Author Archives: TomStrong

“Thank God for the Constitution”

A great comment from Obdicut, which I found in the jungle of my last post’s comment thread:

Michael, I’m sorry posting this has led to the stalkers having one of their uber-bizarre meltdowns in the thread.

It’s a well-reasoned piece. I too, as an atheist who is against extremist religion of all forms, including Islam, supported “Draw Mohammed Day”, and now, seeing the level that the anti-Muslim bigotry has risen to in the US, feel embarrassed that I didn’t see this coming.

I would like to also note that Charles recently pointed out an old post of his, back in the ‘old days’ on LGF where it was definitely still mainly focused on being anti-Jihad, where he was very disturbed by some of those leading the anti-Jihad fight. Even though the commenters at that time mainly chose to ignore it, he was still, back then, warning that there were bigots and crazy people involved in the anti-Jihad campaign– for whom it wasn’t anti-Jihad, but rather anti-Muslim.

I wasn’t a member of LGF back then. I only became one after the election, when Charles really started getting disgusted with the insanity breaking out on the right-wing, but the narrative he presents– someone shocked by 9/11, shocked by the spread and ferocity of Islamic extremism, casting about for sources and ideas in combating it, and then realizing that many of those sources and ideas have little to do with combating Islamic extremism and everything to do with combating everyone outside a narrow scope of white protestants– rings true for me.

Islamic extremism is still a potent and deadly force in the world, but the main thing that this ‘controversy’ over the mosque has taught us is that those who have been, po-faced, claiming they just want moderate Muslims to speak up are utter liars. They do not even believe in the concept of moderate Muslims. They are anti-Muslim, and, in so being, are anti-American; thank god for the Constitution.

After Cordoba Controversy, It’s Time To Look In The Mirror

Building off of Stephen’s post on Jon Stewart revisiting his past transgressions, I thought it would be worth exploring how my own previous writing and those of others across the political spectrum provided an opening for the pure ugliness of Newt Gingrich, Pam Geller, Michelle Bachmann and the like in the wake of the “Ground Zero Mosque.”

In 2006, we saw a similar explosion with the 2006 acquisition of several American ports by Dubai Ports World. Like the construction of Cordoba House, it was a normal occurrence that had the misfortune of coming after an explosive controversy in which the role of Islam in Western society was at question: the violent eruption in the wake of the Jyllands Posten Mohammed cartoons published in Denmark.

The controversy over Cordoba House has the misfortune of coming only months after a militant Islamist website posted that Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the creators of South Park, risked ending up “like Theo Van Gogh” after airing a very, very tame cartoon about the depiction of Mohammed which skewered the absurdity of the controversy more than anything to do with Islam itself.

Like the Danish cartoon controversy, the South Park controversy really irked people from across the political spectrum. Dan Savage, the uber-liberal gay rights activist from my hometown of Seattle, promoted “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!” As much as I loved the concept when it first popped up, I have to admit that I’m rather ashamed of it now. Dan Savage may feel the same way, as the post is no longer available on The Stranger website where it was originally posted.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who I respect greatly and whose life story gives her every justification to hold her home religion in contempt, does exactly that. As much as I do respect her, her column on the South Park controversy retrospectively seems like an urging of precisely the reactionary fear mongering we’ve seen against Cordoba House:

Another idea is to do stories of Muhammad where his image is shown as much as possible. These stories do not have to be negative or insulting, they just need to spread the risk. The aim is to confront hypersensitive Muslims with more targets than they can possibly contend with.

I linked to Ali’s column when it was first written. If I had known that this mentality would have led to attacks on mosques throughout the country or modern day lynch mobs, I wouldn’t have done so. I’m not going to endorse such views in the future.

