Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The News from China...

China may cancel stock market dividend tax

China was considering canceling the dividend tax paid by shareholders to liven the laggard stock market.

Unidentified sources said that the State Council met last Tuesday and decided to remove the dividend tax beginning June 1.

Officials from the central bank and the securities regulator attended the meeting.

The securities regulator would hasten its steps in carrying out favorable tax policies for investors, said Shang Fulin, chairman of the China Securities Regulatory Commission. Analysts think it signals a possibility that the dividend tax might be cancelled.

At present, shareholders are levied a 20 percent tax for any dividends received, a policy that has remained unchanged for years.

Analysts said that it would hugely benefit stockholders if the dividend tax were canceled. Investors would receive in total 10.08 billion yuan (US$1.22 billion) more dividend if the tax were canceled, according to 2003 data released by companies listed on domestic exchanges. The dividend distributed by 655 listed companies in 2003 reached 55.43 billion yuan.


It's quite amazing it took this long. The State Administration of Industry and Commerce has finally banned Chinese restaurants from serving sushi on the naked bodies or young women.

The administration has officially issued a notice to a restaurant in southwestern China, which put the order into effect.

The restaurant was another in a string of eateries that has been found to be serving sushi on unclothed female university students, rather than on tables.

Slow or not, the officials have finally deemed that the practice of serving Japanese food on naked women is not up to China's standards of conduct because it "insults people's moral quality", the Beijing Times reported.

Serving such food on women's bodies also "spreads commercial activity with poor cultural attributes", the administra-tion's notice said, whatever that means. Not to mention that it's a bit demeaning to the women...

Avant garde restaurants have been seeing a renaissance in this business among male clientele in particular, with men reportedly attracted to such eateries both because of the tender and delicate seafood and the tender and delicate surfaces the food is served on.

As reported in April, 2004, the Hefeng Village Huaishi Cuisine Restaurant in Kunming, Yunnan Province, was serving sushi and other Japanese food on two prone naked university girls. Diners paid as much as 1,000 yuan (US$120) each for a meal. The deal was popular, with reservations required as much as three days in advance.

But serving seafood on women in the raw just didn't sound all that appealing to most Kunming residents. The restaurant soon cancelled the service.

Not to mention what happens if the wasabi gets in the wrong places.

And to think I thought that was only cinematic over-absurdity when it was in Rising Sun.

A whole bunch of people who don't exist

according to the religious right, can be found referred to here.

There are probably around 1,000 intersex babies born every year in the United States. The numbers can add up. The term actually refers to six different conditions where children are born with ambiguous sexual structures.

The majority are the result of something going wrong early in a pregnancy, where the fetus is exposed to an inappropriate amount of hormones in the uterus.

You can get genetic girls who look from the outside like males because they were exposed to male hormones at a critical stage of fetal development. Conversely, you can get genetic males looking like females because they didn't get enough male hormones in utero.

There are a whole group of more mixed external manifestations of gender that also occur.

Public policy and how it gets that way...

Caine in the TV show from the '60's "Kung Fu" was an amalgam of an amalgam: the part was the very embodiment of the martial arts genre as spaghetti western of which each borrowed from each other so that the origin was as mixed as Caine's character: A totally yin-yang sort of thing.

And so it is with public policy...

Link 2

...The tax rate on investment income is typically much lower than the rate on wages and salary. For example, the tax on a $1,000 capital gain from the sale of stock generally comes to $150, while the tax on $1,000 of salary can be as high as $350. The special low rate on investment income allows investors to avoid paying tens of billions of dollars in taxes each year. And yet the alternative tax does not treat that super-low rate as a tax shelter.

To be fair and efficient - and to help make up the revenue that would be lost by shielding middle-income taxpayers from the alternative tax - investment income should be taxed the same as ordinary earned income under the alternative system...

Well, yes, right certainly. But how come it hasn't happened?

Link 3

"There are a lot of people in America who look at what we do here in Washington with nothing but cynicism," said Emanuel. "Heck, there are a lot of people in Washington who look at us with nothing but cynicism." But, he went on, "there are good people here. Decent people on both sides of the political aisle and on both sides of the reporter's notebook."

...this particular community happens to be in the nation's capital. And the people in it are the so-called Beltway Insiders -- the high-level members of Congress, policymakers, lawyers, military brass, diplomats and journalists who have a proprietary interest in Washington and identify with it.

They call the capital city their "town."
- Sally Quinn

Bill Galston, former deputy domestic policy adviser to Clinton and now a professor at the University of Maryland, says ... "most people in Washington believe that most people in Washington are honorable and are trying to do the right thing..."

"This is a community in all kinds of ways," says ABC correspondent Cokie Roberts, whose parents both served in Congress...

"This is our town," says Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut,...

"This is a contractual city," says Chris Matthews, who once was a top aide to the late Speaker of the House Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill. "There are no factories here. What we make are deals.

Now admittedly, Sally Quinn was talking Lewinsky here, but let's face it: a community is a community is a community.

And why not include Daniel Okrent in that community?

Why not include ourselves?

Ultimately we run the United States- we are the bosses ultimately.

No matter what comes out of the NY Times, or the Washington Post or Fox, we still can know from where our money comes and where our money goes, and why and what is done in our name with the taxes we pay.

However, I think some people may not be aware of that.

Certainly not Joe Liberman.

And some, I suspect, may not care, like the folks who pay for rendition.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Some more stuff on China you don't read every day...

Sort of fitting for Memorial Day, too: to keep the peace, let's try to figure out what lies we've been told by whom. However, this has to do with the events at Tiananmen Square, which happened 16 years ago this week. In the post below, I referenced this op-ed, in the Japan Times, which had the surprising paragraph:

That the Western media have largely gone along with Tokyo's claims over Yasukuni is further proof of just how easily they accept distorted views of China. Other examples include the Tiananmen massacre myth (check the now declassified cables from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing at the time for the true story), the claim that China's claims over Taiwan are expansionist (check the terms on which every major power has accepted Beijing's sovereignty over the island), or Beijing's constant reference to Taiwan as a "renegade province" (check the English-language Web sites for the main Chinese newspapers to find the reality). And so on.

(Emphasis mine)

Well, I took up the author of that piece, Gregory Clark, on, so to speak. Here is the declassified history of Tiananmen square.

In addition to providing information on the events of June 4, the cables provide dramatic examples of the kinds of intelligence provided by diplomatic reporting. Document 14, an embassy cable from June 4, reports on confrontations between soldiers and protesters, some of which ended in deaths, and vandalism by military personnel, who one source claimed were breaking the windows of shops, banks, and other buildings. On the same day, another cable from the U.S. Embassy (Document 15) reports, among other things, the statement of a Chinese-American who had witnessed the crackdown who claimed that, "The beating to death of a PLA soldier, who was in the first APC to enter Tiananmen Square, in full view of the other waiting PLA troops, appeared to have sparked the shooting that followed." In addition to these eyewitness accounts of the crackdown, other cables (Document 16) also provide information on PLA troop positions and casualty estimates.

One section of the Secretary of State's Morning Summary for June 5th (Document 17), titled "After the Bloodbath," focuses on developments in Beijing. It reports that "troops continued to fire indiscriminately at citizens in the area near Tiananmen Square." It also notes the destruction of a large number of military vehicles, threats to execute students, and the potential for violent resistance by students. The intelligence report also provides details on the worldwide reaction to the massacre, noting the unanimous condemnation of the "bloody repression" by foreign leaders, "regardless of ideology.

There's much more here. For example, this document shows that what was going on was far more chaotic than what we were told at the time. And this document, which says "civilian deaths probably did not reach the figure of 3,000 used in some press reports," but believes that the figure put forward by the Chinese Red Cross of 2,600 military and civilian deaths with 7,000 wounded to be "not an unreasonable estimate."

Make no mistake about it: this is a black stain on China's leadership at the time, but it was clearly something that was not as controlled and planned as we were led to believe.

"We fail to see that it is not in the Western interest to have the Chinese and the Indians at each other's throats."


Here's something you don't read about every day.

hina's successful moves to improve ties with India have done more than sabotage Tokyo's hopes for an anti-China alliance with New Delhi. They have also put an end to the myth that China's alleged aggressions against India since the 1960s would prevent any rapprochement between the two countries.

The key to this strange belief was the claim that China in 1962 had launched an unprovoked border attack against India. That claim was a blatant lie -- and one of the brighter and shinier variety. It was a classic example of the ease with which Western governments and intelligence agencies, together with their friends in academic, media and research organs, combine to distort information and blacken China's reputation in Asia.

