December 2002, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Arthur C. Clarke's Religious Predictions:  I'll have a collection of current predictions after lunch, but first an older one from Clarke that we can already see is unlikely.  This is taken from his 1957 science fiction novel, The Deep Range, so it is possible that he did not intend it as a prediction, but it reads like one to me.  This is what Clarke expected, about a hundred years from when he wrote the novel:
The position was one which, even a hundred years ago, would have seemed unthinkable, but the catastrophic political and social changes of the last century had all combined to give it a certain inevitability.   With the failure or weakening of its three great rivals, Buddhism was now the only religion that still possessed any real power over the minds of men.

Christianity, which had never fully recovered from the shattering blow given it by Darwin and Freud, had finally and unexpectedly succumbed before the archaeological discoveries of the late twentieth century.   The Hindu religion, with its fantastic pantheon of gods and goddesses, had failed to survive in an age of scientific rationalism.  And the Mohammedan faith, weakened by the same forces, had suffered additional loss of prestige when the rising Star of David had outshone the pale crescent of the Prophet.
He goes on to explain how a Scotsman had reformed and revived Buddhism, and was now the most important religious leader in the world.  It is not 2057 yet, but all of these predictions seem unlikely, to say the least.  Rationalists like Clarke often miss the continuing power of both religion and nationalism.
- 11:20 AM, 31 December 2002   [link]

O. J. Simpson Welcomed Back by USC Football Team:  Running back Justin Fargas invited Simpson to come to an open USC practice.  When Simpson arrived, the players and coaches made him welcome, shaking his hand, posing with him, and even inviting him to their locker room, as you can see in this LA Times story.  (Registration required)   The players are young enough so that not all of them may have known they were welcoming a double murderer, and a man whose trial severely damaged race relations in the United States.  But, what accounts for this quotation from the USC coach, Pete Carroll?
It was good to have him out here.  At 'SC, our guys hold a Heisman Trophy winner in the highest regard.  For them to get a chance to see him and visit with him was very special for them.
Fargas seems to see Simpson as a hero.  He has known him for years and wanted to wear Simpson's number.  Other players seemed to understand that they were seeing a murderer, but decided not to think about that part of Simpson's career.  As offensive lineman, Lenny Vandermade, put it:
It's at the back of anybody's mind.  You're not going to totally block it out, but you try to look at him in a positive manner and not put a negative spin on it.  I just kind of remember him as a football player and what he did for 'SC.
Amazing.  Next year, maybe they can get a pep talk from Charles Manson, another famous Californian.  That might be "very special", too, as long as they didn't put a "negative spin" on it.
- 10:57 AM, 31 December 2002   [link]

Ariel Sharon, World's Worst Villian?  The far left, and often irresponsible, British paper, the Independent, lives down to its reputation with this poll, asking literary and political figures to name last year's greatest hero and worst villain.  Of the 50 people asked, no fewer than 5 named Ariel Sharon as the world's worst villian last year.  Tariq Ali is typical in calling Sharon an "unpunished war criminal", a phrase he would never apply to Yasser Arafat, with his long history of terrorism.  The lack of perspective is as apalling as the double standards.  Whatever sins Sharon may have committed, he is not even in the same league as, for example, North Korea's Kim, who managed to starve more than a million of his own people, while threatening the world with nuclear war.  This unwillingness to think clearly about political questions borders on insanity.

Tim Blair has a discussion of the rest of the poll here.  Like him, I rather like the hero choice of Blur Bass player Alex James.  And, I am going to rethink my respect for Richard Dawkins scientific arguments, given his absurd political opinions.
- 10:36 AM, 30 December 2002   [link]

Gut Cams are disposable cameras, about the size of a large pill, that you swallow.  They transmit pictures of your digestive tract to a recorder on a belt, as they pass through.  They're especially good for looks at the small intestine.  Here's the story, with mentions of the military origins of some of the technology.
- 9:54 AM, 30 December 2002   [link]

