Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Islam the Religion of Official Abuse?

A very interesting speculation by Howard Veit.
Danger! Danger!

"Internet Explorer is just too dangerous to keep using." Read all about it here.

And here's another new virus/trojan horse just found which explicitly seeks your financial information.

Safety can be found here.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

The Real Story

It's common these days to hear that Iraq is a "failure", that Iraq is being "mismanaged", that Iraq is "another Vietnam" or a "quagmire". The New York Times used the term quagmire a scant eight days after the beginning of combat. Has expectation exceeded reality a little bit? How would we know whether things are going well or poorly? What are the criteria?

Since none of us are in Iraq we must rely on others to tell us what is going on there. This means those who are paid professionally to do this, the reporters of the mainstream media. But what happens when those reporters, their editors, and the owners of these publications, for reasons of their own, decide to present things in such a way as to win a political argument at home, the truth be damned? We know this is going on because we have another reporter who tells us so.

"But what do the abominations perpetrated at Abu Ghraib really tell us about Iraq and the faltering American-led project to plant the seeds of democracy here? And why are so many people who were against the war, or are incapable of viewing any American action as anything other than evil or stupid, greeting each fresh revelation with an almost indecent glee?

The other day, while taking a break by the Al-Hamra Hotel pool, fringed with the usual cast of tattooed defence contractors, I was accosted by an American magazine journalist of serious accomplishment and impeccable liberal credentials.

She had been disturbed by my argument that Iraqis were better off than they had been under Saddam and I was now — there was no choice about this — going to have to justify my bizarre and dangerous views. I’ll spare you most of the details because you know the script — no WMD, no ‘imminent threat’ (though the point was to deal with Saddam before such a threat could emerge), a diversion from the hunt for bin Laden, enraging the Arab world. Etcetera.

But then she came to the point. Not only had she ‘known’ the Iraq war would fail but she considered it essential that it did so because this would ensure that the ‘evil’ George W. Bush would no longer be running her country. Her editors back on the East Coast were giggling, she said, over what a disaster Iraq had turned out to be. ‘Lots of us talk about how awful it would be if this worked out.’ Startled by her candour, I asked whether thousands more dead Iraqis would be a good thing.

She nodded and mumbled something about Bush needing to go. By this logic, I ventured, another September 11 on, say, September 11 would be perfect for pushing up John Kerry’s poll numbers. ‘Well, that’s different — that would be Americans,’ she said, haltingly. ‘I guess I’m a bit of an isolationist.’ That’s one way of putting it."

One way out of the quandary is to read the Iraqi bloggers (some of whom are listed on the right--others can be found on the Oraculations website). Today on Iraq the Model, for example, we have an article which happily proclaims the people's joy in Iraq's newfound independence.

"My friends all seemed thrilled and optimistic, yet they seemed to have no interset in celebrating the event. I decided to do something so I asked one of my colleagues to cover for me for an hour; I told him that I have to get something from outside.I directly headed to the nearest bakery and ordered a nice cake and returned to the hospital as fast as I could. On the way, I didn’t see any large calibrations but I noticed that the streets were busier than usual and people looked lively and relaxed.

I invited some of my friends, one of us volunteered to get some beverages and we gathered around the cake to celebrate the happy event....

Some of us were celebrating regaining sovereignty, some were celebrating the end of occupation, others were happy because they think the new government will bring safety and order. I was celebrating a new and a great step towards democracy, but we were all joined by true hope for a better future and by the love we have for Iraq."

Granted, these people aren't representative. Even a hundred thousand bloggers might not be able to convey the truth behind what's really going in Iraq. But still, reading these blogs day after day, one cannot help but be struck by the immense difference between what's happening in their lives as they report it and what's happening in Iraq according the the mainstream media reporters. There's serious cognitive dissonance going on somewhere here.

It's human nature to deny reality in various parts which do not connect well with the "narrative" we're all constructing all the time. We all do it, not just whatever current political enemies we might have, and it's not necessarily a bad thing. Still, one would presume that at least a modicum of honesty and disinterest should be required from these very few people whose stories will have immense impact on the policies of the United States and thereby on the fate of millions.

Now today we have an explanation inthis beautiful piece from an actual marine in Iraq who is a writer himself to boot.
Iraq veterans often say they are confused by American news coverage, because their experience differs so greatly from what journalists report. Soldiers and Marines point to the slow, steady progress in almost all areas of Iraqi life and wonder why they don’t get much notice – or in many cases, any notice at all.

Part of the explanation is Rajiv Chandrasekaran, the Baghdad bureau chief for the Washington Post. He spent most of his career on the metro and technology beats, and has only four years of foreign reporting, two of which are in Iraq. The 31-year-old now runs a news operation that can literally change the world, heading a bureau that is the source for much of the news out of Iraq.

Very few newspapers have full-time international reporters at all these days, relying on stringers of varying quality, as well as wire services such as Reuters and Agence France-Presse, also of varying quality. The Post's reporting is delivered intravenously into the bloodstream of Official Washington, and thus a front-page article out of Iraq can have major repercussions in policy-making.

Before major combat operations were over, Chandrasekaran was already quoting Iraqis proclaiming the American operation a failure. Reading his dispatches from April 2003, you can already see his meta-narrative take shape: basically, that the Americans are clumsy fools who don’t know what they’re doing, and Iraqis hate them. This meta-narrative informs his coverage and the coverage of the reporters he supervises, who rotate in and out of Iraq.

How do I know this? Because my fellow Marines and I witnessed it with our own eyes. Chandrasekaran showed up in the city of Al Kut last April, talked to a few of our officers, and toured the city for a few hours. He then got back into his air-conditioned car and drove back to Baghdad to write about the local unrest."

Read the whole thing.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Protect Yourself

There's a new, particularly nasty, virus out there that you can get just by browsing the Internet. If you're using Internet Explorer(IE) on Windows, this virus takes advantage of the complete lack of security provided by Microsoft (at no extra expense) to embed itself in your computer and send your financial information off to parties unknown.

You can easily protect yourself. All you have to do is use Mozilla or another of the many absolutely free browsers out there as your web browser, and you will be completely safe.

Don't hesitate. Do it before it's too late.
Know When to Hold

A truly great essay from Ginny of Chicagoboyz. It's too long and, yes, too nuanced to easily condense.

Here's one piece:
"Europeans have a different history from ours; their beliefs are different as well. They have given us much—western culture, the rule of law--and in the last century we began to repay that debt. (A fact they grudgingly acknowledge – looking at Bosnia, at the beaches of Normandy.) They have more faith in institutions than we do – in that way, perhaps, we are still the revolutionaries that we were at the beginning--first in terms of beliefs and then in terms of politics. We are thoroughly true to our beliefs - our sense that the fallible nature of man is likely to mold fallible institutions; we worry that openness and transparency are lost in bureaucracies. The United Nations does little to disabuse us of that notion. We value the unencumbered will more than perhaps we should – we think the Europeans value the cushions of the safety net too much (we see retreat and apathy; they see aggressive noise). They see the inequality of annual income and think of permanent penury; we see the flow between medians of income and see potential.

