Jan 22 2010

Things you’re not allowed to say at airports

Category: government,Group-think,national securityharmonicminer @ 10:10 am

99-year-old Granny isn’t the problem

I learned a new word from this column, which makes it worth the price of admission… which is free.  All worth reading, but here is the money paragraph, basically a reaffirmation of the “emperor’s new clothes” problem:

Question: what do the 9/11 killers, the Shoebomber, the Heathrow plotters, the Pantybomber, the London Tube bombers, the doctors who drove a flaming SUV through the concourse of Glasgow Airport and the would-be killers of Danish cartoonists all have in common? Answer: they’re Muslim. Sometimes they’re Muslims with box cutters, sometimes they’re Muslims with flaming shoes, sometimes they’re Muslims with liquids and gels, sometimes they’re Muslims with fully loaded underwear. But the Muslim bit is a constant. What we used to call a fact. But America’s leaders cannot state that simple fact, and so the TSA is obliged to pretend that all seven billion inhabitants of this planet represent an equal threat.

Jan 21 2010

Why are professors Left?

Category: higher education,leftharmonicminer @ 10:39 am

Here is a post that began as a facebook discussion with my friend Kirsten…  and since I can’t bear to type anything and only use it once, read on.  Warning:  in this discussion, the labels “liberal” and “conservative” must be understood historically.  Modern “conservatives” believe about the same things as 18th- and 19th-century “liberals.”  Modern “liberals” are often somewhere on the spectrum between late 19th-century “progressives” and 19th-century “socialists.”  In the 18th century, “conservatives” were those who wanted to maintain the governing status quo involving royalty, aristocratic privilege, and the like, bearing no resemblance to modern “conservatives.”  So watch your head, or you might bump on on a low hanging ideological pipe.

In a lengthy article that purports to report on sociological research into the indeological predispositions of university faculty and people’s reactions to them, we are reminded that Professor Is a Label That Leans to the Left. (Much more at the link.)

The overwhelmingly liberal tilt of university professors has been explained by everything from outright bias to higher I.Q. scores. Now new research suggests that critics may have been asking the wrong question. Instead of looking at why most professors are liberal, they should ask why so many liberals, and so few conservatives, want to be professors.

A pair of sociologists think they may have an answer: typecasting. Conjure up the classic image of a humanities or social sciences professor, the fields where the imbalance is greatest: tweed jacket, pipe, nerdy, longwinded, secular, and liberal. Even though that may be an outdated stereotype, it influences younger people’s ideas about what they want to be when they grow up.

At least it’s nice that the NYTimes acknowledges that academics are mostly leftists.  Now if only they admitted the same about the mainstream media, and themselves, we’d be in a more honest place.  In any case, the conjecture here only explains (to some extent) why academia remains leftist. It doesn’t explain how it got that way, except with a pretty thin reference to reaction to the New Deal.

As is often the case with attempts at sociological explanation, the central roles of ideas and values are shunted aside in favor of demographics. Ask yourself this: without a Marx or Nietsche in the history of ideas, would the academic establishment have trended left? What if the favorite ideas of the left had not developed in the 19th century? They didn’t HAVE to develop then. They just did.

What if Dewey had not influenced the public educational establishment as he did?  What if progressive politics had not found a home in activist universities? 

Ideas have consequences. The leftist academic establishment, all the while that it derides the notion of “progress” in society, still thinks its ideas are better than the old ones that were replaced… all the while denying that there is a universal standard by which they can be judged “better”…. but nevertheless being quite confident that there really aren’t such things as right and wrong, God and Satan, etc.  Except, of course, in the case of global warming deniers, who clearly are destined for the pit of Hell.

I think the nature of the ideas explains much more than demographic “typing.”  People have always been looking for two things: ways to get power over others, and ways to maximize personal freedom for themselves.  Very, very much of the liberal left is well-described by that.

The case of sociology is especially instructive, given that from the beginning it was a social/political agenda masquerading as an academic discipline.

While some conservative groups have had an anti-education bias since the late 19th/early 20th century, that is itself a REACTION to the trend leftwards in academia that flowed from those ideas I mentioned earlier. This anti-education bias was not always there, and was never a given, until the 19th century ideas produced enough leftists in the academy that some “conservatives” over-reacted.

Some of the more “conservative” people in the 18th century WERE in the academy (“conservative” is in quotes because at the time they were sometimes called liberals). Think Adam Smith, our founding fathers, etc. Note, I did not say the academy was all conservative, even then, but simply that there was lots of representation of “both sides” (really, more than two) in the academy, until this century’s response to 19th-century ideas led to an activist academy, self-consciously so, and that was something fairly new. Woodrow Wilson is just about the perfect example of the academician with an agenda in the early 20th century. Despite his racism, he is much beloved of the Left. They recognize him, correctly, as one of their own, who believed government was the answer to nearly every human problem…  so much so that admiration for Wilson was expressed both by Mussolini and Hitler, especially Wilson’s brand of “war socialism.”

