Thursday, July 27, 2006
Terrorist nukes against the US? I don't think so.
I know it's a bit of hyperbole, but for the sake of argument I can safely say that MAD is what won the Cold War for the west. The result was that the USSR ruined its economy and infrastructure to try to maintain nuclear parity. Nukes are expensive to make, to maintain, and to dispose of afterwards... and it's that last point that gives us the real reason to fear that USSR nukes might be wending their way through the global black market in arms.
I will not deny the possibility of a "suitcase nuke" being used against the perceived enemies of the Muslim fanatics. My point is that it would have happened by now if they had the nukes in their possession... and now I must add to that the possibile role that MAD may be playing in keeping those suitcases unused.
Think, just for a moment. Afghanistan under the Taliban openly and vehemently supported the group responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Where were they a year later? Dead, in hiding, in exile. The US missed a golden PR opportunity (or maybe I missed seeing it?) by not emphasizing the point: fuck with the US, and you go down, hard. Let us be clear about it: we forcibly removed a sovereign nation's government because it allowed people on its soil to perpetrate an act of war upon our soil.*
In terms of proportionality, it was exactly right.
So, here's where I hope our then leaders understand the situation should a suitcase nuke be used here (or in Europe for that matter). Find the source, fasten the responsibility including the passive blame, and wipe them out. I'm pretty sure the fanatics understand this very well, and their "hosts" are warning them that there are lines that must not be crossed, or the "hosts" will waste no time in saving their own asses and hunting the fanatics down themselves.
I sincerely hope my little scenario does not get a chance to be proven correct. But that is my view.
* For another topic: this is precisely the scenario at work in the Israel/Lebannon mess right now.
Thursday, July 20, 2006
Stem cells, ethics and fear.
The first thing I noticed was how incredibly hypocritical Bush's rhetoric sounded to me. The first test tube baby, the opening shot in the in vitro fertilization war, was born June 25, 1978. I count 28 years during which I neither heard nor saw one public word of debate over the idea that viable embryos were immorally being created and destroyed. The issues in this are complex, the people who use IVF many times are anti-abortion, and there's plenty of room for otherwise well-meaning and sincere people to be hypocrites, but for one fact:
A frozen embryo could not have existed to begin with without arbitrary controls, and could never become a child without significant intervention during and after implantation. While I do not concede any points on the latter comparison point, the moral standing of a frozen embryo by definition is different from that of a naturally conceived embryo before, during and after natural implantation in the uterus.
Couple this with the pseudo-science and mass-marketing shenanigans of a White House ceremony to veto a bill from which it requires a huge leap in logic to talk about eugenics, euthanasia and cloning, and my cynicism starts to look damn close to reasonable.
If Bush's decision to veto was solely based on principle, as Mr. Dreher insists, explain to me please the media circus his staff created. Principles should not need to be sold. The act of selling immediately diminishes both the principle and the seller.
Friday, July 14, 2006
Peace for Israel and Palestine
For over a hundred years, we have fought over the same strip of land: the country in which we, the sons of Abraham, have been fated to live together. Both peoples, Israelis and Palestinians, have known suffering, pain, and bereavement.
I further call your attention to the co-recipients of the award.
The historical achievement represented by the Declaration of Principles between the PLO and the Israeli Government, has required a great deal of courage and firmness from both parties. It also needed vision and foresight in order to explore the future and to assimilate the lessons of history.
Morally, we have returned to the values of the history of our people. For almost four millennia the Jewish people never ruled, were never tempted to rule, another people. An inclination to dominate the Palestinian people is not just a violation of Palestinian rights, but a contradiction to the Jewish moral heritage. Whoever chooses peace can not ignore the dictum of Isaiah, ‘Never shall a nation lift a sword against another’, – a resounding call which has never been surpassed.
Weep, o my friends. Weep for the peace that died aborning. Weep for the price now being paid daily for the failure of the world to support these men when they most desparately needed it.
A politician's faith
This morning they interviewed Senator Barak Obama. They asked him to clarify or expand some of his recent points concerning faith and politics. I'm very impressed with his rhetoric, and look forward to watching him move up on the national scene, but he said something (which I may mangle verbatim-wise) that really stuck and made me think (and guffaw ruefully).
