sins of omission

The oft-heard refrain on conservative radio is that "liberals" deliberately use misinformation to achieve their political ends. This is probably true. But the implied righteous posoition that conservatives are simply above such behavior (the moral majority, and all that) is blatantly deceptive.

Consider the case of Judicial Watch. During the Clinton presidency, this group was a darling of the conservative establishment, because it targeted Bill Clinton with lawsuits and legal attacks. Larry Klayman, the founder of the group, was an honored guest at many a GOP function.

However, Judicial Watch has turned its sights on VP Cheney for is involvement with Haliburton Co. accusing them of defrauding investors during his tenure by inflating revenue estimates. President Bush had tough words for lying CEOs when he signed the reform bill, but the White House's rhetoric about corporate accountability do not include members of the administration. When the courier from Judicial Watch attempted to serve Vice President Cheney with the lawsuit, the White House used the Secret Service to intimidate and threaten the courier with arrest :

Judicial Watch said its process server went the White House on July 22 to deliver the lawsuit to the vice president, who was chief executive of Halliburton from 1995 to 2000. But the group said the courier was turned away by the Secret Service and allegedly threatened with arrest.

"We have served many a lawsuit on Bill Clinton, Al Gore ( news - web sites), and Hillary Clinton ( news - web sites) when they were in the White House ... Never before have our process servers been threatened with arrest," said Larry Klayman, who serves as chairman and general counsel of the 8-year-old legal foundation that has filed a number of highly publicized lawsuits against government officials.
Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, said the courier was rebuffed when he called the vice president's office for clearance. Fitton dismissed suggestions that Cheney's private attorney should have been served. "You don't serve lawsuits on lawyers, you serve them on defendants," he said.

The Judicial Watch lawsuit alleges that Cheney conspired with others to file false financial statements that misled investors. The company overstated revenues by as much as $445 million over three years, it said.

This is astonishing in its brazenness. Yet, while Judicial Watch is being excoriated as a "public relations stunt" by the White House, it is also being held up as a martyr for allegations that Clinton tried to use the IRS as a weapon against it.

IN a related issue, the current spin by GOP partisans has been that the economy's woes of lying CEOs is actually due to Clinton. The absurdity of this has been well-documented elsewhere, but that hasn't stopped Sean Hannity et al. from drumming that theme daily on talk radio.

Now, however, Jonah Goldberg of National Review has also debunked the idea that Clinton is morally responsible for lies of CEOs. He does so in the context of absolving Bush, and also gets in a good dig at Gore. It's notable however that when conservatives link to this piece, they ignore the absolve-Clinton issue entirely.


this post is jihad

There's a lengthy post by Muslimpundit which goes to immense pains to justify the perception of jihad by the West as intrinsically violent. I suspect that Adil would love Eric Raymond's recent screed as they are extremely complementary.

Muslimpundit has little reason to like me, based on past correspondence (he didn't post my apologetic email followup, but I really have no excuse), so I fully expect to be visited by his sharp-pointed stick soon. So I may as well give him more material to roast me with :)

Let me state my opinion as to the overall flaw in his arguments - Muslimpundit has a Sunni-centric view of Islam. He ascribes great importance to collections of certain hadith which are (as I will demonstrate later) critically flawed. He is very well-read on topics of Islamic literature and commentary, but restricts himself to mostly Sunni sources and viewpoints. In fact, most of his generalizations about Islam are basically correct, but applied to only a small portion of the vast body of Islamic practice, jurispriudence and philosophy. It is true that Sunnis comprise the majority of the Islamic population, but the dominant Sunni theological frameworks are not the sole criterion on which Islam can be judged.

on to the fray.

His basic argument is that attempts by "moderate muslims" to stress the importance of jihad in contexts other than violent war are misguided and naive. While opinion can certainly differ in terms of theological analysis, he seems to go out of his way to put the cart before the horse. Promoting deviant interpretations of Islam is certainly a gravy train for linking by Instapundit, but this essay is a polemic, not a rigorous analysis. Not that there's anything wrong with polemics!

His first point is largely anecdotal. He asserts that "much commentary" has been published that proves that the "proper context as a term of Islamic literature" for the word jihad is "fighting to make God�s Word superior�. I certainly don't doubt that there are sources that do in fact make such assertions, but this is not proof. To compare, here is an equally anecdotal but opposing commentary, which proves in my opinion that there is no such thing as "proper" context. There is only context. Which one you choose depends on what polemic you have in mind.

He goes on to link the arabic word qitaal (fighting) to jihad, and claims that jihad is a conditional form of qitaal, despite the fact that they have different roots. It's worthy to note that the Qur'an quite explicitly discusses qitaal, and jihaad, and does not synonomize these two terms. I am sure that Adil's library of Islamic Analysts have many volumes on the "functional equivalence" but as far as I am concerned as a Muslim, if the Qur'an meant qitaal when it says jihad, it would say qitaal, not jihaad.

It is critical to note that the great wars of conquest in Islam were initiated by the three Sunni Caliphs after the Prophet's death. The fourth Caliph Ali AS, who was explicitly identified by the Prophet SAW as his heir, sought to restrain these. Therefore, much of the analysis and commentary that argues in favor of jihad as synonomous in context to qital, is self-serving polemic to justify the actions of those who controlled Islam after the Prophet's death without his permission. As they say, the victors write history, and Ali AS was not a victor in the political realm (His son, Husain AS, the grandson of the Prophet SAW, was murdered later by the Ummaiyad dynasty Caliph, effectively cementing their control over Islam's direction).

Adil's next point pertains to hadith (supposed quotations of the Prophet, whose accuracy is evaluated based on the veracity of the people in the chain of transmission, or isnad) . He quotes one hadith that supports the idea of violent jihad as "lesser" and inferior to the non-violent kind. He then quotes a numberof Sunni sources who (unsurprisingly) cast doubt on the isnad of this hadith. Fair enough! In my opinion, most hadith - whether they are true or not - have faulty isnad. I don't really care whether that hadith is accurate or not - because the Qur'an trumps hadith by definition.

Adil conveniently ignores mention of these Qur'anic verses :

"O you who believe, . . . do not kill (or destroy) yourself." (Qur'an 4:29)

"And do not kill the soul which Allah has forbidden except for the requirement of justice." (6:152)

"Whoever slays a soul, unless it be for manslaughter, or for spreading mischief in the land, it is as if he had slayed the whole people" (Qur'an 5:32)

In fact the Qur'anic discussion of jihad is a very rich discussion, with a great deal of historical and symbolic context. These translations only hint at this, and do no justice to the depth of meaning about jihad (and qital) that exists. To say that the Qur'an prortrays Jihad as a violent means is at best a sloppy mischaracterization, at worst a gross deliberate distortion.

>ASIDE: I hope that H.D. Miller is reading this and can lend his commentary.

Ironically, Adil goes on to invoke other hadith which support the view of jihad as violence. He has an uncritical devotion to the books of hadith by Sunni compilers Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim. To say that these two books contain innaccurate hadith is an understatement.

ASIDE2: Let me preface this part with a few disclaimers. I have respect for Sunni muslims as my brothers in Islam. These are matters of theological debate, not religious quality or piety. I have not insulted the Caliphs here, nor have I impugned the Sunni faith. This tradition of cross-analysis only serves to strengthen Islam, not weaken it, as long as it is done in the common spirit of religious self-examination. If what I have written offends you, please write to me.