When professors are given guns (and the power of government is the biggest gun of all) they are disinclined to show restraint in using up the ammo. 

Jan 20 2010

The good Islamic Republic President? 24 descends further into fable

Category: societyharmonicminer @ 9:22 am

Here is a crazy, evil man.

Here is the idealized actor who is playing the role of President of “the Islamic Republic” in season 8 of 24, where Jack Bauer plays the intrepid grandfather role.

So, we’re supposed to believe that a thinly disguised Iran is suddenly negotiating in good faith to cancel it’s nuclear weapons program?  And that this President of the “Islamic Republic” is opposed by radical forces including his own brother, when all he wants is peace and friendship with the west?

Well…  it IS TV.  Fantasy land.  Maybe the high forehead is supposed to convince us he’s the good guy.

What can you expect from a show that last season portrayed a private American security company (loosely modeled on Blackwater) as the villain that was launching bio-weapon missiles all over the place?

I’m afraid I’ve lost hope that TV shows can keep telling interesting stories based on who the terrorists actually are.

24 managed a couple of seasons that were actually about Islamic terrorists.  Out of 7 complete ones, so far.  It’s too early to know where this season is going…  but the Ahmindinewhackjob substitute is going to try to make us think he is equal parts Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr., with a bit of Thomas Jefferson thrown in…..  no, not the part about dedication to freedom and liberty, but the feet of clay where women are concerned.

Of course, on TV Superman can fly.

UPDATE:  The second episode has the necessary criminal cop, who is willing to torture and murder Jack Bauer without trial because he thinks he killed a cop.  It also has the innocent rookie cop who reluctantly stands by while the older, evil cop does the deed.  Gosh…  I wonder how they get such ground breaking ideas?   This episode isn’t over yet…  I’m sure they won’t kill Jack off this early in the season.  But Jack has already been hit with a double Tazer dose, kicked, then struck in the head five times very hard…  I’m sure after this commercial is over, he’s going to leap up in an amazing display of 50 yr old vitality and grandfatherly resilience, and triumph over the evil constables.

UPDATE 2:  It turns out I was half right.  Jack DID leap up and take down the older evil cop, but was delayed by the younger one, who, in a fit of conscience, seems to have decided to phone it in.  Of course, the evil older cop was a white, shaved head type, and the younger, nicer one is some kind of Asian with a nice face.  I expect central casting sent out for someone with the look of the White Aryan Brotherhood to play the older, evil cop.

Amazingly, Jack’s face does not even appear to be bruised.

On the other hand, the black CTU Director is obviously not the good-hearted, competent cliche we’ve seen in police Captain roles since the 1970s, trying to subdue unruly white detectives by yelling at them without really meaning it.  He seems to be pig-headed and easy to fool with planted evidence.  Oh well… can’t win ’em all.

The people who bought this show from the original creators at the beginning of year 7 have no apparent compunctions about resurrecting every Hollywood script cliche imaginable.  I wonder what will be next.  Maybe a criminally psychotic murderous priest?  Yeah, that’s the ticket.

When it first started, 24 was a really original show.  Now, it’s just an echo.

UPDATE 3:  Oh NOOOOOO!  It’s the Russians again!  Maybe this time the evil priest will be Russian Orthodox.

Jan 19 2010

Whose idea of “Social Justice”?

Category: left,societyharmonicminer @ 9:55 am

Reformed Pastor Kevin DeYoung has A Modest Proposal.

I’d like to make a modest proposal for Christians of all theological and political persuasions: don’t use the term “social justice” without explanation.

The term is unassailable to some and arouses suspicion in others. For many Christians, social justice encompasses everything good we should be doing in the world, from hunger relief to serving the poor to combating sex trafficking. But the phrase is also used to support more debatable matters like specific health care legislation, minimum wage increases, or reducing carbon emissions. If something can be included as a “social justice” issue then no one can oppose said issue, because who in their right mind favors social injustice?

So begins an interesting article (read it all) that makes the very simple point that “social justice” is not well-defined.  It is not a friendly term, nor a particularly honest one. That’s because just about anything that anyone thinks society “should do” can be called a matter of “social justice.”  It is a term designed to stop discussion, because who can be against “justice” of any kind?