The same goes for this speech on Real Time by Bill Maher, which I cheered greatly when it aired but that I am now much more unsure of:

Muslims are a full 1% of the American population. Their beliefs range from secular traditionalism (observing Ramadan but infrequently attending mosque just as many Christians observe Easter and Christmas) to donning the nijab and living according to a rigid Koranic doctrine. In the last decade, we’ve seen a great level of intellectual output from Americans with Muslim backgrounds – Khaled Hosseini, Irshad Manji, the aforementioned Ali – and  unless we really want to completely alienate our Muslim fellow travellers, it would be best for all of us, including me, to rethink how we approach these issues.

In moderating his approach, Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs seems to be on the right path. A critic of jihadism during the Bush years, he broke from the right when he began to see people he respected joining up with Nazis and unapologetic racists. Having seen both sides, LGF is now a great staple in the building up of the pluralism necessary for a society in which we can all cohabitate. Let’s move away from the hate of the Pamela Gellers and into something more constructive.

Copyright Absurdity

This story isn’t really that significant, but it’s a case in point of copyright absurdity:

Madonna is being sued for using the name “Material Girl,” a reference to her hit 80s song, in her juniors clothing line designed with her daughter Lourdes. Clothing maker LA Triumph says it’s been using the name to market clothes since 1997. LA Triumph contends it makes similar clothes for the same market and claims it’s now at “a risk of being subsumed by Madonna’s profile, obvious worldwide notoriety.” Madonna’s line launched earlier this month with Gossip Girl star Taylor Momsen as its face. The singer hasn’t commented.

As you may know, pop singer Prince found himself losing ownership of his own name when he left his record label, becoming an unpronounceable symbol and “The Artist Formerly Known As.” Comic book creator Alan Moore has had his creations made into several different films (The League of Extraordinary, From Hell, Watchmen), not one of which he has supported or even watched, according to interviews.

There’s alot of disagreement about copyright laws and I’m not sure what the consensus is at TLP, if there even is one. I’ll voice in by saying that the current copyright laws work for executives of corporations who distribute creative work and not those who actually create it.

There is an effort to combat this in the comic book industry, with a rise in “creator-owned” enterprises. A few of these include the Powers series by Marvel (written by Brian Michael Bendis), Bone by Jeff Smith and the Criminal series by Marvel (written by Ed Brubaker). DC also has its own line of creator owned series, which you may have heard of, called Vertigo.

The internet revolution has greatly reduced the concentration of power in the music industry away from the record labels, and the labels have used the artificial protection of copyright laws to try to stop change by prosecuting fans who download, artists who distribute their own music, etc. The freedom of information that the internet provides works for small time artists, but artists who sign with larger labels in hopes of obtaining wider distribution will continue to be selling their own creative rights away.

“Hallowed Ground”

A friend of mine who I worked with at a hip-hop magazine years ago was a big influence on me turning toward libertarianism. He said this on the mosque fiasco:

The next person who tells me Ground Zero is ‘hallowed’ or ‘sacred’ ground, is getting punched in the balls. If it really were special, it would be more than a hole in the ground NINE YEARS after the fact. Build the goddamn mosque. If you want to honor the people who died on 9/11, assimilate Islam and turn it into the same hollow facade every other ideology in this country is.

Also, I’m sure I’m not the only person who has become far less comfortable talking about this topic than I was years ago. The debate over Islam and America has gone beyond ideological and geopolitical terms and taken on dimensions of immigration, nationalism and assimilation.

Another Critique of the ACLU: Social Segmentalization

I did a critique as well as a defense of the ACLU for TLP not too long ago, but another aspect of the ACLU’s approach to defending civil liberties seemed worthy of analysis. Here goes.

On my Facebook feed this evening, I found this snibbet:

Every student deserves the opportunity to attend school and learn free of fear; however, this is not the reality for many LGBT young people in schools across the country. Jamie [Nabozny] experienced the kind of antigay verbal and physical abuse in his school in rural Ashland, Wisconsin, in the late 1980s and early 1990s that can only be described as the stuff of nightmares.