The objective of Bukhari and Muslim was to collect hadith, not to consider their authenticity. The ulema of the Hanafi school (one-fourth of all Sunnis) have critiqued these books as containing many weak and unconfirmed hadith.

for example, there are hadith in these collections that refer to Allah as a visible, material being:

Abu Huraira also narrates that a group of people asked the holy Prophet, "Shall we see our Creator on the Day of Judgement?" He replied, "Of course. At mid-day when the sky is free of clouds, does the Sun hurt you, if you look at it?"

and here's a reference to Allah's "bare leg" :

Allah will say in reply, 'Have you any sign between you and Allah so that you may see Him and identify Him?' They will say, 'Yes.' Then Allah will show them His bare leg. Thereupon the believers will raise their heads upwards and will see Him in the same condition as they saw Him for the first time.

this directly contradicts the Qur'an itself (again, translations, aaargh) :

"Vision comprehends Him not, and He comprehends (all) vision_." (6:103)

" He (Moses) said: 'My Lord! Show me (Thyself), so that I may look upon Thee.' He said: 'You cannot (bear to) see me...'" (7:143)

Let me note that I hate to precision-quote the Qur'an like this. I don't claim that my arguments are absolutely axiomatic. But I do think that they can at least recoignize that there is room for dissent, and disagreement.

but the strangeness of the hadith quoted in Bukhari does not stop there. There are stories about the Prophet Moses, running naked after a stone, that had stolen his clothes, and thus all his followers saw his "defective genitals". Moses then had to beat the stone so severely that it shrieked. Please allow me to state, for the record, WTF?!

The point I am making is that Adil's uncritical recognition of hadith as automatically beyond dispute if they are sourced from Bukhari or Muslim (ironically referred to by Sunnis as "Sahih" which means truthful) is out of character. But there is a persistent blind spot when it comes to these books. I have to admit to some distaste for the way that "Sahih" Muslim and Bukhari are accorded respect in some circles even above that afforded to the Qur'an itself.

It is also important to note that much of the deranged and depraved interpretations of Islam stemming from our Saudi and Wahabi "allies" draws much of its strength from Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim, as well as a super-strict reading of the Qur'an (which ignores the contextual deeper meanings therein).

Adil does make a minor reference to the Qur'an in his essay, but doesn't actually quote any of it. He just states that the Qur'an subscribes to a "warfare-approach" to jihad. In fact, all such references to warfare are in the context of defending against oppression, and again he does not bother to draw any disctinction between use of jihad and qital in the text of the Qur'an (after all, he already demonstrated that these were synonyms by considering hadith and literature, so why bother? :P) He denies the defensive warfare interpretation, but just exhorts the reader to "look it up" in the "index". Presumably he means, find an English translation ? The implicit assumption of accuracy is quite erroneous.

anyway, my purpose is just to demonstrate that the qiuestion of Jihad is not closed. Muslimpundit has a nice summary of one viewpoint, but the inevitable barrage of links to his post are mistaken if they think it's complete or definitive. (But hey, he's Muslim, and he agrees with us, so it must be true, right?).

The Ithna Ashari Shi'a community has published a detailed account of a great debate between an Ithna Ashari jurist and a Sunni, that took place in Pakistan about a hundred years ago. The account has been published online as Peshawar Nights. Note that the description of Shia Islam is slanted towards the specific Itghna Ashari version - Ismaili Shi'a would disagree with the claims about the immortal Imam Mahdi returning as a saviour. But it is worth reading for its analysis on the misconcepotions about Shi'a Islam by the Sunni community, and gives a flavor of the doctrinal and theological diversity within Islam.

The definitive book about Shia philosophy and belief however is straight from the source - the great Peak of Eloquence (Nahj ul Balagha) , the collection of speeches by Ali AS himself. It can be found online here but I personally recommend reading it in book form, the paperback is very cheap on Amazon.com (that's not an affiliate link, btw, I wont get any profit if you buy it).


WTC rebuilding: the blind leading the blind

With the introduction of the six plans for restoring the WTC area of New York, the chorus of grumbling and disappointment has been steadily rising. There are complaints from across the political spectrum, for example this plaintive screed from the New York times:

I wondered if we have lost our knack for bringing together big bucks with big ideas. In earlier generations, planners had the gumption and the vision to build grand and memorable public projects like the Brooklyn Bridge, the Lincoln Tunnel and Rockefeller Center. Are we at the end of our creative run? Have we reached a moment when we are capable of designing only bland office parks and lightly nostalgic shopping malls? If so, we better snap out of it and fast. We can start in lower Manhattan.

New Yorkers expect a 21st century city to rise from the ashes of the twin towers and connect with the historic city. We need a "high-tech Machu Picchu," someone said at our table in the Javits Center.

Our culture has so many talented architects and planners, both within the large, established companies and at younger firms. When will we start asking them to help us imagine our future? We need designs that will truly revive and support our economy and satisfy our dreams for a world-class metropolis.

and this practical, functional critique from National Review:

Finally, all the plans involve creation of an intermodal transit nexus extending from the Hoboken Ferry terminal in Battery Park City to the presently labyrinthine Broadway-Nassau-Fulton Street subway complex east of the WTC site. What doesn't emerge in these plans is a new freestanding rail station, as opposed to "transit centers" submerged in commercial buildings. Such a station, which also figures in the Franck Lohsen McCrery scheme, would provide access to the PATH line to New Jersey as well as subway lines. A classical station rivaling Grand Central Terminal in beauty could reinforce the civic dignity and monumentality of the redeveloped WTC complex.

It's obvious that the vast majority of critics haven't seen the two following plans, which manage to satisfy both the critiques above. The first is called "Liberty Square" :

The project consists of a proud and heroic skyscraper, to be the tallest building in the world, flanked by nine of the tallest buildings in Manhattan and an entirely new train station building. These magnificent structures surround a dignified and urbane memorial square and monuments. All this situated in a beautifully improved system of city streets and blocks.

The design of this project immediately addresses the need for grand architecture - with the tallest building in the world, as well as a new Liberty Station. But the most moving aspect of this plan is the understated yet elegant plan for a memorial:

The heart of Liberty Square at the site of the former WTC plaza is the memorial monument which occupies two city blocks. A grass lawn is recessed three broad steps below street level. To the north of the square is the great pairing of History and Memory on opposite sides of a draped catafalque marking the place where thousands of victims died on September 11. At the square's southern edge in front of the train station are placed heroic statuary monuments to New York's great heroes: Firefighters and Policeman.

There is much more detail on the memorial at the site - a sketch of the Square, and a street plan detailing how the square is designed to be the "hub of the neighborhood" and an "oasis in the middle of the urban landscape". At the north end of the square, set back into will be statues of History and Memory, and a draped catafalque honoring the victims. If the sketch is any indication, these will rival the Lincoln Memorial as a place of quiet introspection and rverence. At the south end of the square, monuments to New York's Firefighters and Policemen will stand.

The second alternative plan is the Macchu Picchu one - WTC 2002: The Cyber City - a massive complex of five skyscrapers forming a colossal combined resdiential, commercial, and business space, 100 stories tall. Topped by an 11-story hotel in the shape of a glass pyramid. It's also been reviewed by the Miami Herald. The site claims that this plan is under consideration as the "7th plan" to be added to the previous six designs which elicted such yawns. NOTHING about this plan is yawn-worthy - pardon my french, but this plan has serious cajones. Even the website is all Flash and snazzy animation. There's a raw, quintessentially American spirit being exhibited here. Of course there is a memorial aspect to it, so it isn't all rip-roaring cowboy. The plan overview is:

The Twin Towers were 1320 Feet high. Mr Turner proposes to raise the structures to a height of 1449 feet, which, with the communications tower, will create the world�s tallest building at 1750 feet.

The concept comprises of five (5) cylindrical towers topped by an 11 story pyramid, arising from an enclosed, transparent, climatically controlled landscaped biosphere.

The fifth central tower accomodates 50 high speed elevators, each named after a State of The United States of America. The elevators are linked to the towers by transit levels every 10 floors, and two, seven story hydroponically landscaped galleries unify the massive aerial structures at the 45th and 75th levels.

The five circular floors atop the towers will include two revolving restaurant floors (one 'a la carte' International cuisine, one International buffet cuisine), two revolving tourist observation platforms with the fifth being the conference center for the 11 story �boutique hotel� in the form of a pyramid. (For example, Hyatt-In-The Sky)

A total of 111 floors rise above the sidewalks of Lower Manhattan.

The below-grade service areas (seven storys) and subway lines will extend under the entire site, above which, the domed enclosure of the Biosphere will accommodate commercial, residential, entertainment and related functions, including convention facilities, concert, opera, and theater halls along with recreation areas.