He said concerning poverty that the conservatives -- you know, the ones who devoutly believe in salvation and forgiveness -- believe in personal responsibility and expect those under the poverty line to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, or better yet should consign their souls and consciences to the faith-based organizations who may soon be their only recourse for external help. He contrasted this with the liberal approach, which is to fund bigger and more widespread government-based programs -- which stikes me as being exactly what prayer to a merciful God might be expected to produce.
Is it just me, or should we be lambasting the right for outrageous hypocrisy, and at the same time reexamining the so-called loss of faith on the left?
I dunno. I just live here. :-\
Thursday, July 13, 2006
For example, the only objective measurement of something like discrimination (in any form) is the verifiable reporting of the incidents and the accumulation of that data by a reputable agency. I stipulate that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is just such a reputable authority.
The first and main caveat, as should not surprise anyone, is that not all incidents get reported. It is incumbent on the reader of the statistics to keep that in mind, and to view all numbers and analyses under the heading "for the data reported". Social scientists can and do gather auxiliary data that can reasonably indicate the proportion of reported to unreported. If this is available, it may be validly mentioned, along with the statistically rigorous application of the error factors concerning how the reported data informs the unreported data.
So, some tidbits from the EEOC data.
Total reported cases have remained essentially flat over the 14 years worth of data displayed. The annual average for the period was 81,143, bracketed by 72,302 in the first year and 75,428 in the last year. I would like to see an analysis of the large peak in 1993-95, and the lesser peak from 2000-04. Was it sunspots, or did enforcement change?
Except for what may be an anomalous peak in 1992, racial charges have remained virtually flat around the mean of 35.5%. Can this be attributed to a last bastion of racial bigotry embedded in some corner of our society? If so, why isn't the federal govt focusing on and cracking down on them? Or it is just the lowest we can go, there being always and forever the chance that a person will find racial discrimination?
Charges of religious discrimination, the lowest rate of incidence with disability, increased from 1.9% in 1992 to 3.1% in 2005, but the part that caught my eye was the steady annual increase starting in 1996, with a 0.4 point increase in 2002, breaking the 0.1 point per year trend. I bet we could get Muslims to comment on that.
Let's dig further the religion charges, and see how that total number in 2005 breaks down.
Resolutions: 2,352 (we have to keep in mind that there is carryover from one calendar year to the next.)
By type of resolution.
Withdrawals w/Benefits: 98
Administrative Closures: 384**
No Reasonable Cause: 1,442**
Reasonable Cause: 201*
Successful Conciliations: 36
Unsuccessful Conciliations: 165
Merit Resolutions: 526*
* These two categories are not part of the total resolution count; merit resolution is an internal subtotal.
I leave it to you to read the definitions of these terms. I will offer a personal observation.
1,826 [**] out of 2,352 resolutions were not in favor of the person(s) bringing the charge. That's 77.6%. No reasonable cause was found in 61.3% of the charges. This tells me (IMO, of course) that the vast majority of workplaces can be expected to be reasonable about employing religious minorities, and make an effort to prevent discriminatory practices from occuring. Someone else might say that this really means that too many employers are getting away with it. What do you think is more reasonable to assume?
Food for thought...
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
This is the "condensed" version of my recent attempt to spur discussion. I believe that some of the responses so far, while being sincere and valid in their own context, seem to be skirting the main issue as I see it. Rather than create tension in that other discussion, I offer this as a new starting point. I am not looking for isolated examples, such as whether religion is an appropriate part of a work environment (I agree that it is not, nor do I imply that I'm trying to change that). I am looking for a more general discussion, because I feel that this is central to our efforts to build a community and integrate it into our society at large.
Those who are not adversely affected by the status quo can't understand why some of us want to change it.
Those who are adversely affected by the status quo (personally, I have it rubbed in my face daily) can't understand why some of us fail to see the necessity.
We are dealing with a fundamental change in the human social structures. Call it "one world order", call it what you will.