In 1962 I was China desk officer in Canberra's Department of External Affairs. For much of the year there had been reports of Indian troops pushing into Chinese positions along the Sino-Indian border. On Oct. 20 we had a further report about clashes between Chinese and Indian troops at the Thag La ridge near the NEFA (North East Frontier Area) border, which was to lead to a Chinese counterattack into northern India...

the maps in front of me showed the Thag La ridge to be north of even the Indian-claimed frontier. So India must have attacked China first, and in an area where China had already offered major territory concessions (condemned, incidentally, by Taipei as a sellout to India).

When my cables to London and Washington confirmed this rather important fact, I assumed I could suggest to my superiors to ease up on their instant denunciations of Chinese "aggression" and their promises of immediate arms to India. Their response was swift: "We fail to see that it is not in the Western interest to have the Chinese and the Indians at each other's throats."...

he myth of Chinese aggression against peaceful India was to distort Asian affairs for more than 40 years. With the help of Western black-information agencies -- British especially -- it was to provide much of the justification later for Western intervention in Indochina. Detailed documentation from Beijing proving the location of the Thag La ridge was ignored...

Now, finally, with last month's historic meeting between the Chinese and Indian prime ministers in New Delhi, the myth is being buried. Both sides have agreed to settle frontier differences -- something China has long been able to do with all its other contiguous neighbors, often generously. India has dropped any challenge to China's sovereignty in Tibet. China has recognized Indian sovereignty over the once semiautonomous Himalayan region of Sikkim. A strategic partnership has been promised.

There's more there; many assertions to check out.

But it's worthwhile to note that before we get knee-deep in knee-jerk ideological reactions to others, that what we think of as "facts" might not be facts at all.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Corporate radio reacts to the podcasters...


Hee hee hee...they are soooo cooked.

A bubble for rich people beginning to burst?


After big losses by some funds and generally stagnant performance this year, more investors have begun asking for their money back, said several experts who track the vast, unregulated private investment groups that cater to the world's richest investors.

Redemption requests that may come due in late June or in early July are expected to undercut the performance of some already struggling hedge funds as managers unwind market bets so they can come up with enough cash to return to investors.

"People were sold on the idea that hedge funds were investment products that had no down months and would perform all the time," said Cyril Delamare, a director at Tara Capital SA, a Swiss advisory firm. "Now they're waking up to the reality that this isn't true."

Some hedge fund investors and brokers are talking of a less likely, but more worrying scenario: A wave of redemptions could force lots of managers in the same market to liquidate positions at the same time, sparking a chain reaction of sharp price drops that could force other investors to lose money.

Still, those same market professionals dismiss doomsday scenarios, including comparisons to the infamous collapse in 1998 of Long-Term Capital Management, the hedge fund whose demise prompted the Federal Reserve to step in to avert a full-scale market meltdown.

In recent years, wealthy people have herded into hedge funds at an unbridled clip, expecting steady returns irrespective of the market's usual peaks and valleys. These private investment partnerships are now estimated to oversee more than $1 trillion, after managing less than $40 billion in 1990.

Some of that enthusiasm may be beginning to wane.

The Hennessee Hedge Fund Index, a gauge of about 900 managers overseeing at least half of the capital in the industry, fell 1.62% in the first four months of 2005.

In April, the industry recorded its worst losses in more than two years, according to Tremont Capital Management, a Rye, N.Y.-based investment firm that tracks hedge funds. See full story.

This is problematic for the rest of us, because declines in prices of derivative securities must, at some point, due to a tendency towards efficient markets and the opportunity for arbitrage, affect the prices of the securities on which derivatives are based.

In short that means your IRA/401(k) is also vulnerable, thanks to people who thought that this type of security would always go up.

This is, I think traceable to the rampant innumeracy of Americans (and others?): no matter the gambling strategy, there's always the possibility of gambler's ruin.

Or, to put it another way: one guy making money on some long/short position means that there's a complementary position in which another guy's losing his shirt.

Two Joes not on my iPod

A rapper named "Fat Joe"...

...and "Big Joe"

It's easy to confuse them, I think.

YESSSS....MST3K comes to a group near you!


If you soak up the Jackson Pollocks at the Museum of Modern Art while listening to the museum's official rented $5 audio guide, you will hear informative but slightly dry quotations from the artist and commentary from a renowned curator. ("The grand scale and apparently reckless approach seem wholly American.")

But the other day, a college student, Malena Negrao, stood in front of Pollock's "Echo Number 25," and her audio guide featured something a little more lively. "Now, let's talk about this painting sexually," a man's deep voice said. "What do you see in this painting?"

A woman, giggling, responded on the audio track: "Oh my God! You're such a pervert. I can't even say what that - am I allowed to say what that looks like?"

The exchange sounded a lot more like MTV than Modern Art 101, but for Ms. Negrao it had a few things to recommend it. It was free. It didn't involve the museum's audio device, which resembles a cellphone crossed with a nightstick. And best of all, it was slightly subversive: an unofficial, homemade and thoroughly irreverent audio guide to MoMA, downloaded onto her own iPod.

The ability to create counter-narratives is the ability to redistriubte power.

It is also cool, and a joy to see happen.

Memorial Day Thoughts

Does this offend you? It is a photo of Yasukini Jinja (Shrine) (or 安国神社).

I have to say, to me their website has one of the characteristics of the Focus on the Family website: it kind of ignores the fact that there were lots of nasty things done, and puts a religious veneer on that avoidance of nastiness.

The Kami of Yasukuni Jinja offered up their lives in battle with prayers for the eternal independence and peace of Japan, and the sincere wish that wonderful history and traditions of Japan, left to us by our ancestors, will continue to be conveyed to future generations.

The peace and prosperity of Japan today is the fruit of the noble work of the Kami of Yasukuni Jinja.

Let us have greater love for "Our Japan" that the Kami of Yasukuni Jinja sacrificed even their lives to defend.

I think this mixing of politics and religion is as bad as any other- and quite a bit worse than many.

Having said that, the dead are the dead who became dead in the struggle of war, a struggle often marred, instigated, and continued by a fatal stupidity. And the vast majority of the dead, certainly those remembered as 安国神社, were somebody's children in the wrong place at the wrong time, perhaps drunken with nationaist idealism, but who, in another time and place, would hardly hurt a fly. But they did ofen try to hurt people from other countries, often successfully. And sometimes, no doubt, they died heroically.

We have, of course, our own Yasukuni Shrine in the US, and similar things could be said:

The vast majority of the dead commemorated in US wars were somebody's children in the wrong place at the wrong time, perhaps drunken with nationaist idealism, but who, in another time and place, would hardly hurt a fly. But they did try to hurt people from other countries, often successfully. And sometimes, no doubt, they died heroically.

We can best remember the dead and honor them not by tying little flags to our cars, having picnics and barbecues and shopping sprees, but by actively practicing peace and wisdom, and understanding the causes and circumstances in which people from all countries fought and died, and attempting to see that those conditions that gave rise to such bloody bellicosity do not arise again. Those conditions still exist today; can we use them to cultivate wisdom, generosity and kindness, and thereby extinguish the desire for violence?


Thursday, May 26, 2005

Speaking of epistemology, here's Michelle Malkin on the koran abuse...

Well, at least she responded here.

It should be obvious to anyone who so much as glances at the documents being cited that the FBI was reporting the statements of detainees rather than endorsing or validating those allegations. Immediately before describing the Koran-in-the-toilet allegation, the FBI notes the detainee's statement that "God tells Muslims to do a jihad against non-Muslims." Does Kos expect us to believe the FBI is endorsing that statement too?

Many detainees have made allegations of serious physical abuse as well as mistreatment of the Koran. Notwithstanding the MSM's "flood the zone" coverage, that's neither unexpected nor particularly newsworthy.

Are the detainees' complaints valid? Maybe some are. But the FBI documents heralded by Kos and others as evidence of abuse actually show that a significant number of detainees' complaints were either exaggerated or completely fabricated.

One detainee who claimed to have been "beaten, spit upon and treated worse than a dog" could not provide a single detail pertaining to mistreatment by U.S. military personnel. Another detainee claimed that guards were physically abusive and told detainees that U.S. soldiers were having sex with the detainees' mothers. Yet this detainee said he had neither seen any physical abuse nor heard these comments from the guards...

  • Is she saying, "Don't believe them, they're Muslims?" It seems that way.
  • The construction fallacy is rampant here (A is contained in B implies that if A is false, B is false).
  • The "blame the victim" mentality also seems pretty evident in Malkin's screed.
She does say read the FBI reports though. On that, at least, I can agree. But my reading of those documents shows pretty damning evidence that troops calling themselves from the US have been been engaging in the kind of actions we Americans and human rights groups have deplored for decades.