Within the Biosphere there will be 2833 living trees planted. Each living tree will be named and a plaque set at its base as a living memorial to those who lost their lives on September 11th, 2001.

This plan's memorial isn't as moving as the Liberty Square one, but it is still an open area that is reserved for life. I do feel that any memorial should include space for people to engage in the simple act of everyday living, which in and of itself is a powerful negation to terrorism. I am glad to see "The Cyber City" under consideration as another official plan (if that claim is true). I hope Liberty Square also gets to be considered. Both add a mix of something sorely lacking to the existing dry proposals.

brilliant strategy by Apple?

Apple is working with Sun on StarOffice for OS/X !

imagine if every Mac came bundled with StarOffice for OSX. This solves a number of problems for Apple - in that it lessens their dependency on their deteriorating relationship with Apple. It strengthens the value of buying an Apple, because now each Mac has the ability to handle (simple) Microsoft documents right out-of-the-box. It further enhances the relationship between Mac users and Unix users, which is a natural one given the freeBSD underpinnings of OSX.

All of this could mean more new sales - partly from users of unix/linux/bsd, and partly from the PC side who may have been inclined but afraid to make the switch for lack of software (getting Star Office for free instead of paying 300 to M$ is a non-trivial advantage)

And of course, it also is a boost to open source software, assuming that Apple is willing to give back to the community (not a given assumption). More users of StarOffice could lead to more development funding and user testing, leading to improvements that could improve StarOffice's image on the PC side as a viable alternative. And of course to the Linux community, since owning a Free Software system would be made more attractive and less of a risk.

The only loser is Microsoft. I bet they aren't happy :)


her ethnicity is irrelevant


Palestinians carry the body of two-month old baby Duani Matar in a funeral procession, after she was killed during an Israeli missile strike, in Gaza July 23, 2002. Israel killed the commander of the military wing of Hamas and 13 other Palestinians, including eight children, in a night-time missile strike on his home in the Gaza Strip. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

I'm going to make a point of putting up these photos of tragedy and grief as I find them. I don't care which flag these children are wrapped in. I don't see Palestinians or Israeilis anymore, I just see two minorities (Hamas and the settlers) opressing a huge majority (everyone else). Email me more if you find them (past or present).

moral equivalence

NZ Bear eloquently sums up the underlying hypocrisy of supporting IDF assasinations while condemning suicide bombers (emphasis mine) :

The responsibility for the death of Sheik Shehada --- and the civilians killed --- lies with the Israeli military. They carried out the attack. They bear the responsibility for its consequences, for good and ill.

This doesn�t mean the attack was morally wrong. If the planners of the attack judged that by killing this one man --- and the civilians around him --- they would be saving hundreds of innocents down the line, then it was morally justifiable. But to imply that the �ultimate responsibility� for Shehada�s family lies with anyone other than the IDF is exactly the same twisted moral calculus that terrorists like Shehada use to justify the murder of Israeli citizens. �The Israeli�s have left us no choice, they say --- we have no other options but to use these tactics!�

When a terrorist blows himself up on a streetcorner and murders a score of Israeli civilians, what do we hear? It is the fault of the Israelis; their oppression of the Palestinian people has left them no choice! And now, when the IDF�s actions have resulted --- accidentally, and yes, that does make a difference, but resulted nonetheless --- in the death of civilians? It is the fault of the Palestinians, of Hamas, because, in Alterman�s words, � If you ask for war, you are asking to have your civilians slaughtered, unless you can keep the war on the other side�s turf. Well, Hamas asked.�

This is barbaric nonsense.

Yes, it is barbaric. Murdering civilians deliberately is barbaric. Even if there is no such thing as a civilian, there IS such a thing as a noncombatant. The kids at the disco, the patrons at the sbarro, the kids sleeping in their bed - these are people who were murdered. If their murder serves your ends, then it's your decision whether or not to do so. But trying to pin blame on the other side - essentially, blaming the victim - is vile.

I have to disagree with NZBear here - he says that it may be moral, but you have to take responsibility. I think that responsibility is a given - but that includes admitting that sometimes our means are achieved by immoral ends. Killing someone by targeting his family is immoral, and you cannot invoke potential future actions to argue that the net effect is to save lives. That way lies the nightmare of the movie, Minority Report in fiction and the detention of Jose Padilla in real-life.

Bottom line is, the attack was immoral. It was the IDF's responsibility. This is exactly the same moral equivalence problem that conservatives are fond of decrying when it serves their political ends. The IDF needs to acknowledge the immorality of the action even as they argue its necessity.

Sharon's statement about the civilians was "We of course have no interest in striking civilians and are always sorry over civilians who were struck". The IDF's position is that these children who were living in their homes were "human shields". Ha'aretz has this to say in response:

Dozens of incidents in which people have been killed have taken place in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip during the 22 months of the current war of terrorism. Last December 30, three Palestinian children were killed by Israeli artillery fire north of Beit Lahia, in the Gaza Strip. On April 8, three civilians (including two young girls aged five and 10) were killed when Israeli soldiers opened fire on the Brazil refugee camp in Rafah. On May 5, a mother and her two children (aged three and four) were killed near Qabatiyah by a tank shell.

However, these killing actions - and dozens of other incidents in which hundreds of Palestinian civilians have been killed - are substantively different from the one that occurred on Tuesday night in the Daraj neighborhood, near the Jabalya refugee camp. The reason for the difference is that this particular killing event, in which at least nine children and four adults - lost their lives, was the result of a direct, deliberate and conscious decision by the prime minister of Israel to drop a one-ton bomb on a residential neighborhood.

The prime minister of Israel did not want to commit a terrorist act. He did not want to kill Lilah Hamis Shehadeh (41), Iman Shehadeh (14), Mohammed Ashwa (40), Ahmed Ashwa (3), Mona Fahmi Hwaiti (22), Subhi Hwaiti (4.5), Mohammed Hwaiti (3), Iman Hassan Matar (27), Ala Matar (11), Diana Matar (5), Mohammed Matar (4), Iman Matar (18 months) and Dina Raid Matar (2 months). He only wanted to kill Salah Shehadeh, an arch-murderer. However, when Ariel Sharon decided that the goal of killing Shehadeh justified the means of dropping a one-ton bomb on a residential neighborhood, he made a decision over which a black flag flies. He turned the targeted and justified killing of Shehadeh into a grave and unforgivable act.

the operative principle is, do not kill the innocent. Do not target noncombatants. This is laid out in the Geneva Convention, a treaty signed by the United States and therefore has the force of law in this country second only to the Constitution :

Once a treaty is ratified by the US, it actually becomes part of the law of the land and it can be enforced by the courts. We don't have the constitutional ability to ignore treaties; it doesn't work that way.

The pragmatic side however says that sometimes civilians are targets. That was why we bombed Hiroshima and Dresden. In contrast, the Japanese only attacked military targets (Pearl Harbor). And there is a case to be made for "extra-judicial" killing by Israel. Such assassinations are intolerable under the Constitution and must never occur within the United States, however. There are many people in a fervent rush to equate Israel and the United States - but that is a massive fallacy which I will address later.

So - combining the principle with pragmatism - if you are going to target civilians, then you shoudl do so with full realization of the immoral aspect. What offends me to the core are the attempts by both Hamas/etc and the IDF to evade the moral responsibility. The American military, in contrast, has behaved much more honorably.


Nazi Germany: The Decrees of 1933

historical link of note.

Nazi Germany: The Decrees of 1933

I can't help but be reminded of what Tom Tomorrow said recently:

I'm going to go way out on a limb here and say flat out: there are things to be learned from the lessons of history. And an official government system by which citizens are encouraged to spy on their neighbors should really set the alarm bells ringing.