I know what you’re thinking. Michael, I thought you were a liberal. Or a libertarian. Are you about to become a conservative and attack the ACLU for supporting gay people?

No, not at all. What I will criticize the ACLU for is its segmenting the problem of school intimidation into being a “gay” thing instead of it becoming a larger social issue. Children have to face bullying in many of America’s schools that goes way beyond the jabbing that adults have to face, often with adults showing little compassion and instead speaking down to them.

I can attest to this myself. During the zenith of Seattle’s race-based quota system, I found my family relocating to the central part of Seattle, after living in northern Seattle. The cultural shock was extreme. While I’ve become far more knowledgeable of urban culture (I hesitate to say “black culture,” because it’s really more of an urban attitude that represents all colors), the bullying is still extreme in retrospect. The incidents were numerous: buying a pair of shoes I saw a cool kid wearing, that cool kid taunting me for copying him and hitting me upside the head with a metal object, causing my head to bleed and being falsely accused of sexual harassment by a girl in one of my classes I didn’t even know or ever talk to.

There was also bullying in the suburban school I had been to before, as there is everywhere. It was just more extreme at the inner city school. With incidents like Columbine and Virginia Tech, bullying really needs to be addressed on a large scale. Schools can’t have teachers on the payroll that could literally abuse a child and still be protected by a union. Teachers also should be made aware from day one that that kid in the back who is silent and sits alone at a lunchtable isn’t an antisocial troublemaker. He’s scared shitless. Chances are that most of the bullying he’s experienced will be summed up in his adult years as little more than childishness, but at the time, that’s certainly not how he feels. Having an arm around him and someone actually listening to him will change his life.

I certainly was that scared little boy, and I’m a straight white male. As long as public schools perpetuate more as prisons and forms of societal control than places of education, alienated young men will be produced. Utopia, being non-existent and likely impossible, is a very long way off but problems will never be solved with the ACLU approach of “school is hell for LGBT youth.” School is hell for youth period. Do something about it.

On Islam and the Middle East, Where is Pat Buchanan Coming From?

When I first heard Pat Buchanan talking about Palestine and Israel as a politically naive teenager, I thought he was a conservative who broke from the path because he thought the Palestinians had been mistreated. Things are obviously a lot more complicated than that.

Given Pat Buchanan’s proclamation that America is “a country built by white people” and his writing of an entire book called The Unnecessary War, a historical revisionist screed based on the absurd premise that Winston Churchill led Adolf Hitler into war, his declaration that there are “too many Jews on the Supreme Court” and his fear of “losing White America” (all of which is the tip of the iceberg for Buchanan) my own suspicions have arisen about where Buchanan is coming from. It seems as if he shares Mel Gibson’s ideology and sees the Palestinians as victims of another war started by the killers of Christ. Why else does he consistently stick up for one oppressed group but no other (like gays, for instance)?

As a person who generally thinks that freedom of religion is good and that people should be able to believe whatever it is that they want, I generally agree with Buchanan in this video:

However, politics does make strange bedfellows and it is easy, especially if governed by principle, to end up associated with a group you have little else in common with based on one or two issues. (This is an eternal curse for libertarians.) Buchanan, as an intellectual conservative, seems to know enough about history to find common sympathy with Muslims who are in conflict with Jews. He’s not the first European anti-semite to do so.

If you find yourself agreeing with Buchanan on policy towards Israel or Muslims, don’t. Read Edward Said’s Blaming the Victims instead, which was co-written by Christopher Hitchens and Noam Chomsky (both of which are most definitely not harboring anti-semitism). If you find yourself in agreement on the insanity of many politicians’ responses to the building of a Muslim community center two blocks from Ground Zero in NYC, don’t. Read Christopher Hitchens’ article on the subject instead.

Pat Buchanan is apparently a really nice and cordial fellow, but he carries with him some wicked and nasty ideas and prejudices.

