Archive for September, 2006

Oooh, scawy

September 28, 2006 1 comment

Apparently Conrad Burns thinks you should be pissing yourself with fear over Tester’s calls to repeal the Patriot Act. What else explains this attempt to strike fear into your heart?

It’s also a nice example of confusing cause and correlation. The Patriot Act was passed and now every success in the war on terrorism is a because of it. Sorry folks, it doesn’t work like that.

Also, did you know most of the Montana Senate is soft on child molesters? According to Burns, it’s true. Granted, he’s only saying that about Tester, but that’s how the vote on that particular bill went.

In any case, on with Burns’s postive, accomplishments-focused campaign!

Categories: 2006 elections, Montana

I'm an…S-P!

September 27, 2006 2 comments

Mr. O’Reilly has a new book coming out called Culture Warrior. It’s about the war between “traditionalists” and “Secular-Progressives” (abbreviated “S-P”). He even has a quiz to tell which side you’re on! You can read the preface here. Crackin’ stuff:

I can tell you truthfully that I never envisioned myself crusading against establishment forces like the New York Times and today’s vast armies of far-left and far-right zealots. Coming out of Boston University with a master’s degree in broadcast journalism in 1975, I wanted to be one of the Woodward and Bernstein guys. You know, do serious investigative work and right wrongs by exposing corruption. I also wanted to cover war and study human conflict firsthand. In my journalistic career, I succeeded in reaching those goals and count myself very fortunate to have done so.

I may be a bit behind here, but what exactly has O’Reilly exposed in the way of corruption? Covered war? What, from his desk in New York? Color me unimpressed.

Because of the very personal nature of the battle I have chosen to fight, this is a difficult book to write. I don’t like to sound bitter, but the truth is, I am bitter to some extent. Although I have won far more battles than I’ve lost, my life has changed drastically. I am routinely threatened with physical harm and have to employ security. I have to absorb rank defamation in the press, with no legal recourse because I’m a “public figure.” My family has also been threatened and I’ve had to change every aspect of my life. No longer can I behave as a “regular guy” and go out and cut loose with my friends. No longer can I even engage a stranger in conversation-there are too many crazies out there. At work, every call I receive is monitored and every interaction I have has to be witnessed. I am never off the job and am always on guard. Would you want to live that way?

In all honesty, being a flaming idiot and a lot of narcissitic paranoia lead to that kind of thing (or the perception of it) in this case.

One more thing in this initial briefing. We’re going to get this culture war over with faster than anyone believes. You’ve heard of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War? This ancient Chinese how-to book has been a bestseller in many different formats, especially to people who want to compete more effectively in business.

“There is no instance,” wrote the military sage Tzu, “of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.” O’Reilly Tzu agrees (and will have some advice on the subject later on). The culture war must be won quickly and definitively, and the best way to do that is to expose the secular-progressive movement in our country for exactly what it is, to explain why it is so harmful for America, and to identify the movement’s top leaders. So here we go.

O’Reilly Tzu is coming to destroy you! Run!

He’s really into the war metaphor here. The preface is titled “Centcom.”

In any case, I’m sure this is a fantastically stupid book. Perhaps it’s worth reading, though.

Categories: The media

If only we'd killed more children

September 26, 2006 Leave a comment

So a new NIE says Iraq is inflaming terrorism. Seems pretty obvious to those who have been saying so for the past couple years.

Sadly, it doesn’t tell us what to do in Iraq. Keep fueling the fire or leave a safe haven? I still don’t know.

Apparently though, all we need to do is care a little bit less about collateral damage and have a bit more political will. How exactly does that work? We’re fighting a relatively small number people who hide among supporters throughout a very large geographical area. Some of them hide among us. Scorched earth tactics aren’t particulary useful. Take out a couple of mosques terrorists may have hidden in and we might kill a few more of them, but we kill plenty of innocent people and piss off a lot more. There really are diminishing returns here. Pretty soon, we’re killing more people than the terrorists have (oops, already there). Sure, we have better motives, but it still should cause a bit of reflection. That’s reflection, not “we will win through our steely resolve and our ability to destroying buildings with the flick of a wrist!”

