I haven't commented on Friday night's attacks in Paris for a number of reasons, none of which is relevant right now. I would like to call attention to some of the better responses I've read in the last couple of days:
- Paul Krugman reminds us that if we fear ISIS, they're succeeding—not the other way around.
- Professor Olivier Roy of the European University Institute in Florence says the Paris attacks reveal ISIS' strategic limitations, not their strength.
- President Obama sharply criticized Republican governors (including our own asshat Bruce Rauner) for saying their states won't accept Syrian refugees anymore. (Because of course they were flocking to Alabama, right?) The governors presumably know that this is a foreign-policy issue entirely within Article III and states have no authority here.
- French president François Hollande has declared "terrorism will not destroy the Republic." Of course not; the National Front, which could destroy the Republic, is widely recognized as being a racist, reactionary organization, unlike the U.S. Republican Party.
French reactions are instructive. The French people are pissed as hell, not scared. They understand that the attacks Friday were the work of assholes, not "Islam," and they're responding rationally. Flipping out and transforming France into an armed camp would support the thugs' agenda.
Also instructive is this article from last March explaining that ISIS really are religious nutters first and strategists second, and they really are trying to bring about the end of the world so that the last remaining few dozen of them can go to heaven with Jesus. I am not making this up, though I admit I might not fully understand it, in the same way that I don't always understand the ramblings of four-year-old children either.
I'll have more on this when I digest it further. This week, U.S. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) released a report showing that the Department of Defense has spent $7m sponsoring patriotic displays at sports events. I am horrified. James Fallows is gobsmacked, saying: "I wasn't cynical enough."
The title of this post comes from a circa-1900 essay by Mark Twain. And, of course, we should all re-read Sinclair Lewis. And Edward Gibbon.
The end is not near. We still have hundreds of years for American civilization to run. Rome was still Rome long after Caesar, after all.
Like I said, I'm still digesting this. But I feel like the caretaker of a beachfront estate in Bangladesh more and more.
A Texas high school called the police yesterday when a kid brought a homemade alarm clock to school:
Ahmed Mohamed — who makes his own radios and repairs his own go-kart — hoped to impress his teachers when he brought a homemade clock to MacArthur High on Monday.
Instead, the school phoned police about Ahmed’s circuit-stuffed pencil case.
So the 14-year-old missed the student council meeting and took a trip in handcuffs to juvenile detention. His clock now sits in an evidence room. Police say they may yet charge him with making a hoax bomb — though they acknowledge he told everyone who would listen that it’s a clock.
Two questions have been circulating worldwide: Would a kid named Tim Smith have been arrested in similar circumstances? And just how stupid are these people?
Glenn Greenwald reminds us of the obvious:
There are all sorts of obvious, extreme harms that come from being a nation at permanent war. Your country ends up killing huge numbers of innocent people all over the world. Vast resources are drained away from individuals and programs of social good into the pockets of weapons manufacturers. Core freedoms are inexorably and inevitably eroded — seized — in its name. The groups being targeted are marginalized and demonized in order to maximize fear levels and tolerance for violence.
But perhaps the worst of all harms is how endless war degrades the culture and populace of the country that perpetrates it. You can’t have a government that has spent decades waging various forms of war against predominantly Muslim countries — bombing seven of them in the last six years alone — and then act surprised when a Muslim 14-year-old triggers vindictive fear and persecution because he makes a clock for school. That’s no more surprising than watching carrots sprout after you plant carrot seeds in fertile ground and then carefully water them. It’s natural and inevitable, not surprising or at all difficult to understand.
This kind of thing happened in Rome towards the end of the Republic, too.
...sort of. But that's not important right now. I'm just spiking some articles to read later:
OK, time for a vendor phone call...
Excellent take-down of one of my least favorite historical figures by Bruce Levine:
Only rarely in U.S. history do writers transform us to become a more caring or less caring nation. In the 1850s, Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) was a strong force in making the United States a more humane nation, one that would abolish slavery of African Americans. A century later, Ayn Rand (1905-1982) helped make the United States into one of the most uncaring nations in the industrialized world, a neo-Dickensian society where healthcare is only for those who can afford it, and where young people are coerced into huge student-loan debt that cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.