Religious Freedom Is What Makes America

We live in weird times. There is still plenty to criticize radical Islamists about, and we really should be wary of efforts to bring political Islam special favors and acceptability in the United States and elsewhere. These rational arguments, however, are doomed to be misunderstood thanks to the efforts of Newt Gingrich, Bill Kristol and other right-wingers. Thanks to them, anyone who critiques political Islam will be faced with the assumption that they’re a reactionary who wants to forbid Muslims the freedom to worship. Thanks alot, Newt.

Columnist Richard Cohen took Gingrich to task in a recent column:

Gingrich noted that there “are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia.” True enough. However, it is not the government of Saudi Arabia that seeks to open a mosque in Lower Manhattan, but a private group. In addition, and just for the record, Saudi Arabia does not represent all of Islam and, also just for the record, the al-Qaeda terrorists who murdered nearly 3,000 people on Sept. 11, 2001, would gladly have added the vast Saudi royal family to the list of victims. In recompense, the Saudis would just as gladly apply some dull swords to the necks of al-Qaeda’s leaders. It is the way of the desert, or something like that.

The fact that Muslims can set up shop freely in America shows how different we are. Would conservatives rather we be more like Saudi Arabia? I honestly wonder, with their talk of “moral crusades” and other creepy religious window-dressing, if perhaps they should. It’s often said that people tend to hate those that are the most like them. In this regard, Islamic and Christian fundamentalists share a great deal in common.

Bill Kristol was equally incendiary:

Contemporary liberalism means building a mosque rather than a memorial at Ground Zero—and telling your fellow citizens to shut up about it.

Goodness gracious. The case of the NYC mosque is religious freedom on private property. If that’s not something conservatives support, then conservatism literally stands for nothing anymore apart from being ridiculous.

Additional: It looks like Hezbollah is more religiously pluralistic than our boy Newt:

Gingrich seems determined to drag Saudi intolerance into the debate over the Cordoba Center. I’ll bite. Three years ago, I was studying in Israel and took a trip to Beirut to see the city for myself. There I encountered the Magen Avraham Synogogue in Wadi Abu Jamil, a neighborhood that used to be the Jewish Quarter in Beirut. The synagogue was dilapidated and decrepit. Plants grew through the floor and the building looked as if it were about to fall apart.

Recently, with Hezbollah approval, what remains of the Lebanese Jewish community and several outside sources have begun a restoration project. You can read about the project here and here. You can follow it on facebook here. If even Hezbollah allows a synagogue to be built in Beirut, maybe Gingrich should lay off the mosque in lower Manhattan. Surely that’s not too high a standard.

A Critique of the ACLU

It takes considerable skill to be able to write from both ends of a political issue, and I’m happy to say that that is the task I am going about with the ACLU. For my defense of the ACLU, click here.

The ACLU frequently backs itself up as being in favor of the Constitution. If one frequents an urban center, fundraisers for the ACLU can be located with pins that say “I’m A Constitution Voter.”

Despite their fervent claimed support for the Constitution, however, the ACLU stands in direct support against the Second Amendment:

“The ACLU agrees with the Supreme Court’s long-standing interpretation of the Second Amendment [as set forth in the 1939 case, U.S. v. Miller] that the individual’s right to bear arms applies only to the preservation or efficiency of a well-regulated militia. Except for lawful police and military purposes, the possession of weapons by individuals is not constitutionally protected. Therefore, there is no constitutional impediment to the regulation of firearms.”

There is a paradox deep in the constitutional anti-gun position. A people’s militia, of the Switzerland variety, is not one in which large stocks of munitions are held in government custody to be used by hired contractors. This is quite obviously not the intention of the writers of the constitution. There is a layer of intellectual dishonesty to shield yourself with the constitution while advocating an argument that runs counter to it.

A more troubling case comes with the case of New York v. Ferber. In this case, the ACLU defended Paul Ferber, who was arrested after he was found to be selling footage of boys masturbating at his adult bookstore. His bookstore was located in Manhattan, and therefore subject to New York State laws governing the sale of pornography, which banned any pornography with anyone below 16 years  old.