Facism is a term thrown about too freely, and I don't believe we're at a point that its use is justified--but an oppressive and intrusive government, however you want to label it, does not ride into town wearing the uniforms and waving the flags of recognizable evil. It creeps in slowly, wrapped in the flag of your own country, and speaking the language of patriotism and duty, and at each step along the way, its actions seem plausible and defensible--until one morning you wake up and realize the gulf between the way things were and the way things are has grown so wide that there is no going back. Sinclair Lewis tried to point this out more than a half century ago, and given the current climate, It Can't Happen Here is well worth re-reading (or reading for the first time, if you've never come across it before).

When I wrote this cartoon a few months ago, people told me I was being a silly alarmist. Now it's actually happening. Satire cannot keep up with reality these days, and it's pretty disturbing.

and Reason Online notes, It�s like they aren�t even trying to pretend anymore.

Definitive Iran

David Warren has penned what I believe is the definitive essay on the political turmoil in Iran - it reads more like a gripping historical short story than an essay. I'll post it to the UNMEDIA mailing list also.

Some of the excerpts that drew my eye follow. But the essay deserves to be read in full.

on the resignation of Taheri and the response of the theocratic regime:

Ayatollah Taheri's five-page screed against the new tyranny was built around an apology for his own cowardice in failing to speak out before. It included an eloquent defence of Ayatollah Montazeri, the regime's most famous domestic critic, who has been under house arrest for years. In particular, it applauded Montazeri's recent "fatwah" or ruling against the practice of suicide bombing: denouncing this unambiguously as an affront to Islam.

The regime responded immediately, by banning media from reporting Taheri's resignation, and then closing a prominent Tehran newspaper for mentioning it. This hardly prevented the news from spreading.

In a further sign that the regime was losing its grip, it then confined its police to barracks in Isfahan, as it had done the previous day in Tehran -- doubting their loyalty. Instead they sent foreign thugs with paramilitary training, chiefly Palestinian and Iraqi Arabs, and Uzbeks and Tadzhiks from Afghanistan, to beat the demonstrators down. It was a desperate measure -- an implicit acknowledgement that the whole Persian people have now sided with the opposition.

on the passions of the Iranian youth in response to a lifetime of tyranny:

...almost two-thirds of the Iranian population was not yet born in 1979, when the Shah fell and Ayatollah Khomeini brought the world's first Islamist, terrorist regime to power...To the students in universities, and other young people coming of age in a time of Internet and satellite TV, the ayatollahs have nothing to say. Their parents, too, are sick to death of living under the Shia version of Islamist tyranny; but while their parents were cowed into submission, the kids refuse to sit still.

They have been told all their lives that the United States is the "Great Satan". Therefore they love America. (On the night of 9/11, huge numbers of Iranian students appeared spontaneously in the streets of many Iranian cities, carrying lighted candles to mourn the victims of Al Qaeda in New York and Washington. And there were illicit fireworks displays this year on the 4th of July.)

They have been fed from birth the most extraordinary diet of sick-in-the-head anti-Semitism. So Israel seems pretty cool to them, too.

And they have been taught that Islam -- submission to the will of Allah as interpreted by the ayatollahs -- is the whole meaning and purpose of their lives. So most are intensely secular. Or else they embrace an Islam that is increasingly apolitical, mystical, unworldly.

Despite the risk of arrest and flogging, the students actually goad the religious authorities, and dare the police -- turning out in such numbers as the police cannot handle. Girls make a point of wearing short skirts to the rallies; boys bring beer; the Stars and Stripes get unfurled, together with the Shah's old royal banner.

on the nature of the Iranian civilization, and the underlying bedrock of Shi'a Islam:

Yet the majority are also intensely Persian (Iran, more empire than nation, also contains several large minority nationalities). Here is a country that was also a civilization, that has been at or near the forefront of humane culture for several thousand years, reduced to a thugocracy. Like Italy, Greece, the culture never quite disappears, the pride in ancient -- and pre-Islamic -- accomplishments remains ever available. The Arabs could conquer and Islamicize Iran, but they never succeeded in "Arabizing" it. And chiefly Persian-speaking Shia Islam long considered itself not merely more legitimate, but more culturally advanced than its chiefly Arabic-speaking Sunni rival: a religion more of the spirit than of the sword.

In reference to this article, the Kolkata Libertarian makes an interesting and in my opinion extremely foresighted prediction about the rise of the I3 Axis - India, Iran, and Israel. Analysing Suman's idea a bit, it is interesting to note that all three are truly civilizations, not mere nations. India, Israel, and Iran all are ancient yet still have as much depth as China in its complexity, antiquity, and history.

Suman's prediction of the I3 Axis assumes that all three countries can survive the unique challenges that are facing them today. But if they do, it could easily be the rebirth of Asia and a dramatic boost to the fortunes of billions of people. As Suman observes, "we live on the edge of annihilation, and yet the future seems to hold unimaginable promises."

UPDATE 072202

Alex Frantz comments.

the myth of vanishing drug R&D budgets

Live from the WTC comments on the issue of reimportation of drugs to the US from Canada. It's an impassioned and meticulous argument, but in my opinion is based on an fundamental piece of misinformation by the drug companies themselves. That is, that if the drug companies' profits are lessened, then drug research and development will cease.

That's patent nonsense (pun intended :). The R&D budgets are huge, but so is the marketing department, in fact much more so. I know a large number of doctors and pharmacists (including my wife and my mother) and let me tell you, the amount that drug companies spend on these groups of professionals is obscene.

Case in point. A pediatrician will typically receive tickets to paid gourmet dinners at fancy hotels, $100 certificates to Amazon.com, gift cards from American Express i the range of $50 to $150, and of course enormous amounts of "free samples" - so many, that whenever we travel to India or Pakistan, we take along an entire suitcase and dispense them in free clinics for the poor.

All of this is to get the doctor to simply look "favorably" upon drugs - and it works. Doctors can prescribe from an entire range of drugs for any given ailment, and brand-name recognition really works. Doctors keep an enormous amount of information in their heads and they are not pharmacists. So they tend to make easy decisions about what to prescribe.

It woudl be different if doctors only specified what they were trying to do (ie, need an antibiotic targeted for ear infection, also want to reduce systemic inflammation) and let the pharmacists decide what specific drugs to administer. As things currently stand, pharmacists have an enormous amount of education that is for the most part, completely wasted. This is why Pharmacy is a hot field, ironically - so many Pharm D's are leaving, that there is a shortage. The minimum requirement to do most of the work at Eckerd's or Walgreens is really just a Bachelor's degree in Pharmacy, not a Pharm D.

Anyway, drug companies are notoriously tight-fisted about their expense sheets. It's because they want to hide how much money is thrown away on lavish marketing and the scale of that budget compared to R&D. But take claims by drug companies that high prices are essential to their development costs and their dire predictions of No More Drugs! to scare us at night. These are self-serving and suspect.

If drug companies want us to believe that R&D costs are on the knife-edge of profits, then they should open up their books and let us see publicly. The fact they won't is suggestive that they have something to hide.

and yes, the drug companies can give us cheaper drugs (and can afford to sell drugs below cost in places like Brazil or Africa).

UPDATE 072302

Megan McArdle comments. It's a complex post, and she summarized it in email to me:

My point was threefold. First of all, if you lower the price, you have to increase volume to make up the revenue. How do you increase the volume? Marketing.

Second of all, if you lower the price, you lower the projected return on any investment in the product. Since the projected return on R&D has to be very large to compensate for the capital tied up, R&D is more vulnerable than marketing. It is especially vulnerable because if you cut the price you send a political signal to the pharmaceutical companies that you are willing to, essentially, seize their property for political purposes. Doing so increases the risk of making any investment -- if it's successful, the government may just take it. Increasing the risk increases the discount rate you have to apply to the investment.

And third of all, the numbers don't even work arithmetically. A 40% decline in price cannot be offset by any conceivable combination of cuts in the marketing budget.

As for the biotechs, biotechs suffer from the same problem as R&D research, only more so. Biotech firms, almost to a one, are currently unprofitable. They are surviving on equity capital. But 90% of them will fail. In order to compensate for this risk, their projected profits must be very large, or investors will not give them any more capital. If you cut the price of their product by 40%, these biotechs will go out of business for the same reasons I enumerated two paragraphs above. The risks inherent in investing in one of these firms will increase, and the potential return will decrease.