Categories: Foreign Policy

Is this strange?

September 26, 2006 Leave a comment

That I’m keenly interested in calls I miss but can’t figure out the caller, but I don’t take the step of calling the person back?

It’s a conundrum, let me tell you.

Categories: Personal


September 25, 2006 1 comment

From Sam Harris’s new book:

Despite a full century of scientific insights attesting to the antiquity of the earth, more than half our neighbors believe that the entire cosmos was created six thousand years ago. This is, incidentally, about a thousand years after the Sumerians invented glue.


The president of the United States has claimed, on more than one occasion, to be in dialogue with God. If he had said he was talking to God through his hairdryer, this would precipitate a national emergency. I fail to see how the addition of a hairdryer makes the claim more ridiculous or offensive.

I thought those were pretty funny.

Categories: Religion

The Butte debate

September 23, 2006 2 comments

I suppose I should comment on this while it’s fresh in my mind. I didn’t write anything down (because I’m lazy), so this won’t be that in-depth of a review.

I don’t think it was even close. Tester was almost perfect and Burns said the same meaningless crap we’ve been hearing for months. Tester will weaken our families! Tester will cut and run! Tester will tax us to death! Tester eats babies!

Alright, so that last one isn’t real. Tester had some good one liners and seemed pretty comfortable. One of the better ones was responding to Burns’s support of the Patriot Act, “I don’t want to weaken it, I want to repeal it.” That’s a great comeback to Burns’s scare tactics, even though I’d rather see it weakened than repealed (well, I do want some of it repealed). Burns decided to demonize environmentalists for a bit (and really, it’s not like they couldn’t use a little criticism) and attacked Tester for being supported by them. He responded that if that’s true, we should elect him to “get them off the dime.” Tester showed some passion a few times and when it was appropriate, I thought.

Burns, on the other hand, sounded defensive and a little angry. When it really didn’t warrant it, too. You have to like his comment that Washington was a “17 acre logic-free zone.” It certainly is, Senator. Of course, you’re right in the middle of it and the party that controls it, so I’m just not sure what the point of that comment was. Burns really was in fine form, making rambling answers and thanking himself (that was strange). He brought up gun control like we were all supposed to gasp at horrible it is. Strangely, he thought Chuck Schumer was the chairman of the DNC, when it’s the right’s favorite object of derision, Howard Dean.

It seems that Resodyn (one of the debate sponsors) bought a bunch of seats that were given to Burns supporters, all of them up front. When they introduced Burns it seemed like the entire front quarter of the theater stood up and cheered (and almost no one else). Nearly everyone else stood up and cheered for Tester when he was introduced.

I never got around to listening to the Hamilton debate, but I didn’t think Tester did a great job in the Whitefish debate. He was definitely much better this time around. Burns did about the same. I don’t really think it was close. Then again, I’m a Tester supporter and quite liberal, so that’s what I’m biased toward. Still, I think it was pretty clear.

Afterwards, Colby and I met up with Jay and CeCe, which was very cool. Nice to get know some of the people behind blogs I read. I guess we missed Moorcat, which is a shame. It was definitely a fun trip, though.

Next up, the Bozeman debate.

Also, check out Jay’s liveblogging, which is a good play-by-play of the debate.

Categories: Montana

Look, my first WordPress plugin

September 21, 2006 3 comments

You’ll see that there’s a link called “Quick Comments” at the bottom of each of my posts. I decided to experiment with AJAX the other day at work. It found it interesting enough to play with here (after all, I can only justify so much time spent on programming in the QA department) and decided that I needed to figure out how to make plugins for WordPress, too. So, there it is. Clicking on the link gets an excerpt from each of the three most recent comments, so you can check comments without loading a whole new page.

In order to keep myself motivated to actually do this, I didn’t really look to see if this had already been done. I would suspect so. I still may clean it up enough that I could release it to some degree. As it stands, I don’t have an options page and the way the comments are styled could use some generalization.

Categories: Tech

Outpouring of love

September 21, 2006 1 comment

I get a warm fuzzy feeling when I see all the love local rep John Sinrud is getting from the blogs lately.

