seeking knowledge and laughter, putting a bullseye on inaccuracy


Arranging the right words in the right order can be quite powerful

Religion Thoughts

For the most part, the world's religions are strongest in those areas where people are poor, uneducated, without hope for a decent future, and influenced by the vision of the wonderful afterlife thta all the orthodoxies give promise to.

from an article called "Perhaps, My Swan Song" David Koven in Social Anarchism issue 39 in 2006.

Nonetheless, I think it wise to be familiar with religion - or at least catch phrases. One of the things I respect about daddYman is that though he is strongly opposed to Christianity as practiced in America, he also knows the Bible. This fascinating clip from NPR's On the Media suggests many of the folks at the NY Times don't know the Bible. Pretty hilarious, really.

I have yet to fully read the Bible, but I have read large parts of it and I find it quite handy in talking to people and understanding their thought process. Such knowledge is important in these United States - where so many claim to be inspired by an internally contradictory book from which they can find passages to justify damn near anything.

Dark at Dawn

I have been shepherding a disastrous web site migration at work - moving from a large static HTML site to a content management system. We're a year late, over budget, and sick of the whole damn thing.

Over the weekend, our contractors put a patch up that was supposed to resolve a problem but it seems to have only made things worse. As I was explaining it to my boss, I said

In web development, it is always darkest before dawn and it always gets darker than you could possibly imagine

This has probably been said before, but it was an original thought to me (I think).

Chariots of Anger

From the Dhammapada - Sayings of the Buddha

Anger is like a charioteer careering wildly.
He who curbs his anger is the true charioteer.
Others merely hold the reins.

No Fool Zone

It has been too long since I put up some quotes.

Science is a way of trying not to fool yourself. The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.

Richard Feynman - From lecture "What is and What Should be the Role of Scientific Culture in Modern Society", given at the Galileo Symposium in Italy, 1964 - Source.

I think this really applies to how we have to live in this post-fact society.

Last Page Dread

I love reading The New Republic -- until I reach the last page. Leon Wieseltier is frequently featured as their "Washington Diarist" and I generally find him to be

  1. Wrong
  2. Dumb
  3. Arrogant
  4. Incomprehensible

Not always all 4, but always at least one. Occasionally I agree. Today was interesting - the November 5, 2008 issue has his "The Ballot Blues."

But before I go into that, I should note that I don't place a lot of blame on him when I find him incomprehensible. I blame myself for not having the energy to sort out writing when the author is intentionally trying to be hard to read - which is his mission in some pieces from what I can tell.

I believe good writers make themselves easy to understand, but some brilliant writers are well worth reading even when they make themselves hard to understand. It seems like an art - but I have never found anything Leon made hard to understand worth reading. I'm sure others have.

But I found a brilliant quote in this piece

I like capitalism, but not religiously, and I feel the same way about diplomacy. I do not trust bankers to understand American values and poets to understand American interests.

True to Leon form, after writing something brilliant, he has to balance it with something moronic. He says McCain was "splendidly right about the surge, which is not a small thing; and the grudging way Obama treats the reversal in Iraq, when he treats it at all, is disgraceful."

Leon should be smart enough to realize that the surge has not brought victory in Iraq. In exchange for fewer lost lives each month, we continue to spend billions for little gain for any American (and possibly humanitarian) interest. The "success" of the surge came largely from paying our enemies not to attack us - which is to say about 10x worse than "appeasement."

So many Americans want to kill the insurgents who dared attack our liberation-bringing troops. Listening to people call into radio shows whenever Guantanamo is brought up is instructive - it doesn't matter if someone materially supported attacks on our troops or not - if they are down there, they should be executed. These same Americans love that the insurgents we didn't catch are now drawing a paycheck from the same imperial army they once attacked.

So if we caught you, we should kill you. But if you were sneaky enough, we pay you.

But let's be clear - I support paying the insurgents. We should have done it long ago. It is well worth saving American lives who never should have been in Iraq anyway - and if committed to Iraq, should have been better supported by their military and civilian commanders. But let's not pretend the surge brought about the decline of violence from unacceptable to acceptable levels. It is largely the result of intelligent policies created before the surge that should have been embraced years ago if not for the fact that the Bush Administration cared more about keeping Rumsfeld in power than putting America's needs first.