I'm still not convinced though, as there are a number of assumptions in there that still don't seem tohave any source other than "it's this way, trust me". A far more detailed essay on teh subject was written two years ago by Gardiner Harris in the WSJ, titled "Drug Firms, Stymied in the Lab, Become Marketing Machines"

the special qualities of Arabic (translations, continued)

H.D. Miller has a lengthy post inspired by my recent piece on translations (and subsequent commentary on Ideofact).

He brilliantly describes the complexity of the Arabic language. He starts with a great quote by Joel Carmichael in his book, The Shaping of the Arabs: "Arabic loses on translation but all other languages gain on being translated into Arabic"

He then goes on to say:

individual Arabic words are formed from simple three letter roots. To these simple roots suffixes, prefixes, and infixes are added, and vowels are changed to produce a large number of individual words which have, either actually or metaphorically, meanings somehow related to the idea behind the simple root. For example, the Arabic root k-t-b is expressed as a verbal infinitive as kataba, meaning "to write". From that basic root we can then get the words kitab "book", kAtib "writer", maktUb "written" (with a metaphorical meaning of "predestined"), maktab "office", maktaba "library", makAtaba "correspondence", kutubi "bookseller", kuttAb "elementary school", istiktAb "dictation", makAtib "correspondent" or "reporter", muktatib "subscriber", and about a hundred more variations all produced from that original three letter root.
All of the words springing from the triliteral root k-t-b have that similar three letter sound to bind them together, which means that each of the words shaped from the root, when spoken, are capable of evoking any of the other words shaped from that same root... To the native speaker all of these various meanings resonate at either the conscious or unconscious level.

The richness and suppleness of the language and the way it lent itself to the most magnificent and evocative poetry, coupled with the way the Qur'an bound religion and language tightly together, meant that for the Muslims of the Classical era grammar was one of the greatest of their sciences. Medieval Muslim grammarians studied their own language with an intensity we reserve for partical physics and professional football. ...They even invented semiotics a full thousand years before Charles Pierce and Ferdinand de Saussure figured it out anew from scratch.

Of course, it's an element of my faith that Arabic was nurtured to this level of richness and complexity for the single purpose of serving as the language of the Qur'an. But even non-Shi'a non-Muslims can and have acknowledged this richness and complexity without having to necessarily believe in a divine origin to it. To each his own :) However, the vary nature of the Arabic language should itself be the first warning against strict, fundamentalist, literal readings of the Qur'an. Anyone claiming that there is zero esoteric, figurative, or symbolic content in the words of the Qur'an, whether they believe it to be of divine origin or not, is grotesquely ignorant.

I have to thank H.D for writing his piece - it's clear his knowledge of Arabic far outstrips mine. I do have to take exception with his minor assertion that:

'Ali was murdered in 661 CE, before the nuqat, the dots, were added to the Arabic script. They're an invention of a grammarian named al-Thaqafi in the first decades of the 8th century. So, there's no way 'Ali could have spent an evening boring his dinner guests with grammatical small talk.

I have asked H.D. to provide a source reference for this claim, but I am quite certain of its authenticity since the anecdote mentioned therein is extremely well-documented in the Shi'a oral tradition. There is often a bias against oral traditions in Western cultures, assuming that the printed word is superior to the spoken one. But I personally know at least four people in my community who have the entire text of the Qur'an committed to memory (we call such people by the honorific, Hafiz al-Qur'an). In fact the written word is just as subject to manipulation and alteration as the spoken one. And in cultures with strong oral traditions, a great deal of discipline surrounds memorization and propagation of these works of history and literature, such as the anecdote of Ali AS discussing the nuqta.

The bottom line is, I trust an oral tradition over a written record when it comes to Eastern works of literature or history. I trust the written word over the oral tradition when it comes to Western works of literature or history. Just as I don't put much stock in a Western historian's claim about Ali AS, I would not bother with someone in the streets of Cairo offerring to recite Shakespeare!

I'm also bound to point out that when Ali AS spoke on religion, it was never small talk. Even the usurping caliphs deferred to Ali's AS judgement in recognition of Ali's rightful position as the "gate to the City of Knowledge". Ali AS had enormous responsibility to ensure that Islam as delivered by the Prophet SAW survived in the face of the innovation and manipulation of the Ummaiyads, and so never wasted an opportunity to educate his followers. It would have been a sublime honor indeed to have received his knowledge first hand.

(I fully realise that Howard did not intend to denigrate Ali AS, nor do I mean to imply that Howard is uaware of the difference between oral and writtem traditions. This is my blog, I only write about the thoughts that go through my brain. I'm still not convinced anyone reads it besides my mom, and I'm not all that sure she does, either! I'm not trying to prove anyone wrong or propagate a point of view. I'm just putting thoughts to keyboard.)


more thoughts on Iran

Finally the Bush Administration has had something to say about the situation in Iran. Unfortunately, it was just words, as Ledeen admits, it is unlikely that US policies towards Iran will change, and I'm not even sure how they should change. What really can the US do? This is an internal struggle. I hope they suceed but it has to be them who succeed. Iran must never be Afghanistan.

Tthe Open Letter to Iran (see below) probably will be seen by more Iranians and have more impact. Brendan O'Neill's snide comments notwithstanding (did he even bother to READ the Open Letter? clearly not. Pejmanpundit eviscerates him accordingly), I truly think the Open Letter is something concrete.

I do think there is a clear path for the Iranians to follow. The problem with battling tyrranny is that if you do it on their terms, they already have the infrastructure in place to deal you defeat after defeat. As Ghandi demonstrated, you have to take the game out of their court. In India, it was by applying economic and public-opinion pressure to the British citizenry, who then made the occupation of India untenable.

The key seems to be outlined in this piece by Thomas Friedman, which describes the Iranian political establishment as three elements:

Iran has three power centers. There is Iran-E -- the evil conservative clerics, intelligence services and shock troops of the regime, who still have a monopoly on all the tools of coercion and are responsible for Iran's support for Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and the killing of Iranian intellectuals a few years ago.

Then there is Iran-C -- the rational conservatives among the clerics and bazaari merchants, who backed the Islamic revolution out of a real revulsion for the Shah's secular despotism, but who favor democracy and the rule of law. For now, Iran-C is aligned with Iran-E.

Finally, there is Iran-R, all the reformers -- the economically strapped middle class, the rising student generation and former revolutionaries who are fed up with clerical rule. They want more democracy and less imposed religion, and they are leading the opposition in Parliament but they have the least power.

That's why the key to peaceful change in Iran is a break within the conservative ruling elite. The key is to get Iran-C, the rational conservatives, to break with Iran-E, the dark conservatives, and forge a new alliance with the reformers. It's not impossible.

(emphasis mine). And I share Friedman's optimism that the alliance of Iran-R with Iran-C is not impossible, because of recent events. As I noted earlier, Ayatollah Taheri, a senior cleric in the religius theocracy, has resigned in anger and issued a blistering denunciation of the ruling elite. It's notable that Taheri was appointed to his post by the Ayatollah Khameini himself. Khameini has made an attempt at damage control by co-opting of the message away from the topic of oppression towards talk of "corruption and poverty" but I am optimistic that Iran-R and Iran-C have moved closer together.

But mere closeness isn;t enough. As Friedman noted, Iran-C has to actually break its alliance with Iran-E. It's essential to keep in mind that a secular democracy, with American-style separation of Church and State, won't sit well with Iran-C. Iran-C prefers the status quo to that, because after all they are religious conservatives. That's why they supported the installation of the Islamic Republic in the first place and why they aren't abandoning Iran-E. To get them to change allegiances, they will have to be assured that a new Iran won't be a western-style free for all on their core Islamic values. Which are the same values as Western values, btw, but thats another discussion :)

So, part of what must be promoted amongst the Iranian people is the principle that Freedom is good for Islam. Freedom of religion, as a secular concept in the Constitution, is actually isomorphic with Qur'anic Ayat 2:256 :

which roughly translates to "there is no compulsion in religion".