They seem less willing to accept the tragic nature of human life that comes from our religious tradition nor do they have confidence in the commonsensical, sturdy pragmatism we rely on. We accept we have feet of clay and move on. They are more likely to posit an abstraction. We tend to view that idealism as ideology; they dream of utopias, of perfectly managed economies, of heroic and romantic heroes. Sometimes we seem like a Thelma Ritter character (remember her glance in All About Eve, in Rear Window; let's cut through the bull and see what's real, let's doubt those stories). Our leaders are term limited, our economy is open. We may assume innocence until guilt is proven - but that is a matter as much of our limits on our institutions as our confidence in human nature. And because we acknowledge the imperfection in the temporal, we can retain our respect for the eternal.

I suspect in some ways we are even farther apart than we realize. I like our system; they like theirs. In a thousand years, historians will probably observe that there were virtues in their world – and in ours. "
The Unimportance of Europe

In his latest article, Wretchard demolishes the idea that Europe is of any long-term importance. Here are some choice excerpts:

First, NATO is for the most part the American military, other nations contributing very little:
" the basic problem of the alliance ... is cash. While the US contributes 3.3% of its GDP to national defence, 12 of the 19 pre-2004 Nato allies contribute less than 2% of theirs. To look at it another way, the US picks up the tab for 64% of Nato military expenditures ($348.5 million, 2002), while all other allies together contribute only 36% ($196.0 million). For their part, European governments are facing budget shortfalls and budget pressure from ballooning pension costs.

What comes out of this is a capabilities gap. Of 1.4 million soldiers under NATO arms in October 2003, allies other than the US contributed all of 55,000. Nearly all allies lack forces which can be projected away from the European theatre. SACEUR General James Jones testified before Congress in March 2004 that only 3-4% of European forces were deployable for expeditions. ... Allies other than the U.S. have next to no precision strike capabilities, although these are slowly improving."

Second, the thrust of world economic power and energy is moving to Asia:
" Today, China is the most obvious power on the rise. But it is not alone: India and other Asian states now boast growth rates that could outstrip those of major Western countries for decades to come. China's economy is growing at more than nine percent annually, India's at eight percent, and the Southeast Asian "tigers" have recovered from the 1997 financial crisis and resumed their march forward. China's economy is expected to be double the size of Germany's by 2010 and to overtake Japan's, currently the world's second largest, by 2020. If India sustains a six percent growth rate for 50 years, as some financial analysts think possible, it will equal or overtake China in that time."

Third, Eurocentric American leaders who are still romantic about World War II (a romanticism fueled by endless Spielberg movies) are not dealing with the world as it is:
"The crux of the problem, of course, is that the immediate post-World War 2 world and its associated institutions has faded into history. Yet many politicians, perhaps misled by their own youthful memories, continue to act and behave on subconscious assumptions half a century old. The accusation that President Bush was guilty of willful dereliction by not making the United Nations, France and Germany equal partners in the War on Terror is rooted in an inflated conception of their actual importance. Whatever these prestige these hoary old names may conjure, in practical terms their cooperation is probably less vital than that of Pakistan or Israel. The Foreign Affairs article notes how the temples of international diplomacy are infested with discredited gods:

At the international level, Asia's rising powers must be given more representation in key institutions, starting with the UN Security Council. This important body should reflect the emerging configuration of global power, not just the victors of World War II. The same can be said of other key international bodies. A recent Brookings Institution study observed, "There is a fundamental asymmetry between today's global reality and the existing mechanisms of global governance, with the G-7/8 -- an exclusive club of industrialized countries that primarily represents Western culture -- the prime expression of this anachronism."

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Peace and Double Peace

The religion of peace strikes again and again.
From the Department of Patent Insanity

The bank Washington Mutual has now patented the bank branch. Life is too weird for fiction sometimes, no doubt about it.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Bush is Smart

One of the many lies being told by the Democrats these days is "Bush is stupid". Here's a post from Roger Simon's blog which should put that meme to rest once and for all--for those, that is, whose minds are not yet completely closed.

"On IQs, one should remember that a Dem hoaxter once tried to convince the media that it had the test scores of presidents and their IQs. Turned out to be a fraud. None of the researchers actually existed. The think tank in Penn and Dr Werner Levenstein and Dr Patricia Williams were all a hoax. Doonesbuy bought it hook line and sinker. There is this whole exaggerated IQ idea floating out there now. On the Wonderlic/Terman scale, very, very few people really score over 99th percentile 132. Not even the Clintons. Madonna had higher university entry test scores than Hillary Clinton.

What we do know is that the brainy JFK graduated 65 of 110 at Choate and had an very unimpressive 119 on the Otis Intelligence scale. The brainy Democrat Bill Bradley had a verbal SAT according to Slate, of 485 when entering Princeton. He won a Rhodes scholarship, which isn't as many think a scholarship based on merit. Its a who do you know scholarship. By comparison, GW got over 1200 in 1964, one of two consecutive years including 1965 when the scores for reaching 90 percentile were the lowest in SAT history. For example, an unweighted 1200 SAT in 1964 or 65 would have won the individual a NYS Regents Merit Scholarship, full tuition. Using the FIA a group of university student in Boston during the last election found that Bush actually had a better university record than Gore. That is why this entire line was dropped quickly by mass media since 2000.

IQs of former presidents are usually extrapolated from their writing ability and natural vocabulary. Jefferson and Adams have been estimated as the highest based on their prose. FDR was quite mediocre in his studies and writing, not a brain at all and worse was Truman. Clinton's truly feeble, kindergarten prose and simple vocabulary gives one pause when estimating his IQ. What we do know factually is that he entered college with no better an SAT than GW. Hillary has similar scores to her husband and GW, yet the latter two are always called geniuses by the biased media. Clintons and GW all were at the 80-85th percentile on the SATs. President Kennedy was once estimated to actually have the lowest scores of any president of the century.

What we also know is that GW took the same popular Otis exam and scored 25 points higher than JFK. The Boston Globe cited two professors at Harvard Graduate Business School calling GW sharp and extremely intelligent. It is widely observed by the White House press corps memoirs that Clinton had at least as many verbal miscues and even more brain farts during questioning than Bush. There are plenty of blooper reels of Clinton and Carter tripping and falling in speeches, far more than Bush or Reagan, our two morons. They just didn't play as well as a media joke from the left side of the aisle.

Posted by Don @ 06/26/2004 05:47 AM PST "

Wednesday, June 23, 2004


Here's a good article on the current state of Microsoft FUD.
How We Won

Back in April we had troubles in Fallujah and an uprising in southern Iraq led by Muqtada al-Sadr. Lot's of people in the US became frightened that we were losing and we needed to pull out quam primum. Here's the story of how the army won. Funny how this isn't getting much play in the press.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Free Speech

Yep, it's only for those who agree with us.
Primer on Arab Culture

Howard Veit gives us the bird's eye view on Arab culture.
Foreign Entanglements

The United States is a country founded on ideas, not on membership within a given tribe. States formed from tribal membership, when the tribe is abstracted, for example, to the level of everyone who speaks a certain language, are what we call "nation-states". France is such an abstract tribal state, as is Italy, Germany, et al. The United Kingdom was founded as a nation-state but has some of the hallmarks of an idea-state, as even for that matter France does to some extent. The boundary between these concepts is not completely hard and fast.