Sadly, I have no anti-Sinrud experience to share with you, other than the one going on in Touchstone’s comments, where Sinrud is dodging questions, demanding my last name, and attacking Tester (and addressing that attack to me, for some reason) for raising taxes (when he actually didn’t).

I really do like his justification for voting against hate crimes protection for sexual orientation:

“What we’re doing is, people who may disagree with people could have penalty enhancement,” said Rep. John Sinrud, R-Bozeman. “I don’t think you want to squelch free speech. This is America. We have a right to disagree and we have a right to free speech.”

I like to think I’m something of a First Amendment zealot, but I’m just not sure curb stomping someone because he or she is gay is free speech. John thinks it is, apparently. He also seems to think this is Europe, where they do actually pass hate speech laws.

All in all, he and his wife make quite a pair.

Categories: Montana

The real problem

September 20, 2006 2 comments

You know what the real problem with Islam is? Its adherents have lost their sense of irony. I think we’d have far fewer problems if they were capable of recognizing when they were blatantly contradicting themselves.

Categories: Religion

Head in the sand atheists?

September 19, 2006 2 comments

Sam Harris has an op-ed in the LA Times attacking liberal responses to terrorism. If you know anything about Harris, you know where he’s going with this. Let’s look a little closer:

But my correspondence with liberals has convinced me that liberalism has grown dangerously out of touch with the realities of our world — specifically with what devout Muslims actually believe about the West, about paradise and about the ultimate ascendance of their faith.

On questions of national security, I am now as wary of my fellow liberals as I am of the religious demagogues on the Christian right.

This may seem like frank acquiescence to the charge that “liberals are soft on terrorism.” It is, and they are.

That’s quite an introduction. The evidence?

A cult of death is forming in the Muslim world — for reasons that are perfectly explicable in terms of the Islamic doctrines of martyrdom and jihad. The truth is that we are not fighting a “war on terror.” We are fighting a pestilential theology and a longing for paradise.

This is not to say that we are at war with all Muslims. But we are absolutely at war with those who believe that death in defense of the faith is the highest possible good, that cartoonists should be killed for caricaturing the prophet and that any Muslim who loses his faith should be butchered for apostasy.

Are we? There are a lot of people who die defending their faith and aren’t particularly dangerous. It all depends on what “defending the faith” constitutes. Dying for your right to practice a certain religion isn’t dangerous. We’re at war with people who think someone like me deserves to die for no discernable action on my part.

Unfortunately, such religious extremism is not as fringe a phenomenon as we might hope. Numerous studies have found that the most radicalized Muslims tend to have better-than-average educations and economic opportunities.

Given the degree to which religious ideas are still sheltered from criticism in every society, it is actually possible for a person to have the economic and intellectual resources to build a nuclear bomb — and to believe that he will get 72 virgins in paradise. And yet, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, liberals continue to imagine that Muslim terrorism springs from economic despair, lack of education and American militarism.

I’m all for dropping the despair and lack of education arguments, but American militarism is still a factor. Notice how Harris sneaks that in, without actually presenting an argument, as he did for economic despair and lack of education. More on that in a bit.

At its most extreme, liberal denial has found expression in a growing subculture of conspiracy theorists who believe that the atrocities of 9/11 were orchestrated by our own government. A nationwide poll conducted by the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University found that more than a third of Americans suspect that the federal government “assisted in the 9/11 terrorist attacks or took no action to stop them so the United States could go to war in the Middle East;” 16% believe that the twin towers collapsed not because fully-fueled passenger jets smashed into them but because agents of the Bush administration had secretly rigged them to explode.

Such an astonishing eruption of masochistic unreason could well mark the decline of liberalism, if not the decline of Western civilization. There are books, films and conferences organized around this phantasmagoria, and they offer an unusually clear view of the debilitating dogma that lurks at the heart of liberalism: Western power is utterly malevolent, while the powerless people of the Earth can be counted on to embrace reason and tolerance, if only given sufficient economic opportunities.

Pathetic. 9/11 conspiracy theorist are liberals? Hardly. It’s as much a phenomenon of the extreme right as it is of the extreme left. Harris is really grasping at straws here.

