Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The real reason we're in Iraq

I'm going way out on a limb here, for full disclosure. In other words, I'm pretty sure I don't believe what I'm about to suggest. But could we be in Iraq, not for oil, not for democracy and human rights, not to profit the military-industrial complex, and not to benefit the GOP, but rather to promote an intra-Muslim war to achieve our security goals. In some ways, this suggestion reflects less poorly on the adminstration, since it at least ascribes a motive rooted in US security. Of course, it would be more pernicious in a way too, insofar as it would constitute religious warfare, potentially on the order of the crusades or Hitler's extermination of Jews.

However, its at least an interesting lens through which to view the conflict. Through this lens, the policy is not clearly a failure. The strategy fits. In other words, if a Sunni-Shia war was the goal, Iraq would be the place to start it. The Sunni-Shia divide appears, based on what I know, to be most pronounced and focal in Iraq, with other middle eastern countries more clearly in one camp or the other. Going to war in Iraq had the effect, then, of the Lex Luthor missile into the San Andreas fault. Clearly Iraq is fully embroiled in all out Shia-Sunni war now. Iran, a shia state, is already in the game, and is projecting new Shia power. Syria may also be in the game, providing training, equipment, and probably foreign fighters for Shia militias and death squads. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, is funding the Sunni insurgents, and is likely exporting Sunni foreign fighters (also known as "Al Qaeda types") to the theater. Jordan and Egypt appear to be nervously on the sidelines.

Is what the adminstration wants to say, but can't, something more like "we want them to fight each other over there, so we don't have to fight them here?" It at least has the benefit of logic. It could possibly be true, whereas the platitude of "we're fighting them there so we don't have to fight them here" truly makes no logical sense, because nothing we're doing there pins "them" down or de-motivates "them" from coming here. However, if a Shia death squad killed your family, as a potential Sunni terrorist recruit, you might be more likely to fight them there, rather than heading to a camp to prepare for a terrorist attack against a western interest.

It should go without saying that I don't support this as a strategy, but simply wonder if it is an unsaid strategy. Part of what drives my theory is that it seems impossible that the adminstration is as incompetent as it seems to be. They can't possibly be capable of failing to reach their own goals so uniformly. I think they may be reaching some goals which they did not share with the rest of us.


Monday, May 28, 2007

Hand Slapping Forehead

Ok. We went in to Iraq because it had WMD's, and could have passed them off to terrorists, and Al Qaeda-related terrorists were in Iraq, and one even treated at a Baghdad hospital. Or maybe none of that was true, but that doesn't matter because we went into Iraq to establish democracy, which, beacon-like, would cause a message of hope and peace to spread through the Middle East. You see, it's democracy -- what the PEOPLE want -- that's important. That's why we're in Iraq. Except we're also mostly there because Al Qaeda is there, and if we don't stop them there, we'll have to fight them here. And if we pull out it will give Al Qaeda a huge victory. But if the Iraq government tells us to leave, we'll leave. But if 71% of its people, and a majority of its parliament tell us to get out, we won't leave. And if 70% of the people in the U.S., and a majority of its Congress want the U.S. to get out, we won't. Get it? Because it's about spreading DEMOCRACY. It's all about what the people want.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The War is Lost

Why anyone fails to understand the absolute correctness, the clarity, the truth, of Harry Reid's statement that "the war is lost," is beyond me. Everything this administration says and does fits precisely within the analogy of the gambling addict. The addict, after having racked up huge losses, always comes crawling around looking for more money, because losing would be "catastrophic" and because the only chance of "winning" can be had by continuing to play. Of course, the sober among us realize that the only winning strategy is to leave the table, because we know the house always wins. And the press and those who let out a collective gasp that Harry Reid said to the addict that he'd lost and it was time to go home are the worst enablers in history.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Abeer Qassim al-Janabi

One day, when my emotion for her recedes to a coping level where I can begin to even think about her life, let alone her death (and my emotion has not receded a whit in more than a year since I learned of her fate), I will write a song for Abeer, the girl from Mahmoudiya.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

My Hero, Stephen Hawking

From: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070425/ap_on_sc/hawking_flight

"Astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, who has been confined to a wheelchair for most of his adult life, expects weightlessness to feel like 'bliss' when he goes on a 'zero-gravity' flight Thursday aboard a refitted jet. . ."

This man has been living with ALS for over 40 years - many times over past the longest reasonable life expectancy he could have been given when diagnosed at age 21. He's now 65, and, oh yeah, during those intervening years he managed to compute many features of the space-time continuum and develop human understanding of our place in the universe. This guy is made of tougher stuff than the Iron Horse himself.