For Rand, all altruists were manipulators. What could be more seductive to kids who discerned the motives of martyr parents, Christian missionaries and U.S. foreign aiders? Her champions, Nathaniel Branden still among them, feel that Rand’s view of “self-interest” has been horribly misrepresented. For them, self-interest is her hero architect Howard Roark turning down a commission because he couldn’t do it exactly his way. Some of Rand’s novel heroes did have integrity, however, for Rand there is no struggle to discover the distinction between true integrity and childish vanity. Rand’s integrity was her vanity, and it consisted of getting as much money and control as possible, copulating with whomever she wanted regardless of who would get hurt, and her always being right. To equate one’s selfishness, vanity, and egotism with one’s integrity liberates young people from the struggle to distinguish integrity from selfishness, vanity, and egotism.
The whole thing is a good Sunday afternoon read.
The New Republic today looks into the Mormon practice of baptizing dead people, and the church's related efforts to preserve genealogical information:
“The core concept of why this church cares so much about genealogy stems back to the notion that families can be eternal organizations past death,” [Jay] Verkler, [CEO of Family Search, the Mormon organization that manages the vault's records and promotes genealogy throughout the world], explained. “Members of the church seek out their ancestors because we think we have a duty to them to help them understand this gospel that we understand, and we think we can actually be together.”
The church’s most ambitious project is its online tree. Anyone who logs in to Family Search may record and research his or her family history there, but what distinguishes this tree from all the other online services is that the church is trying to connect all the branches, using its massive records and the activities of users to build a big tree of all of humanity. The endeavor must be, to some extent, possible. If anyone has the records to create this structure—a family history of all of the documented individual members of the human race, this group does. But the distinctive element of the LDS tree is that it’s collaborative: People can log on and add names and link them to documents and write personal stories—and once they have done that, their fifth cousin once removed may also jump online and edit that information, changing a relative’s name, linking it to other documents, or deleting the story altogether. No one I spoke to at Family Search seemed to think this would be a problem, but surely everyone’s version of her own family is different from that of her cousins?
In the religion I'll someday build a church around—The Church of Latter-Day Atheists—people will be able to make a record of their ancestors and note that the ancestors truly don't care about the living, for the simple reason that the dead don't have anything to care with. But hey, if the Mormon church wants to spend tens of millions on building a complete genealogical database, mazel tov. A few centuries from now either everyone alive today will be Mormon or no one will. I'm not sure how either side of that divide will prove it, though.
The latest infliction of Haredi nonsense on innocent victims comes via Gulliver this week, as religious nutters apparently can't deal with sitting next to women on airplanes:
One flight last week, from New York’s JFK airport to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport, descended into chaos according to passengers, after a large group of haredim, or ultra-orthodox Jews, refused to take their seats next to women, in accordance with strict religious customs.
Amit Ben-Natan, a passenger on last week’s El Al flight from New York, said take-off was delayed after numerous and repeated requests by ultra-orthodox men for female passengers to be moved.
“People stood in the aisles and refused to go forward,” she told the Ynet website. “Although everyone had tickets with seat numbers that they purchased in advance, they asked us to trade seats with them, and even offered to pay money, since they cannot sit next to a woman. It was obvious that the plane won’t take off as long as they keep standing in the aisles.”
All right, you clowns. In Israel, you're essentially parasites, contributing nothing to Israeli society except to push their foreign policy into conflict with every ally you've got, and your entire worldview is based on a literal reading of only some parts of a 3,000-year-old book of fables. If you want to participate in the real, 21st-century world—for example, by using air transport—then you can sit down and shut up.
Institutional irrationality is fine, as long as it's private. As one of my college professors once said, "Hey, man, do anything you want, but don't push your trip on me." Good advice.
From my first trip to New York, August 1984:
The Air Force Times reported Thursday that an unnamed U.S. Air Force airman was denied re-enlistment because he refused to swear an oath "so help me God:"
Air Force Instruction 36-2606 spells out the active-duty oath of enlistment, which all airmen must take when they enlist or reenlist and ends with “so help me God.” The old version of that AFI included an exception: “Note: Airmen may omit the words ‘so help me God,’ if desired for personal reasons.”
That language was dropped in an Oct. 30, 2013, update to the AFI. The relevant section of that AFI now only lists the active-duty oath of enlistment, without giving airmen any option to choose not to swear an oath to a deity.
[American Humanist Association lawyer Monica] Miller pointed out that Article VI of the Constitution prohibits requiring religious tests to hold an office or public trust.
A few years ago I started hearing about the increasing religiosity of Air Force personnel at the USAF Academy in Colorado Springs. This made me nervous as I'm not sure I want people who can launch nuclear missiles to have a fundamentalist belief in an afterlife. It appears my discomfort was warranted.