I’m going to go in a different direction now. You’ve probably noticed that I’m a fan of Robert Pape’s work on suicide terrorism. I think his explanation is pretty solid. It also doesn’t say it’s an outgrowth of Islamic doctrine. What does Harris think of that? He says here:

In his influential essay, “The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism,” (American Political Science Review 97, no. 3, 2003) and in a subsequent book, Robert Pape has argued that suicidal terrorism is best understood as a strategic means to achieve certain well-defined nationalist goals and should not be considered a consequence of religious ideology. In support of this thesis, he recounts the manner in which Hamas and Islamic Jihad have systematically used suicide bombings to extract concessions from the Israeli government. Like most commentators on this infernal wastage of human life, Pape seems unable to imagine what it would be like to actually believe what millions of Muslims profess to believe. The fact that terrorist groups have demonstrable, short-term goals does not in the least suggest that they are not primarily motivated by their religious dogmas. Pape claims that “the most important goal that a community can have is the independence of its homeland (population, property, and way of life) from foreign influence or control.” But he overlooks the fact that these communities define themselves in religious terms. Pape’s analysis is particularly ill-suited to explaining the actions of Islamists. Al Qaeda and other Islamist groups define their “strategic goals” entirely on the basis of their theology. To attribute “territorial” and “nationalistic” motives to Osama bin Laden seems almost willfully obscurantist, since bin Laden’s only apparent concerns are the spread of Islam and the sanctity of Muslim holy sites. Suicide bombing in the Muslim world tends to be an explicitly religious phenomenon that is inextricable from notions of martyrdom and jihad, predictable on their basis, and sanctified by their logic. It is no more secular an activity than prayer is.

There are quite a few problems here. Hamas and Islamic Jihad’s cycle of suicide bombing campaigns are directly linked to those concessions. As in, they stop when the recieve them, then continue on later to extract more confessions. Harris also ignores Hezbollah. They stopped suicide bombings once Israel left Lebanon. They’ve since transformed themselves into a different sort of group and hardly a more effective one. The impetus for those attacks disappeared. Another of Pape’s points is that the distribution of suicide terrorists’ countries of origin doesn’t correlate with the amount of religious extremism, but with U.S. involvement in the country. Next, Pape certainly doesn’t ignore that such communities are defined by religion. That’s a major point of this argument: the clash of religions is a major factor in suicide bombings. Nothing radicalizes believers like being attacked by infidels (or perceiving such a thing). Finally, bin Laden’s goals are pretty clear. He wants unbelievers out what he considers Muslim holy land. That’s exactly what Pape is talking about. Al Qaeda recruits people not by harping on the fact that it’s their duty to God, but by harping on what they believe infidels in their land to be doing. That’s the driving force. That fits with what Pape is saying, not with what Harris believes.

Several readers followed Pape’s and put forward the Tamil Tigers as a rebuttal to my claim that suicidal terrorism is a product of religion. But it is misleading to describe the Tamil Tigers as “secular,” as Pape often does. While the motivations of the Tigers are not explicitly religious, they are Hindus who undoubtedly believe many improbable things about the nature of life and death. The cult of martyr-worship that they have nurtured for decades has many of the features of religiosity that one would expect in people who give their lives so easily for a cause. Secular Westerners often underestimate the degree to which certain cultures, steeped as they are in otherworldliness, look upon death with less alarm than seems strictly rational. I was once traveling in India when the government rescheduled the exams for students who were preparing to enter the civil service: what appeared to me to be the least of bureaucratic inconveniences precipitated a wave of teenage self-immolations in protest. Hindus, even those whose preoccupations appear to be basically secular, often harbor potent religious beliefs.

The Tamil Tigers don’t appear to motivated by messianic religious goals. They simply don’t mention religion in their explanations of why they do what they do. They stopped suicide bombings when they worked out a tenative agreement with Sri Lanka. That’s consistent with their stated aims of independence. Harris’s vague claims that they’re religiously motivated are simply not supported by what we know.

In the end, Harris has to deal with the power of Pape’s theory. All suicide bombing campaigns are explainable in terms of territorial goals. Suicide bombers come from many different religions. Who needs Harris’s special pleading?

Categories: Foreign Policy, Religion

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