Appeasement as Policy

Our State Department, according to Reuters, has decried the publication by a Danish newspaper of cartoon depictions of Mohammed (aka Muhammad). The State Department spokesman, one Kurtis Cooper, said the cartoons are “offensive to the belief of Muslims,” (aka Moslems).

Of course, the question that immediately leaps to (a rational) mind is, “Why on earth ought we care about offending the feelings of our sworn enemies?” The answer in the Reuters article is, “By inserting itself into a dispute that has become a lightning rod for anti-European sentiment across the Muslim world, the United States could help its own battered image among Muslims.” It doesn’t say why we should care about our image among Muslims. That’s simply taken for granted, as though their bad opinion of us actually says anything about us.

Although I saw the cartoons on some newscast (I believe on Fox), I noted yesterday that CNN declined to show them; that is, they showed a couple, but with Mohammed’s face pixeled out. This is right in line with the feelings at State. The European press showed far more backbone in resolutely publishing the cartoons when it became evident that the Moslems were going to make a fuss about it.

–Ken

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Google’s Appeasement of China’s Dictatorship

The other day, Michael Swanson wrote on HBL about Google’s capitulation to China, “…it seems to be alright with them to stop
showing pages about freedom, human rights, Tibet, and several other topics, and rather redirect people to the Party controlled
government pages on these topics.” I sent the following to Google (I doubt that I will get any reply):

Your recent policy of kowtowing to the government of China’s suppression of information for its people is shameful and disappointing. There is no need for Google, given its stupendous achievements, to abase itself by supporting a dictatorship’s efforts to keep its people in ignorance.

–Ken

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Physician-Assisted Suicide

Yesterday the SCOTUS finally considered the Oregon state law which allows physician-assisted suicide. The good news is, they let the law stand. The bad news? Well, President Bush’s newly appointed Chief Justice Roberts voted with the minority.

Sandra Day O’Connor, whom Roberts was originally nominated to replace, voted with the minority to let the Oregon statute stand. My bet is that when Alito replaces O’Connor in the near future he will be the “swing voter” who will swing things to the religious-conservative side.

As a side note, I saw some time ago that Jack Kevorkian was denied parole. The religious right really showed him!

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Intelligent Design in the Classroom

Following his coverage of the court decision in the case of the Pennsylvania school district that had decided to teach Intelligent Design (ID), Harry Binswanger said, “By virtue of the thoroughness of Judge Jones in laying bare the real meaning of ID and the inherent dishonesty of its attempt to pose as science and critical thinking (which he calls “a sham”), the ID movement may never recover.”

In reason, the decision seems a death blow to the ID movement, all right. In the anti-reason of ID’s proponents, however, the Judge’s exposure of the meaning of ID means only that they have lost again this time. The movement will go on in the hope that next time they will find the set of words that will allow them to sneak religion into the classroom.

Born-again columnist Chuck Colson was disappointed by the judge’s ruling, but not “disheartened” and certainly undeterred.

Colson cited Judge Jones’ ruling that the “claimed secular purpose for including ID in the curriculum — improving science education –” was “‘a pretext for the Board’s real purpose’: to promote religion in the public school classroom.” Of the ruling, Colson said, “Now I strongly disagree, but this tells us what has to be done in other cases if we are going to succeed.

He pointed to another part of the Judge’s ruling: “By way of anticipating the reaction to the ruling, Jones emphasized that he wasn’t saying the intelligent design concept shouldn’t be studied and discussed . . . And this is the key: In Kansas and other jurisdictions, the teaching is permitted, not mandated. Always seek an open forum, so all sides can be discussed, and science compared to science.”

So, Colson’s advice to ID supporters: don’t make it so obvious that we are trying to get religion into the classroom. Try to get ID discussed as one of the “sides” in an “open forum” where we can claim it as a scientific alternative to evolution. He does not clarify what he means by “open forum;” presumably it’s wider than simply inviting court action as happened in Pennsylvania.

Colson’s conclusion, directed at his religionist fans: “‘How can I be an optimist,’ you ask, ‘in the face of yesterday’s decision?’ Because I know that if we equip ourselves and do our job, truth will out. We should not despair. Our case is compelling if we frame it carefully, ask the right questions, and expose the claims of Darwinists.” This is an admission that the whole purpose of the ID form of creationism is to destroy scientific evolutionary theory so that faith can be reinstated.

He ends with a suggestion that the faithful call him at BreakPoint, “so we can tell you how to get your hands on material that will equip you well to make a case-a case that is strong and will withstand constitutional challenge.”

–Ken

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Limbo

The Catholic church is conflicted over what happens to infants who die unbaptized. There is a contradiction between two of their beliefs that has lately disturbed the Catholic hierarchy. The problem: do we say that the infant, before baptism, is in a state of (original) sin and therefore will go to Hell when it dies? Or do we say that God is merciful and certainly would not do that to innocent babies?