There is however a fundamental and unavoidable difference in basic foreign policy outlook between a tribal state and an ideological state. A tribal state must first and foremost look out for the interests of the tribe. That is all that matters. If rules have to be bent, if corruption occurs, well, c'est la vie. The survival of the tribe is the highest goal. A tribal state will sacrifice principle for the sake of people. An ideological state must, by contrast, be focused first and foremost on its ideology. It must be true to that ideology and any deviance from the principles of the ideology will be condemned roundly. An ideological state will sacrifice people for the sake of principle.

This ideological nature runs throughout American foreign history. We started with the Monroe Doctrine, essentially declaring that self-determination was to be the fate of peoples living in the Americas. We had a war to end slavery. We had the "War to end all wars". We had the war to end Fascism. We fought at least two wars to stop Communism. The message is clear and unequivocal: we are willing to sacrifice the lives of our children in order to accomplish Good Things in the world. Nearly every American war fits into this category and it is almost impossible for us to fight a war if it does not fit into this category.

It is interesting to note that World War II brought the issue of tribal-state versus ideological-state very dramatically to the fore. Germany and Japan were the ultimate tribal states; Germany declared its citizens to be the "master race" (and in the process were implicitly declaring that it was going to be "race", i.e., tribal membership, which was going to be the operative principle for the world after they won), while Japan's subjects were willing and eager to commit suicide for the sake of their tribe. These tribal states were opposed by two ideological-states, the USSR and the USA. The ideological states won, and in some sense one would expect this. Consider the position of a neutral who is not German or Japanese. Such a person has absolutely nothing to gain from the triumph of the tribe of Germans or Japanese, but everything to gain from seeing them stopped by the universalist states proclaiming a place for all people, regardless of origin. Clearly the self-interest of such a person lies with the ideological states. No one but the Germans and Japanese had any interest in seeing them win; it would have been interesting in an academic sort of way to see what they might have done to each other had they managed to triumph instead.

It is clear from the above analysis how to defeat an ideological state. All that is required is to convince its people that they are no longer furthering the ideology. That they are in fact the cause of opposition to the ideology. This action was performed on the United States by its enemies during the Vietnam War. Once we had become convinced that we ourselves were Evil it was no longer possible for us to have the heart to fight against Evil. "We have met the enemy and it is us" became the byword of the anti-war era. The ideological component of the body politic became focused on the destruction of the United States itself. Never mind that the Communist dictatorship of Vietnam was brutal in the extreme. Never mind that millions of people were murdered and tortured as a result of our withdrawal. The issue had changed. The issue wasn't that the Vietnamese government was worse than the United States, maybe even infinitely worse. The issue had become that the United States was not perfect. Completely forgetting that "the perfect is the enemy of the good", the United States devolved into what the historian Paul Johnson called "America's suicide attempt". A state dedicated to the extirpation of Evil from the world must, like a computer finding itself in a logical contradiction in the original Star Trek, implode upon itself in a feeding frenzy of lustful self-hatred.

Chomsky has made a good living by continuing this process of blaming the United States for every evil in the world all the way to the present day.

There are reports that the self-destruction of the Soviet Union was hastened in a somewhat similar way by the dawning realization on the part of many individuals within that state that, with their gulags and bloody foreign wars, they were not on the side pf the angels after all. Reagan's "evil empire" speech is said to have contributed to this.

There are general limits to the self-destruction an ideological state will undergo once it perceives itself to be Evil. Even the state of the French Revolution eventually pulled back from the brink of the Terror and the Chinese Communists pulled back from the brink of the Cultural Revolution. This is because the people living in any state have, when all is said and done, their own self-interest at heart. You can't eat ideas. You can't wear them on your back. Much of life of necessity must be expended taking care of one's own physical needs. When push really comes to shove, nearly everyone is willing to jettison his or her extreme ideology in favor of just getting along with living life after all.

The Iraq War has brought all this to the fore once again. It is in a sense the perfect war for the United States to fight: it was in our self-interest to do so and was simultaneously ideologically correct for us to do so. It would be hard to imagine a more blatant example of a murderous thuggish dictator who opposes everything we believe in than Saddam Hussein. The Kosovo War by contrast was not fought for our self-interest but was fought for ideological reasons. Because it was led by that portion of the electorate which views itself as ideologically pure (the "Neopuritans") it was viewed as a Good War by them. But the Iraq war was led by the other party and for those who believe themselves to be on a high moral horse, that makes it a Bad War. After all, the issue of whether we Americans are the Ones Who Are Evil has never been decisively answered. To some extent the two main political parties have split along these lines, the Democrats becoming the "America is inherently evil" party and the Republicans becoming the "Americans are the city on the hill" party. The Kosovo War was an attempt by the Democrats to retake their position of the middle Twentieth Century as the party leading the country to its ideological ends, wielding the American military as a Force for Good. And this analysis makes it clear why Abu Ghraib is so religiously important to some people: it proves once again that we Americans are not perfect, so once again we can attack ourselves for being Evil, and once again we can descend into the feeding frenzy of self-hatred and self-destruction.

Republicans, and many Democrats, tend to view the Democrats as rather hypocritical with respect to the Iraq War. After all, as the Democrat Terrye from Roger Simon's blog has pointed out, we never see the Democratic-controlled mainstream media running polls in Kosovo or Serbia asking the people there whether they feel "liberated" or "occupied". That's definitely not a question one is allowed to ask. But the truth is not so much that the Democrats are hypocritical as it is that they are simply conflicted. Or perhaps I should say the Neopuritans--the believers in the ideological nature of the American state--since the Neopuritans are not all Democrats and not all Democrats are Neopuritans. On the one hand, they still believe, deep in their hearts, that the United States, or at least that group within the American body politic to which they belong, is a force for good in the world. Why else would they support the Kosovo War? On the other hand, they continue to believe that America is Evil. As evidence for this is trotted out the endless stories about Abu Ghraib. Since most people don't like to consider themselves Evil for long periods, the "America is Evil" meme has largely been transmuted into the far more comfortable "Republicans are Evil" and "corporations are Evil" narratives.

And thus we see the source of the bitterness so evident in today's political discussions. The Neopuritans are suffering enormous cognitive dissonance. They are faced with a war which is accomplishing the very things they believe in and yet which is being led by Evil Incarnate in the form of George Bush and the Republicans. It must be a very painful position.

We can also see clearly why the "Neoconservatives" are so reviled. The "Neoconservatives" are the precise ideological twins of the Neopuritans--people who believe that the United States should shed the lives of its children for the sake of the establishment of democracy and other ideological gains abroad--yet they reside on the other side, among the Evil Republicans. They are turncoats to the One True Cause and little can be more Evil than that.

