After the criminal gang known as ISIS held the Mosul Dam in Iraq last year, it did not follow the campsite rule when it fled the Iraqi government's counter-attack. Consequently, engineers say the dam is in danger of imminent collapse:
[P]ressure on the dam’s compromised structure was building up rapidly as winter snows melted and more water flowed into the reservoir, bringing it up to its maximum capacity, while the sluice gates normally used to relieve that pressure were jammed shut.
The Iraqi engineers also said the failure to replace machinery or assemble a full workforce more than a year after Islamic State temporarily held the dam means that the chasms in the porous rock under the dam were getting bigger and more dangerous every day.
Nasrat Adamo, the dam’s former chief engineer who spent most of his professional career shoring it up in the face of fundamental flaws in its construction, said that the structure would only survive with round-the-clock work with teams filling in holes in the porous bedrock under the structure, a process known as grouting. But that level of maintenance, dating back to just after the dam’s construction in 1984, evaporated after the Isis occupation.
People are worried that the rise of Donald Trump in the polls here in the U.S. signals a new dumbing-down of our country. But nothing beats the destructive power of religiously-fueled anti-intellectualism of the kind that ISIS and, even better, Boko Haram perpetrate on innocents.
Also, let's not forget who is most responsible for the chaos Iraq has suffered for the last 12 years: us. This is one more legacy of George W. Bush's needless war.
Zach Weinersmith has abridged the Bible "Beyond the Point of Usefulness." And he has given this work a Creative Commons 3.0 BY-NC license, which lets me post it right here for you (281 k, PDF). Enjoy.
Genesis: God made everything, but humans keep screwing it up; some Jews move to Egypt, which seemed like a good idea at the time.
Amos: Amos becomes, like, the 14,000th prophet to note that Israel is making God mad and when you make God mad things go bad.
Acts: Finding the market for Jewish converts to be quite limited, the apostles branch out to gentiles. In the process, Steve gets killed, but it’s okay because it gets Paul to convert. Paul does a great job, until the Romans get mad.
Seriously, download the book and you'll have read the entire Bible in 15 minutes.
That's not exactly the question Richard Posner and Eric Segall raise, but it's not that far off:
Justice Scalia ... predicted in his dissent [in Lawrence v. Texas] that the court would eventually rule that the Constitution protects the right to same-sex marriage. This June, Justice Scalia’s prediction came true in Obergefell v. Hodges. He has vented even more than his usual anger over this decision. It has become apparent that his colleagues’ gay rights decisions have driven him to an extreme position concerning the role of the Supreme Court.
In a recent speech to law students at Georgetown, he argued that there is no principled basis for distinguishing child molesters from homosexuals, since both are minorities and, further, that the protection of minorities should be the responsibility of legislatures, not courts. After all, he remarked sarcastically, child abusers are also a “deserving minority,” and added, “nobody loves them.”
The logic of his position is that the Supreme Court should get out of the business of enforcing the Constitution altogether, for enforcing it overrides legislation, which is the product of elected officials, and hence of democracy.
The entire op-ed is worth a read.
The good: A new study shows that drinking 3-5 cups of coffee a day has measurable health benefits.
The bad: A black resident of Santa Monica, Calif., got hauled out of her apartment at gunpoint by 19 police officers after a white neighbor reported someone trying to break in.
The ugly: Yale law student Omar Aziz writes about the soul of a Jihadist.
And the neutral, which could be ugly: forecasters predict 15-30 cm of snow in Chicago tomorrow night into Saturday morning.
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.