The "status quo" of boundaries and hierarchy, of pecking orders and aristrocracies, is being eroded in a serious way. I am a human being first, then I am choices from column A or B second. Most people find this frightening, and not just out of ignorance. Majorities get to be majorities at the expense of those who don't meet the membership requirements. What we are talking about is an entrenched majority, and any challenge I make, no matter how well stated, no matter how significant or trivial, is going to be perceived as a threat.
A friend of mine offers an important perspective, one that I feel is ubiquitous. He says, in part:
"The only thing that I have ever noted as a constant in all of this is the fact that I have never met a minority opinion to an accepted majority-perceived existing reality who gave anyone from the majority side the least bit of credit as to how being on the minority side must feel. Each minority opinion has its own special pain and, regardless if one exists within a different minority opinion, this special pain cannot possibly be understood by anyone outside that particular minority opinion."
There are two forms of pain here, in general... at least, that I consider relevant to the discussion.
There is the internal pain, that the group feels in attempting to adapt to a world that their grandparents, let alone someone a thousand or more years ago, could not possibly have imagined or envisioned. This pain is valid, indeed I call it necessary. Pairing this pain with my friend's statement, I agree with him completely.
Then there is the pain imposed on the group for the fundamental reason that they are not the majority. This is the pain I feel, every day.
I submit that the difference lies in the secondary effects. Being a pagan in a world of Christians does not always mean I will understand the secondary effects. There are plenty of pagans, self-styled leaders of one sort or another, who take on the mantel of paganism and claim understanding. They are worse than whiners; they give the rest of us more pain from damage control than those who cause the damage on their own.
I don't want change. I don't want to alter reality, after all I can create my own reality all too easily in several ways and happily live my life isolated from most of the rest of the world. I speak for many of my co-religionists, and q.e.d. other minorities feel/have felt the same way.
Please look at it this way, stating it as objectively as I know how.
The majority forces me to abandon my choices. It does so vigorously, violently and in direct contravention of the written laws of this nation. I sweat the details and trivia, I add my voice to seemingly superficial debates, because there is no single target for me to aim for. The target is mostly comprised of a large number of those small details and trivia, lumped together under the "status quo".
I do not see a windmill to charge with a rusty lance. I see a windmill surrounded by tulips sheltered and nurtured by the windmill, with hundreds of weeds sprouting and attempting to choke the flowers. I try to pluck as many weeds as I can, knowing that at any moment the windmill vanes could easily be tipped down by others who don't see weeds, but see their own flowers, and knock me out of the flower bed.
Short of revolution, I don't know how else to fight it.
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
Theory of God
1. Objective entity.
This is arguably a dead-end pursuit. We have yet to see conclusive evidence to support any of the myriad theories that have sprouted over the millenia. This, of course, should not prevent us from discussing it.
2. Subjective entity.
This is a barrel of worms that even the most adventurous will hesitate to delve. It can be measured, though.
Source and form.
Most mythos have, at the core, at least some lip service towards a primary source. It is frequently vague in form, though notably takes on anthropomorphic semblance more often than not. At the nebulous end, we have the disembodied voice/force/will. At the specific end, we have the matri- or patriarchal form (occasionally, the duality of gender is strong, but one is usually in ascendance over the other.)
Most modern (less than 50,000 years ago) mythos focus on secondary sources, which most often have a recognizable, physical form. Unsurprisingly, it usually takes the monarchic structure, with a single or dual form at the top. The top is usually represented as having conquered or otherwise replaced the primary source, often with the usual explantion about dissatisfaction with the prior administration.
Singularity and committee.
This is not just mono- vs. polytheism. Most pantheons recognize "All" as either a single figure or the sum-total of the many figures. Pantheons usually have a head honcho who seems to have an easier time of it vs. the all-encompassing solo act, who always seems to have a multitude of lesser entities who envy him (he usually being a him). It's a testament to the schizophrenia of the ancient Greeks that they gave us both monarchy (in its recent (less than 5,000 years) form) and democracy, and that all-time-favorite hybrid -- bureaucracy.
And now, the $64,000 questions, in no particular order:
Is it possible to define an objective entity by exploring the myriad of subjective entities?