The other night my son asked me if I wanted him to die in Iraq or the Sudan for the human rights of the people in those faraway places. His question stopped me cold. He and I agree that the horrible genocide occurring there should be stopped but I have no desire whatsoever to see him die for that purpose. While everyone agrees that Something Should Be Done, no one really wants to die personlly for that cause. Thus we see the other strain running through American foreign policy and our attitudes toward the Iraq War--basic self-interest. Sometimes that means isolationism. Bush made the case for the Iraq War on the grounds of self-interest but that case has not turned out to be the strongest. The Neopuritans have attacked Bush relentlessly on this point, claiming that the threat to the United States was not sufficient to claim American lives. They may be right, but this attack on Bush puts the Neopuritans into a state of extreme cognitive dissonance, for it is against their religious beliefs to argue pure self-interest and in favor of "supporting" murderous tyrants such as Saddam, yet politics makes strange bedfellows. The attempt to ease this cognitive dissonance explains why the argument is often couched in the terms of class and race: it is wrong for rich Republicans to send poor blacks and hispanics to their deaths. That's far more palatable.

Considered from the point of view of sacrificing one's own son, I must say that there is very little that justifies it. Only a direct threat to the country falls within this category. The question is what, in today's hyperlinked world, constitutes a direct threat? Are nuclear weapons and ICBMs in North Korea a direct threat? How about nuclear weapons in Iran? That is precisely the rock upon which the American ship of state is currently foundering.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Good News Department

The first private spacecraft to make it to space and back at low cost just succeeded today. NASA eat your heart out.

A new version of fisking has been created. Be the first on your block to experience it.
Germany Ueber Arkansas

Man if "Europe's economic powerhouse" Germany can barely beat Arkansas in living standards, Europe is in more trouble than I thought.
Arab Failure

An authoritative article on the failure of the Arab world to compete. Lot's of good stuff inside, for example, an interesting analysis of the success and failure of suicide bombing.
Technology and Copyright

Cory Doctorow has produced an interesting article about the history of copyright and the effect of various technologies thereupon. The final word isn't in yet on how the desktop computer and the Internet will affect the ability of Hollywood to produce hundred-million-dollar dogs.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Peace My Ass

The religion of peace strikes again.
The Politics Religion

Many new religions were born in the Sixties. Mind you, none or almost none of these are perceived as religions and that is the essence of religion. Religion is a set of beliefs which are subconscious and so subvocal. Something that cannot be expresse--something that we are not even consciously aware of--that is something that cannot be questioned, something that we cannot be skeptical about, something for which no new Voltaire can possibly arise to ridicule and destroy our faith.

The birth of new religions in the Sixties is a fascinating subject which I do not understand. It is roughly akin to the phenomenon of the creation of tornadoes on the Great Plains every Spring, as the climate shifts dramatically each year from cold to hot. This dramatic change in the air pushes a lot of energy into the atmosphere, which causes localized swirls and eddies to develop, and sometimes these eddies are so energetic as to essentially take on a life of their own, going where they will. So it was, in the metaphysical plane, during the Sixties in the United States.

The shift in the metaphysical climate was so dramatic that comparing pictures of college boys wearing suits and ties and white shirts in the early Sixties to pictures of drugged-out hippies lolligagging around on college campuses in the late Seventies, it's almost impossible to believe it was the same country let alone the same college campus. A huge shift of this sort in the metaphysical plane pushes in a lot of energy and that energy has to dissipate somehow. Voila, a lot of new religions were suddenly created. We got the Moonies, we got the Anti-Sugar religion (and other food religions), we got Born Agains, we got Jews for Jesus, we got Animal Rights Activists, the list is long. One very important new religion among these was the Politics Religion.

But perhaps I err here in my use of the language. The "Politics Religion" is not a full-fledged religion the way that, say, Catholicism is a full-fledged religion. In fact, it's hard (maybe impossible) to say what is a "religion", what is an "ideology", what is a "belief system". My belief is that the distinction is meaningless anyway. The real point is that we all have things that we believe in which give us meaning in our lives on a daily basis. These beliefs are coherent--they don't change radically from day to day--and transmissible from person to person. What name is applied to this process doesn't concern me much but "religion" seems to be most apt.

Nonetheless, these various "religions" differ markedly in their depth and range of emotional appeal. That can already be seen by comparing Catholicism with Protestantism. The Catholic Church provides a wide range of religious opportunities, from scholarly to out and out pagan, while the Protestants in general provide a very toned-down austere version of religion. If that particularly austerity of hard wooden benches with insipid colored glass and an hour of holier-than-thou preachiness doesn't exactly suit you, then the Protestants don't have much to offer. Are there any Protestant cathedrals? Certainly not in the United States. The depth of religious and community commitment required to build a cathedral over the course of centuries is something alien to Protestantism.

Similarly, one can find great variety within the various Protestant sects themselves. Some are quite austere (and for many Protestants, it seems, austerity is itself the point) while others such as the Church of England are not all that far from Catholicism in their basic approach. Which, if any, appeals to you depends on your personal religious needs.

Some people have enormous religious needs which require a religion which controls what they eat, what they drink, and virtually has a rule for every action they take during a given day. Islam is of this nature. For other people, the religious needs are so simple that they can be satisfied by a single belief. The Politics Religion is like this.

The Politics Religion is simply the belief that what God wants is "political action" (although "God" of course is never mentioned). That the most important thing on the planet is that one work to create new laws, new government actions, which will make the world a better place. That the Angels will sing each time I go out and wage a political fight to improve the world, whether people like it or not. It is the Politics Religion which has brought us the seat belt laws, the Politics Religion which is doing its best to outlaw smoking everywhere it can be found, the Politics Religion which has dictated that each and every device sold in the country must be safer than safe--no matter what the cost--or lawsuits will ensue.

It is child's play to look around that world and find things that are not right, that are causing problems, that are inadequate, obsolete, or unfair. No matter how much technological or social progress is made, such problems will always persist. Many of these problems might look mighty trivial to previous generations who struggled mightily to have enough to eat, it is true, but perspective is not important to the adherents of the Politics Religion. It is the fact that things are never as good as one can imagine they could be that is of firstrate importance. We are all bothered by the world from time to time. We all are frustrated by the red tape of bureaucracy or the sheer unfairness of wealth and power distributions. The question is how we should react to this, or even whether we should react to this. The Politics Religion, like any good religion, gives a clear and unambiguous answer to this: yes, we should be concerned, yes, the Angels will sing if we are concerned, and yes, we should fix these problems through political action. There can always be more laws, more rules, more controls, more state-imposed fairness and more state-imposed safety and one can find purpose in one's life by agitating for greater societal control to fix all these problems that are everywhere. That's a good solution to the fundamental religious problem of mankind for many people who grew up in the Sixties and later. Much good can come of this.

There are however some downsides to the politics religion. For many who are in the Sixties generation, they have become obsessed by politics instead of being obsessed by their chosen vocations or professions. Thus we see Noam Chomsky completely focussed on his anti-American political obsessions rather than Linguistics, his chosen profession. American campuses are filled with adherents of the Poltics Religion, people who have no more interest in scholarly activities than they do in ditch-digging, but who have entered Academia merely because they perceived it as an opportunity to carry out the political activities demanded by their religion.