Why folks oppose the religious right


An Indianapolis father is appealing a Marion County judge's unusual order that prohibits him and his ex-wife from exposing their child to "non-mainstream religious beliefs and rituals."

The parents practice Wicca, a contemporary pagan religion that emphasizes a balance in nature and reverence for the earth.

Cale J. Bradford, chief judge of the Marion Superior Court, kept the unusual provision in the couple's divorce decree last year over their fierce objections, court records show. The order does not define a mainstream religion...

The parents' Wiccan beliefs came to Bradford's attention in a confidential report prepared by the Domestic Relations Counseling Bureau, which provides recommendations to the court on child custody and visitation rights. Jones' son attends a local Catholic school.

"There is a discrepancy between Ms. Jones and Mr. Jones' lifestyle and the belief system adhered to by the parochial school. . . . Ms. Jones and Mr. Jones display little insight into the confusion these divergent belief systems will have upon (the boy) as he ages," the bureau said in its report.

But Jones, 37, Indianapolis, disputes the bureau's findings, saying he attended Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis as a non-Christian.

Really, this judge hasn't a clue as to what goes on in the minds of kids who actually go to Catholic schools, or how they teach.

At least when I went to one, they were pretty open in discussion about other belief systems; but regardless, if the parents can't expose their kids to a variety of thought about who they are and why there here and what they should do, what kind of parents are they?

While I have my own issues with Wicca, I would no more deny anyone the right to practice it than I would deny Christians the right to pray to the Christian deity.

I sent my pre-schooler to an Christian pre-school for a few months until my wife finally realized that the Montessori school was better as a pre-school, and therefore was worth the higher tuition. I don't regret my son's exposure there; and am fascinated by how he responded to being raised in a Buddhist household and what he experienced there. People have to respond sooner or later to this: people have different religious practices or none at all. The alternative is to deny everyone the right to have this response, and that's simply a denial of human experience.

HT: Atrios.

Not Nihilism Not Gnossis

I often use Joe Carter's Evangelical Outpost as fodder for my blogging, mostly because of its accessibility. I suppose if some other leading lights in his worldview blogged and did a back and forth, I'd respond to them, as well, as I sometimes do with William Dembski.

Today's post by Carter on epistemology
merits a Buddhist response.

When we trust in our own reason we either become dogmatic or skeptical. But when we set aside our self-idolotry and seek true epistemic humility by listening to God we find that knowledge comes from outside us. Ontology precedes epistemology...

Christ is ontologically prior to all of Creation. We only know any truths because he exists. Christians can justifiably be skeptical about many things. But for us to ever question the existence of God is not epistemic humility but epistemic nihilism. For it to be conceivable that God does not exist would require that something exists ontologically prior to our ability to doubt. To think that God might not exist would mean that we are gods...

Now there's so much in here to question from a Buddhist perspective: Us...god(s)...faith... doubt..., but the real issue, I think is the juxtaposition of of nihilism to Carter's Christian alternative (by no means the only one, as he readily admits), and the denigration of dbout. Heck there's much to dispute from a Christian perspective, but I only have a small bit of time...


It's often said, "Great faith and great dobut lead to great enlightenment. Little faith and little doubt lead to little enlightenment. Having neither faith nor doubt leads to no enlightenment."

With a strong degree of faith and doubt, as well as a large degree of determination, eventually we will, through experienced mindful practice, see things as they are: that it is our lot to live moment to moment in a bag of skin one day closer to death, with minds that change from moment to moment.

This is therefore not nihilism- the doctrine that nothing can be known. It is not gnossis either, not in the sense that "we are one with the universe now and forever and will never change." When experienced it does indeed shake the heavens and move the earth, as well as provide the confidence for going on in this crazy, mixed-up world.

This- to this Buddhist at least- is one reason why I'm not a Christian: when the core of our existence is experienced - as emptiness (so "core" is a deliberately chosen misnomer)- the idea that one needs a deity to center everything and make everything true is simply not necessary.

We have what we need right here right now. We are no more gods than we have need of a god. Just this. It is hardy met with, even in hundreds of thousands of millions of eons. But we now can see this; listen to this; accept and hold this. By actively being and using this, we can realize this Tathagata's true meaning.

But that true meaning is "is-ed"; we don't become rocks.

So while folks with Carter's brand of Christianity try clinging for Christ, Buddhists "be" ("to be" is such a poor verb in English- in standard English there is no way to express an active, transitive form of existence that is not the same as a simple identity) Buddha nature. The fact that it is useful, that it can make positive results in terms of magnifying generosity, wisdom and compassion to me is far more important than any attempts by a few Christian theologians to superimpose a thought structure on the whole thing, because I've got things that need doing while I breathe.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Koran- Toilet..yet again

War (chicken)hawks lied, people died.

WASHINGTON - Terror suspects at the Guantanamo Bay prison told U.S. interrogators as early as April 2002, just four months after the first detainees arrived, that military guards abused them and desecrated the Quran, declassified
FBI records say.

"Their behavior is bad," one detainee is quoted as saying of his guards during an interrogation by an FBI special agent in July 2002. "About five months ago the guards beat the detainees. They flushed a Quran in the toilet."

The statements about guards disrespecting the Quran echo public allegations made many months later by some detainees and their lawyers after prisoners' release from Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. The once-secret FBI documents show a consistency to the allegations and are the first indication that Justice and Defense department officials were aware in early 2002 that detainees were accusing their guards of mistreating the holy book.

Separately on Wednesday, Amnesty International urged the United States to shut down the prison, calling it "the gulag of our time." White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the human rights group's complaints were "unsupported by the facts" and that allegations of mistreatment were being investigated.

Pentagon officials have said recently that the public claims by released detainees were not credible and that the terror suspects held at Guantanamo Bay had been trained to make such false claims.

But ...umm... I have a question.

It's been bothering me ever since the Newsweek flap.

The Koran's kind of a pretty extensive book. I would imagine at Guantanamo Bay, they have similar- or worse 1gpf (gallon per flush) toilets as in my home.

To flush the thing down a toilet- religious sensibilities aside, would require, I'd think, stopping up the toilet unless you ripped it into little bitty pieces, which I suspect did not happen.

So, I suspect it wasn't actually flushed all the way down the toilet, but it did get the toilet stopped up.

Which, to me, is far more troublesome, even taking religious sensibilities into account.

Do we really need "interrogators" stopping up toilets to make some kind of incoherent point?

On our tax dollar?

What kind of really neat intel did they get out of that stunt?

Probably none, but, yeah, they pissed off a whole bunch of Muslims.


Can't wait to see how the righties twist and spin this one...

Not to mention of course, that everybody since backed off the "Newsweek caused the riot" meme, including Scotty McClellan.

Religious violence? All major religions?

This article in the Christian Science Monitor tries to balance out the recent Mulsim violence with Christian, Buddhist, Jewish violence counterexamples...

Last week conservative columnist Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe looked at this "dark side of the force" as he saw it manifested in recent events. Jacoby asked an important question: why are we so upset with reports that Newsweek printed a short piece about the desecration of the Koran at Guantanamo, but not at the reaction in Afghanistan that led to the deaths of at least 16 people?...

(Then again, both Afghanistan president Harmid Karzai and General Richard Myers, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of staff, denied the riots had been prompted by the Newsweek article, calling them instead “a political act against Afghanistan's stability.” Karzai said Monday that "we know who did this" and it wasn't connected to the Koran article.)

But then Jacoby writes that this kind of reaction to a perceived slight is one reason why Muslims are so disrespected in the West - violence, it seems to Jacoby, is second nature to Muslims and to Islam, but not to other religions.

Christians, Jews, and Buddhists don't lash out in homicidal rage when their religion is insulted. They don't call for holy war and riot in the streets. It would be unthinkable for a mainstream priest, rabbi, or lama to demand that a blasphemer be slain.

The above paragraph makes an interesting point. There's only one problem with it - it's wrong..,

The author of the above, Tom Regan, than goes on to cite examples of such violence, namely among the Irish in Ireland, and between the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan government- the latter being an example of Buddhist/Hindu violence.

Neglecting the fact that these happen to be examples of political liberationn movements, not primarily religious disputes (of which the same could be said for Muslim/Christian/Jewish violence examples given) it can be said that merely calling one's self a member of a religious group should not, in and of itself, define the tenets of the religion, although naturally it colors another religions' followers' view of that religion.

In Buddhism, caveat emptor is pretty much a tenet of the religion- rely on yourself the Buddha said.

Regan goes on to cite a Beliefnet article on this subject, but seems to entirely miss the point.