More pointedly, it is a term that is used mostly by people who want the government to do something, generally something broadly redistributive, or some exercise of government power to force people to do something “for society” that they don’t want to do.

A few questions will make the point.

1)  Why isn’t the epidemic of unwed birth since LBJ’s “great society” programs began considered to be a matter of social justice? This is especially so since the best way to be a poor child in the USA is to be the child of a mother who is not married to the father. That’s also the best way to wind up in jail.

2)  Why isn’t protecting the lives of the unborn a matter of social justice?

3)  Why isn’t the unavailability of jobs for poor American citizens, due to illegal aliens taking the jobs, considered to be a matter of social justice?

4)  Why isn’t the negative effect on school performance brought on by the flood of children of illegal aliens in our schools, a negative effect which degrades the quality of education received by the children of American citizens, considered to be a matter of social justice?

You get the idea. Some things are matters of “social justice” in the minds of those who are fond of the term. Some things aren’t.

But the distinction has nothing whatsoever to do with “justice,” and has everything to do with Leftism.

When Leftist Christians use the term “social justice,” and specifically exclude the first two questions above, the smokescreen is suddenly very easy to see through.

Jan 18 2010

White privilege = having a father?

Category: government,politics,societyharmonicminer @ 9:32 am

I’ve written before about the real nature of the problem in “black America” (in quotes to make the point that there are MANY middle class black families doing just fine in the USA).  The articled linked here, Chicago’s Real Crime Story by Heather Mac Donald, covers the background of the problem of black crime in Chicago, most of which is black-on-black crime, of course. It’s a great article, worth reading completely for the perspective it brings. Here is how it ends:

Barack Obama started that work in a startling Father’s Day speech in Chicago while running for president. “If we are honest with ourselves,” he said in 2008, “we’ll admit that . . . too many fathers [are] missing from too many lives and too many homes. They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. . . . We know the statistics—that children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of school and 20 times more likely to end up in prison.”

But after implicitly drawing the connection between family breakdown and youth violence—”How many times in the last year has this city lost a child at the hands of another child?”—Obama reverted to Alinskyite bromides about school spending, preschool programs, visiting nurses, global warming, sexism, racial division, and income inequality. And he has continued to swerve from the hard truth of black family breakdown since his 2008 speech. The best thing that the president can do for Chicago’s embattled children is to confront head-on the disappearance of their fathers and the consequence in lost lives.

This kind of statement ought to be as obvious as 2+2=4.  It should be blindingly clear to everyone that when society and government provide incentives for bad behavior, we will get lots more bad behavior.  Nevertheless, the incentives to black women and girls to make babies out of wedlock are still there, despite “welfare reform.”  The lack of incentive to postpone sexual activity until marriage is also there, in the form of abortion mills ringing inner-city neighborhoods, making huge profits for white males who own them and operate them, and perform abortions in them.

The really tough fact to face is that even if we remove the incentives for early sexual activity and child-birth today, it will take a least a generation, perhaps two, to undo the damage that has been done by those incentives, however well-intended they may have been on the part of the politicians who enacted them.  It took us three innercity generations (about 15 years each, sadly) to get where we are today after the enactment of the Johnson Great Society programs that created those incentives, although the effects were obvious twenty years ago.

This means that it will take a degree of political will, in removing those incentives, that can withstand all of the horror stories, accusations that removing the incentives didn’t work and merely caused suffering, etc.  It will take about 20 years, at least, for the results to become unambiguously clear that removing incentives for bad behavior reduces the bad behavior, resulting in fewer births out of wedlock, fewer children abandoned by their fathers, fewer abortions, etc.

It’s much easier to blather on about environmental “sustainability,” without dealing with how well our culture can sustain itself with fewer and fewer fathers in the home, especially in minority neighborhoods.

We do need to do what we can do for those who are now in our society, but not at the cost of dooming yet another generation to the same circumstances.  But that is exactly the effect of nearly all current public assistance and welfare programs, because they encourage more people to engage in the behaviors that will create more and more people who “need” such assistance, and encourage the birth of more and more children in worse and worse situations.

There are many people now living whose situations we simply don’t have the power to fix, absent their own realization of their responsibilities, and determination to do something about them.  We DO have the power to reduce the number of people in the future who are born into similar circumstances, if we use it, simply by reducing the incentives to make babies who will be raised without fathers, and by increasing incentives to postpone sexual activity until marriage.

Sadly, I doubt that our politicians, of either party, will summon the necessary will to make the case with sufficient clarity and force that such changes in entitlement law are necessary, and are the only way to solve our current problems of poverty and crime.

Jan 17 2010

You can blame Gaia’s fury. You cannot blame God’s fury.