Bush's 2000 Foreign Policy Platform:  The Instapundit is right to call attention to this Jackson Diehl column refuting the idea that Bush came into office planning unilateral interventions around the world.  Here are a few more points from the 2000 campaign in support of that argument:
  • Bush was much less aggressive in his foreign policy proposals than his main Republican rival, John McCain.  That's why the Weekly Standard backed McCain.
  • Bush was less interventionist than Al Gore, though the differences were not large.  Notably, Bush wanted to be less involved in the Middle East than Gore, especially the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
  • Bush opposed the Clinton intervention in Haiti.
  • Bush had chosen Colin Powell as his Secretary of State before the Republican convention.   Powell is not the man one would choose to implement a unilateral foreign policy.
  • Bush proposed a military budget smaller by a few billion dollars than Al Gore's.
And, despite all the loose talk of American unilateralism, the Bush administration has yet to make a significant move in the war on terrorism unilaterally.  It is true that, like Clinton on Kosovo, Bush is willing to act without the authorization of the United Nations.  Some critics, rather loosely, call this "unilateral".

Be sure, if you missed it before, to read the Hawkins essay the Instapundit links to.  Much food for thought.
- 10:08 AM, 30 December 2002   [link]

Credit Where Due:  Meryl Yourish moves to Richmond and, within a few months, has begun to make significant improvements there, like this Lincoln statue commemorating Lincoln's visit after the city had fallen to Grant.  Note that a newspaper was published in Richmond on the day of his arrival, and that, in an interesting coincidence, the paper's name is that of Lincoln's first political party, the Whigs.  (So far Meryl has been too modest to mention her own part in this.)
- 7:53 AM, 29 December 2002   [link]

Diamonds Are a Terrorist's Best Friend:  As our forensic accountants began to follow al Qaeda's money trail, their operatives reacted by switching from bank accounts to diamonds.  For protection, they bribed officials in West African governments, not the first time that's been done.  The CIA has been slow, according to some accounts, in following this trail.   The Washington Post has the full story.
- 7:40 AM, 29 December 2002   [link]

Starvation as an Everyday Way of Death:  North Korea has or will soon have nuclear weapons.  It has ballistic missiles, which it exports.  What it does not have is enough food for its people.  Although starvation is not as pervasive now as it was in the mid 1990s, when "it was an everyday sight to see bodies lying on the ground where people had died of starvation the night before", that is partly because so many people starved then, somewhere between 1.5 and 3 million people in a population of about 20 million.  As this sobering account makes clear, there is no obvious solution for the problems posed by this member of the axis of evil.

In 1994, in a deal largely negotiated by Jimmy Carter, North Korea agreed to give up its nuclear program in return for food, fuel oil, and a light water reactor for power.  Along with Japan and South Korea, we have been providing the regime significant amounts of aid ever since.  Now that North Korea has openly declared that it is breaking the agreement by developing nuclear weapons, we must ask whether the 1994 agreement was a good idea.  In the long run, did that agreement encourage the North Koreans to try blackmail again, rather than making the reforms their people so desperately need?  I think, judging from these recent events, that the answer is probably yes.   The Carter agreement, despite the good intentions that motivate it, has most likely made the world a more dangerous place.

(I should add that, of course, Carter was completely out of place in negotiating the agreement without the authorization of the Clinton administration, just as he was completely out of place in undermining the first President Bush at the time of the Gulf War.  Many say that Carter was a complete disaster as a president, but has been a great ex-president.  I don't agree with either assessment.  )
- 7:27 AM, 29 December 2002   [link]

Who Are the Raelians?  Here's a brief sketch of the cult.   I have my doubts about both the "voluptuous female robots" and the aliens that speak perfect French.   To the best of my knowledge, no Frenchman has ever admitted that anyone not French can speak their language perfectly.  And did the Raelians actually create a cloned human being?  Probably not, as Gina Kolata explains.
- 10:02 AM, 28 December 2002   [link]

Power Outage:  A windstorm knocked out the power here for hours yesterday and stopped me from posting.  One common bit of advice, to have a battery radio, was almost worthless yesterday.  For hours, the major news stations had nothing useful to say about when power would be restored.  Don't know whether the local utility, Puget Sound Energy, didn't know, or whether the stations didn't ask.
- 9:51 AM, 28 December 2002   [link]