Traditionally, Catholics have been taught that these babies don’t go to Hell. They go to a place of “natural” happiness (meaning: no direct experience of God) called Limbo. But this has been a subject of contention, with some arguing that the unbaptized baby is not innocent; he is in a sinful state because of Adam’s fall.

Some spokesmen say that Limbo has never been a Church teaching (I was certainly taught it in parochial school) and is not a matter of obligatory faith. So, the church has referred the matter to a committee. Surely the best way to resolve any contradiction?

Of course, when the contradiction involves whether an imaginary God might consign an unbaptized baby to an imaginary Hell, nothing but a committee could reach a conclusion. Surely a thinking individual would file the question in the same folder as the number of angels dancing on a pinhead.

–Ken

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Torture

Here’s a “what-if.” What if an Al-Qaeda member is captured in, say New York City. And what if there is very good reason to believe that he knows when and where a bomb is scheduled to go off in the city. He refuses to respond to interrogation on the matter. What should be done? Should the terrorist be allowed to hold his tongue?

Let’s keep in mind that we’re talking about foreign terrorists here, not United States citizens, and that terrorists are not army troops of some country. They cannot claim protection of our Constitution. They are not signatories of the Geneva Convention nor any other agreement about how prisoners are to be treated.

Talk shows and editorials in the MSM are making a great deal of fuss lately over the use of torture in the interrogation of terrorist prisoners. There are expressions of horror at the thought that torture might be used. Those with the audacity to defend torture are denounced and called names. Authorities rush to say they abhor its use. Opponents accuse authorities of using torture and denying that they do so. Experts are found to say that torture is not useful and may be counterproductive anyway.

The question that seems never to be addressed: why not? Why not use torture? What is the argument against using torture?

Most commentators take it for granted that torture is just evil, intrinsically. If pressed for a reason, they might scornfully proclaim that it hurts, of course. It is immoral to hurt someone. As children are being taught these days, “people are not for hurting.”

Torture is characterized as dehumanizing, meaning that the tortured prisoner is treated as less than human. It is not made clear just what it is about torture that dehumanizes him. I suspect that those who agonize about this might have some foggy notion that the terrorist’s human rights are violated by torture.

So the answer to “Why not?” comes down to, torture causes pain, which is never to be countenanced. And it is presumed to dehumanize the prisoner through violating his human rights.

It is redundant to claim that pain hurts. Pain is hurt. Pain has the evolutionary value of enabling us to learn that we’re doing something detrimental to our lives which we must stop. The message of pain given to a terrorist prisoner is that he’d better stop withholding vital information.

What about the terrorist’s rights? Terrorists attacked us; not the other way around. They violated our rights; not the other way around. It is contradictory for the terrorist or his advocates to claim a right to withhold information about how his colleagues plan to kill more Americans. There is no right to violate rights.

–Ken

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Learning Curves

A “learning curve” is, in my understanding, a graph which describes the rate at which you learn something as a function of the time spent learning it. The progress of your learning measured against the time you take to acquire mastery. The more quickly you learn the subject, the steeper the curve on the graph.

The-common-man-in-the-street thinks of it differently. To him, “a steep learning curve” means the subject is a really tough one — hard to learn. This interpretation makes sense if you think of “steepness” as slowing progress. If you are going from here to there on a bicycle, for example, and “there” is at the top of a hill, the steepness of the hill is something to be overcome. It slows your progress toward “there.” (Bicyclist’s Lament: “The meanest dog always lives halfway up the steepest hill.”)

What’s all this relevant to? Well, I’ve lately been trying to learn calculus. I have a collection of about a dozen books that claim they will teach me calculus quickly and easily. Some of them are decades old, because my desire to learn the subject is long-term. I’ve finally decided to devote some time and effort to actually using the books.

I’m finding my learning curve for calculus is nearly flat, or very steep, depending on which interpretation of “learning curve” we go with. It has been a carload of years since my last math class of any kind, and over the years there has not been a lot of reason to use much of the math I ever learned, anyway. Thus far in my pursuit of calculus, the main thing I’ve learned is that my algebra is pretty weak. Now, I used to consider myself pretty good at algebra, so it’s sort of a blow to realize that my learning of calculus is going to be delayed by having to re-learn algebra as I go. (I suspect I’ll trip over some trig concepts, too.)

An added delay turns out to be …blogging. I have thought it might be fun to play around with a blog, and when Prodos made his offer of free use of his blogging resources with the only stipulation being that one is a proponent of Capitalism, I figured it probably wouldn’t get any better than this. I have been an advocate of laissez faire capitalism for donkey’s years. It’s the only social system that recognizes individual rights and private ownership of property.

But, blogging turns out to have its own learning curve. Prodos made it simpler by having format themes available and taking care of all the server stuff, but it looks like there are lots of things to learn as I go along — linking, text formatting, managing comments, if any, etc., etc. So, I expect this to be an on again, off again undertaking until I get comfortable with the mÃ

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