Category: global warming,Group-thinkamuzikman @ 8:58 am

When it comes to assigning blame not all deities are created equal. Read about it here

Case in point:  I seriously doubt Danny Glover will be publicly bashed in the same manner as Pat Robertson, though both statements about the Haitian earthquake are outrageous and ridiculous.

Jan 16 2010

Big Bird needs his own talk show

Category: humorharmonicminer @ 9:05 am

Call this one a guilty pleasure.

Jan 15 2010

Reading minds with machines?

Category: technologyharmonicminer @ 9:45 am

Mind-Reading Systems Could Change Air Security

As far-fetched as that sounds, systems that aim to get inside an evildoer’s head are among the proposals floated by security experts thinking beyond the X-ray machines and metal detectors used on millions of passengers and bags each year.

I want to take one of these new mind reading machines to a faculty meeting sometime.

Much more at the link.

Jan 14 2010

Britain R.I.P.? Part Four

Category: Europeharmonicminer @ 9:35 am

The previous post in this series is here.

I’m not the only one who thinks Britain is doomed.

UPDATE:  Let’s be clear.  When you no longer have the right to the means for self-defense, the so called “right to self-defense” is meaningless.  When you no longer have the right to defend yourself and your family, you no longer have the right to live.  When you no longer have the right to live, you are a thing, a slave….  or just nothing, a cog in a social machine in which you are totally expendable.

Which is probably not a bad definition of a British citizen these days.

Jan 13 2010

A moderate conservative on a moderate Muslim?

Category: Islamharmonicminer @ 9:50 am

If you read here much, you know that I am skeptical about the existence of “moderate Islam,” although I think there are such things as “moderate Muslims.” By that, of course, I mean that there is precious little ideological or historical support for “moderate Islam” as a coherent perspective, because such a perspective would require ignoring so much that is central to the Koran and Hadith, as interpreted by Muslims themselves.   But there are certainly Muslims who desire to be moderate, and are struggling to find a way to be so.

Here is a very interesting opinion piece by Paul Wolfowitz, a former U.S. ambassador to Indonesia and assistant secretary of state for East Asia, and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.  He is a well known conservative, and a person who was central in the Bush Administration’s decision to invade Iraq.  He is much reviled by the Left, but opinions like the one below show him to be far more nuanced than he is often portrayed.

Wahid and the Voice of Moderate Islam


Abdurrahman Wahid, who died last week at the age of 69, was the first democratically elected president of Indonesia, the world’s fourth largest country and third largest democracy. It has the largest Muslim population of any country in the world. Although he was forced from office after less than two years, he nevertheless helped to set the course of what has been a remarkably successful transition to democracy.

Even more important than his role as a politician, Wahid was the spiritual leader of Nahdlatul Ulama, the largest Muslim organization in Indonesia, and probably in the world, with 40 million members. He was a product of Indonesia’s traditionally tolerant and humane practice of Islam, and he took that tradition to a higher level and shaped it in ways that will last long after his death.

Wahid recognized that the world’s Muslim community is engaged in what he called in a 2005 op-ed for this newspaper “nothing less than a global struggle for the soul of Islam” and he understood the danger for Indonesia, for Islam and for all of us from this “crisis of misunderstanding that threatens to engulf our entire world.”

Wahid was one of the most impressive leaders I have known. Although his formal higher education was limited to Islamic studies in Cairo and Arabic literature in Baghdad, his breadth of knowledge was astounding. With a voracious appetite for knowledge and a remarkably retentive memory, he seemed to know all of the important Islamic religious and philosophical texts. He also loved reading a wide range of Western literature (including most of William Faulkner’s novels) as well as Arabic poetry. He enjoyed French movies, and cinema in general, and could identify the conductor of a Beethoven symphony simply by listening to a recording. He was an avid soccer fan and once compared the different styles of two German soccer teams to illustrate two alternative strategies for economic development. He loved jokes, particularly political ones. During Suharto’s autocratic rule he published a collection of Soviet political humor in Indonesian, with the obvious purpose of teaching his own people how to laugh at their rulers.

Despite all that learning, Wahid had a common touch that enabled him to express his thoughts in down-to-earth language. He thus gained broad legitimacy for a moderate and tolerant vision. He could speak to young Indonesians, grappling with the relationship between religion and science by explaining to them the thoughts of a medieval Arab philosopher like Ibn Rushd (known to Christian philosophers as Averroes). And he was all the more effective because he himself had grappled with controversial ideas.