Is anthropomorphism a bankrupt approach? (Prerequisite: all of J. Campbell and some of Jung) (or is it all of Jung and some of Campbell...)
Speaking of subjective entities, is the quest for deity valid, or is it just spiritual (ego) masturbation?
(My personal favorite) Do we really need deity, and isn't it just another way for the few to control the many? (Marxian opiates, anyone?)
Just remember, Christianity did not invent circular logic, they are just the poster children for the concept.
Monday, July 10, 2006
Sometime correspondent Stuart Koehl, an orthodox Byzantine Catholic, has some keen observations on neo-pagan tomfoolery. The practitioners don't literally believe in the gods and goddesses they worship - they see them as Jungian archetypes of male and female or suchlike (which I'm sure the demons have a good larf about). Neo-paganism, with its sexual overtones, is a modern invention for women - by men! (Wicca was invented by an Englishman in the 1930s - he spelt it Wica - and included nudism, unknown to real European pagans centuries ago.) Stuart points out it's really a sanitized, Christianized set of beliefs ('harm no one', white magic, etc.), created whole cloth by apostate Christians and striking out Christ as the head - real paganism OTOH was/is about bashing in an animal's skull and sacrificing its blood on a rock to put curses on people and to appease gods who are very much believed in.
Maybe there should be a revival of 'pagan fundamentalism' (yea, brother) to give the ex-Christian dabblers a reality check and perhaps teach them a very scary lesson or two.
I found some writing by Stuart Koehl, but there is not enough time in the day for me to go much further in my search, so I'll take Serge's description at face value.
My reaction is simple: I'm so glad Mr. Koehl has gone to such great effort to explain my beliefs to me, and to clarify and help me to focus on the many vague and troubling thoughts I've had about my beliefs. Just like all Christians are, under a thin veneer, ready to take up a new Crusade in a heartbeat, would love to see floggings and burning at the stake returned to regular use, and really do think that they should be the only religion on the earth, all Pagans have no belief in literal deities, are only in it for the sex (I gotta ask: am I in the wrong place?), and can only somewhat favorably (if that) be compared to "real European pagans centuries ago".
Get a grip, my good fellows: we are real people, with real beliefs and with an actual depth to our faith that is not explainable (or to be explained away) with some convenient sound bites.
Thursday, July 06, 2006
The Failure of Online Community
Online community is attempted daily, and fails nearly every time. I'm not referring to those insular places where no ill word is ever spoken -- because such places do not offer an open door to all comers no matter their interest in the local definition of topicality. Such places have never been tested with a good, visceral flame war. I'm referring to those places, insular and open, which have been tested and have come up short.
I have to confess, my standards for success are very high, but I deeply believe that those standards belong at that height, because it is only by that standard that online community can be truly compared to real life. In real life, we have the direct analogs to flame wars, and we judge our ability to recover from such conflicts by the character of our community and its continuity.
I should point out, too, that an aspect of that standard is going to eliminate most insular places. For a community to be a success, in my not so humble opinion, it must be truly open to all comers.
The success of alt.callahans is not even close to its avoidance of conflict, because conflict is a hallmark of that space. Its success is not in its ability to protect itself from unwanted attention, because it is just as vulnerable to spam, scams, trolls and instigators as any analogous space in real life. No, its success is not in exclusion, but in inclusion, and the shared mechanisms that gently and dynamically fit the disruptions into their appropriate places in the overall community.
Amazingly, astoundingly, the place gets broken and fixes itself cyclically. There is no guardian, no person or small group that takes it upon itself to maintain the community. The entry price of the community is simple, yet profound: members of the community share equally and collectively in the preservation of the basic ethics of that community, and rules of conduct and moderation fall far short of the efficacy and power of such shared responsibility.
That, for me, is where it starts. Any cyber space that claims to be a community must have that shared energy, or its claims hold no water. It must be self-sustaining, or it must eventually fail, especially when that small group that wants the community to continue hit the wall of burnout because they don't get the level of commitment from enough of the members of that community that they themselves have given.