The pathology of religious violence is aided and abetted and enabled by political impotence, plain and simple.

Addressing political impotence- yes, impotence- of those who have been disenfranchised, even those righties in the US- will do much more to smother the flames of resentment that lead to violence than it will to either appease them or outright oppose them.

It's about time we apprehended 501(c) 3 bandits like Dobson.

Or, I should say, "possible" bandits. I've said it before, but finally this issue, at least on Kos, is getting the attention it deserves.

Most Buddhist temples, in the US at least, have strict separation of their fundraising activities from the temple activities itself.

I've contacted them with the following:

Where is the IRS filing from Focus on the Family, and how can I view it?

I'd like to know how this group retains its tax-exempt status, given the massive amount of political content on the website.

I'll be posting your response on my blog, and linking to major blogs that reach over 1/2 million, so a timely and honest response would be well appreciated.

See the next post for the types of things that these folks don't want discussed.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

"Overcoming Faith" doesn't apply to deaf people.


Although they say, "Deliverance from sickness is provided for in the atonement, and is
the privilege of all believers (Isaiah 53:4, Matthew 8:16, 17)," one wonders how come they don't want deaf people to know what they're saying.

1. Cathedral submitted a petition for exemption requesting a waiver from compliance with the captioning requirements. It asserts that the program “Overcoming Faith Television” is a locally produced and distributed non-news program with no repeat value, pursuant to Section 79.1(d)(8) of the Commission’s rules. However, the Commission intended that the exemption for locally produced and distributed non-news programming with limited repeat value be a narrowly focused exemption. It is intended to apply only to a limited class of truly local materials, including, for example, local parades, local high school and other nonprofessional sports, live unscripted local talk shows and community theatre productions. Moreover, the Commission concluded that the programming in question would have to be locally created and not networked outside of the local service area or market of a broadcast station. Cathedral fails to explain or provide support for its contention that the scope of its program relates only to local issues and that the program is truly local in nature. In addition, because Cathedral provides no information on the extent of distribution of its program, it is difficult to determine whether Petitioner’s programming reaches beyond its locale. Therefore, because Cathedral has failed to provide sufficient information, we are unable to determine whether the Section 79.1(d)(8) exemption applies here. However, the option of an undue burden exemption still remains available if Petitioner makes the proper showing.
2. Section 79.1(f) requires a petition for exemption from the closed captioning requirements to demonstrate that compliance would cause significant difficulty or expense. Cathedral’s petition, however, fails to disclose detailed information regarding finances and assets, gross or net proceeds, or sponsorships solicited for assisting in captioning. Cathedral provided no documentation from which its financial condition can be assessed. Although Cathedral indicates that it “is not funded or granted in any way by outside sources”, without documentation, it is impossible for the Commission to determine whether Cathedral has sufficient justification supporting an exemption from the closed captioning requirements for its television program. Our decision herein is without prejudice to Cathedral bringing a future petition for exemption that adequately documents that the Section 79.1(d)(8) exemption is applicable to “Overcoming Faith Television” or that compliance with our rules will impose an undue burden. Implicit in the Section 79.1(f) requirement of a showing as to the financial resources of a petitioner, such as Cathedral, is the question of the extent to which the distributors of its programming can be called upon to contribute towards the captioning expense. Thus, any subsequent petition should document whether Cathedral solicited captioning assistance from the distributors of its programming and the response to these solicitations. Absent such a petition, Petitioner is given 3 months from the release date of this Order to come into complete compliance with the rules.

Ouch. That financial bit must sting a little.

For some reason, the Living Word Bible Church has the same problem.

Finally! A 2nd Ed. of "War"

If you are not familiar with this book, you should be. And now that it's in print again, it's required reading.

Terrorism, writes Canadian journalist Gwynne Dyer, is a hangnail. A distraction. The thing to worry about is war. "All the major states are still organized for war," he writes. They have weapons we don't want to think about.

"War: The Lethal Custom" is a rewrite of a book Dyer wrote 20 years ago, when President Reagan faced Soviet Premier Gorbachev across the negotiating table in Iceland. Today's context is different: America is unchallenged — for the moment. But history and anthropology give us little comfort...

His political conclusion is well argued but more speculative than the other parts of this book. Here Dyer posits that what could bring on a major war is the itch by middling states for greatness, and their desire to even their odds with nuclear weapons.

Dyer's solution is to give enforcement authority, and an army, to the United Nations — not authority to govern but to guarantee international frontiers. For big countries to accept this will be a hard sell, he says; there is no demand for it from their people, and much suspicion. Further, he admits, the suspicion is justified. "Nationalists of all countries are quite right to worry about what a powerful United Nations might mean."

But in a world in which certain weapons simply cannot be used, he asks, what is the alternative? He doesn't really consider any, which is a weakness as a political book. But as an interpretive history of war, "War: The Lethal Custom" is brilliant.

Why the judicial deal is a win for Democrats

This Kos diary says it all.

But this had to be: ever since the Terri Schiavo fiasco, it's been apparent even to Bush that Americans really don't want a theocracy. That's why he's been back-pedaling ever since.

And religious right folks you should see the obvious: it's not because they're against abortion, but because they're against consumers and against indivudual liberty. Either you or they will spit the other one out like a cherry stone if you have no further need of them or if they have no further need of you.

Template Changes, and welcome to Blogmandu & Buddhistblogs digest

Thomas Chen's blog is gone, alas.

Shokai has renamed his blog.

And a big welcome, 合掌 (gassho, or palms together) to Blogmandu. Tom Armstrong has done far more to poke around in the Buddhablogosphere than I've had time to do.

Great work.

And there's Buddhistblogs digest.

The Buddblogosphere's much bigger than it was when I started out almost one year ago.

Pascal's Wager and Gambler's Ruin

Blaise Pascal was undoubtedly one of the more influential figures in the history of science and mathematics. I have been continually professionally and recreationally indebted to him, so to speak, for his work in probability, especially for the optimality of bold play when the game is less than favorable.

Bold play, for those who don't want to wade through the equations at the link (but should, especially if they have friends who go to casinos) is a strategy in which the gambler a) has a goal, and b) bets either his entire fortune, or the difference in his fortune + the goal and his fortune at each trial. It can be shown (see references above) that, compared to timid play (a gambler betting one unit of a fortune until his target is reached) bold play works much better. In fact, timid play is a disaster.

This in real life produces some amusing experiences in casinos when practiced: if you go into a casino with $200, and look to make $20 (the cost of the real cheap meal for 2 at these places generally), you'll spend about 15 minutes or so in the casino until you win that little amount most of the time, or you'll lose $200 a small percentage of the time. (But you will of course lose that money eventually. It's an unfair game after all.)

Pascal is also famous for saying that philosophy is "not worth an hour's trouble," which brings him even nearer to my heart. But, unfortunately, sometimes he didn't take his own advice, and at one such time, cooked up Pascal's Wager.


And so Joe Carter plays with Pascal's Wager today.

Now the main criticism I, and many others have with Pascal's Wager is its inherent insincerity and appeal to selfishness: even if you have grave doubts about the existence of a (Christian) deity, you should pretend that you don't have those doubts because it's in your selfish interest to do so.

Unlike gambling in a casino (where there is no pretense that it is anything other than a quid pro quo for your time and money versus a likelihood that you might win some money sometimes if you're not a degenerate gambler) this is not recreational, but is theoretically to inform the interstices of the most subtle aspects of your entire life. So the gambling metaphor falls apart unless you realize that the stakes are pretty important.

Which gets me back to Carter:

But how can we determine what is more likely when applied to an issue such as the ontological status of God? That is the question British theoretical physicist Stephen Urwin attempts to answer in his book, The Probability of God.

By applying Bayesian probabilities, a statistical method devised by 18th-century Presbyterian minister and mathematician Thomas Bayes, Urwin attempts to determine the probability of God’s existence. Since 50-50 represents “maximum ignorance”, Unwin begins with a 50 percent probability that God exists and then applies it to the following modified Bayesian theorem:

urwin formula.gif

The probability of God's existence after the evidence is considered is a function of the probability before times D ("Divine Indicator Scale"):

10 indicates the evidence is 10 times as likely to be produced if God exists
2 is two times as likely if God exists
1 is neutral
0.5 is moderately more likely if God does not exist
0.1 is much more likely if God does not exist

Unwin then uses the following lines of evidence and applies his own, admittedly subjective, figures for their likelihood:

Recognition of goodness (D = 10)
Existence of moral evil (D = 0.5)
Existence of natural evil (D = 0.1)
Intra-natural miracles (e.g., a friend recovers from an illness after you have prayed for him) (D = 2)
Extra-natural miracles (e.g., someone who is dead is brought back to life) (D = 1)
Religious experiences (D = 2)

Plugging these figures into the above formula (in sequence, where the P after figure for the first computation is used for the P before figure in the second computation, and so on for all six Ds), Unwin arrives at the conclusion that the probability that God exists is 67%.