The idea that freedom is the true face of Islam and that the Islam promoted by the theocracy is at odds with the Qur'an itself is essential. It will also give legitimacy to the Iran-C group who need more than vague assertions from we Americans that "our system is good, try it!".

If I were making the argument to a member of Iran-C as to why they should abandon Iran-E, I would phrase it thusly:

"America itself is built upon the same universal truth expressed in the Holy Qur'an, that there is no compulsion in religion (2:256). Pious muslims in America, Shi'a and Sunni and Sufi alike, are all free to build masjids, practice their faith in peace, and worship the glory of Allah. The theocracy has denied the basic freedom of faith and has gone against the Qur'an itself. What value is morality and virtue when it is imposed from above instead of rising from within? Freedom of religion and faith is the birthright of the Muslim and the generous bounty of Allah. The people of Iran deserve no less."

Open letter to the people of Iran

نامه اي سرگشاده به مردم ايران از طرف جامعه وبلاگنويسان  انگليسي زبان

  براي نشان دادن پشتيباني خود از مردم ايران ما موافقت کرديم تا اين نامه را بر روي صفحات خود به انگليسي - و اگر امکان داشت به فارسي - به مدت يک روز و يا بيشتر به نمايش بگذاريم.

 ما سياستمدار و يا جنرال نيستيم. قدرتي نداريم که بتوانيم ديپلوماتي براي مذاکره بفرستيم. سرباز هم نداريم تا براي دفاع از آنها که جان خود را براي آزادي به خطر مي اندازند بفرستيم.

قدرت ما در کلمات و افکار ماست. و اين همان نيروييست که ما امروز به مردم ايران ارايه ميکنيم .

از ميان دنياي گسترده وبلاگها با سليقه هاي متفاوت و بعضا ستيزه جو , ما تصميم گرفته ايم تا امروز تفاوت هاي خود را کنار گذاشته و يکدلي خود را درباره اين اصول بنياني اعلام کنيم:

     * که مردم ايران متحد تمامي مرد و زن آزاده در هرجاي دنيا هستند و سزاوار هستند تا تحت حکومتي زندگي کنند که خود انتخاب کرده اند, حکومتي که آزادي هاي فردي آنان را محترم ميشمارد.    

      * که رژيم فعلي ايران ناتوان از ايجاد يک جامعه آزاد و کامياب است و سعي دارد اين ناتواني را با اختناق و ستمگري پنهان کند.       

ما وانمود نميکنيم که ميدانيم چه چيزي براي مردم ايران بهتر است ولي ما به سختي معتقديم که سياست هاي حکومت فعلي جلوي قدرت تصميم گيري مردم ايران براي خود را ميگيرد.

  پس ما به دولت خود اصرار ميکنيم تا به ايران توجه داشته باشد. رهبران و ديپلوماتهاي کشورهاي دموتراتيک جهان بايد به روشني مخالفت خود را با سياست هاي سرکوب کننده حکومت فعلي ابراز کنند و مهمتر اينکه به روشني حمايت خود را از اهداف مردم ايران به نمايش بگذارند.

و به مردم ايران: شما تنها نيستيد. ما تظاهرات خياباني شما را ميبينيم. ما راجع به سانسور روزنامه هاي شما ميشنويم و با اشتياق پيوستن شما به جامعه اينترنتي را در شمار بيشتر و بيشتر نظاره ميکنيم. ما آرزوي موفقيت شما در مبارزتان براي آزادي را داريم. ما نميتوانيم و نميخواهيم به شما راه صحيح به آزادي را ديکته کنيم چون براي شماست تا تصميم بگيريد. ولي به روزي اميد داريم که ورود شما را به کشورهاي آزاد دنيا خوش آمد بگوييم - چون قويا ميدانيم که چنين روزي فرا خواهد رسيد.

To show our support for the Iranian people, we each have agreed to display this letter, in English and in Farsi, on our pages from sunrise to sunset today, Tehran time.

We are not politicians, nor are we generals. We hold no power to dispatch diplomats to negotiate; we can send no troops to defend those who choose to risk their lives in the cause of freedom.

What power we have is in our words, and in our thoughts. And it is that strength which we offer to the people of Iran on this day.

Across the diverse and often contentious world of weblogs, each of us has chosen to put aside our differences and come together today to declare our unanimity on the following simple principles:

- That the people of Iran are allies of free men and women everywhere in the world, and deserve to live under a government of their own choosing, which respects their own personal liberties

- That the current Iranian regime has failed to create a free and prosperous society, and attempts to mask its own failures by repression and tyranny

We do not presume to know what is best for the people of Iran; but we are firm in our conviction that the policies of the current government stand in the way of the Iranians ability to make those choices for themselves.

And so we urge our own governments to turn their attention to Iran. The leaders and diplomats of the world's democracies must be clear in their opposition to the repressive actions of the current Iranian regime, but even more importantly, must be clear in their support for the aspirations of the Iranian people.

And to the people of Iran, we say: You are not alone. We see your demonstrations in the streets; we hear of your newspapers falling to censorship; and we watch with anticipation as you join the community of the Internet in greater and greater numbers. Our hopes are with you in your struggle. We cannot and will not presume to tell you the correct path to freedom; that is for you to choose. But we look forward to the day when we can welcome your nation into the community of free societies of the world, for we know with deepest certainty that such a day will come.


finally, a reason to get cable

the evils of Microsoft aside, I'd watch Donahue. If I could afford cable, anyway.

best use of topic tag ever

There's a link on FARK pointing to a story in the Daily News about how (quoting Fark) "President Bush still very eager to put Social Security money into stocks."

aside. Why can't conservatives like John Derbyshire run on the GOP ticket? If Derbyshire was running against Howard Dean for 2004, I'd be in heaven.

self-destructive tendencies

what the hell?

4 soldiers suspected of selling stolen ammunition to Palestinians

for some reason it reminds me of this. There is method to ZM's madness - it serves his purposes to be executed by the United States. Instead of dousing himself with gasoline, he is making his political statement using our Justice system. Let him. Our system is strong enough to allow him his statement.

and it reminds me of the tactics of suicide bombings used by Hamas and Fatah. These too are ultimately self-destructive:

People who want the right thing have an obligation to seek it the right way, even and perhaps especially when those who would deny them their rights operate with no such restrictions. This is what "fighting the good fight" is all about: those who struggle nobly cannot be defeated, but those who rely on calumny can never really win.


Takhisis vs. the A-10

Steven Den Beste has an awesome series of posts critiquing the premise of the movie, Reign of Fire. He posits the superiority of our attack helicopters and jets, discusses the merits of speed in the air, and closes with an analysis of how dragons can't hide from heat-seeking missiles or radar.

I think that his analysis is essentially correct, if you assume dragons are just instinctual predators. But this doesn't take into account the fact that according to the standard mythos, dragons are not just flying dinosaurs, but sentient beings.

From a literary perspective, consider Smaug, the dragon in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. Smaug was malevolent, evil, and fearsomely intelligent. He was also the inspiration for dragons as represented in the Dungeons and Dragons roleplaying game, in which the various races of dragons (red, green, gold, etc) had different alignments and represented the most powerful creatures you could meet - usually to your detriment. These portrayals of dragons inspired classic dragon movies like Dragonheart and Dragonslayer, where the concept of dragons as sentient beings was taken as an axiom.

It's because dragons are sentient that they have such a hold on our imaginations. Contrast the boring "new" Godzilla (a big hungry basilisk) with the velociraptors in Jurassic Park, who were scary precisely because they had a hint of intelligence. Both are just shadows of the threat that dragons represent, solely due to their intelligence.

OK, Dragons are smart. so what? well, imagine if some humans could fly, breathe fire, and were enormously strong. Those humans would rule the world in short order. It's not a simple matter of coexistence, it's a matter of competition. Consider our own history as a species, with the Neanderthals. According to evolutionary theory, they were a separate race, not our direct ancestors. They are gone and we are here, and that can only be because we were competing for dominance. Presumably the better (more "fit") race won - and we still don't know why.