Wahid had been somewhat attracted in his youth by the writings of Said Qutb and Hasan al Banna, the founders of the Muslim brotherhood, but his deep humanism led him to reject them. When I visited him recently he told me of a long-ago visit to a mosque in Morocco where an Arabic translation of Aristotle’s “Nichomachean Ethics” was on display. Seeing that book had brought tears to his eyes and Wahid explained: “If I hadn’t read the ‘Nichomachean Ethics’ as a young man, I might have joined the Muslim brotherhood.”

No doubt, what had so impressed Wahid was that Aristotle could arrive at deep truths about matters of right and wrong without the aid of religion, based simply on the belief that “the human function is activity of the soul in accord with reason” (Nichomachean Ethics, Book I). But his tears must have reflected the thought of how close he had come to accepting a cramped and intolerant view of life and humanity.

Throughout his public career, three ideas were central to Wahid’s thinking. First was that true belief required religious freedom. “The essence of Islam,” he once wrote, is “encapsulated” in the words of the Quran, “For you, your religion; for me, my religion.” Indonesia, he believed, needs “to develop a full religious tolerance based on freedom of faith.” Second was his belief that the fundamental requirement for democracy—or any form of just government—is equal treatment for all citizens before the law. Third, that respect for minorities is essential for social stability and national unity, particularly for Indonesia with its extraordinary diversity.

Throughout his career Wahid spoke up forcefully for people with unpopular ideas—even ones he disagreed with—and for the rights of ethnic and religious minorities. He was admired by the Christian and Chinese minorities for his willingness to do so. One of his first acts as president was to participate in prayers at a Hindu temple in Bali where he had earlier spent several months studying Hindu philosophy. Later he removed a number of restrictions on ethnic Chinese and made Chinese New Year an optional national holiday.

Even after leaving office, Wahid’s role as a defender of religious freedom was extremely important. Indonesian voters have rejected extremist politics at the polls—and the leadership of the current president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono deserves much credit for that. Nevertheless, extremist views and even violent extremism too often go unchallenged. A recent report from The Wahid Insitute (which he founded in 2004) notes that a minority with extremist views, now in control of the Indonesian Ulama Council, has issued religious rulings against “deviant” groups. An even smaller minority that espouses violence, particularly the Islamic Defender Front, has attacked Christian churches and the mosques of the small Muslim Ahmadiyah sect.

Wahid was one of the few prominent Indonesians to defend the rights of the Ahmadiyah or to speak out forcefully against the Islamic Defender Front. Doing so takes courage. But he was always courageous, whether in defying President Suharto at the height of his power or in his personal struggle against encroaching blindness and failing health.

Although optimistic that “true Islam” will prevail, as he wrote in his 2005 op-ed, Wahid did not underestimate the dangers facing the world from an “extreme . . . ideology in the minds of fanatics” who “pervert Islam into a dogma of intolerance, hatred and bloodshed” and who justify their brutality by declaring “Islam is above everything else.” This fundamentalist ideology, he said, “has become a well-financed, multifaceted global movement that operates like a juggernaut in much of the developing world.” What begins as a misunderstanding “of Islam by Muslims themselves” becomes a “crisis of misunderstanding” that afflicts “Muslims and non-Muslims alike, with tragic consequences.”

No one who knew Abdurrahman Wahid can believe that those fanatics who preach hatred and violence speak for the world’s Muslims. Even though the extremist ideology represents a distinct minority of Muslims, it is well-financed and well-organized. To confront it, Muslim leaders like himself need, as he wrote in 2005, “the understanding and support of like-minded individuals, organizations and governments throughout the world . . . to offer a compelling alternate vision of Islam, one that banishes the fanatical ideology of hatred to the darkness from which it emerged.”

That support includes material support, but it also includes the moral support that comes from international recognition and attention for Muslim leaders who speak out with the courage that Wahid did.

When Wahid was only 12 he was riding in a car with his father, Wahid Hasyim, himself a prominent Muslim leader at the time of Indonesian independence, when the car slid off a mountain road and his father suffered fatal injuries. What Wahid most remembered from that tragic event was the sight of thousands of people lining the roads as his father’s casket traveled the 80 kilometers from Surabaya to his burial at Jombang. Overwhelmed by the affection people had for his father, he wondered “What could one man do that the people would love him so?”

As the funeral procession for Wahid himself traveled the same route on the last day of 2009, thousands of mourners, deeply moved, again lined the road. What had he done that Indonesians so loved him? Perhaps the question is answered by the words that he asked to have on his tomb: “Here lies a humanist.” That he was and a great one as well. No one can replace him, but hopefully he has inspired others to follow in his path.

Mr. Wolfowitz, a former U.S. ambassador to Indonesia and assistant secretary of state for East Asia, is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

h/t: Michael Yon

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