There is also the problem of good choices in public policy. A religious person cannot be reasoned with because rationality is not the issue. Every public policy is a tradeoff between liberty, safety, cost, and other factors. Every new law passed will alter this balance. Some problems are fixable but only at great cost, a cost which is not worth bearing when considered against the magnitude of the problem. Not worth bearing, that is to say, for someone whose religious needs are being met in some other manner. For a person for whom the very act of fixing this problem is providing their purpose in life, there is nothing that is more important than this action, this new law, this new regulation, and costs be damned. For most of us, this isn't necessarily the best use of our limited resources. And the True Believer in the Politics Religion cannot be dissuaded in the least. This can lead to unavoidable conflict and polarization and to flatly bad public policies.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

More Torture

Torture is evil. That's why the New York Times has devoted over forty straight days of front page stories to Abu Ghraib. That's why I fully expect stories like this to make to the front page of the NYTimes soon. Oh wait, I must be dreaming.

I guess torture isn't evil when it's done by Saudi Arabians (an inferior people, oops, I mean a "different culture") or when it's done against Christians (they deserve it).

But then there's this story. Oh, but it's just those silly Christians again. Always getting themselves in trouble.

But I'm sure we can expect the Saudi Arabian and Vietnamese governments to take out full page ads of apology in our newspapers soon....
The Plains

James Lileks has written the best essay on growing up in a small city in the Midwest that I have ever seen. Get some culture. Read it.
Torture Double Standard

I am adamantly opposed to torture. That's one reason why the Iraqi invasion was more than justified.

The American mainstream media however, in its never-ending quest to unseat the Republicans, if not the whole Republic, has decided to present an extremely one-sided view of the subject. While we hear endlessly about the Abu Ghraib atrocities, we hear or see almost nothing about the multitudinous Islamic atrocities. Here's a story about it, but don't expect to see this story in the New York Times or the LA Times. We can't rile up the natives, don't you know.

Oh, and if you're still suffering under the delusion that the media isn't heavilty biased in an anti-Republican and anti-American direction, this is a good place to start.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004


We have many enemies. With modern digital techniques, photoshopped pictures showing practically anything one can imagine can be easily created and made to look realistic. Put these two facts together and we're faced with a world in which our enemies fight us by creating an illusory view of the world antithetical to our interests. Counting on the "perception is reality" phenomenon, they are able to defeat us before we are even able to operate in physical reality.

Consider, as an illustration, the following snippet taken from Omar at IraqTheModel (link on the right). It's an interview on Al-Iraqyia TV. "They were hosting a spokesman of the coalition and the secretary of the Muslim Sunni Cleric Council Harith Muthanna Al-Dhari."

"-Is it true that Fallujah harbor most of the ex-Baathists and Saddam followers and that these are the bulk of the so-called resistance?

-No, that’s absolutely not true. We were always against Saddam and his regime.

-Come on Saddam named Al-Anbar as one of the “white governorates” because its people didn’t take part in the uprising in 1991, and you have had many pro-Saddam demonstrations since the 9th of April there!

-Now that’s not true and let me tell you something you may not know. First there were only two demonstration supporting Saddam after he was caught and that’s how they happened: Soon after Saddam was captured, a reporter from one of the Arab satellite channels, and I don’t want to mention its name [al-Jazeera], came downtown, gathered a bunch of teenagers, handed each one of them 20US $ and gave them some pictures of Saddam. He then asked them to shout and dance and made a great report out of it. The same thing happened again in exactly the same manner!"

Now, more than ever, you can't believe everything you see.

I'm personally very skeptical of "nanotechnology". Not that there's nothing there; but I'm completely convinced that whatever is there is being completely overhyped at the moment. I'm tempted to say that we've had nanotechnology for a long time and it's called "chemistry". But that wouldn't be quite fair.

Nonetheless there's the sound of moving lemmings rumbling in my ears once again. It's nice to see that I'm not the only one who agrees.

P.S. Don't forget to use to get in.
Beyond Megapixels

This article begins a good three-part series on the latest and greates in digital cameras and what one should really be looking for.
Coolest Thing of the Day

If you're like me you're tired of inviting identity theft by spraying your identity all over the internet, only to have it parked in who knows how many unknown databases with who knows how many unknown people having access. It was one thing when most business was done locally by trusted people whom you saw repeatedly. They needed to know what your credit card number was but you knew who they were and you knew the information would go no further. Now we have all sorts of entities on the internet trying to find out everything they can about us so they can sell it to the highest spammer.

Now you can fight back. This site gives you access to a publicly available user ID and password so you can log into these internet sites anonymously. Progress.

Monday, June 14, 2004

BMW of Browsers

(formerly Mozilla Firebird--name changed for trademark violation reasons) is coming out with its latest version. There's a very favorable review just out, which says that "When compared to browsers such as Internet Explorer, Firefox is light years ahead. Microsoft will need to do some serious footwork to catch up to the usability and functionality of this browser.". If you're still stuck in IE under Windows, you ought to try out this new browser.
There's No Place Like Home

For those who are lacking things to worry about, here's something new to add to the list.
Fun Day

Today seems to be Fun Day at the ranch. Maybe because I just finished a rather arduous proposal? Am I actually in a good mood for once?

It's fun to have fun. Here's a new fun game to play: write down a list of your top 25 characters of all time. Then compare your list to the one here or here.

For the programmers among you, check out the Scriptometer Scripting Language Shootout. For everyone else, nothing to see here, move along.
Vocabulary for Fun

A fun site found on Betsy's Page. Give it a whirl. I dare ya.
Something New

For the artists, or just the curious, there is something new and cool here. As this becomes easier I can imagine a future in which whole new art galleries are devoted entirely to this sort of thing.
What We Do

The New York Times reports: "In a global poll conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2002, 65 percent of Americans said their success depended on forces within their control, more than double the percentage in old world countries like Italy and Germany, and triple that of India, Turkey or Pakistan."

Accompanying this in the print edition was a magnificent chart showing how this question fared internationally. Americans believe in their own ability to control their own destiny to the greatest extent, with the usual suspect countries--poor, backward, and cowering under the jackboot of their local dictator and his thugs--having very little belief in their own destiny.

Beliefs have a way of becoming reality. If you believe there is some hope for a better future and that there is a point in getting up and doing what needs to be done, you are likely to cause that better future to become reality.

This is why we succeed.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Tony Blair

The prime minister of the United Kingdom is clearly in trouble. Is this really surprising? The Labour Party is a creature from another era, if not an outright dinosaur. The middle class is growing in Britain, as it is in all modern western democracies; the "working class" is shrinking. The nasty jobs are going away, being done by machines, and I for one say "Good riddance!". The Labour Party was formed back in the bad old days of the late nineteenth century to combat the evils of the (then new) concept of capitalism. It was based on utopian nonsense and the power of labor unions. Until Thatcher it was pretty much the toy of the labor unions. Tony Blair sought to drag it kicking and screaming into the post-war world by toning down the Marxist nonsense and broadening the appeal to the middle class. He sought to include a lot of the save the gay whales sort of platforms that appeal to what Albert Schweitzer called "those with full stomachs": people in the modern world who have all their really important material needs met but who, not being in positions of tremendous responsibility or importance and having lost their faith in traditional religion, are seeking desperately for some sense of meaning in their lives and consequently latching on to whatever cause du jour has the approval of the middle class masses.