This concept was brilliantly examined in a recent Star Trek: Enterprise episode, "Dear Doctor". The episode revolves around a planet where there are two sentient races - the dominant race (Valakians) coexisting with the lesser one (Menk) by forcing them into a welfare-dependent existence. It's clear that as long as the Valakians are around, the Menk will never evolve towards their potential. However, the Valakians are dying from a genetic disease which is curable by using the technology aboard Enterprise. The episode examines the moral quandary that the Captain faces in whether he should intervene as his compassion demands and save the Valakians (and consign the Menk to an pre-civ status), or let "nature take its course". The episode was designed to examine the need for, and hint at the origin of, the fabled Prime Directive, which mandates non-interference in pre-warp civilizations. There is a insightful and detailed review of the article by Jammer which I hugely recommend, as this is easily one of the best Star Trek episodes (of any series) ever filmed.

So, we humans out-evolved the Neanderthals (though had a space traveler come by and given the Neanderthals a boost, it might have gone differently). If dragons were sentient, that would also represent a evolutionary competition. How can we be certain we would retain dominance? We are not discussing genocide, but control. We did not do too well against the thinking machines of The Matrix, either.

However, we do have our technology, and Den Beste points out that dragons wouldn't be able to hide from our radar or our heat-seeking missiles. Fair enough - I agree that we humans would do some serious damage. But dragons are not machines, and biological systems are easier to maintain than mechanical ones. As Den Beste himself said in a previous essay, it requires an enormous amount of training to maintain a good air force. That training is extremely expensive and must be continual. But a sentient flying creature is already a better pilot than any human. The skill that humans strive towards with a rigorous regimen of disciplined training comes as naturally to dragons as breathing. The logistics of the air force supply and equipment are also very expensive, and more vulnerable. Den Beste points out in another essay that if we have air superiority, even a guerilla force is vulnerable to us though they require very little logistical support. But what if the other side has equal air superiority capability, or better? then your logistics are equally vulnerable. And if the other side has zero logistical requirements, your air superiority is useless and now you are at a disadvantage.

(aside: Den Beste is skeptical that dragons could find the resources to breed at such rates as they do, and still be flying fire-breathing machines. All they have to do is eat people and cows and they are pretty much set, though.)

A modern air force full of neat toys like the USAF has has a huge industrial support base, all of which is vulnerable to a comparable or superior air force (which doesn't exist in the real world). A race of sentient dragons has no logistical support base. They just fly around and eat people for fuel. There aren't any ground crews, rail lines, fuel depots, air strips, carriers, munitions dumps, manufacturing bases, oil fields, or hangars.

So everything that Steven said is true - if you put a single dragon up against a fully-loaded attack helicopter or fighter jet out in a desolate area and let them duke it out, the dragon is probably toast. But why would a smart dragon bother? Why not just eat our pilots?

There are a finite number of attack helicopters, Spectre gunships, AMRAAMS, and whatnot. They cost money to build, they need to be tuned and fixed and maintained. If there were a million dragons here, we would have cities being attacked on a scale well beyond WTC/9-11. Dragons would be smart enough to avoid the open spaces where missiles fly at MACH-5, and would destroy our cities from within. They would be analyzing our tactics, assessing our weaknesses, and making surgical strikes. For example, right here in Houston, the oil refineries in Texas City would surely be a target, which would affect the supply of oil for civilian and industrial use quite severely. Given dragons' penchant for mountain lairs, NORAD is just begging to be Smauged (Imagine a dragon stretched out in there, getting a nice tan from all the big screens from War Games).

Of course, we humans aren't that easy to get rid of. The dragons would do a great job in taking away our toys, but we are something more than the sum of our infrastructure. That was the lesson in another quite relevant piece of fiction: The Most Dangerous Game :)

Harry Knowles gave the movie a great review - I'm going to go see it for sure :)


translate this

recognize this quote?

To hold these truth for for obvious in oneself, this whole man being to create equalizes, that to be to equip by their creator with some unalienable right, which among those to be life, freedom and happiness continuation -- which to fix these line, government being to institute among man, to derive their right power assent to govern, which all times that any form government to become destructive these end, right people to change or remove, and to institute new government, to create its base according to such principle, and to organize its power in a form, as to seem them most probably to carry out their Safety and happiness.

its the Declaration of Independence, after having been run through the Babelfish from English to French and back again.

Here it is again having gone through Chinese translation and back:

We hold these truth are self-evident, that all people are the equal which creates, then they with certain cannot become estranged by theirs creator the right subsidizes, is lives inside these, is free and -- consolidates these rights to the happiness pursue, the government is set up inside the person, derives their just strength from the agreement government, whenever government's any one form changes the destructive these terminals, it are the people right revise or abolish it, and sets up the new government, builds its foundation in such principle, with organizes its strength by such form, Very possibly seems as for them affects their safety and the happiness

The general gist is sort of preserved, but consider someone trying to decipher it without benefit of access to or any knowledge of the original text. "All people are the equal which creates" - means what? that People are God? And how would you interpret "government being to institute among man" ?

But this is merely an empirical example of why translations are fundamentally flawed. Trying to apply them to religious texts like the Qur'an is Sisyphean. Shi'a muslims like myself believe in a depth of meaning beyond the literal, which are obliterated in any attempt at translation. This is what the Qur'an is to the Shi'a :

To us, as to all Muslims, the Qur'an is the Word of Allah, revealed to Rasulullah (SAW) in the language of revelation and transcribed into the manifest Arabic language by a divine process. In effect, each word of the Qur'an is Allah's pristine, unaltered revelation.
It has, for mankind, a Guidance (al-Huda) that separates right from wrong (al-Furqan). It has within it all knowledge of everything pertaining to creation. The Qur'an itself says that there is nothing in the universe that is not in the Qur'an.
The bulk of the information of the Qur'an is in its multitude of allegorical and esoteric interpretations. Another level of information is in its numerical usage of words and letters, another in the numerical values attached to each letter, another in its order, another in the letters opening certain chapters, another in its captivating sounds, another in the way each verse was revealed - the list is almost unending.

The best analogy is that the Qur'an is a compressed file, where (due to its divine origin) the comprssion ratio is infinite. This interpretation is not shared by most Sunnis, and is outright rejected by the fanatical Wahabis and Qutbis (who go through extreme contortions to deny the words of the Qur'an itself on the matter. See Ideofact for a detailed analysis of the specific contortions of Qutb).

the very choice of the language of Arabic was no accident either. The richness of Arabic poetry in the pre-Islam arabian culture had no equal, and in fact the Qur'an itself is poetry on a scale that completely overwhelmed the pagan worshippers. The power of Qur'anic revelation was confirmation of the divine origin. None of this is even remotely describable to an english audience. And this innate complexity is intrinsic to the structure of the language itself:

Yet another level of information exists in the strokes of pen required in writing each word in Arabic. It was not by accident that Arabic was chosen for this Final Revelation. The language itself was nurtured in preparation for this task. The word Allah written in Arabic, for example, contains volumes of information that is completely lost if written in any other script. We know how Amirul Mu'mineen (SA) spent an entire night talking of the meaning of the dot (nuqta) under the letter "be" of bismillah, without exhausting the subject.

This is why I recite the Qur'an in Arabic and do not use translations in my religious practice. It is also why we pray in Arabic, even why we append "SAW" to the name of the Prophet Muhammad SAW and not PBUH. SAW are the english-transliteration of the Arabic initials for Peace be Upon Him. PBUH is the english, SAW represents the Arabic as best as possible without access to the Arabic script.

If a muslim does not understand Arabic, they still should recite it in Arabic only. It is easy to learn to read Arabic even if you do not understand it. And what is the point of reciting something that is not understood? If you believe the Qur'an to be writen by a man, then precisely none. But if the Qur'an contains the literal Words of Allah as revealed, with all divinity intact, then the mouth is repeating these divine words. The eyes see the divine script, the ears hear the divine sound, of the revelation.