As a progressive organization, the ACLU was started by socialists reacting not only in outrage to the policies of intervention in Europe but also to anti-communist sentiment in the United States following the Russian Revolution. For an organization slated towards artificial economic reorganization to utilize selective defense of businessmen is one disappointing, but to use that selective defense to defend the indefensible is beyond the pale. Sexual abuse of minors in any form is an inexcusable crime.

Point: The ACLU Is A Friend of Liberty

It takes considerable skill to be able to write from both ends of a political issue, and I’m happy to say that that is the task I am going about with the ACLU. For my critique of the ACLU, click here.

The Left and Right political labels are pretty useless at a certain point, but for the sake of convenience, I’ll use the Left wing label in order to defend the ACLU.

The political Left has at its core both a democratic and an authoritarian side. George Orwell, Lionel Trilling and Christopher Hitchens are among some of the most prominent intellectuals to have split with the Left on occasion in order to speak out against tyranny. This dichotomy is one I like to call the “Napoleon-Snowball dichotomy,” after the characters from Orwell’s Animal Farm.

Napoleons don’t simply show up in third world countries like North Korea or Venezuela – they also have their place in the United States. Despite his coming to the mainstream fore speaking of the need to defend civil liberties, Barack Obama has accelerated the authority of the government to new heights. Obama has grabbed the authority to kill American citizens anywhere in the world. He has put closing Guantanamo on the back burner. Obama’s civil liberties problem was made clear as well by his firing of Shirley Sherrod on the grounds of a sloppy hit job by Andrew Breitbart. Any administration that would fire a public servant so quickly on such shaky grounds must have some sort of anxiety about its power.

For Obama’s Napoleonism, the ACLU has acted as a modern day Snowball, defending against the frightening precedent of a president being able to eliminate Americans by executive order.  In a suit filed against the government, the ACLU argued that the Obama administration had “asserted authority to use lethal force against US citizens located far from any battlefield without charge, trial, or judicial process of any kind.”

The ACLU is also victim to a lot of misinformation, including the urban legend that they had filed suit to have crosses removed from graveyards. In fact, in 1999, they did precisely the opposite:

WEST PALM BEACH, FL — In the first case to be filed under Florida’s new Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida goes to trial today on behalf of seven families seeking to prevent the removal and destruction of religious symbols placed at the gravesites of their loved ones.

At issue is the City of Boca Raton’s threat to remove various vertical memorials, including Christian crosses, Stars of David and other religious symbols, from cemetery plots at the Boca Raton Community Cemetery. The ACLU will argue that under the new law, passed in 1998, removal of religious items from grave sites would constitute a substantial burden on religion.

The brilliance of the American constitution is not anarcho-libertarianism – it’s a balance of power through checks and balances. The ACLU is a great bulwart against granted authority becoming too powerful.

Immigrant Entrepreneurs and Sugar Tariffs

I wanted to link over to a recent article I wrote at the blog Voice of the Migrant, where I talk about the distinguishable products and services that America’s Hispanic immigrants bring to our society:

In a New Yorker article from 2006, James Surowiecki explores how sugar producers in the United States lobbying for “special favors” has resulted in the blocking out of competition and the subsequent degeneration of sugar-laden products:

But American sugar producers aren’t satisfied with supplying the most sweet-hungry population in the world. They’ve relentlessly sought—and received—special favors from the federal government, turning the industry into one of the most cosseted in America today. The government guarantees producers a fixed price for domestic sugar and sets strict quotas and tariffs for foreign sugar. Economically speaking, this has many obvious bad results. It keeps sugar prices in the U.S. at least twice as high as the world average. It makes it harder for companies that use lots of sugar to do business here—in the past decade, an exodus of candy manufacturers from the U.S. has eliminated thousands of jobs. And import restrictions make Third World countries poorer than they’d otherwise be.