Jennifer Lopez is 6th on Gallup's list of the 10 most admired women, following Margaret Thatcher and beating out Elizabeth Dole.  The most surprising finding in these yearly surveys is how many people, typically one fourth to one third of the respondents, can't name any man they admire.  Here's the full press release if you are interested in the details.
- 7:08 AM, 27 December 2002   [link]

Good News From Afghanistan:  At least if you take the long view.   One of the most brutal warlords is now fighting against the United States and the Karzai government.  We are going to need the help of some disgusting people in the war on terror, but we must draw the line somewhere.  That Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is now against us shows that we are beginning to do just that.  (By way of Bill Quick)
- 6:57 AM, 27 December 2002   [link]

Is the BBC Biased?  Vladimir Bukovsky, the famous "refusenik", who survived Soviet prison camps thinks so, at least in its coverage of the European Union.   There are some issues that news organizations, in both Britain and the United States, think too important to be left to the people.
- 6:48 AM, 27 December 2002   [link]

Rocks From Mars arrive on the Earth monthly, according to the latest studies.   Scientists now think that "relatively small collisions" can knock Martian rocks into space.
- 6:37 AM, 27 December 2002   [link]

The Saudi Case:  Saudi oil and security analyst Nawaf Obaid makes the argument that Saudi Arabia is now cooperating in the war on terror.  Is he telling the truth?  Not the whole truth, of course, but part of the truth.  After September 11th, the Saudis did give us more help than they had in the past.  And the attacks on the Saudis themselves that he mentions may help concentrate their minds.  This is probably about as much as we can expect from this regime, some help both open and secret, and some double dealing, mostly secret.  All the more reason to reduce our dependence on them and their oil.
- 8:45 AM, 26 December 2002   [link]

Cinderella Bloggerfeller digs up some interesting history on one of my favorite Guardian columnists, Martin Woollacott.  Along with most other journalists, he got the Khmer Rouge completely wrong, missing their brutal nature until far too late for many Cambodians.  This does not give us reason to trust him on Korea, as the Bloggerfeller explains, or Israel, as I discussed in this post. (For the curious: Though I read Bloggerfeller from time to time, I do not know whether he has wicked step-sisters or step-brothers.)
- 8:32 AM, 26 December 2002   [link]

Is Kim Jong-il Crazy?  Maybe, as this Telegraph article explains.  At the very best, the strange and dangerous dictator of North Korea has a distorted picture of the world, and no scruples to speak of, as this story shows:
Chairman Kim is, after all, the ruler who had his favourite South Korean film director, Shin Sang-ok, kidnapped and brought to Pyongyang to make him a Korean Communist version of the Japanese monster film Godzilla.
The director escaped later, unlike hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of other South Koreans who were also kidnapped by this regime.
- 7:58 AM, 26 December 2002   [link]

Animal Theologian Andrew Linzey of Oxford University opposes all hunting for sport, particularly the British practice of hunting foxes with hounds.  What strikes me as most interesting about this story from the Guardian is the professor's title, "animal theologian".  I assume that means that he studies theological issues concerning animals, but I think another possible meaning is significant, too.  For the professor, and many in the Labour party in Britain, treatment of animals has become, essentially, a religious issue.  Animal worship, though important in many other religions, is foreign to the main Christian traditions.  It is not an accident that it has thrived as traditional religion has declined in Britain.  Well meaning women (and most of those who worship animals there are women), who in the past might have worked to help the children in Africa, now direct their efforts toward the welfare of pests like foxes, and laboratory animals like rats and mice.  The world is worse off for that change.

The essentially religious nature of these views also explains the difficulty of finding compromises on specific issues.  In Britain, if a poll by a pro-hunting group is correct, most voters are willing to see hunting continue, with reasonable regulations.  There is no sign that those Labour MPs who favor banning fox hunting with hounds care about these voter opinions.

