In other words, grandiose and probably unaffordable under his economic stewardship. Kerry ducked the question and talked about Yucca Mountain, which is extremely disappointing. No mention of pebble reactors or glass-waste storage from either candidate.

I think that we need to embrace pebble-based reactor technology. I'd even vote for Bush if he was believable on the issue. It's central to long-term energy independence, national security, and technological innovation.

Monday, October 4, 2004

Letter to the Editor

This was published in the Chicago Tribune this Sunday, written by my friend from college, Meredith Geller.


Kerry makes hope return to a tired American

Meredith Geller

Published October 3, 2004

Rock Falls, Ill. -- I'll admit it: I'm a tired American.

I'm tired of turning on the television and seeing headlines about dead American soldiers.

I'm tired of reading about jobs being outsourced to India and China.

I'm tired of watching the American manufacturing industry dwindle and wondering how we can be a world power if we don't produce anything.

Most of all, I'm tired of feeling like nothing will change.

So given my utter exhaustion with the situation in America today, I watched the debate on Thursday with a bit of trepidation. I have long been a supporter of John Kerry as an "anyone but Bush" candidate, but he tends to speak in long, hard-to-understand sentences, which blur his message.

On Thursday, however, John Kerry showed us the strong, capable president he will be. He was concise, he was prepared and he was able to express the frustration that I and so many others feel about the current administration. He knew his facts and repeatedly used them. He reminded the American people that it was not Iraq that attacked us on Sept. 11, 2001; it was Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan.

In fact, even when discussing the Afghan terror mastermind, Kerry reminded us of the bigger problems the American people face, noting that when bin Laden was surrounded, President Bush did not rely on the talents of the American Army but instead relied on Afghan warlords to capture bin Laden and "outsourced" that job too.

As a result, bin Laden escaped.

But even more surprising than Kerry's ability to remind America what's at stake was the vision of America that Kerry was able to express--a stronger, better, more respected America. He could explain his plan and, most of all, made it clear that as president he could truly be the uniter that America needs right now. He was hopeful and positive about what we can do in the future.

I realized that it was hope that I was missing--hope that things not only can but will be better. And for the first time in this election, I was able to see the strong, determined and formidable president that John Kerry will be.

I am no longer a tired American. I am a hopeful one.

do you really want to go there?

advice to Bush partisans who are trying to peddle the "Kerry cheated at the debate" line of desperation spin: don't go there, or risk being exposed as complete hypocritical naifs.

Links, with no editorial endorsement:

link, link, link, link, link, link, , link

It's up to you whether you want to dignify this by making it a valid topic of discussion. After all, you argued that the Swift Boat smears were valid because Kerry invoked Vietnam so often, right?

Sunday, October 3, 2004

Kerry descended from the Prophet SAW?

maybe not unexpected, given that recent population models estimate a common ancestor to all mankind[1] only a few thousand years ago, but still wierd.

New research by Burke's Peerage reveals that Mr. Kerry is the only presidential candidate in U.S. history who has genealogical descent from Muslims, Jews and Christians.


Mr. Kerry is kinsman of the Shi'ite shahs of Persia (the most famous was Shah Abbas I, who reigned from 1587 to 1629), as well as the Muslim kings of Tunisia, all of whom � Democratic presidential nominee included � descend from the prophet Muhammad.

I imagine this would be useful to the Jerry Falwell demographic in proving Kerry is the AntiChrist.

[1] Note that the genetic contribution of a given common ancestor is, of course, completely separate from the issue of lineal descent. As David explains at GNXP,

Of course, it does not follow that all of the �common ancestors� have contributed equally, or even at all, to the genes of all their descendants. At a distance of 100 generations, a single line of descent from a single ancestor would contribute less than 1 part in a billion billion billion to a descendant�s genome. Since there are only of the order of a billion base pairs in the human genome, this means in practice that he would be very unlikely to contribute anything at all. It is only through multiple lines of descent that a remote descendant is likely to inherit anything genetically.

To partially answer Dan's question in comments, Kerry is a direct descendant of the Prophet SAW, whereas Bush is likely only tangentially related to the Prophet SAW by virtue of sharing a common ancestor with Kerry, in much the same way that a pair of cousins have different sets of grandparents. Note that Bush is related to Kerry, they are 9-th order cousins (more info here, and here).

Friday, October 1, 2004

morning moon

I took some photos of the moon this morning, inspired by Murtz. The idea was to test how well I could resolve the lunar features with a 5 MP camera, the answer I think is "pretty well". I'm also using these photos to test out the online Flickr service, which offers some very interesting ways of integrating photos onto my blog.

grow it out, guys

"He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man."

William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing, Act II, Scene 1

(via A.R. Squires)

Debate post-analysis

What did you think?