I think I'm going to re-read A Brief History of Time for my next book.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Bioethics Quiz

You are an expectant father in a frantic delivery room. Your baby is in breach position, and his little legs and part of his torso just past his belly button are out, but he's stuck and your wife is hemorraghing at an alarming rate. The OB informs you that, having been deprived of oxygen for so long, your baby will be severely brain-damaged, and will not survive more than a couple weeks on life support after birth, and will be essentially unresponsive and kept alive by machines for that short while anyway. Moreover, because the baby's head is compressing your wife's spinal cord, she will be rendered a parapalegic at the very least, and may also sustain severe brain damage from the hemorraghing, if they do not remove the baby immediately. If they do remove the baby immediately, she will likely be spared paralysis and certainly will suffer no brain damage. However, the only way to remove the baby is by a partial birth abortion. You have power of attorney and all applicable medical consent forms have been signed by your wife allowing you complete control over any health decisions she is unable to make.

Quiz question: who decides what to do? (hint: it's not really a bioethics quiz)
Answer (from the United States Supreme Court): A nearly all-male majority of Congress. And by the way, fuck you if you think stem-cell research might restore your paraplegic wife to full health.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

On Creationism

Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins both push an argument pointing out that creationists are making a scientific claim, and that the issue is not one of religion vs. science, but of which scientific claim is more accurate. Claims about how human beings originally came to be on Earth are scientific claims about the natural world.

Creationists accept the following theory, from Genesis 2:7-8, about how the first human, Adam, from whom we all descend, was created: "And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. 8: And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. "

This is a scientific claim in that it is, at least in theory, empirically testable. Here's a thought experiment: let's set up video cameras to record the event. The creationist claims that if we could go back in time, set up video cameras and record at the precise place and time of the occurrence described in Genesis, we would see a man being formed from actual dust -- real matter in the natural world -- and springing to life after having wind blown up his nose. It is debatable whether the video would pick up God insofar as creationists, I think, would claim that he is supernatural and so would not be visible in the material world. But that's no matter because creationists accept (I think) that the dust, Adam, and the wind in his nose would be events involving actual matter in the natural world, and so should in theory be recordable on a video.

The "video" of evolution would involve much more footage, occurring over a much longer period of time, but you can imagine the prediction an evolutionist would make about what we'd see on the videos, the footage of which would go back at least as far as the lives of clearly non-human primate ancestors and forward through their step-by-step mutated offspring.

Thus, the creationist and the evolutionist both have predictions about what we'd see on the video tapes. They both make scientific claims that are testable, at least in theory. Based on other empirical evidence of which I am aware, including the fossil record, and the DNA links between our species and "lesser" primates and other related species, such as mammals generally.

Based on this evidence, my money is on a series of videos that trace man back through a mutation process that arose from a clearly separate species. I am still awaiting a presentation of evidence from creationists that is more impressive than the overwhelming evidence for evolution. I'd consider it if it were presented to me.

I have a similar belief about the virgin birth. We could, in theory, test Jesus's DNA and compare it to Mary's and determine if there was any other contributing human DNA. More crudely, we could do the video thought experiment with Mary too. I bet video would reveal sex, or perhaps rape. This would be the most shocking video ever, incidentally.

I think I'll end this post on that note before I go too much farther down this road just before Easter. . .

Friday, April 06, 2007

On Developing a Political Philosophy

I recieved an excellent question from, I believe, my second poster ever (see comments two posts ago). Hat tip to Collin Brendemuehl at Philsophy For Chistians ( http://philosophyforchristians.blogspot.com/); and Evangelical Perspective (http://evangelicalperspective.blogspot.com/).

I am not approaching this as-yet-begun exposition on my political philosophy within the framework of natural law. Indeed, natural law is a concept which I reject (consistent with, but not a function of my atheist beliefs).

Rather, I have begun with a premise which is contingent. If one asserts certain rights vis-a-vis society (e.g. the right to be free from bodily harm by others), then one consequently also assumes obligations (e.g. the obligation not to cause bodily harm to others). I am trying to avoid any normative (should or "ought") conclusions. Thus, the initial premise does not include the normative statement that one ought to assert rights, but that IF one does so, it follows that one is also assuming obligations.

It seems that this formulation, as I write it now, however, does fall into a normative trap about the obligations. Put another way, if one assumes a right, I appear to be saying, one OUGHT to submit to a reciprocal obligation. That, of course, is little more than a wordy version of the golden rule. Back to the drawing board.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Why I'm An Atheist

The full article is below, but the money quote for me is "pope John Paul II said heaven was 'neither an abstraction nor a physical place in the clouds, but that fullness of communion with God, which is the goal of human life.'" The logical import of this sentence is that Pope John Paul II believed, and apparently asserted with a straight face that "the fullness of communion with God" is not an abstraction. Right. And Salvadore Dali is a realist.