Another problem I have with this is how it has, um, left out a few things.


a = altruistic behavior observed in other beings who are not monotheists (= 0.02)

b= bad behavior and an absence of
metanoia (“repentance” or a true turning away) seen in followers of a given monotheistic religion for which there is an apologetic. (= 0.1)

W= alternative explanations for the world as seen by Buddhists, Taoists, Jains, naturalists, behaviorists, and any permutation of positions thereof which dilutes a given apologetic explanation (= 0.00001)

Then subsuming these values into D above gives a value "for the probability of God existing" that is rather small. Which is what we expect: there's no lifeboat coming to save us. Even Pascal's look at the stars at night told him he was alone, and that exercises like this were to no avail. His solution: stupefy yourselves and "take holy water." Plunge into the Catholic faith, he advised. Apologetics was bunk.

So, in this bit of exercise on my ability to use Blogger to post in Symbol font (not entirely a useless exercise therefore) we've shown why Pascal's Wager doesn't really work. It is a useful tool, though to illustrate dukkha, precisely because of its ultimate impotence. Oh, and Firefox doesn't do Symbol fonts by default for some odd reason...

To a Buddhist, therefore, this illustrates its own insufficiency and our own discomfort. And, (2nd Noble Truth) there's a reason for that: we are attached to the idea that somehow we're entitled to know what happens after death, and furthermore, we're somehow entitled to game the system (I so rarely get a chance to use that metaphor) in such a way as to get something of infinite value after we die. But of course, once we become nonattached to the notion of what happens after we die and what magic words we need to say or deeds we need to do to prevent the rot and decay of our physical bodies from impeding a soul's transit to some happy place, we can actually begin to do something useful.

And so it is with this post: there's garbage to take out before my zazen.

Monday, May 23, 2005

My gut was right...

The filibuster for judges lives.

The New Yorker sort of gets it on Dembski


The most serious problem in Dembski’s account involves specified complexity. Organisms aren’t trying to match any “independently given pattern”: evolution has no goal, and the history of life isn’t trying to get anywhere. If building a sophisticated structure like an eye increases the number of children produced, evolution may well build an eye. But if destroying a sophisticated structure like the eye increases the number of children produced, evolution will just as happily destroy the eye. Species of fish and crustaceans that have moved into the total darkness of caves, where eyes are both unnecessary and costly, often have degenerate eyes, or eyes that begin to form only to be covered by skin—crazy contraptions that no intelligent agent would design. Despite all the loose talk about design and machines, organisms aren’t striving to realize some engineer’s blueprint; they’re striving (if they can be said to strive at all) only to have more offspring than the next fellow.

Another problem with Dembski’s arguments concerns the N.F.L. theorems. Recent work shows that these theorems don’t hold in the case of co-evolution, when two or more species evolve in response to one another. And most evolution is surely co-evolution. Organisms do not spend most of their time adapting to rocks; they are perpetually challenged by, and adapting to, a rapidly changing suite of viruses, parasites, predators, and prey. A theorem that doesn’t apply to these situations is a theorem whose relevance to biology is unclear. As it happens, David Wolpert, one of the authors of the N.F.L. theorems, recently denounced Dembski’s use of those theorems as “fatally informal and imprecise.” Dembski’s apparent response has been a tactical retreat. In 2002, Dembski triumphantly proclaimed, “The No Free Lunch theorems dash any hope of generating specified complexity via evolutionary algorithms.” Now he says, “I certainly never argued that the N.F.L. theorems provide a direct refutation of Darwinism.”

Those of us who have argued with I.D. in the past are used to such shifts of emphasis. But it’s striking that Dembski’s views on the history of life contradict Behe’s. Dembski believes that Darwinism is incapable of building anything interesting; Behe seems to believe that, given a cell, Darwinism might well have built you and me. Although proponents of I.D. routinely inflate the significance of minor squabbles among evolutionary biologists (did the peppered moth evolve dark color as a defense against birds or for other reasons?), they seldom acknowledge their own, often major differences of opinion. In the end, it’s hard to view intelligent design as a coherent movement in any but a political sense.

It’s also hard to view it as a real research program. Though people often picture science as a collection of clever theories, scientists are generally staunch pragmatists: to scientists, a good theory is one that inspires new experiments and provides unexpected insights into familiar phenomena. By this standard, Darwinism is one of the best theories in the history of science: it has produced countless important experiments (let’s re-create a natural species in the lab—yes, that’s been done) and sudden insight into once puzzling patterns (that’s why there are no native land mammals on oceanic islands). In the nearly ten years since the publication of Behe’s book, by contrast, I.D. has inspired no nontrivial experiments and has provided no surprising insights into biology. As the years pass, intelligent design looks less and less like the science it claimed to be and more and more like an extended exercise in polemics.

And yeah, that's because metaphysics isn't science.

Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life.

At least that's what I thought of as I read these accolades to the Great Helmsman...

Cou: Though I was born in the 80th, I cherish great admiration for Mao Zedong. What I can not understand is that most of my classmates have a negative attitude towards Mao. I assume it’s not because they have little knowledge of Mao, but because they are taught to be critical of him. I think no matter how history is viewed and assessed, Mao’s contributions and merits cannot be underestimated.

zhl26: In commemoration of Chairman Mao, we should study his thought, learn from the way he governed the country and to cultivate deep feelings for ordinary people.

Fuyu: Why do we commemorate Mao Zedong? Because he was the backbone of the Chinese people.

jjg: My father and grandfather were wronged and persecuted for 5 and 20 years, respectively. But I still think that Mao's merits outweigh his demerits….We can never forget that he helped lay the foundation for the growth of the People’s Republic of China.

Tttvmxl: Mao Zedong turned a brand new page in China's history….We should tell our children about the great forefathers that changed history.

nanhai007: In Mao's times, there were a few corrupt officials and social security was so good that people could sleep with doors unbolted—It is only Mao who could enable people to have the sense of security.

Iamcrazy: It's inappropriate to worship a person without a good understanding of him, including his mistakes.

Iamcrazy: Whoever enables the Chinese people to have enough to eat, people will remember him.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Irony alert from Hugh Hewitt

I just caught this one...

What's missing from [Indra Nooyi's apology for I don't really know what]? How about any positive statement about what America does for the world, from liberating Afghanistan and Iraq to billions in tsunami relief? How about pouring AIDs relief into Africa and sending products, services, technology and trade around the globe....

Liberating Afghanistan like at Bagram no? Iraq like Abu Ghraib? And tsunami relief only after the rest of the world ponied up? And yeah, not only "sending products, services, technology and trade around the globe," but American jobs, too!

What a patriot that Hugh is...

Alan Greenspan is concerned about the housing market


"Without calling the overall national issue a bubble, it's pretty clear that it's an unsustainable underlying pattern," Mr. Greenspan told the Economic Club of New York at the Hilton New York hotel in Midtown.

Mr. Greenspan emphasized that he sees no sign of a nationwide housing bubble, but he acknowledged concerns over "froth" in the market and pointed to a big increase in speculation in homes - particularly in second homes. As a result, he said, there are "a lot of local bubbles" around the country.

The comments of the Fed chairman were the closest he has come to acknowledging the possibility that housing prices may be poised for a fall in some parts of the country.

The issue is sensitive for the Federal Reserve, because its policy of keeping interest rates low has helped propel housing prices upward even when the rest of the economy was dragging.

Local bubbles? Really Al? Ya think so? No kidding?

These "local" bubbles of course are concentrated where, um, people actually live. And I might add, in blue states or near blue states.

So yeah, maybe there's not a bubble in rural Wyoming, but who cares?

My gut is still telling me the same thing on the filibuster

From the NYT today...

In a speech on the Senate floor, Mr. Specter, who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, made an impassioned call for a deal to avoid the rule change, commonly known as the "nuclear option," warning that it could "do substantial damage to the institution."

The negotiations among senators from both parties center on a possible agreement for six Republicans to forswear the rule change in exchange for six Democrats agreeing to filibuster judicial nominees only in "extraordinary circumstances." Six senators from each party together have enough votes to block both moves, but the meaning of "extraordinary circumstances" is a big sticking point...

Mr. Specter joined 17 other Republicans in filing a motion to end debate on Justice Owen's nomination. In an interview, he said that he remained uncommitted either way. "I haven't said how I am going to vote, and I don't intend to," he said.