The structure of that community makes no difference. It can be the wild and woolly Usenet newsgroups, where alt.callahans resides. It can be a private website, like Beliefnet's discussion boards. It can be a publicly provided service, like Live Journal. It can be as simple as a reply-to-all email group. Wherever it resides, if it lacks that fundamental, uncoerced but fiercely supported ethic of commitment, it will fail sooner or later, and that failure will take the form of at least one person leaving with a bad taste in the mouth, combined with one or more people with a self-righteous conviction that they've "taken care of" someone as sie deserves... without realizing that unless they are in real life, they have no basis for that conviction outside of their own minds, and chances are excellent that they don't have a clue to the real person behind the screen to whom they've transmitted their ire.
Feelings are real. Pain is real. The ethic of Callahan's, that shared pain is lessened and shared joy increased, recognizes those realities, celebrates them, embraces them and in every respect validates them. The difference is not in the lack of fights (Callahan's has plenty), but in the explicit support for the notion that every voice is worthy of sounding and of listening, and that judgment is reserved for 20/20 hindsight. We do not refrain from judging, but we always own our judgments and never assume (at least not successfully) that anyone necessarily agrees with our judgments.
So, if you really want a successful community, if you want it to thrive on its own energy and not be a black hole sucking the life out of the community organizers (a sure deathknell to many such places), then you could do a hell of alot worse than to study the dynamics of alt.callahans closely.
While several blogs and social spaces undergo upheavals and meltdowns, a little-known place on Usenet (outside of its denizens) called alt.callahans has thrived as a balanced, dynamic community of people who, regardless of the face they choose to show, generally bring a minimum level of honesty to their dealings with each other.
For those of you not familiar with the term, the "callahans" part refers directly to the work of Spider Robinson and his vaguely located (on Long Island somewhere off 25A) Callahan's Saloon. It is important to understand the foundation of that cyberspace, not because it takes its genesis from a fictional establishment, but because it takes the nascent ideas of a remarkably insightful writer and applies them with vigor to the only place in Real Life where diversity and access are maximized.
A.C., as we Patrons like to call it -- or sometimes The Place -- is not a paradise. It is totally public, completely unmoderated, requires not even minimal access to browse it (it is easily found in Google Groups, and a Google registration lets one post to it); it is subject to spam (more about that later) and there is absolutely no external enforcement of any sort.
How, one may ask, does it work? The simple answer is consensus, and the shared root of this word with consent is very important to remember.
The aspect of consensus, what makes The Place work without explicit controls like a rules of conduct, is that the people bring with them the same socialization that they acquired in real life. Courtesy has the same priority; freedom of speech is fiercely supported; and in no situation for any reason can anyone claim to speak for everyone, let alone a majority. Every voice is given its due.
An excellent case in point is this very post. If I could get a representative mixture of people from A.C. to comment here, the distribution would be roughly even: some will agree with me, some will disagree with me, and the rest will say "Yes/No! But..."
The conventions of The Place are indicative of the base culture it maintains. There is the chalk line, a place from which one may declare a toast of any sort, on any subject, with the implicit understanding that politely worded questions will be accepted (or not, but with an equally polite "I wanted to toast, but I don't want to discuss it..."). There is the Danger Room, where one may publicly let the flames and fur fly, and entry is by explicit invitation only. There is the Harsh Light of Reality [tm], a device used on occasion when the fantasy has gotten a bit carried away, and someone wants to make a point with no room for misunderstanding.
And yes, there is plenty of fantasy involved. There are kissing threads, in which a wide range of styles and types of smooches are described in great detail (and where certain denouements get left undescribed). BBQ buffets, wine tastings, food fights, story threads with multiple authors, several of Spider's characters from his stories fulfill useful roles as foils or sounding boards... I could fill two posts with further descriptions.
The last thing I wish to mention is the affectation by some of us (myself included) to post in third-person narrative, complete with dialogue and exposition. This by itself is, for me, the clearest indication of the grounding in reality and the commitment to truth that sets A.C. apart from other online communities of my acquaintance. People make an unusual effort to be understood the first time. They bring details to their writing that are not usually available in text-only media, that convey things we take for granted in face-to-face encounters.