That was Tony's plan and Tony's plan worked for a while. But the Lib-Dem party is the natural party for the secular religious middle class, not Labour. What do a bunch of wine-sniffing, brie-eating, Foucault-reading mass-market pseudo-sophisticates really have to do with a bunch of dirty coal miners in Wales? No, Britain has a natural three-way split going now with the Lib-Dems gobbling up the only piece that's growing. It's not quite clear what the constituency of the Conservatives is at this point, but that's another matter. The wonder is that Tony was able to hold the two constituencies of "New Labour" together for so long. That shows real political skill.

What happened? Well, if you're not Scandinavia and haven't been "Finlandized" yet, there are times when it's just necessary to actually play the adult on the world stage. Tony Blair decided to do so. The last thing in the world the save-the-gay-whale crowd wants to do is grow up. The working class might be in favor of a display of British power if their patriotism were properly roused (think Reagan Democrats), but Iraq is a hard case to make from the patriotic point of view. The Iraq War was a patriotic-humanitarian mishmash that almost nobody was or is comfortable with, probably including George Bush and Tony Blair. Tony abandoned both his natural constituencies and now they're both abandoning him.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Steven den Beste has a terrific series of articles about alternative energy, starting here.

Friday, June 11, 2004


Here are some posts shamelessly cribbed from Roger Simon's comment sections.
"After the communist regimes collapsed in Eastern Europe in 1989 (in our case, Bulgaria), we were finally able freely to reunite with family we had not seen since 1945. I lost count of how many friends, relatives and colleagues in Eastern Europe later told us that for them, the key moment in the long hoped for slide to freedom came when Ronald Reagan boldly and openly called the Communist bloc "the Evil Empire". No other American President had ever dared such honesty. For them it was a watershed moment of such exhilaration, that they would never forget it. To this day they still feel gratitude for his courage and integrity, and for his belief that freedom was a God-given right for all people.
America should feel great pride that this man was twice elected to the Presidency. May he rest in peace.

Posted by Emzed @ 06/05/2004 05:08 PM PST "
"I voted for Ronald Reagan while on active duty, and his popularity amongst my shipmates cannot be overstated, matched only by the contempt we shared for his predecessor.

When I first reported aboard my sub, the Navy was still suffering from the malaise of a combination of the Vietnam hangover and the Carter years.

Ronald Regan inspired us and led us to roll back 35 years of Soviet expansion.

I'm amazed by the continued disdain my friends and family have for the man. My mother, a Roosevelt Democrat, insists he was a dunce.

When I point out to her that the leaders of the former Soviet Union credit him with winning the Cold War, she dismisses their admissions as irrelevant.

I'm proud to have voted for him, and sorry I never had the chance to meet him.

Rest in peace, Mr. President.

Posted by Miike Lief @ 06/05/2004 05:09 PM PST "
"Bill Bennett told a wonderful story about Reagan that gives you a great sense of the man and the President.

Bennett, I'm sure we all recall, was not beloved of the press. During one particularly bleak period when he was being savaged by everything from WaPo and The NY Times to the Menominee Falls Gazette, he attended a cabinet meeting.

Reagan entered with a thick folder labelled "Bennett." People began moving their chairs away from Bennett's.

Reagan opened the folder, full of newspaper clippings, columns and editorials. "A disgrace," he read. "Bennett should resign." "The James Watt of Reagan's second term."

Bennett just sat there, in terror. Reagan finished reading out the headlines, closed the folder, and looked up at the assebled cabinet.

"Well, that's what Bill's been doing," he said. "What's wrong with you guys?"

Posted by richard mcenroe @ 06/05/2004 05:15 PM PST "
"I am a life long Democrat (until Sept. 11, 2001 anyway) and I never supported Reagan and reflexively opposed everything he tried to do. But all that needs to be said is that when he took over the country seemed to be on the far side of a rapidly escalating decline. I defy anyone old enough to remeber the gaslines and the double digit inflation and the hostages and the aggressiveness of Brezhnev and the invasion of Afghanistan and all the other crap to say that in Jan. 1981, they ever thought things could get substantially better. Reagan did. He KNEW it in his bones. He didn't know much but he had a world of common sense and he KNEW that communism was a failed system and an evil to be fought and he KNEW that America's best days were ahead. And he was RIGHT. And I was WRONG! I ow realize he was a great leader and a great president. He had probably a greater positive impact through his leadership than any president since Truman. More than that, he had class, he had reverence for the office, for the American people and for the United States. The Democratic party opposed his efforts to win the COld War. It is true and cannot be denied. Not that we favored the Soviets. We just thought the Cold War could not be won. Yet within a year of his leaving office, Eastern Europe was FREE! He and Margaret Thatcher deserve the bulk of the credit for winning the fight against Soveit Communism. I have grown to be a true admirer of the man. All leaders are human, have their faults and failures. But Reagan had the touch of greatness and the country is better for having had him as its leader.

Posted by Doug @ 06/05/2004 07:55 PM PST "
"A little something for you Roger. "You and I are told we must choose between a left or right, but I suggest there is no such thing as a left or right. There is only an up or down. Up to man's age-old dream -- the maximum of individual freedom consistent with order -- or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism. Regardless of their sincerity, their humanitarian motives, those who would sacrifice freedom for security have embarked on this downward path. Plutarch warned, "The real destroyer of the liberties of the people is he who spreads among them bounties, donations and benefits." (Ronald Reagan - October 27, 1964 )
Available here.

Posted by Stephen Meyer @ 06/05/2004 09:53 PM PST "
"lindenen —

* 1979— Carter —
* Inflation 13.3% (1980): 7.5% unemployment

* Prime Rate of Interest at 21.5% (1980): a record high for the rate at which the Federal Reserve loaned money to banks made borrowing money difficult.

1980 — Reagan takes office —

* Prime Rate of Interest at 10.5 Percent (1983)
* Unemployment rates fall to 7.1 percent; interest rates fall (1984): significantly lower than it was in 1982, unemployment was beginning to stabilize at a low rate, while interest rates still fell, along with inflation, bringing the nation out of recession.

* Tax Reform Act (1986): lowered personal income taxes and eliminated around six million poor people from the tax rolls, appeasing both supply-side conservatives and liberals.

During the second quarter of 1987, the U.S. unemployment rate declined markedly, and by December was 5.8 percent—its lowest level in 7 years.

Inflation, 1988 4.4% based on Consumer Price Index

Prime interest rate 1988 (November) 10.5%

Posted by richard mcenroe @ 06/07/2004 01:51 AM PST "

Don't miss these posts from Lileks and Virginia Postrel:

This post seems especially apt somehow:

Don't miss the Siberian prisoner point of view:

And last but not least, read this review by Andrew Sullivan of what the East Coast Media and intellectual elite had to say about Reagan while he was president.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Science and the Schools

All the schools and all the politically correct media praise Science. August foundations are eager to give money to help more women and minorities become Scientists. All right-thinking people agree that the US is falling down in its science education, a belief which is backed by the abysmal test scores our students receive in international competitions. Children's museums across the land are stuffed with Science exhibits of incalculable boredom in the hope that Science--boring as it may be--will rub off magically somehow on the hapless youngsters.