Mr. Specter indicated that he was being circumspect so that Dr. Frist and Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic leader, both have an incentive to bargain. "I think it is very important that neither leader knows how the vote is going to turn out."

Senator John W. Warner, Republican of Virginia and a Senate elder, is working with Senator Robert C. Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia and the longest-serving member of the chamber, on a plan to designate for the president a pool of qualified judicial candidates who might win confirmation more easily.

Frist knows he doesn't know he has the votes, and is still going ahead with this. That means that he, himself, sees this as a win-win: even if he loses, he gets enormous prestige from the folks who opened their purses for D. James Kennedy's Roy Moore fundraising stunt.

Which means that, for all intents and purposes, it's more likely to fail than not fail.

Note though that they're focusing in on the right issue with the pool of candidates: the filibuster exists precisely as a check on the Executive branch's possible (and in the Bush case actual) failure to heed the Senate's advice. That to me also says, the filibuster for judges ain't going away.

Friday, May 20, 2005

In case you forgot about those judges Bush likes so much

Salon has it all summarized in one place, without the extensive information from People for the American Way.

There's a couple of points that need to be hammered home:

1. Priscilla Owen is more corrupt by orders of magnitude than anything that was alleged against Abe Fortas. Actually, Conason nailed that:

Ethical standards seem to have declined considerably over the past four decades -- at least among Republican senators and their preferred nominees for the federal bench. What compromised the late Fortas to an unacceptable degree now looks quaintly innocent compared with the record of Priscilla Owen, who has taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from companies and lawyers with cases in her court -- and issued rulings favorable to them on many, many occasions....

...Among the most notorious examples is a case in which Owen wrote the majority opinion that allowed Enron Corp. to escape more than $200,000 in school district taxes. In her 1994 campaign, she took $8,600 from the Houston energy firm and $31,550 from its lawyers at the powerhouse firm of Vinson & Elkins; her consultant Rove also worked for Enron. Two years later, when Spring Independent School District vs. Enron reached her court, she did not recuse herself from the case. Her opinion allowed Enron to choose its own method for valuation, cutting the taxable property assessment by millions of dollars...

...One of her better-known dissents came in a case that tested the constitutionality of a state law that had been written specifically to exempt a land developer from the city of Austin's water quality regulations.

Having taken $2,500 from that developer (and an additional $45,000 from the developer's law firm), Owen blasted her colleagues for violating the firm's "property rights," which included the right to foul the water supply in her view. The majority replied that her dissent was "nothing more than inflammatory rhetoric and thus merits no response."

So Owens' ethical standards are reminiscent of raw sewage.

2. Janice Rogers Brown is a member of the Federalist Society. Most importantly, she is viscerally opposed to, it seems, any reasonable regulation of private enterprise. So she's anti-consumer.

What would happen if it really were "government by Enron?"

To be honest, usually when I see diaries on Kos about economics, about 40% of the time, I half expect to see some uneducated rant. This one today, which intimates that Krugman's not giving us the awful truth on China started off that way. And it may still be that way... But then I got to thinking, especially after reading the quoted parts and an updated quote.

These are the same folks who lied to us about Iraq. I still think, for now, at least, that the above linked Kos diary is tin foil hat stuff- that is, I can think of reasons why the governments might legitimately restate asset reserves; FOREX and derivatives of FOREX are not completely regulated markets, for example, and why all transactions have to be reported, I would guess the nature of the transactions is pretty much whatever the individual/corporate entitites involved in the transaction can get. The reporting doesn't have to be immediate. Corporations and private banks can and do use FOREX forward contracts. Somehow, when I buy foreign securities, money has to be exchanged and accounts settled, and how it gets reported I do not know.

Still, a corrupt government could certainly cook books on debt securities exchanges, and if it did so, would be the quickest way to "starve the beast" by completely undermining the "full faith and credit" of the United States of America.

And that would be Latin America at home.

These are the pals of Kenny boy Lay. At the head is a guy who likely violated securities laws but was a Bush and so therefore it didn't count. I wouldn't be surprised, but I still need more proof.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Here's something you don't see nowadays...

Republican Calvin Coolidge being endorsed by none other than labor organizer Mother Jones.

Ah, those were probably the days...geez, today's Republicans would be endorsed by I don't have a faintest clue...

To all you people who criticized Newsweek.

Somehow, trying to pile on Newsweek to try to keep the real stories of abuse getting out is simply sick and perverted. Like this:

The prisoner, a slight, 22-year-old taxi driver known only as Dilawar, was hauled from his cell at the detention center in Bagram, Afghanistan, at around 2 a.m. to answer questions about a rocket attack on an American base. When he arrived in the interrogation room, an interpreter who was present said, his legs were bouncing uncontrollably in the plastic chair and his hands were numb. He had been chained by the wrists to the top of his cell for much of the previous four days.

Mr. Dilawar asked for a drink of water, and one of the two interrogators, Specialist Joshua R. Claus, 21, picked up a large plastic bottle. But first he punched a hole in the bottom, the interpreter said, so as the prisoner fumbled weakly with the cap, the water poured out over his orange prison scrubs. The soldier then grabbed the bottle back and began squirting the water forcefully into Mr. Dilawar's face.

"Come on, drink!" the interpreter said Specialist Claus had shouted, as the prisoner gagged on the spray. "Drink!"

At the interrogators' behest, a guard tried to force the young man to his knees. But his legs, which had been pummeled by guards for several days, could no longer bend. An interrogator told Mr. Dilawar that he could see a doctor after they finished with him. When he was finally sent back to his cell, though, the guards were instructed only to chain the prisoner back to the ceiling.

"Leave him up," one of the guards quoted Specialist Claus as saying.

Several hours passed before an emergency room doctor finally saw Mr. Dilawar. By then he was dead, his body beginning to stiffen. It would be many months before Army investigators learned a final horrific detail: Most of the interrogators had believed Mr. Dilawar was an innocent man who simply drove his taxi past the American base at the wrong time...

The findings of Mr. Dilawar's autopsy were succinct. He had had some coronary artery disease, the medical examiner reported, but what caused his heart to fail was "blunt force injuries to the lower extremities." Similar injuries contributed to Mr. Habibullah's death.

One of the coroners later translated the assessment at a pre-trial hearing for Specialist Brand, saying the tissue in the young man's legs "had basically been pulpified."

"I've seen similar injuries in an individual run over by a bus," added Lt. Col. Elizabeth Rouse, the coroner, and a major at that time...

In February, an American military official disclosed that the Afghan guerrilla commander whose men had arrested Mr. Dilawar and his passengers had himself been detained. The commander, Jan Baz Khan, was suspected of attacking Camp Salerno himself and then turning over innocent "suspects" to the Americans in a ploy to win their trust, the military official said.

The three passengers in Mr. Dilawar's taxi were sent home from Guantánamo in March 2004, 15 months after their capture, with letters saying they posed "no threat" to American forces.

They were later visited by Mr. Dilawar's parents, who begged them to explain what had happened to their son. But the men said they could not bring themselves to recount the details.

"I told them he had a bed," said Mr. Parkhudin. "I said the Americans were very nice because he had a heart problem."

In late August of last year, shortly before the Army completed its inquiry into the deaths, Sergeant Yonushonis, who was stationed in Germany, went at his own initiative to see an agent of the Criminal Investigation Command. Until then, he had never been interviewed.

"I expected to be contacted at some point by investigators in this case," he said. "I was living a few doors down from the interrogation room, and I had been one of the last to see this detainee alive."

Sergeant Yonushonis described what he had witnessed of the detainee's last interrogation. "I remember being so mad that I had trouble speaking," he said.

He also added a detail that had been overlooked in the investigative file. By the time Mr. Dilawar was taken into his final interrogations, he said, "most of us were convinced that the detainee was innocent."

No matter how many times you yelp about Newsweek, you will never justify garbage like this. Never. If you are not crying out against this with at least the same fervor you went after Newsweek, then you are not Americans; you're enemies of America. And your attempting to gloss over things like this is making more enemies of America.

So I respectfully say to you: work for al Qaeda, for Chrissakes. We don't need you here. Bring Santorum with you.

A folksy, winsome, homespun tale from James Dobson


...In the absence of intellectual arguments with which to counter the rational positions put forward by thoughtful conservatives, they ["liberals in the media" apparently] have increasingly reverted to name calling. I have good reason to understand how those verbal assaults play out. Never in my 30 years as an author and broadcaster have I been subjected to such viciousness...

"Extremist" is a favorite pejorative when referring to conservatives, and especially Evangelical Christians. It means someone who is dangerous and radically different from all the normal people...