Pope says hell and damnation are real and eternal
By Richard Owen in Rome
March 28, 2007 12:00am
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HELL is a place where sinners really do burn in an everlasting fire, and not just a religious symbol designed to galvanise the faithful, Pope Benedict XVI has said.
Addressing a parish gathering in a northern suburb of Rome, the Pope said that in the modern world many people, including some believers, had forgotten that if they failed to "admit blame and promise to sin no more", they risked "eternal damnation - the inferno". Hell "really exists and is eternal, even if nobody talks about it much any more".
The Pope, who as cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was head of Catholic doctrine, noted that "forgiveness of sins" for those who repented was a cornerstone of Christian belief. He recalled that Jesus had forgiven the "woman taken in adultery" and prevented her from being stoned to death, observing: "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her."
God had given men and women free will to choose whether "spontaneously to accept salvation...the Christian faith is not imposed on anyone, it is a gift, an offer to mankind".
Vatican officials said the Pope - who is also the Bishop of Rome - had been speaking in "straightforward" language "like a parish priest". He had wanted to reinforce the new Catholic catechism, which holds that hell is a "state of eternal separation from God", to be understood "symbolically rather than physically".
Agostino Paravicini Bagliani, a church historian, said the Pope was "right to remind us that hell is not something to be put on one side" as an inconvenient or embarrassing aspect of belief. It was described by St Matthew as a place of "everlasting fire" (Matthew xxv, 41).
"The problem is not only that our sense of sin has declined, but also that the world wars and totalitarianisms of the 20th century created a hell on earth as bad as anything we can imagine in the afterlife," Professor Bagliani said.
In 1999, pope John Paul II said heaven was "neither an abstraction nor a physical place in the clouds, but that fullness of communion with God, which is the goal of human life".
Hell, by contrast, was "the ultimate consequence of sin itself. Rather than a place, hell indicates the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God, the source of all life and joy".
In October, the Pope indicated that limbo, supposed since medieval times to be a "halfway house" between heaven and hell, was "only a theological hypothesis" and not a "definitive truth of the faith".
The Times, London, in The Australian

Monday, March 19, 2007

Political philosophy

Given the readership, I will devote attention on this blog to political philosophy. Let's start with the basic compact, shall we? Any assertion of rights vis-a-vis others requires a submission to obligations vis-a-vis those same others. We can refer to these "others" as society. In these pages, I shall formulate a political philosophy grounded on this fairly basic, pre-government ("state of nature" if you will) premise.

For now, let's just leave it at that.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Scooter Libby Verdict

My thought on this whole stupid affair is this: this was a concerted retribution effort that had nothing to do with any "agressive counterargument" to Wilson's claims. Nobody has ever disagreed with Wilson's assessment that Iraq was not trying to purchase uranium in Niger. Nobody has ever taken the illogical leap that the fact that Wilson's wife was on the panel that sent him, that this undermined the actual conclusions which Wilson drew on his trip. The suggestion that this was a "junket" is assinine. A junket is a free trip on the public dole, not the conducting of important public business at public expense. Nobody has ever suggested that Wilson didn't do the job he was asked to do by the CIA, or that he didn't do it thoroughly.

But the most compelling indication that nobody actually believed in the supposed "junket" argument, and that the whole flimsy "argument" was an obvious pretense to justify outing Plame, is that this was done anonymously. If Cheney really believed this supposed argument, why not come right out himself in the press the day the article is published and say "we never believed what Joe Wilson reported because we think he didn't do a thorough job in investigating. Rather, he treated the assignment as a 'junket,' which was arranged in part by an anonymous individual with whom he had close personal ties, offering him a free trip to Africa where he didn't do the important work he was asked to do. Therefore, we disregarded his conclusions, and relied on other information we had about Iraq's attempts to purchase uranium in Africa, principally from British sources that relied on documents that many, including the CIA, felt were crude forgeries, but which we accepted because the British sources apparently accepted the documents at face value."

Is that about the worst argument ever? Would anyone have taken that counter argument seriously? Of course not, which is why the whole thing was done anonymously, and in cowardly. Joe Wilson put his argument on the front page of the newspaper with his name right on it. Why couldn't Cheney be man enough to do the same with his counterargument? Also note -- as framed above, there was an easy way to assert the argument without identifying a covert operative by name, endangering that operative's contacts and every other operative that worked for the same 'front' business, weakening our intelligence gathering on Iran's nuclear program, and destroying a career that had been devoted to US national security.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

An Introductory Lesson on Signing Statements

We're all familiar with Bush's controversial "signing statements," which have been decried as impinging on legislative power. The real issue here, however, is what they mean, or what they are worth. No one disputes -- Bush included -- that Congress has absolute legislative authority. Congress makes the laws. They become effective when signed by the President. No one disputes that, when interpretation of laws becomes necessary as a result of disputes over their application, the arbiter of this interpretation is the judiciary. No one disputes the fact that we all are bound by those laws, presidents, congresspeople and judges included. That's Civics 101.