Though this religious movement does not seem as strong in the United States as in Britain, it has won significant victories here, too.  The state of Washington passed an initiative banning the hunting of mountain lions with dogs, which is the only practical way to hunt the big cats, and California banned sport hunting entirely.  The subsequent growth in the population of mountain lions has made them a threat to people, especially children, in some places.  As far as I can tell, that fact, and even some deaths from mountain lions, has had no effect at all on these religious beliefs.
- 7:43 AM, 26 December 2002   [link]

Russian Christmas:  There is considerable confusion over how and when to celebrate Christmas in Russia, as Anne Applebaum explains in this thoughtful column.
- 1:42 PM, 25 December 2002   [link]

Wet Christmas:  Here's a rather recent tradition in the Washington, D. C. area, a water-skiing Santa.
- 1:37 PM, 25 December 2002   [link]

Professional Santas can earn as much as 30 thousand dollars a season, according to the Wall Street Journal.   The big earners do gigs at private parties, rather than working the malls, if you were wondering.
- 1:32 PM, 25 December 2002   [link]

Merry Christmas to all, and especially to our men and women serving overseas.  Here's hoping that next year there will be less need for them to be there.
- 1:21 PM, 25 December 2002   [link]

The Little Town Of Bethlehem is a grim place for Christians this year.   Their lives have been ruined by Arafat's intifada, and nearly all want to escape to America.   They have a "deep feeling of bitterness towards the Christian world", which they feel has abandoned them.  The Telegraph has the story of their plight.
- 6:57 AM, 24 December 2002   [link]

Bah, Humbug!  Matthew Engel of the Guardian provides more evidence for my argument that he is too prejudiced to cover President Bush.  Here's his nasty column on the Bush Christmas card.  Americans will notice that Engel is so out of touch that he thinks that we greet each other with "Happy Christmas", rather than "Merry Christmas".  I hope that, by the time Christmas arrives, he will be more in the spirit of the holiday.
- 6:42 AM, 24 December 2002   [link]

Defending Senator Murray:  The Seattle Times, perhaps feeling guilty for their past support of Washington state's intellectually challenged senior senator, comes to her defense in this overblown editorial.   I rather like the comic effect of their extravagant language, with phrases and words like "silly season", "shenanigans", and "gasbaggery".  (By the way, "silly season" is best used in its original meaning, that time in August when there is usually little serious news, and so the newspapers fill their space with silly stories.)  Amazingly, the Times also claims that "Murray's information about bin Laden is right".  They do not bother to note that, while bin Laden did build some facilities in both the Sudan and Afghanistan, he and his Taliban allies destroyed far more.   Nor do they mention Murray's amazing statement that bin Laden had built day care facilities.  And, in an omission that strikes me as intellectually dishonest, they ignore her most outrageous claim, that the United States had not built schools, roads, and other civilian facilities.  Senator Murray regularly votes on budget bills that contain just those items.
- 6:27 AM, 24 December 2002   [link]

The Man Who Invented Kwanzaa, Ron Karenga, "founded an organization that in its short history tortured and murdered blacks in ways of which the Ku Klux Klan could only fantasize".  Paul Mulshine has the background on this strange man, who held racist doctrines then, and holds Marxist doctrines now.  This makes him ideal, apparently, to be a professor and department head at Long Beach State.  I would add just one minor point.   The cultural differences between West Africa, where most American blacks came from, and the Swahili speaking regions of East Africa, are much greater than Mulshine's Irish-Polish comparison would suggest.  Better might be an Irish-Turkish comparison.  And, there's a detail about Swahili that Mulshine does not mention.  The language was developed for the use of Arab slave traders and their native allies in Africa.  That it became a symbol of heritage for American blacks is ironic at best.
- 7:32 AM, 23 December 2002   [link]

If Indians Can't Be Braves, then who can?  The NCAA is trying to prevent the University of North Carolina-Pembroke, an institution founded for the Lumbee Indians, from calling themselves "Braves", or using an Indian mascot.  Here's the full story.  There have been other examples of this curious discrimination against Indians using their own symbols.   The Portland Oregonian refuses to use mascot names in its sports coverage, and applied that even to a team from an Indian reservation, which called themselves, like UNC-Pembroke, "Braves".
- 7:08 AM, 23 December 2002   [link]