The artificially high price of sugar has resulted in the adoption of high fructose corn syrup as a replacement. High fructose corn syrup is rife with many dangers which are not in cane sugar, including high levels of mercury:

In my previous blogs I discuss the findings that there is mercury in a percentage of the hfcs that inhabits so many of our foods and drinks. This is caused from the mercury grade caustic soda that is used in the processing, leaching mercury into the finished product.

Since the introduction of high fructose corn syrup in the 1970s, obesity rates in the United States have skyrocketed dramatically. Sugar cane, which is used in Coca-Cola and Pepsi in Mexico and in high-end American sodas such as Jone’s Soda, contains several naturally occurring health benefits.

Magnesium, calcium and riboflavin can all be found within cane sugar. While soda is not meant to be a “healthy” beverage, ingestion of a naturally sweetened carbonated concoction is nevertheless a much better route to go than the watered down corn syrup that is found in American drug stores.

Apart from Jones and other high end sodas, one of the best places to get cane sugar sodas is at your local taco truck. Fortunately for Californians especially, these amazing testaments to the entrepreneurial spirit can be found throughout working class neighborhoods. At the Fruitvale BART Station in Oakland, there are two taco trucks nearby, with vendors recently opening up in the small shopping center next to the station.

Westboro Baptist Church: God Hates Nerds

The Westboro Baptist Church seems to be deadset on creating a gospel based on an ideology of high school populism, picketing all those who would have been outcasts during their teenage years. First it was “God Hates Fags” at the funerals of fallen military men and women and now it is the more comical and less sickening “God Hates Nerds” outside of the San Diego Comic Con.

Here is their bizarre rational:

They have turned comic  characters into idols, and worship them they do! Isaiah 2:8 Their land also is full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made…

The destruction of this  is imminent – so start calling on Batman and Superman now, see if they can pull you from the mess that you have created with all your silly idolatry.”

Honestly, that rhetoric sounds an awful lot like the reasoning for no artistic rendering of the Prophets (which, taken to a strict theologically consistent route, should actually forbid renderings of Jesus and Abraham in addition to Mohammed) by many Islamic scholars.

On Islam, A Fine Line Between Criticism and Xenophobia

There are serious concerns about radical Islam and political Islam as a movement. It’s something we should be seriously conscious of. I’ve written about this extensively here at TLP.

Given that, there is a very, very fine line between critiquing the retrograde nature of radical Islam and outright xenophobia. I honestly find it hard to discern this line myself, since I am fully ready to call out efforts by Christians, Muslims or any other group to insert religious dogma into politics. Wherever that line is, it is more than readily apparent that many who are protesting the building of a mosque near Ground Zero in New York have crossed it.

There’s a part of the constitution that I’m especially fond of. It’s called the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The “free exercise thereof” doesn’t just mean free exercise of Roman Catholicism, the faith of mosque critic Newt Gingrich, or Lutheranism, the denomination of Michelle Bachmann, another critic. It counts for Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists or Hindus.

From the Left and Right, Marijuana Legalization Faces Opposition

At this point in time, there is reason to be optimistic about marijuana legalization. Andrew Napalitano was able to get Sarah Palin to back the “lowest criminal priority” position on his show, while Oakland, California seems to be positioning itself into a future marijuana growth mecca with a local ordinance allowing industrial marijuana production in the city:

Oakland’s City Council passed a resolution late Tuesday night, which could make it the first city in the state to give official permission to the industrial marijuana production. The move is considered groundbreaking as it will ensure commercialization of a crop that is mainly cultivated in hidden gardens. “This is a monumental step forward,” said Dale Gieringer, an Oakland resident and the longtime head of California NORML, which backs the legalization of marijuana. “It really means moving into the era of industrial-scale operations, and Oakland means to do it big.”

