Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Stalinism come round

This article, arguing that the failure of the West to adequately deal with--or even understand--the current Islamist movement is a result of our failure to deal with the ideological offspring of Communism, makes a strong case. I think it's maybe a bit oversold as far as laying too much of the blame on Stalin, in that some of the ideas were circulating in early 20th century America as the result of different historical moments. Still, Stalin's not a bad place to start.

Via Instanpundit.

Monday, February 20, 2006

A new strategy

I think the Isalamists have hit on a more successful means to their insane ends--instead of just one big murderous attack every six months or so, they'll just be outwardly crazy all the time. That way, people will start to ignore them and miss stories like this. So far, it's working:

A Jew Is Tortured and Killed in Paris...But Is it Anti-Semitism? Mais, non!

Saturday, February 18, 2006

For whom the bell tolls...

The New York Times has run one editorial so far (from what I can tell) on arguably the biggest story of the month, possibly the year: the massive protests, murders, violence, and destruction following the publishing 5 months ago of some cartoons depicting the prohpet Mohammed. Following standard journalistic practice, I'll pause here to point out that "Muslims consider depictions of Mohammed blasphemous." That statement is a bit incomplete, which most news outlets have never taken the time to point out. The truth: Mulsims of the increasingly, radical, fundamentalist bent that have come to form the broad mass of Islam as it exists today around the world consider depictions of the prophet blasphemous. Mulsims of the more enlightened, scholarly, academic nature that existed several hundred years ago had no such hang ups. That in and of itself might be an interesting story, but despite looking, I haven't seen it anywhere. Probably people are afraid to write it out of the not unreasonable fear of being murdered.

The story is a crucial one about how a significant percentage of the world's population views the freedom of the press. As reported in the AP story about the latest flare up of murders over the cartoon, Grand Imam Mohammed Sayyed Tantawi of al-Azhar University, the world's highest Sunni Muslim seat of learning, said, no, actually, demanded "that the world's religious leaders, including him and Pope Benedict XVI, should meet to write a law that ''condemns insulting any religion, including the Holy Scriptures and the prophets.'' He said the United Nations should then impose the law on all countries." (inside the little quotes are direct quotes, inside the double quotes is text from the AP story).

Let's be crystal clear about the political position of the murderers and their accomplices. 1) Freedom of speech does not extend to the realm of religious statement, or even political statement about religion. 2) Religious pride should be treated as personal property, something to be guarded by the state with the threat of force. 3) The violation of religious pride should be pereceived in the same way as an attack on one's property or life, appropriate to be met with violent force in defense.

This is a radical notion. It certainly stands in opposition to the great majority of Western thought over the past several hundred years and the founding principles of democracy in the West. You would think that the NYT, whose very existence is made possible by those prinicples being challenged, would want to mount a spirited defense? They made a comment about it in an editorial today, I kid you not, here's the direct quote: "Who needs sophomoric cartoons to inflame the Muslim world when you've got the Bush administration's prison system? One reason the White House is so helpless against the violence spawned by those Danish cartoons is that it has squandered so much of its moral standing at Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib." A few questions: How is it that Bush is helpless? He's not the target of the violence, nor is it his responsibility to try and stop it. I agree with the criticism concerning Abu Ghraib and G-bay, but this sounds quite obviously like a two wrongs make a right comment. Second question: the cartoons didn't spawn the violence. The cartoons were published five months ago. The violence was spawned by a failed ideology being employed by fascist imams trying to exert ever more control over an uneducated, impoverished and easily manipulated people. That the people are so easily manipulated is the latest symptom of the ongoing corruption of Muslim society.

Unfortunately, the one editorial the NYT did write directly on this point is behind the Timesselect wall, but maybe we can glean a bit from the title and first sentence you are allowed to see. The title is: "Censoring Truth." Oops, actually that strongly worded title is actually a tirade about Bush and some NASA thing. The real title is "Those Danish Cartoons." As if the cartoons, and not the murderous anger of the world's Muslims is the real story. The first line is: "Cartoons making fun of the Prophet Muhammad that were published in a Danish newspaper last September are suddenly one of the hottest issues in international politics." Hottest issues? It makes it sound like Capri pants..."Man, have you seen the latest? Burning down embassies because your fragile religious sensibilities have been tweaked? Everybody's doing it!?" Other reports on the editorial include the following quote:
"The easy points to make about the continuing crisis are that (a) people are bound to be offended if their religion is publicly mocked, and (b) the proper response is not to go on a rampage and burn down buildings. If Muslim organizations want to stage peaceful marches or organize boycotts of Danish goods, they're certainly within their rights." Wow, the very existence of the worldview in which the NYT is allowed to exist is under attack, and they make there defense in part (b) of a spineless two part summary of events.