Stop right there, Jimmy...it's not like your posse's never used the term. Like here. Or here. Or...

These are some of the recent assaults on me and my colleagues at Focus on the Family:

· Don Imus, of MSNBC, called me "half a nut," "a jerk," "a pinhead" and a private part of human anatomy. Then he said, "I would like to challenge Dr. James Dobson to a fist fight. I will whip his a--." How's that for immature dialogue from a 65-year-old man? Imus' response is straight out of junior high school.

· Two weeks ago, former Vice President Al Gore said in a speech to Move On.Org that FRC President Tony Perkins and I were part of an "aggressive new strain" and a "virulent faction" of fundamentalists, which is the wording one would use to describe disease-carrying viruses and bacteria. We note that Mr. Gore couldn't think of any particular behavior that associated us with germs, but that didn't keep him from making the connection.

· Last week, the leftist religious organization Interfaith Alliance, got down and dirty. One of its Board members, a United Methodist minister named Rev. Bill Kirtin, referred to me and Focus on the Family as "the Gestapo." When questioned about the severity of the comment, he replied, "I said Gestapo and I meant it." Rev. Peter Morales, head of the public policy commission for the Interfaith Alliance, said, referring to us, "these are the actions of an American Taliban, or reactionary religious zealots." Remember that the Gestapo was the Nazi killing machine which murdered millions of Jews, Gypsies, and Poles in cold blood; the Taliban blew up the World Trade Center Building in New York and killed nearly 3000 innocent men, women, and children. According to the Interfaith Alliance, we are as evil as these two of the most murderous political entities in world history. This, mind you, comes from a religious organization that hopes to be taken seriously.

· Last Friday, the rhetoric of murder became more specific. Lewis H. Lapham of Harper's Magazine wrote, "Pastor Dobson apparently endorses political candidates who favor the execution of homosexuals and of doctors who provide abortions. I don't think they're joking." Doesn't such a breath-taking allegation as this demand documentation of some sort? Aren't Lapham and the publishers of Harper's Magazine obligated by journalistic ethics to document such a claim? Apparently not! I'm not a pastor, and almost everything I've ever said publicly is still in the record. Surely, there must be one quotation somewhere in my tapes or books that would validate this claim. The fact is, none exists. Their outrageous accusation is like a hot-headed nine-year-old claiming the other is named "Hitler."

Be sure to send a nice "thank you" to Imus, Gore, Lapham and the IA.

I wouldn't have used "Gestapo," btw. "SS" comes closer to it. They were, after all, themselves modelled on the Jesuits. (Yeah, I wouldn't actually use either words, because the stakes are too great.) But Jimmy boy, why not distance yourself from David Duke's supporters by distancing yourself from former Psycho star Tony Perkins rather than whining? Not to mention denouncing folks like Neal Horsley (try here for more info) with something at least as audible as a whinny.

Get ready for the coffee crisis


It turns out coffee is the 2nd most traded commodity...after petroleum.

Looks like today's a good buying opportunity, though.

Newseek lied! Terri Schiavo! Michael Jackson! Activist judges!

I do wish people would focus.

What my gut tells me about the filibuster

It's a standard tactic with the religious right, folks, it was done in Roy Moore's case: mount a loud and noisy struggle over a losing issue, and then use direct mail fund-raising and TV "religious" appeals to rake in the cash.

It was the Terri Schiavo show, too.

I predict this is going down.

More on acupuncture...

Yesterday I went to an excellent acupuncturist to deal with some tendonitis I seem to have picked up due to stress and over-enthusiasm at the gym.

I had been to an acupuncturist two times before, for colds. One of them had gone on literally for a month; with the acupuncture & herbs it was cleared up in three days.

The experience for the type of pain I had was quite different. I'm amused, by the way at one of my commenters on my post below who thought - perhaps due to that moron Alan Alda's TV show which often praises conventional medicine - that acupuncture works because of a "placebo effect" or that it "mutilates nerves." Actually, both my commenter and Alda should realize that one of the reasons there are studies being funded in it is because some previous studies have shown that acupuncture has promise. (Update: Actually, Alda's even more idiotic than I'd remembered: modulating using the body's natural opiates and modulating them is not quite the same thing as a "placebo effect," since natural opiates obviously do the same thing as the ingested ones. And I use "idiotic" and "moron" with all due kindness towards Alda, after all, he's as liberal as they get. )

It's not. In fact, one could say that the conventional treatments such as Ben-Gay are more "placebo effect" than acupuncture. Although it is easy to scoff at the Chinese notions of "Chi" (気) involved, it is pretty easy for me to envisage why this stuff works. Unlike the simple application of Ben Gay (I wonder if my commenter knows why that works?) the message sent to the brain and nervous system from acupuncture is more complex, with, I would suppose, a more complex response from the brain/body.

Regardless, I'm amused at how people opine on this topic, even though they've never had the treatment. For this type of pain, acupuncture's effect is profound (kind of like a big psychic/proprioceptive "whack" followed by a progressive calming), and I don't understand how anyone could predict what would be experienced conincidentally with acupuncture would be a "placebo" effect. Moreover, it's easy to create a test the falsifiability of acupuncture, and so studies are being done.

Oh, and Ben-Gay works because you've basically got 4 types of nerve receptors/pathways, and the "burning sensation" receptors/pathway is the most sensitive (and travels fastest to the brain), for obvious reasons. The application of Ben-Gay and related topical remedies (not the ones containing salicylates)- hit these receptors, which in effect "jam" the other pathways. I got that from watching the medical lectures on satellite TV, instead of say, college football. Or Alan Alda. The quality of PBS is for sh*t these days.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Who is the "religious right?"

The confluence of a Hugh Hewitt contest on "who is the 'religious right'" (When Maureen Dowd or Christopher Hitchens or Frank Rich or other center-left writers or politicians use the terms "Christian right" or "religious right," who do they think they are talking about and who are they talking to? And how do you define the terms and how large is that group. Statistics count, as do footnotes or sources that can be checked.) and a Carnival of the Godless is just too good to be true, if only to see from where I get the hits.

First of all, when Dowd or Hitchens or Rich says "religious right" or "Christian right" they mean different things. Hitchens is a curmudgeonly atheist who thinks all religion is bunk; I'm not sure about Dowd or Rich, but certainly, unlike Hitchens they've never written a memorable screed against Mother Teresa. But I'm in all of their audiences (although I generally tune out Dowd- I like substance with my snark). So whoever they're talking about might be different. But I'd say it's people who don't think the Bill of Rights was an entirely good idea, and generally want special rights for their group.

There's more...

The Religious Right is actually fairly easy to characterize, both as a movement and as a type of mindset. I'd identify these elements:

  • Projection of their faults on their enemies. E.g., the assumed existence of a "gay agenda" masks an agenda to oppress gays. Religious "persecution" of Christians in the US? How about Christian supremacy and marginalization of minority religious views?

  • The proliferation of groups - often astroturf groups- to ape what are seen "liberal" groups. Thus the ACLJ is the evil twin of the ACLU; CWFA is the alter ego of NOW (or at least once was). Focus on the Family's Dobson was the alternate universe Dr. (Benjamin) Spock with a beard. CFR? CNP. Get it?

  • The confusion of religiousness and spirituality with capitalsim. Focus on the Family has a prime example here:

    H.B. London, Focus on the Family's vice president of Ministry Outreach, said it's just one more method a church can use to reach the un-churched.

    "I think the old scripture that says 'by all means win some' is a very important passage of scripture," he said, citing I Cor. 9:22, "and I ascribe to it."

    London said he's worried some churches are more concerned with numbers than the Gospel.

    "I think the churches, if they would really admit it, are trying to reach the 18 to 49-year-olds—they're trying to reach the same demographic the television and movie industry is trying to reach."

    Jim Mellado, president of the Willow Creek Association, said not all modern churches hold fast to the tenets of the faith, but those that do often see phenomenal results.

    "These are churches that have more than doubled in the last decade," he said, "and they have four times the average attendance of the average church—they have eight times the conversions."

    Market share, yeah, baby!

  • Did I mention they don't like the Bill of Rights? Their leaders often wind up working with unsavory people, such as Robertson (who does get big bucks from his "flock") friends of Mobutu and the guy who ordered the murder of Archbishop Romero. Or Tony Perkins, who bought David Duke's mailing list. Or Ashcroft, who has written for Southern Partisan, put out by people who thought the Confederacy wasn't such a bad idea.

