Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Ronald Reagan RIP


The coverage is threatening to last as long as his administration. How many times can you view the same flag-covered casket?

Ronald Reagan was a controversial disputatious president, and pretending he was a widely loved grandfather is just, oh, revisionism. Firing the air traffic controllers was not a genial thing to do. It was hostile, dangerous and mean-spirited. Waging illegal war against Nicaragua was not "Conservative", it was unwise. Ronald Reagan completely missed the importance of Islamic radicalism, trading arms for hostages and appeasing the Islamic terrorists in Lebanon after they attacked US troops! Exactly the wrong thing to do each time he dealt with radical Islam.

More than a few people had to ask themselves whether the obvious forgetfulness that President Reagan displayed during his term might not have been early Alzheimers. It's a terrible thing to say, of course. But hard-headed honest people have to have noticed.

There is no objective way to tell whether the Reagan administration brought down Soviet Communism. They might have, it's just that nobody can prove it one way or the other. If they were such geopolitical geniuses, why does Chinese Communism still exist? And Cuban Communism, for crying out loud. It seems more rational to surmise that something inside the Soviet society made the difference. After all, the B1 bomber and the Star Wars Defense apply to Cuba as much as to Russia.

Do try to remember that the sobriquet "The Great Communicator" was given to him by his enemies. And that when Reagan came into office, there was no social issue called "Homeless people", because the streets were not filled with bums and people sleeping in doorways.

That Prison Scandal

It's an evil place.

I don't understand the scandal. Why put hoods on people you want to humiliate and show the faces of the guards? Anonymity lends dignity. You can always claim you weren't involved if your face is hidden.

Here's a link to an article more about the US. Or make yourself sick with this this BBC slide show.

We knew that the enemy was not following any Geneva Convention nor any rules of war and so the anti-terrorists armies were playing by ear, as it were. Especially or mainly in Afghanistan.

But the war in Iraq started out as a war against a regular military. With uniforms and all that. So we did not expect the same behavior. Although the whole "War on Terror" approach to Iraq should have given us a big hint. We didn't get the hint. Seymour Hersh reports that a Special Access Program (a secret program) in Afghanistan was extended to Iraq, creating the problem. Seymour Hersh is also fallible, and his story is disputed, so a complete diagnosis will have to wait.

Alan Dershowitz has begun an effort to write new laws for the new kind of anti-terror warfare in which we find ourselves. See this article in the Baltimore Sun. But Dershowitz's effort has little relevance to the use of photographed sexual humiliation, dogs and maybe murder that went on in Abu Ghraib. Except to note that there are prisoners who are neither prisoners of war nor regular criminals, and the existing international laws of war and treaties on the conduct of war do not address these newer realities.

The Pentagons lawyers had begun to try to work out the new rules for handling prisoners in nonstandard wars, see this New York Times article on the legal memos. Neither the Taliban or al-Queda have ever signed on to the Geneva treaties, so the question was genuine. Likewise for the irregular post-war conflicts in Iraq in 2004.

For all that, those photos and the practices they document shock the system but do not defy rational analysis. The Iraqis and the various Arab governments do not seem to be reacting as strongly as some Americans thought they might. Current practices in much of the Arab world, like that under Saddam Hussein, are so much harsher that these particular American sins just don't get those juices flowing...

There's a "Rational analysis" that argues that the big difference between Arab and US culture, on the emotional level at least, is in the approaches to sexuality. And that the "Proof" of western corruption, in the mind of Arabs, has always been western sexual attitudes, which are simply beyond the pale to the Arabs. But that for the same reason, the sexual construction of the Arab male makes him vulnerable to psychological pressure of a sexual nature. So why not? It's got to be more moral than breaking their bones, right? It is easy for us who are not involved to moralize. It is equally easy for us to dream up drastic scenarios in which information of a ticking-bomb nature needs to be extracted to save the Iraqi nation and bring about world peace or some other utopian idea.

If, counterintuitively, it should turn out that it is rational and effective, and necessary to subject Iraqi prisoners of the insurgency to sexual degradation of that sort, we can count on not knowing about it in the future. As we can be sure that loose photos will not be sent around to the media.

There just isn't much a citizen can do, except to let the media and the government know that the whole issue is of greater import than Jaylo's nth marriage, and that the sale of of newspapers and the election of politicians may ride in the balance.

More Fingerprints of God

God exists. Deal with it.

So much of modern thought and belief is an attempt to avoid being a responsible adult. To just party hearty and let the future take care of itself. Not to put on a hair shirt, but somebody has to be an adult. And the adults aren't doing it very well.

Life isn't supposed to be as miserable as we can make it. Circumstances make it hard enough. And God makes the circumstances. But God asks us to restrain some of our impulses, to pray, and to recognize God. And it's just so easy to try to dismiss those ideas.

The anti-God pressure sometimes looks to be so strong that the only people resisting it become fanatics. This is a loss. But it's also an error. Simply believing in God can look like fanatacism if you're embedded in the more sophisticated parts of modern culture. Like the Universities, or the publishing business. Believing in God does not make you a fanatic or a fundamentalist.

You may not believe in God. After all, He's not obvious. I really can't offer you much besides saying "Trust Me". And though I am sincere I know you'll toss out that suggestion as fast as you can read it.

And I can't say I have scientific proof. People have tried. There was a promising argument a hundred years ago that the eye could not have evolved. Okay, so it turns out the other way around. The eye could have evolved.

So I'll just pose a puzzle: Fingerprints. How did fingerprints evolve to be different even among twins? And be so easily left behind due to the oily residue?

As science and modernity began their ascendance, challenging older religious dogma so effectively, a material crime-fighting technique was discovered that helped keep people, otherwise freed from the restraining bonds of religious ideology, from running wild. Fingerprints. Medievel thieves and rapists were afraid only of God and witnesses. No witnesses, no testimony. As God seemed to fade behind a cloud of materialism, materialism brought forth new witnesses. First among these is the humble fingerprint. You see, DNA is more powerful but it has to be different for each person, in order for it to function. It wouldn't be DNA if it was all the same. But if we all had the same fingerprints, we'd grip just as well. So any inquiring mind has to ask, why are they different?

Fingerprints are miraculous. Their uniqueness has no objective function except that of helping the authorities control the excesses of human behavior. Humanity discovered fingerprints just about the time that Godless Communism was invented, when improved transportation and industry (from Godless Capitalism) enabled more anonymity for citizens in cities. Coincidence? I think not.

Like I say, it isn't a scientific proof of anything. But maybe you'll agree it's a fair question.