Remember Piss Christ? That's the federally funded work of art showing a crucifix in a jar of urine. Boy, how those Christians went nuts! All those buildings that got burned down, people that got murdered, that was mayhem. What...that didn't happen? And yet the NYT still editorialized against people who would rather not have their tax dollars directed towards a mocking of their values? Yes.

Remember that portrait of Mary (the mother of Jesus) covered in feces? Remember the riots, fires and murders? What!? Not even one murder? What about the NYT, what did they say? "Gratuitous assaults on religious symbols"-- "sounds juvenile." No, that's what they said about the cartoons (really). The cartoons were gratuitous. Covering a (peaceful) symbol of a religion in shit--this is the response: "cultural experimentation and transgression are not threats to civility but part of the texture and meaning of daily life."

Actually, they're right--the only true threat to civility is violence. The greatest threat to a democratic civilization is when speech is restricted in the face of fear of reprisal. The NYT, in their weak and anemic defense, have cast their lot with their own opponents, the agents of their own destruction. This is a big deal...it would be nice if the paper of record would notice.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Pop Quiz!

Which of the following best describes the above picture?

(a) Radical left-wing college students (mostly unemployed, unhygenic, and easily manipulated young men) demonstrating - at some IMF/World Bank meeting or something - against the secular capitalist culture of the West, especially that of the United States


(b) Radical fundamentalist Muslims (mostly unemployed, unhygenic, and easily manipulated young men) demonstrating against the secular capitalist culture of the West, especially that of the United States


(c) Both of the above

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Odds and ends

Scientific experiments usually test a very narrow set of conditions. Dietary studies are often the most narrow because they can't vary too much with the sample sizes they are dealing with. Hence, I get very frustrated with the reports about dietary studies such as this one which claims that low-fat diets have absolutely no effect on breast cancer, colon cancer or heart disease. What the study actually shows is that this particular form of low-fat diet had no effect on the rates of those diseases in a statistically significant way during the 8-year period they looked in. Now, you think scientists would be somewhat cautious about how to interpret that result, instead we get people like Julie Hirsch from Rockefeller saying "These studies are revolutionary" or Dr. Michael Thun calling them "the Rolls-Royce of studies." Asses.

First of all, cancer takes a bit of time to develop. I think they teach this in high school now, which maybe our Dr.'s didn't attend, but a cancer cell accumulates several "hits" over time which leads to it becoming malignant. Because you changed the environment of the cancer cell for 8 years, a pretty short period of time, you can't really make many claims about how a diet taken on over a lifetime affects health outcomes. You can only say that changing your diet for 8 years when you are 50 isn't going to do much and I think we all could've guessed that anyway without all this hubaloo. It is true that doing a study over a lifetime would be impossible and would involve children. We do have large correlational, population studies, which have the problem that they are merely correlational, but they do suggest that there are powerful effects of diet. Certainly, given the breadth of correlational studies that show dietary effects, even with their weaknesses it should give one pause when deciding to throw them out because of a very narrow eight-year study. I'm not impressed, but the NYT has run a few stories recently of this sensationalistic nature that diet is not important after all. It's poor journalism and poor science. I hope these doctors were quoted out of context.

On a quick note, a pat on the back should go to Wal-Mart Watch and Wake-Up Walmart and the United Auto Workers union. Today we see the fruits of their tireless labors: Wal-Mart has opened up more stores in January than in any month in its history and plans another 1500 (get that FIFTEEN HUNDRED) some of which will be urban, multi-story and more "fashionable." Boy that Wal-mart movie and all the protests: have they worked or what! Wal-mart's back is up against the wall now!

Meanwhile, largely non-union Toyota is expected to report its most profitable year ever, while GM lost more money than most other countries GDP. You'd think eventually people would catch on to this efficiency/capitalism/everyone in a company benefits thing, but I guess it takes time....

Monday, January 30, 2006

Posner and Paul

I'm not suggesting that Judge Richard Posner, one of Alan's idols, is reading the blog, but he does seem to be in agreement with my latest post on the Palestinian elections. He also makes the point, which the news stories leave out, that the popularity of Hamas has as much to do with their humanitarian efforts as any resistance to Israel. Sure, the images on TV are always people rioting in the streets or cheering some suicide bomber, but the day-to-day living in the occupied territories is no cake walk and for many people the only source of food or medicine is Hamas. Again, if you've read this blog, you know I'm a big supporter of Israel and am not offering any support for Hamas's terrorist activities, but to Joe Palestinian going to the voting booth, the issues that matter most to you are going to be ones of competency and services. Everyone talks about the "surprise" of the election, but if you've ever talked to someone from the region about the role Hamas plays, it wasn't such a shock. They are a lot of unknowns at this point, but I think plenty of room for hope. From the Posner piece:

So democracy itself is not a panacea for the world's political ills and dangers. But if the Palestinians are able to develop a genuinely republican government and move rapidly toward embourgeoisement, there is some hope for the eventual emergence of a peaceful Palestinian state.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Why the filibuster is a good idea for the Democrats and the Hamas victory might not be so bad after all

Here at the Show, we tend to be wary of media "certainties." Sure, sometimes the media is accurate (they usually nail that "time of sunrise" and "time of sunset") but generally, whenever the media conventional wisdom coalesces around a conclusion, like how George W. Bush couldn't win re-election with his poll numbers and how John Kerry made people feel "safe", you should put your money somewhere else (George Bush was easily re-elected. John Kerry made most people "annoyed" and seemed "creepy").

Today we have the seemingly bizarre development that John Kerry and Ted Kennedy are going to try and filibuster Samuel Alito for confirmation to the Supreme Court. The media is already pronouncing this a foolish and destined-to-fail maneuver. And it is probably destined to fail (most other Democrats are not supporting it). But I don't think it's so foolish...the reason why starts with the following table:

Age of Supreme Court Justices:

1) Stevens-85
2) Ginsberg-72
3) Scalia-69
4) Kennedy-69
5) Breyer-68
6) Souter-66
7) Thomas-57
8) Alito-55
9) Roberts-50

Now, anything can happen, but it seems that the judge likely to retire next is John Paul Stevens, certainly among the most liberal if not THE most liberal judge on the bench (a Ford appointee, strangely enough). A Stevens replacement, much more so than Alito replacing O'Connor, has the potential to shake up the court. When O'Connor first announced her retirement (and Roberts was first nominated to replace her), most media reports accurately noted that major decisions such as Roe v. Wade were safe, as they were supported by a 6-3 majority. For some reason, during the Alito hearings, I was unable to find one single media story that mentioned that fact. Instead, they were all about how Roe is in "danger." The remaining five justices in favor of Roe are Breyer, Ginsburg, Souter, Kennedy and Stevens. An Alito confirmation keeps Roe safe and sound, assuming Kennedy stays with the majority. While Kennedy swings sometimes, he mainly does whatever keeps himself in the limelight, which in the case of abortion, now more than ever, means siding with the liberals. That means that Roe will not be overturned and we will all be forced to read more Kennedy decisions. Seriously, whatever your politics, reading a Kennedy decision is cringe-inducing--it's like reading earnest 7th grade poetry.

But if Stevens were to retire, then there would be a solid, 5-person conservative majority if Bush gets to appoint the successor. Assuming he nominates someone like Roberts or Alito, it would be extremely solid, not like the wishy-washy conservative majority that relied on the whim of Kennedy or O'Connor (and as a added perk, Kennedy would become far less powerful and hopefully would write less...or at least be less inclined to his "soaring" language, as the media usually refers to it).

Which brings me to why the filibuster is smart politics. The Democrats let the Roberts nomination through with, for them, a minimum of whining (though oodles more than the Republicans ever whined about Clinton's nominees). They have given Alito hell, but have not threatened a serious filibuster. But by putting the word "filibuster" out there, and letting it fail, they set the stage for a real filibuster the next time around. It doesn't seem as unprecedented if they try to use it for Stevens replacement, because, hey, they did it once before (even if it didn't work). And they, and the friendly media, will go all out explaining what the real stakes are in a Bush-appointed Stevens replacement. Overall, I'd say the Democrats have played their hand pretty well, slowly ratcheting up the stakes so that the nuclear histrionics they are planning on pulling seem like merely the next logical step.

A quickie comment on Hamas winning in the Palestinian elections: if the new Hamas leaders are serious about a stable Palestinian state, which is in their interest if they want to hold on to their power, then they will make some kind of peace with Israel. A poll released this morning says that approximately 50% of Israelis think their government should negotiate with Hamas. Like Nixon going to China and Clinton signing welfare reform, a Hamas-negotiated settlement would have an authority the Fatah government could never muster. It's also worth noting that while Hamas is a terrorist organization and last I heard is chartered for the destruction of Israel, they have a massive humanitarian relief program on the local level within Palestine. Many Palestinians that support Hamas do so for the very practical reason that Hamas helps them out, getting food, services etc. It in no way excuses their terrorist activities, but it helps explain why they garner so much popular support (again, I think the media here has been tremendously lax in reporting the full scope of Hamas activities). Hamas has a real opportunity to break with the past, make peace, and reform the Palestinian government and security forces from a corruption that was institutional within the Fatah movement. It may not seem like an ideal situation, but it may be the best chance the region has.