  • Some of their members support terrorism: Randall Terry is one such example. Let's face it, Eric Rudolph was a member. The folks who had the "Run, Rudolph run!" signs were members. But most of all, they seem to hate the idea of religious pluralism (or lack of religion), and freedom of conscience. They recoil at the idea that you can't have freedom of religion without the ability to be free from religion.

  • In terms of actual numbers, they are actually a significant minority of the population, albeit an unusually vocal one: George Barna says that all evangelicals (which he defines as born again Christians who are biblican inerrantists who think of their god as having dominion and a Protestant mindset on faith/works) comprise no more than 7% of the population of the US. Of these, the subset of them who would be Republican activists would be substantially smaller. They are actually not growing very fast, either. But there clearly is much money behind ministries associated with them, as well as with Republican politics. You don't see networks of Unitarians, even though they're growing faster than Baptists. Salem Radio. TBN. The 700 Club. These franchises are worth tens of millions of dollars. That's not chump change.

  • But most of all, I would think, much of what they assert is false, whether because of being misinformed or simply dishonest. Among those untruths I know, which I'll debunk for the record:

    • Cassier Bernall didn't "say yes."

    • Terri Schiavo was effectively brain dead, unlike the tales spun about her "trying to speak."

    • I think the greatest untruth they tell, though, is in claimning an exclusive access to revealed truth, when it is clear that they are personally alienated from the truth most closest to them.

    • "Intelligent" "Design" is not a science, and only a demagogue or an ignorant person or huckster would say othewise.

    • The kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17:12), as opposed the religious right's version, where said kingdom is realized by establishing a theocracy on earth, or at least judges and politicians who'll pander to division and hatred.

So we can say the "religious right" is a small, well funded subset of American Christians who are bent on overturning what we have traditionally thought of as the American way.

Why Conservative Christians don't know how to negotiate

I was going to post on the looming Senate showdown, and how it stems from a failure of the President to have the Senate- the full Senate- advise him on potential nominees, rather than simply give an unconstitutional "consent only" as the radical Republicans want.

But instead, I go over to Carter's place, and mirabile dictu, there's a weird syncrhonicity in his superficially very different topic, raising the same old same old stalking horses against postmodernism...

I can’t recall ever meeting a true postmodernist. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever met two people who could define the term in the same way. Ask a philosopher, an artist, an English major, an emergent church leader, and the pizza delivery girl how postmodernism differs from modernity. Assuming they can do more than stare blankly in befuddlement at the question, the responses will likely be at complete variance from one another.

Well, first of all, I can talk about modernism...

The deliberate departure from tradition and the use of innovative forms of expression that distinguish many styles in the arts and literature of the 20th century.

And a simple definition of postmodernism:

Of or relating to art, architecture, or literature that reacts against earlier modernist principles, as by reintroducing traditional or classical elements of style or by carrying modernist styles or practices to extremes...

Now here I need an obligatory Carter snippet or two...

All of the talk about a “hermeneutic of suspicion” and metanarratives, though, merely obfuscates the obvious: nothing substantially different has occurred...

That's probably all the Carter I need today...

Ok, folks, listen up: postmodernism is a very useful to real life. The techniques of deconstruction - which actually go back to Plato- can be found in a variety of Western philosophy, but their everyday application has been called something else by marketers, negotiators, aribtrators, lawyers, and people just trying to get along in this crazy mixed up world.

There's more...

Read Herb Cohen's "You Can Negotiate Anything," and you are reading a text on how to deconstruct for fun and profit and peace. Professional and theoretical negotiators have recognized this similarity (look around here long enough and the utility of deconstruction become quite obvious). Negotiation, in theory and practice, is nothing but postmodernism/deconstruction. It is about subverting fixed metanarratives because the alternative is often getting lots of people dead.

Ditto for real marketing: one has to subvert narratives to disrupt existing markets. Toddlers using VCRs subvert the intentions of the human factors engineers who designed their interfaces. Good human factors engineers can either utilize the toddlers' narrative to make better household devices, or simply ignore them, and imperil their company's market share.

The iPod subverts the narrative of Clear Channel.

So, as a practical matter, deconstruction is very useful.

Derrida saw this, too, evidently. It's those who are opposed to win-win agreements, who are opposed to the nuts-and-bolts practicality of peace-making, who are opposed to liberating markets ethically that have a knee-jerk reaction to "postmodernism."

As much of negotiation theory is really applied deconstruction, it is no surprise that those most opposed to useful negotiation are also those that see the least value in postmodernism. They are also those most likely to be eaten alive in the global economy.

Indeed fundamentalists and evangelicals are opposed to postmodernism for one simple reason: it is a threat to their market share, and anything that threatens their market share is a threat to their own faith, odd as it may seem.

But, like everything else, they don't quite practice what they preach: the modern evangelical service is nothing but a subversion of the traditional Christian religion, actually, both in form and in content. It is a subversion of traditional Christian experience with, um, capitalism.

But this knee-jerk reaction to postmodernism explains the Senate showdown over the filibuster: if there is power distributed (the power of the Senate to advise on nominees, and the check on failure to advise being the filibuster), the distribution has to be subverted, but the language can't reveal that subversion of power.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Nice 'tude, Dembski

I read this today, and I was kind of amused at the condescension and projection oozing from Dembski's post which supports "suitably equivocating about the meaning of science so that anti-scientific people will try to confuse the public and themselves into consenting to a theory that ordinary standards of evidence rendered completely insupportable":

When interrogating Darwinists with the goal of opening up discussion in the high school biology curriculum about evolution (i.e., strengths, weaknesses, and alternatives), I therefore propose subjecting them to a sustained line of questioning about what they mean by each of these five terms: science, nature, creation, design, and evolution. In addition, it will help to keep in mind that for the purposes of interrogation, there are three types of Darwinists:

(1) The Richard Dawkins Darwinist (abbreviated RD Darwinist), who is virulently against religion of any stripe and uses evolution as a club to beat religious believers. Richard Dawkins Darwinists despise religious belief and regard religious believers as having to check their brains at the door if they are want to maintain both their faith and evolutionary theory.

(2) The Eugenie Scott Darwinist (abbreviated ES Darwinist), who is not religious in any traditional sense (in particular, this type of Darwinist does not think God does or can act in any way that makes a difference in the natural world) but at the same time thinks it is ill-advised to antagonize religious believers by using evolutionary theory as a club. The Eugenie Scott Darwinist wants to placate religious believers by assuring them that they can be good followers of their faith as well as good Darwinists.

(3) The Kenneth Miller Darwinist (abbreviated KM Darwinist), who is a traditional Judeo-Christian believer, holds that God has acted miraculously in salvation history (with such miracles as the parting of the Red Sea, the resurrection of Christ, the Virgin Birth, etc.) but denies that God’s activity in natural history is scientifically detectable. The Kenneth Miller Darwinist is an orthodox religious believer and an orthodox Darwinist. He is the poster child for the Eugenie Scott Darwinist.

The vise strategy consists in subjecting each of these types of Darwinists to a sustained line of questioning about these five key terms, questions that they have no choice but to answer (hence the “vise” metaphor). The aim of this line of questioning is to make clear to those reading or listening to the Darwinists’ testimonies that their defense of evolution and opposition to ID are prejudicial, self-contradictory, ideologically driven, and above all insupportable on the basis of the underlying science....

Thus, in regard to religion, for the RD Darwinists, the aim of the interrogation is to goad them into following the example of Rumpelstiltskin by publicly tearing themselves apart in their rage against religion. The prefect ending to such an interrogation would be for them to admit that they are Darwinists first and foremost because Darwinism is the most effective tool for destroying religion (this is the ideal — don’t expect to achieve it).

The ES and KM Darwinists, by contrast, need not so much to be antagonized or goaded as gently guided into an intellectually indefensible position regarding religious belief. Even so, the strategy for approaching these two types of Darwinists must be a bit different. The ES Darwinist wants to appear open minded and generous, assuring religious believers that Darwinism is compatible with their religious beliefs. For the ES Darwinists, the aim of the interrogation is to show that they are patronizing elitists who don’t have a religious bone in their bodies but who nonetheless presume to tell religious believers how they should make their peace with evolution.

Finally, the KM Darwinist actually does have a sincere religious faith, believing that God is the creator of the world and has acted miraculously in salvation history

(Emphasis mine to show how highly Dembski thinks of people who don't subscribe to his religious beliefs.)
It really is shocking that somebody who holds a position in academia can be frankly, such a religious bigot: the idea that somebody might be a serious Buddhist or Taoist simply does not appear on this man's radar.

We don't need to "interrogate" Dembski as to what he means by "science, nature, creation, design, and evolution." He let the cat out of the bag when he started ridiculing others' religous positions.