And such as it is, the surge set a number of political goals and practically none have been met. But we can ignore that because Americans are not dying - and being grievously wounded - in large enough numbers to merit media coverage when we can talk about a campaign that will never end.

Should we be attacked in the first 10 months of an Obama administration - in an attack planned from Afghanistan and/or Pakistan, we will undoubtedly find many blaming Obama despite the fact it was Bush who refused to honor his pledge to hunt down bin Laden. But this is the nature of politics - never let facts get in the way of your predisposed notions.

Why People Kill Each Other

From the March 28 Diane Rehm show on WAMU (second hour).

Caller: I am actually have Sunni and half Shi'ite. And I think that the recent events in Basra are a great example of how this Western narrative of Sunnis and Shi'ites fighting for ages is wrong. What happened in Iraq is a political and economic war between Sunnis and Shi'ites who are nationalists against other Sunnis and Shi'ites who are separatists and want to secede. I wish we can hear more from the Iraqi narrative instead of repeating over and over one narrative.


Panelist: People always fight for economic purposes, for political power but they always couch it with religious or ideological garb. This is what is happening in Iraq.

This captures a major thought I have long failed to spit out in a succinct manner. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson are demagogues, not Christians. If they found a way to harness atheists with slick-talk and gain even more power, you can believe they would do it in a second.

When I was in the Middle East, whether in Israel, Palestine, or other areas, I never got the sense of a true religious dimension to the conflict aside from the obvious ways their leaders used that shared identity to motivate action. What the religion teaches is of secondary importance, what is important is that people have a shared identity. Once the shared identity is cemented, no one asks questions because to do so would threaten their identity.

The war in Iraq is not between Sunnis and Shi'as - or even between the U.S. and terrorists or the U.S. and Iraqis. The war is between competing groups of people who harness a Sunni or Shi'a identity to achieve some gain. If they were all Sunni's, they would still be fighting but using some other distinct piece of a shared identity to motivate action.

This is why I find so much of religion and who believes in God to be non-interesting. Because if there was no such thing as religion, we would still have people like Pat Robertson occupying the same position and push small-minded agendas to divide us based on inconsequential details like who we like to sleep with. Religion is not the problem nearly as much as a human tendency to seek out like-minded people to create a shared identity.

Once the shared identity is created, some folks inevitably find ways of profiting from exploiting it. Those who think differently are ostracized.

FISA and Telco Immunity

The President has said that American lives will be sacrificed if Congress does not change FISA. But he has also said that he will veto any FISA bill that does not grant retro-active immunity. No immunity, no FISA bill. So if we take the President at his word, he's willing to let Americans die to protect the phone companies.

In what appears to be a growing tit-for-tat hat tip, thanks to Moldy Blue Cheese Curds for that Kennedy quote.

I wrote to our Senator Coleman asking him to respect the Constitution and refuse to grant retroactive immunity to phone companies who gave the government access to our private conservations (thank you Qwest for refusing to violate the law and telling the Bush Administration to piss off until it was in compliance with the law).

The Honorable Senator, who must have momentarily forgotten his oath to uphold said Constitution, replied that more or less, if the President asks someone to break the law and tells them they are not breaking the law, they should not be punished for breaking the law. Seems like kind of a bad precedent.

But hey, this is a time of war and the King should be free to act. Nothing to hide, nothing to fear, right? The right to privacy is only something we should expect when, I dunno, buying weapons I guess.

Which brings me to - what the hell is up with people gunning down lots of people lately? Damn, reading the national news is like watching a damn western lately.

Gingrich on Next Prez

I am no fan of Newt Gingrich, but I have been surprised in the past at how intelligent he is ... here and there. I've also entertained thoughts about his daftness compared to a doorknob, but his recent piece in the Jan/Feb Foreign Policy called "Lend Them Your Ear" [subscribers only] is quite insightful.

His was one of many about what the next President should first do. I liked his response above and beyond most...