Any law student will tell you that a judge's job in interpreting statutory language is fairly prescribed. Their are well-known canons of interpretation and construction which guide the procedure of such interpretation. First, for instance, if a statute is unambiguous, then it must simply be applied as written. If there is an ambiguity, the appropriate tool is to look to what's called "legislative history" which is material that reflects the intent of the law's drafters. Typically this material is found in hearing transcripts and other texts produced by the leglislature (Congress, in the case of federal laws). There is no canon of construction that looks to the intent of either of the other two branches -- executive or judicial -- to interpret the meaning of statutory language. Indeed, conservatives often point this out insofar as they decry "judicial activism" -- which is a judge interpreting a law according to his own view, rather than the view of the legislature who drafted the law. This is exactly the argument that informs us that the President's signing statements are worthless. They may not be considered by judges (or Justices) when they interpret statutes of disputed meaning. They are, in my view, worth no more than any other citizen's take on a statute that governs him or her. Indeed, if it makes folks feel better, everyone should start issuing "signing statements" as to how or why or when the law that was passed does not apply to them.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Oops - I Said Something Controversial

Hoping for my first ever commenters to come over from Americablog -- which I adore, but which pisses me off sometimes. I went over there and questioned blind "support the troops" nonsense. That's a big no-no in Bush's America. We'll see. Even a negative comment would be nice at this point.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Revoking War Authorization

Below is a portion of my recent missive to my local House Rep.

VIA FACSIMILE: 202-225-5933
Congressman Chris Murphy
501 Cannon House Office BuildingWashington, DC 20515

Dear Congressman Murphy:

Congratulations on your new office. It’s a promising new year on the Hill. . . . I offer the following views and suggestions, wholly unsolicited, purely in the spirit of improving our nation’s plight overseas.

I write to strongly recommend a potential legislative course of action to confront the continued usurpation of legal authority by the Executive Branch under the Bush Administration, in its prosecution of the Iraq War: revisit the authorizing legislation.

As you know, in October, 2002, the U.S. House and Senate passed Pub. Law 107-40, entitled “Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Iraq.” (hereafter “the 2002 Resolution”). The bill, which won broad bi-partisan support and was signed into law by the President, contains a narrowly drafted authorization of Executive war power. Congress authorized this war to fulfill only two very narrow objectives, as follows:
(a) AUTHORIZATION. The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to
(1) defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and
(2) enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions regarding Iraq.
See Pub. Law 107-40 §3 (2002).

Furthermore, Section 4 contains reporting requirements, which, it is safe to say, have not been fulfilled by the Executive Branch, other than in dubious fashion. Seizing on the limited authority granted by the 2002 Resolution, and ramping up scrutiny on the reporting requirements, are legislative methods that have the potential to bring together members of Congress in both houses and from both sides of the aisle, some of whom supported the 2002 Resolution, and some of whom did not. It is a way to challenge assertions of Executive authority, which, as you know, derives its Constitutionality only to the extent of the legislative authorization.

More simply put, it is a means by which to re-build a Constitutional barrier to the continuing loss of U.S. lives and treasure, and at the expense of the U.S.’s international security interests, in a country which never did pose a threat to the United States worthy of force authorization, and which was clearly no longer in violation of any relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions. Thus, the two narrow bases upon which Executive authority rests have long since evanesced, if ever they existed.

For these reasons, I strongly urge you to support, or even introduce legislation which reiterates the limitations on Executive authority under the 2002 Resolution.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Goode Gone Bad!

In case you've been following the ridiculous debate between Reps. Goode (R - Va) and Ellison (D - Mn) over Ellison's stated plan to be sworn in to the new session of Congress holding a Koran, I think you'd have to say Ellison has handily won this debate, having just landed a bit of a haymaker. It seems, a month or so before Goode's stupid comments insulting Ellison and everyone in his district, Ellison contacted a former constituent of his MN district, who is now a director of special collections at the Library of Congress, and will be using an extremely rare, antique copy of the Koran originally owned by a fellow who was born in Goode's VA district, namely, Thomas Jefferson (in case you haven't heard of him, he's one of those jerks who forgot to put God anywhere in the Constitution which both of these guys will be swearing to uphold).

Hat tip to Americablog on this one.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Solemn Consternation About the Proper Decorum at a Hangin'

Here is another human exercise in the absurd:


Apparently, folks are outraged that the proper decorum for a hanging was not followed for Saddam's solemn ceremony. IT'S A HANGING! I think we should be looking at the behavior of the folks who secured rope around a man's neck, let him drop, and dangled him by his head. Or the puppet president who signed the order decreeing that it should be done. Or the American military, who we must constantly pledge to support, who simply handed him over, knowing what would be done with him. That's what I'm outraged about.