This finally leads me to the point of this post. I've had an ongoing debate over the validity of online relationships with my friend Lady Belle, who has graciously given me permission to link to the latest incarnation of that debate. I recently pointed out to her, and for my own benefit, that the two loves of her life -- including her husband -- were encountered for the first time on A.C., and the other recent tumult in her life (me) steered her there in the first place.
Go ahead, scratch your heads. I've implied that online relationships can work, and further implied that my friend Belle takes the opposite stance, when in reality our positions are just the opposite. I cast a very jaundiced eye on cyber connections (with The Place being the exception that proves the rule, IMO), while she swears by her online friendships and takes them very seriously. We found out recently that each of us has edged towards the other, taking a less extreme view than we previously held. I suspect, when I allow myself some objectivity, that the true value of online relationships is somewhere in the middle, and that I may need to rethink my view of A.C. as the exception that proves anything... except that it is indeed possible to have worthwhile connections with others that start online, can be maintained online, and that need only that final physical connection to validate the rest, not just to make them possible.
If you've read this far, and you find yourself curious about this strange place where people really don't care what your real name is, but do care to know you, this general information website is a perfect place to start, particularly since it includes information about other incarnations of The Place besides Usenet, and will also help you find the FAQs (called All Abouts) and provide you with some historical background and a few words from our Creator himself.
Wednesday, July 05, 2006
Do you know what July 4th really means?
I considered doing a July 4th posting, for all the obvious reasons, the chief of which is my strong opinion about the definition of patriotism, and how it applies to being a US citizen.
Instead, I offer my anti-July 4th posting, and it goes a little something like this (cue acoustic guitar)...
US citizens more than two-to-three generations removed from immigration do not, in my experience, understand what freedom is. Many of them can be excused in part for their separation from the coin of liberty (blood shed in defense of or in acquiring it), but those who have seen this payment cannot use that excuse, and it is all the more damning for their lack of understanding in the face of the proof.
I do not ask anyone to reverse their course concerning the current firestorm over immigration. We are all, myself included at least twice so far in this post, free to be wrong and to declare our being wrong in a loud voice. I do demand that everyone, opponents and supporters alike, stop for a few minutes and put yourselves into the shoes of the impoverished Mexican who risks his life to cross the border. What is he thinking? What is his goal? What motivates him to take those risks?
If you are having difficulty imagining any of that, and I am not faulting you if you are, then allow me to give a brief synopsis of my own background. I'm sure you can find someone near you with a similar story, who may even be pleased to share it with you and help you answer those questions.
Father: raised in a militaristic culture (Montenegro) to support yet another militaristic culture (Serbia), he was on the losing side of a civil war (Tito's communist conquest of Yugoslavia), held in prison as a possible war criminal (losers often get charged as war criminals), and was saved from extradition and certain death only by the grace of the Allied liberation of Italy.
Mother: raised in a Jewish family in Croatia, she with her brother and parents escaped the Ustashi (the local Nazis) only because a Catholic priest helped them acquire false baptismal and confirmation papers, and because they were wealthy enough to travel quickly; made their way to northern Italy, where for almost four years they survived only due to the noble grace and sacrifices of the Italian peasant farmers who refused to be accomplices to murder, and gladly entered the displaced persons camp outside of Asti when the Allies came through, which is where my parents met.
Family: my eldest sibling was born in Asti, which with the marriage papers made them Italians in the eyes of US immigration, forcing them to the end of a very long waiting list for the quota. So, they spent many months in Santiago, Chile, to establish residency and qualify for the Chilean quota. They finally arrived in the US just before sibling number 2 could be born in Chile. I'm number three. Of my father's three brothers only the youngest survived by fleeing to Switzerland, the other two were captured and executed along with their father. None of his sisters had children; his surviving brother had one daughter that I know of, and has two grandsons. Of my mother's extended families, more than 75% were murdered by the Nazis.
That is the blood price of my citizenship.
I'm not saying Mexico is that bad, or that it is better. I am saying that you should all make an effort to get the facts and stories straight before deciding either way about illegal immigration from that country. Understanding the blood price may be the most important history lesson you ever learn.