As soon as the new president is elected, he or she should immediately embark on a series of pre-inauguration visits to capitals around the world: not just London, Paris, and Jerusalem, but Ankara, Amman, Beijing, and Cairo. In the span of several weeks, the president should make dozens of stops in Latin America, the Middle East, Europe, Africa, and Asia. During these visits, not one moment needs to be spent trying to prove or demonstrate American power and dominance. Instead, the president-elect should simply listen. There should be no formal agenda, only questions. How do these other leaders think the United States can be most effective with its economic, military, and cultural might? And in turn, how do they propose to help achieve mutual goals during the next four years?

Happy MLK Day

I hope Dr. King appreciated this quote.

If you don't find God in the next person you meet, it's a waste of time looking for him further.

-- Mohandas Gandhi

The American Idea

The Atlantic's November 2007 issue featured many short pieces by a variety of thinkers about the "American Idea." This collection is only available to subscribers - so you should subscribe because this is a damn good magazine (for over 150 years now!).

This idea about the American Idea comes from the magazine's founding:

It was founded on an encompassing abstraction, expressed in the words that appeared in the first issue and that appear again on the cover of this one: In politics, it would "honestly endeavor to be the exponent of what its conductors believe to be the American idea."

I wanted to excerpt a couple of the quotes I really liked, but I had to include enough for the context.

Sivilization - by Azar Nafisi (author of Reading Lolita in Tehran)

On the first page of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck informs us that the Widow Douglas decided to take him up and "sivilize" him, but

it was rough living in the house all the time, considering how dismal regular and decent the widow was in all her ways; and so when I couldn’t stand it no longer I lit out.

The way Huck subverts a whole way of living, a way of thinking and relating to the world, by misspelling a word is to my mind a pure expression of the American idea. That idea is always threatened by another: the secure and smug world from which Huck and Jim turn away. Throughout the book, Huck and Jim turn the "decent" and "sivilized" world on its head, and we come out in the end with a new definition of these words.


The idea that I want to believe America was founded on also depended on challenging the world as it is and, by standing up to civilized society, redefining it. That idea was essentially based on a poetic vision, on imagining something that did not exist.


Huck closes his adventures with this statement:

But I reckon I got to light out for the territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. I been there before.

This, of course, is the whole point: In order to keep the American idea fresh and new, it must be constantly challenged. For the American idea to endure, we have to "light out," and to find new ways to resist the "sivilizing" impulse of the Widow Douglases and Aunt Sallys among us.

And yet today it seems that America, gripped by social and political crisis, has become almost forgetful of that idea. Cynical, shallow, defensive, and at the same time arrogant and greedy, it is unfaithful to its instincts and refuses to be reflective, mistaking blame for criticism and self-criticism, and believing that success at any cost is more important than failure with honor, taking as its ideal the Widow Douglas’s paradise rather than Huck Finn’s hell.

Help Wanted - by Alan Wolfe

This country was once needier than it is today. Neediness is not an attractive characteristic, neither of people nor of nations. Yet we were better off wanting things the rest of the world had to offer than we are now, when we need so little from everyone else.

The most obvious thing we once needed was people. Underpopulated, this country extended a welcome to others who not only enriched our economy but strengthened our culture ...

But now we have Lou Dobbs. Forget, if you can, his nativistic populism. This is a man who radiates self-satisfaction. There is no question in his mind that America needs nothing from the rest of the world. In wanting to close the country, Dobbs closes his mind. A society that no longer needs people has no need to question anything it does.


Self-sufficiency is a wonderful thing, but it comes with a price. Dependency can be crippling, yet it can also be revealing. The American idea worth striving for is not supreme military power—where has that gotten us in Iraq?—nor is it economic autarky, not in this globalized world. The idea for which we should strive is interdependence, recognizing that we need others just as others need us.

I should also note that Lahaye - creator of the Left Behind fundamentalist (dare I claim, Christian) book series - had a short piece on the American idea in which he ridiculously claimed the American public schools have been conquered by God-hating secularists ... one wonders if he has talked to a school teacher recently? Most of the ones I know also believe in God and many of them attend Christian churches as well...

To be clear, Lahaye hates America - a country founded on a Constitution that does not establish a theocracy.

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