There's likewise an incessant drum beat coming from the federal government, with various state governments chiming in from time to time, declaring that our national well-being is in grave peril if we fail to address the looming scientific threat. First there was Sputnik and the exponential increase in national funding of Science, lest "the Russians happened to get up there first". The students of the Sixties were inculcated with the need for Science in the form of Space. Space was going to be everything. It was the Space Age. The television channels were jammed with images of our near future as we traveled the stars with phasers and robots and the like.

The Eighties on the other hand brought the fear of the might of Japan, Inc., and the fear that any student who didn't grow up with computers in every classroom and around the house and who didn't become a computer programmer at the age of 5 was going to be "flipping burgers". As an aside, it's a little ironic to say the least that many or most of those who did manage to become computer experts back in the Eighties are now out of work, having been replaced either by machines or Indians or far cheaper recent graduates. But that's just an aside.

And there has always been, in modern America, the Science Fair, that solemn annual event in which all children of forward-thinking earnest people must take part, must produce a Science Experiment of great meaning, on peril of their mortal souls. Except that now that we're all Scientists we don't believe in mortal souls anymore, but anyway....

Lately we've had Microsoft itself explaining that it is shipping jobs to India because the American Scientific curriculum just isn't up to snuff. It couldn't be related to the fact that the Indians are ten times cheaper could it? Naw, couldn't be, that was just another aside. This of course takes some kind of chutzpah on Microsoft's part, since no American in his right mind would ever pursue a degree in Science knowing as he does that such stalwarts of American industry as Microsoft will never hire him. But Microsoft has never lacked for chutzpah.

Yet despite years, nay, decades of earnest exhortation toward more Science on every side, our students continue to produce those lackluster scores which put us at the bottom of the Scientific leagues of the Industrial World. College enrollments in scientific and engineering fields continue to decline. What's going on here?

To begin with, very few people in our country understand science. Science is not big machines and rockets and space and lasers and computers. Science is not Big Projects. Science is not having a "Hypothesis". Science is not the "Scientific Method". Science is not Isaac Newton's theories of mechanics, nor even Albert Einstein's Theory of Relativity, nor yet Quantum Chromodynamics. It is not String Theory or even HyperString Theory. Science is none of those things at all, although they are all part of science.

No, science (as opposed to Science) is really quite simple. It's just honesty. In Catherine Johnson's terms, science is simply the act of allowing your right brain to do its job. That means that when you see a fact which interferes with the "narrative" your left brain is trying to create, you don't allow yourself to just blow that fact off. You give it some thought. You allow for your narrative, your theory, to be changed. You honestly try to resolve the apparent contradiction. You climb down from your high horse if necessary. If your theory can't be changed as far as you can honestly see, you accept that the fact is inconvenient to your theory and you accept some humbleness toward your understanding of this vast universe. Your theory may be wrong; the fact may be wrong; your understanding of the fact may be wrong. You don't just blow the fact off, you acknowledge that there's something here you don't understand and you move on. You keep looking for evidence, holding this inconvenient proverbial pebble in the proverbial shoe and continue to hope that the time may come when you are enlightened, when the mental pebble is allowed to be removed, when the fact and theory, in other words, match after all.

Science is not popular and has never been popular because this willingness to back down, to change the narrative, to admit not knowing, to admit being wrong, is in direct contradiction with human nature. It's hard to admit being wrong and very hard to change our own narrative. For most of us, I would venture, our brains are hard-wired to reject those inconvenient facts and for most of us that's a survival trait, not a deficit. The true scientists of this world have been few in number and most of them were so ultra-nerdy that they are now widely believed to have been mildly autistic. Somehow, by being disconnected from Social Reality these ueber-nerds of the past were freer to interrupt their own internal narrative honestly. It would be interesting to know exactly what that connection, between social retardation and the ability to interrupt the narrative honestly, really is.

If very few citizens of our great country are able to grasp the essence of science, even fewer school teachers are able to do so. And I assert this coming from a family of teachers myself. Studies show that education majors tend to get the lowest scores among all majors on standardized tests such as the SAT. For most of them, science is nothing more than a painful memory of some nasty classes which were required for graduation. It is likely that for such people, although they may have managed to memorize that F = ma, there is very little chance that they ever came across an understanding, or even a statement of, the true nature of science, cutting away all the detritus of formulas and failed exams. Most elementary school teachers in particular are "SJ" Myers-Briggs types, the sort of person who wants to know exactly what the rules are in great detail and wants to stick exactly to those rules. In other words, the sort of person who of all people is least likely to change or alter the narrative. In other words, the least scientific of all personality types. Expecting such people to inculcate the next generation with the true spirit of science is roughly equivalent to expecting Osama bin Laden to turn up tomorrow as a born-again Christian.

But our society cries out, figuratively speaking, for the application of scientific principles, not in a big way, but for small decisions which have to be made all the time. Even the school system itself. For example, study after study after study has shown that small class size (no larger than 15 or so) is the one variable which consistently causes significant improvement in pupil performance. This is objective fact. But small class size is seldom or never implemented in our schools. Lots of other things are tried. The school buys more computers, switches the math textbook, puts in new audio-visual equipments, takes more field trips, teaches more about minorities, etc. etc., but this one thing which schools can do and which is known to be successful is seldom adopted. Why? Because it doesn't fit the agenda of the people in charge. It doesn't fit, in my current parlance, in the "narrative" of the people in charge. There are at least five groups pushing and pulling the schools, all acting in their own self-interest rather than that of the schools: the administrators and school boards, the state governments, the federal government, the teachers and their unions, and the parents. All of these groups want something. None of them wants exactly what is good for the students, though they all pay lip service to the students' needs. The teachers want, for example, more money and better benefits; the administrators want fewer teachers who are better qualified and will work for less; Congressmen frequently want to spend money on gizmos for the schools which just happen to be made in their home district--pure chance of course--and so forth.

There are many examples of this sort. Does home schooling produce better results? If so, under what circumstances? Which programs actually help inner-city blacks to get higher test scores, and which actually hinder them, when looked at honestly? Does science education lead to greater happiness? Does creating journalism schools produce better journalism? Who knows? Nobody wants to apparently.

So science is not applied even to the schools themselves. People frequently feel that science is not relevant to their jobs when in fact science is very relevant to their jobs, it is just antithetical to the narrative they wish to perpetrate.
All Praise Alhamedi

If you haven't been reading The Religious Policeman (link on the right), you should. His post on the Saudi Slave Experience is absolutely precious.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

How Our Media Supports Our Troops

This article explains.
Catherine Speaks

Catherine Johnson, who contributes frequently to Roger L. Simon's blog, wrote a post the other day which was so informative I felt it was worth preserving here where I could find it again.

<< Obviously I think about this kind of thing all the time, because I write about the brain.