Here are some of my impressions, in somewhat random order. I didn't want to live-blog it, I preferred to let the debate sink in and percolate a bit. I'm cross-posting to Dean Nation and my Red State and my DailyKos diaries as well.

Bush scored a point with the Korean multi-lateral issue, rather than Kerry's focus on bilateral talks. While its true that Bush could not convincing articulate why multilateral talks including China were superior, neither could Kerry articulate why they were inferior, and on that issue, the burden of proof is with Kerry to demonstrate why things should change. True, N. Korea went nuclear on Bush's watch, but what's Kerry going to DO about it on his watch?

Kerry's point that 30-some countries had a greater WMD capability than Iraq was, as Josh puts it, a hammer-blow indeed. It completely shut down the Bush line that invading Iraq was justified because Saddam was a threat.

I found Bush too repetitive on the "Kerry is inconsistent" thing - Kerry took the time to respond each time, and overall Bush ended up retreating to that point anyway, making it seem like he'd run out of material. Did he prepare for this debate or not? By falling back on that issue, and giving Kerry more chances to refute it with different emphasis, he just ended up giving Kerry more time to insulate himself. In past debates Bush would have been more subtle, and let "evidence" make the accusation. Here, Bush just tried to bludgeon his point across, and Kerry's poise in answering it each time strengthened him.

Bush's point that Iranian sanctions didn't begin on his watch is well-taken. It's Kerry's fault really for not articulating what he'd do specifically. The whole Iranian discussion was short on specifics from both sides, which translates to Bush's advantage, since it's Kerry's burden of proof.

Kerry's point about Tora Bora was also effective, and again Bush had no real response. Simply put, we diverted resources from Afghanistan to Iraq - and this fact clearly put Bush on the defensive. Having to exclaim "I know Osama bin Laden attacked us" raise the question immediately, why haven't you even spoken is name, then? Again paraphrasing Josh, national security is supposed to be Bush's core strength, and the fact that Kerry can make these critiques to which Bush has essentially no answer does not bode well for him.

I liked Kerry's emphasis on Darfur - all Bush has done is send humanitarian aid (much needed of course). He'd be more aggressive in helping the African Union intervene. Should American troops be needed, though, we have a problem again due to over-stretch - and nice emphasis on why he wants to enlarge the military for non-Iraq missions. A moral duty, indeed. Bush responds weakly, but doesn't lay out a specific plan of how he'd intervene beyond mere humanitarian aid.

"What's the message going to be -- Please join us in Iraq for a grand diversion?" Bush's rejoinder to Kerry's claim that he can deliver foreign troops is devastating - Bush's only real hit of the evening, but a very good jujitsu of Kerry's own campaign rhetoric against him. Kerry recovered but not gracefully.

"We busted the AQ Khan network." Sorry, Mr. President. That's a lie. The reality is that Bush looked the other way while Pakistani-national-hero Khan walked away untouched for his role in disseminating the nuclear materials that Bush now claims to be concerned about. The fact that Bush cut funding for proliferation control also resonates here. It's hard for me to gauge how well Kerry prosecuted the case against Bush on this score to the public jury, because I know more of the detail than has made the cut to the national media. I suspect that most people don't know the backstory of AQ Khan and thus take Bush at his word here, but Bush's inability to address Kerry's funding critique and the 13-year statistic (which Bush never disputed) will hurt him. Bush didn't raise missile defense as a counter, either, which surprised me - though Kerry would likely have been ready by pointing out that the defense system has never been successfully tested and probably won't work.

I really enjoyed the friendly platitudes between the candidates in the middle, with warm respect about each others' family. I find it humbling to a degree. I'm not such a cynic that I think Bush or Kerry was being insincere. And I think it's necessary to resolve to try and reduce the projection of one-sided partisan bile onto the candidates themselves. I bet Bush and Kerry would be shocked to read some of what is written about their opponents in the diaries at Red State or Daily Kos. When I eventually launch my own Scoop site, I'm going to have to remember this part of the debate as a guide for moderation of tone.

Kerry clearly won, at least initially in the public eye. Bush is clearly not used to being questioned, even supposed tough dogs like O'Reilly and Russert have never really held him to the kind of scrutiny that, say, Howard Dean had to endure. Given that Bush is insulated from opposing views within his administration and cocooned from protestors on the campaign trail (attendees to Bush events are required to sign loyalty pledges), he's grown quite soft. His irritation, especially on split-screen when Kerry was speaking, made him look petty and insecure - akin to the glance-at-the-watch or the exaggerated-sigh. Just remember that the polls called the first debate for Gore, too, but the pundits inverted that judgment a few days later, so I'm still pessimistic as to whether Kerry's performance really did him any favors. Given the conservative blogger consensus that Bush did not do well either, though, I think that Bush's campaign strategy of ignore the swing vote and focus on exciting the base seems rather wise in hindsight.