It is said that angels perceive the reciter of the Qur'an as a shining star. Thus do translations fail utterly. And if understanding the Qur'an is your aim, then again the divide between Shi'a and Sunni arise. But that's a topic for later.

Many self-appointed experts in Islam turn to English translations of the Qur'an and from these, derive all sorts of generalizations and inferences about the religion. The most noted offender of this type is Eric Raymond, whose five-part series on Islam (starting here) is ludicrously flawed (and which I will deconstruct later), but examples abound within the warblogsphere.

UPDATES 071702:

Ideofact (Bill Allison) comments.

Stephen Skubinna shares a book recommendation by Mark Twain, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, translated into French and back again into English. More empirical evidence :)

UPDATES 071902

Traveling Shoes (H.D. Miller) comments

quoted by John Derbyshire

John Derbyshire has quoted an email of mine in the Corner on NRO! I'm truly honored.

The full text of the email I sent him is reproduced here for posterity:

From: "Aziz H. Poonawalla"
To: "John Derbyshire"
Subject: Re: your article on Islam
Date: Fri, 12 Jul 2002 13:31:56 -0500

I live in Houston and am a practicing Shi'a muslim myself. I have been
raised in my community's tradition of being loyal and law-abiding to the
country where you reside, and have always been grateful that it was my
fortune to have been born here in America. I have traveled to Britain,
India, and Pakistan extensively and I am aware that my freedom to practice
my faith is orders of magnitudes more free in America than anywhere else in
this world.

Prior to 9-11, I had often attracted attention here in Texas for my beard
and my intention of praying in public if I happen to be out during a
prescribed prayer time. But after the attack, my perception of others'
attentions changed. I am more hesitant in public to "flaunt" my being Muslim
(though with a full beard, it's pretty obvious). But after a few tense
paranoid months I realised that people were supportive, kind, and

Not to say I haven't encountered bigotry. I have been spit upon, called
names, and even mooned :) But I haven't experienced a single incident of
prejudice since 9-11 (though, others in my community have been subjected to
abuse, especially in Dallas).

But my main observation is that Americans (myself included!) are for the
most part more tolerant and educated than people give them credit for. I
realize that there is a rabid fringe, but I have great optimism in the
nature of humankind, a principle I derive from my faith. I am sure that for
every accusatory email you receive, there are ten Americans out there who
are thoughtful. I hear invective against my faith evey day on talk radio
here in Houston but I have experienced the opposite in my dealings on a
personal level.

Until the threat recedes, there will be a source for anger. And the angry
are often the most vocal!

Aziz Poonawalla

PS. I know you are a scholar and so I think this might interest you. I
heartily recommend the text, "Peak of Eloquence" by written by Ali ibn
Talib, who was the chosen successor of the Prophet Muhamad. Its a much more
accurate look at what Islam's moral code and structure is, undistorted by
the Wahabis and the Qutbis and the attached cruft of their self-serving
hadith and fundamentalist interpretations. Shi'a revere Ali as the only
person of the Prophet's SAW companions who had the permission and authority
to interpret the Qur'an. Muhammad SAW himself said that "I am the city of
Knowledge, and Ali is the Gate.

Amazon link (non-affiliate): http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0940368420/qid=1026129803/sr=1-2/ref=sr_1_2/103-4216917-3204626
online freetext: http://www.al-islam.org/nahj/


Critique of Israel/Palestinian reunification

Porphyrogenitus has a thoughtful, if somewhat harsh, assessment of my response to Den Beste and subsequent post on the reunification of Israel and Palestine.

I'd like to point out that he emailed me about this weeks ago and I have been dreadfully remiss in putting the link up. Also, I'd like to note that my post referenced above was written as a quick reply to the traffic sent my way from USS Clueless, so my ideas on the topic are not robust yet. But I am working on it. I'll try to post a point-by-point reply to Porph. later but I just need to acknowledge his (her?) comments first, especially since his critique essentially implies a degree of racism/anti-Semitism on my part.

Porphyrogenitus was kind enough to write to me and offerred some additional comments on the issue of reunification, focusing mainly on the issue of trust between the two peoples (which I have acknowledged will be a major obstacle):

: In addition to the current - well, dislike - there's going to be the question of who's institutional traditions will predominate (even in a federation, there's going to be a over-arching federal structure that sets a certain tone). Take the EU as an example, too; beyond the past-European-conflict thing (which I mentioned), it has taken a *long* time to settle "commonality" standards, gradual integration has progressed which hasn't finished yet even, almost fifty years later. And most of the European population's attitudes towards these things are still, well, mixed at best). The political, governmental, and economic traditions here are, if anything, even more different.

Also, one of the main reasons IMO an idea like this won't gain much traction even in the third-or-so of Israel's population that would dearly love anything that would create peace now is that; well, lets face it - with this plan, if it doesn't work, the Palestinians don't risk anything (the worst that would happen is they're back to the status quo, which is bad, but it doesn't represent a loss in political position for them - and does buy time, which
many think is on their side); if it doesn't work out, though, then from the point of view of Israeli Jews, they'll likely have given up a lot and rendered their position untenable - military and policing forces will have been shared (or, even worse, if the country is made into a demilitarized country, well they'll be disarmed in a region surrounded by Arabs who will take the side of the Palestinians - again, if it doesn't work out and conflict renews); the chance of it working, IMO, even an optimistic percentage, is at best 60-40. The downside risk for one side is very disproportionate, IMO.

(emphasis mine). His main point comes down to two things, essentially: how do you stitch two such separate things together, and why shoudl the Israeilis have all the burden? My answer to question 1 is that its been done before - look at South Africa. But thats not my only response, I'll post more in response to athat later. The other issue of question 2 is in my opinion missing the point. I don't see this as one-sided at all, in fact I think that the Palestinians stand to lose the most. I will have to explain my opinion on that later also, though.

Interestingly, Muamar Kadafy (spelling?) of Libyan-dictator-turned-African-visionary fame, has proposed a similar reunification plan (as noted by Porphyrogenitus). Porph. wryly questions "advantage, Blogsphere?" which would be cool, admittedly, but the idea of reunification has been floating out there as far back as 1948. So I can't take credit for inspiring any Libyans recently :)

UPDATE 071802

Dan Hartung comments on the spelling.


AIDS revisited

Jane Galt responds to my response to her... well you get the idea :)

She makes a lot of points and it's going to take me a while to read through, especially if I want to avoid misunderstanding like I seem to have done the last time. But in the meantime, go see her post, and also her father's post too.

I've been bitten by the Archive Bug. I republished the archive twice but no avail. I think it may be time to move to Pro...


NZ Bear has a link to the BBC article today that mentions how Ayatollah Ali Khameini has seen the Light.

In "support" of Taheri's resignation and angry denunciations of the theocratic rule (subsequently censored in Iranian media), Khameini told Ayatollah Taheri that he agrees with him:

"I also have been saying for several years that we have to mobilise all possible means to fight poverty and corruption," Ayatollah Khamenei said.

He also addressed other matters raised by the cleric, such as creating jobs for the young.

But he warned: "Any unjust criticism encourages enemies and counter-revolutionaries who benefit from the support of the United States and Israel".

I find this disturbing. If anything, I think it's a co-opting of the message away from the topic of oppression towards talk of "corruption and poverty". The Ayatollah clearly knows that the demonstrations a few days ago were not about poverty!

If Taheri's message is seen as against the regime itself, that is a step forward. It will embolden the masses and erode the control of the theocrats.

But if Taheri is harnessed politically to simply become a critique of
internal institutional problems, then that's an implicit validation of the theocracy. Its a choice between saying "the theocracy is bad and must be abolished" or saying "the theocracy has its problems and lets fix them".

It's like rope a dope. Except this time it's freedom that's the Foreman :(

and note the reference to the US and Israel, to serve as the Outside Bogeyman. And as for actual acknowledgement of Taheri's critique of the theocracy - nothing to see here. Move along...