I found the research Brooks cites fascinating because it confirms research in neuroscience showing that the human brain is built to think in narratives.

The left-brain, which is our conscious brain, creates smooth, coherent narratives out of the myriad facts & sensory data coming at it.

If a fact doesn't fit the narrative, the left-brain re-shapes the fact until it does, or edits it out altogether.

(I don’t think neuroscientific research has spent much time yet focusing on the other option, which is to change the narrative to fit the facts. So this isn’t the whole story, but it’s a big part of it.)

When we complain about the MSM here on Roger's blog, very often what we are complaining about is the “liberal narrative.”

John M had a hilarious post (he may not have thought it was funny!) about how we'd reached the point where we were going to have to find whole football stadiums full of ricin-filled missiles aimed directly at the U.S. for the MSM to believe Saddam had WMD.

He’s right about that, and it’s a classic example of left-brain spin.

According to the liberal narrative, Saddam did not have WMD in the run-up to the war.

Well, obviously a ricin-filled explosive contradicts this narrative.

So what do you do to make it fit?

You put it through the minimizing machine: The shell was old, the amount of ricin was tiny, the people who used it didn't know what was in it, maybe it came from Iran not Iraq, and so on.

You re-shape the fact to fit the narrative.

That is the way the human brain works, and everyone does it.

The left-brain is the b***t artist.

The right-brain, which is not conscious and does not have language (though it’s involved in communication), is the reality principal.

Here is a nice statement of these principles:

the left hemisphere [creates] a coherent, stable narrative or interpretation, sifting through the massive array of detailed inputs, ordering them and folding them into an existing worldview, ignoring anomalies or distorting them to fit. Gazziniga argues for a very similar role for a left hemisphere "interpreter", which tries to make sense of the present in relation to the past of a nervous system, in some cases resolving anomalies by reconstructing the past. In Ramachandran's view, the right hemisphere plays the role of revolutionary, questioning the status quo and drawing attention to anomalies. The right hemisphere keeps the left's story-telling in check.

All this said, Hugh Hewitt’s objections are apropos for the simple reason that the fact that all brains create narratives does not mean that all narratives are equal. Novelists and historians both create narratives, but one is fictional and one is not.

My own sense has been that the conservative narrative on Iraq is both more accurate and more open to revision than the liberal narrative. Of course, that could be my deluded narrative-about-the-narrative (meta-narrative!) but even if it is, it doesn’t change the point. Some narratives fit reality better than others, and a majority of Americans have felt for some time that Republicans are “better on defense.” I have come to agree.

Today the liberal narrative is: Saddam didn’t have WMD, didn’t have a connection to al Qaeda, and was not a threat to the U.S. Period. These propositions are taken as fact.

My own version of the conservative narrative is: Saddam may have had WMD in the run-up to the war, may have been connected to 9/11, was probably involved in the first attack on the WTCs, would have acquired nuclear weapons eventually that would have allowed him to dominate the Middle East and deter us, and was a current and future threat to us, to his neighbors and to Israel.

Every point in my narrative may be wrong, but every point is also provisional.

When it comes to a murky country like Iraq, I’m willing to bet that a provisional narrative is the superior narrative.

Since I write nonfiction, I constantly have to figure out whether what I’m saying actually is nonfiction.

The best rule I’ve come up with is to politely question everything I think I know, as well as everything experts think they know.

A scientist I used to work with told me that when he writes research papers, he doesn’t put a single sentence down on paper without asking himself, “How do I know this?” and “What's my evidence?”

I’ve read only one peer-reviewed article of Paul Wolfowitz’s, but it gave the impression that he was using the same rule. And I became a fan of Rumsfeld’s when he made his “unknown unknowns” observation. That is the sound of a man questioning what he knows.

I would like to see schools teach this particular “meta-cognitive” skill more than they seem to do now.

I would like to see schools teach students not to “question authority” but to “question narrative.”

This way of putting it sounds ludicrously New Agey, but in fact what I’m talking about is teaching students to identify the implicit argument made in any text including their own, and to notice whether that argument has been supported.

I’d like to see students ask themselves, “Does this author know what he thinks he knows?”

And: “Do I know what I think I know?”

That might help.

(Or it might not. This opinion falls into the known-unknown category.) >>

Some time back my former student Steve Smith made the comment that he increasingly saw the world as a set of "narratives" people tell themselves. It seems he was right.

Noblesse Oblige?

The Romans didn't start off seeking an empire. They fought three vicious wars with Carthage merely to continue their own interests in peace, or so they saw it. They nearly lost it all. When they finally won they swore "never again" and razed Carthage to the ground, sewing its fields with salt so that no one could ever live there again. When all was said and done, Rome found itself in possession of a set of territories which had formerly been Carthaginian and were now under the rule of the Legions. What should they do with them?

They made them into what they called "provinces" and allowed favorite senators to earn extra cash on the side by serving as governors for a few years. The governors could earn a pretty penny because all the provinces were corrupt; corruption wasn't considered corrupt in those days (and still isn't in France for that matter). The provinces were war spoils and the position of the inhabitants of the provinces vis a vis the Roman government was problematic. Largely they were left to work out their own affairs as long as they paid their taxes and obeyed Roman law when it applied. This was part of the genius of the Roman system: a sort of live-and-let-live attitude which made it face-savingly possible for the inhabitants of the provinces to live their lives under distant Roman rule.

Still, there were problems with this system. Notably it was government without representation, which only enjoys a certain limited amount of legitimacy, even in ancient times. The problem lay, as a matter of fact, closer to home with the Italian allies, the groups of cities and peoples on the Italian peninsula itself who had come under Roman rule during the course of the Punic Wars with Carthage. Like the provincials, the allies lacked representation within the Roman government. The Legions were strong and military revolt was out of the question. The allies, and the provicials for that matter, were relatively well-treated and felt no overwhelming need to revolt in any case. Nonetheless, there is something that chafes at military control without representation. Eventually the Romans solved the problem: they granted Roman citizenship to the Italians, then to some of the nearby provincials, and eventually to everyone in the Empire.

After World War II, the United States found itself in military control of much of Europe and Asia. Some of that control has been relinquished, but to this day we have major military bases in Germany and Japan. Germany remains an occupied country. As Britain allows its naval fleet to drop to the lowest level in centuries and the continental Europeans allow their armed forces to deteriorate to skeleton crews, it's clear that these countries no longer see the need for having a military of their own. This is for two reasons: they believe themselves protected by the United States armed forces, and they do not fear the United States militarily. If they did, they would make at least some effort toward protecting themselves.

Europe is now effectively under the military control of the United States. The military fate of the Europeans rests largely upon the decisions made by the American government, not the decisions the Europeans make. If, with George Washington, you agree that what government is ultimately about is force, then it follows that the government, at least in some sense, of Europe is in the control of the United States. Yet the Europeans have no vote in the United States. Their fate lies inextricably tied up with the whims of the American president, but they do not get a chance to select him or influence the selection. We have inadvertently created, in reverse, the very situation we rebelled against in the first place: government without representation.

Is it time to grant American citizenship to the Europeans? The time will come. Maybe.