Meanwhile, liberal politicians from California, predictably disappointing on this issue, such as Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, are coming out in opposition to legalization:

Democrat Dianne Feinstein, California’s senior U.S. senator, has thrown her weight behind the effort to defeat Proposition 19, the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Initiative of 2010. Apparently Feinstein believes that California’s present pot prohibition, which was initially enacted in 1913 yet has done nothing to reduce the plant’s availability or use, is worth keeping.

If the double-headed behavior of the Left weren’t enough to give marijuana legalization supporters an aneurysm, the support of Ron Paul, Andrew Napolitano and maybe even Sarah Palin isn’t enough to guarantee right-wing support to a final end to the failed drug war:

“Angry old Republicans are not our friends,” warned Dale Gieringer, executive director of the California chapter of National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). He predicted “a very tough campaign” ahead for Tax Cannabis 2010, even without a right-wing rally. As libertarian and small government as they purport to be, the Tea Party-types are all-but-guaranteed conservative votes, votes that could tip the balance against Tax Cannabis 2010 — which in latest polls is scoring about “50-50,” according to Gieringer, who dropped the news Sunday during day two of the International Cannabis & Hemp Exposition at the Cow Palace on Saturday.

It’s unfortunate to see how unpredictable this initiative is. For bureaucratic educational reasons, I can’t vote while I’m here in California. I’m still registered in Washington state, so I have no voice on this issue except to urge people to go out and vote for Proposition 19. Our state already failed on same-sex marriage. We’d better not fail on this one.

Venezuela: Ruled By A Complete Madman

If it wasn’t already evident that Hugo Chavez is a complete madman, the exhuming of the long dead revolutionary Simon Bolivar should prove that to you:

(Reuters) – Venezuela exhumed the remains of 19th century independence hero Simon Bolivar on Friday and will test them to see if he was poisoned by enemies in Colombia.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez rejects the traditional account that Bolivar, a brilliant Venezuelan military tactician who freed much of South America from centuries of Spanish rule, died of tuberculosis in Colombia in 1830.

He insists Bolivar was murdered by a Colombian rival, and Venezuela’s newly inaugurated state forensics laboratory is taking as its first case the death of the hero some call Latin America’s George Washington.

The insanity continues considerably with Chavez’s ramblings as he seems to orgasm and faun over the skeleton of Bolivar:

“What amazing moments we have lived tonight! We have seen the remains of the Great Bolivar,” Chavez wrote on his Twitter account, @chavezcandanga, after the casket was opened before dawn.

“My God, my God … my Christ, our Christ … I confess we have cried, we have sworn. I tell them: this glorious skeleton must be Bolivar because you can feel his presence. My God.”

This is sick stuff. Meanwhile, the Hard Left in the United States has been acting in accordance with this sick puppy as he utilizes populist sentiment to expand power and enrich himself. Food is being rationed for the Venezuelan people while Chavez, who had a very trim figure in his revolutionary days, is well fed and plump.

We’re One Species

With economic times the way they are and a demographically changing society, I feel the ethnic tension flowing and the faucet turning, with boiling water threatening to pour on us all. This seems to be an eternal curse of perpetually tribal humanity, and secular humanists seem to be the only ones to not fall on some side of it’s disastrous nature.

As he battles cancer, Christopher Hitchens seems able to battle past the disabling effects of disease and address once humanity once again with reason:

And all this contains the true ingredients of tragedy—and of irony. One of the great advantages possessed by Homo sapiens is the amazing lack of variation between its different “branches.” Since we left Africa, we have diverged as a species hardly at all. If we were dogs, we would all be the same breed. We do not suffer from the enormous differences that separate other primates, let alone other mammals. As if to spite this huge natural gift, and to disfigure what could be our overwhelming solidarity, we manage to find excuses for chauvinism and racism on the most minor of occasions and then to make the most of them. This is why condemnation of bigotry and superstition is not just a moral question but a matter of survival.

This is the tragic flaw. With knowledge of our genetic roots, the reality of our lack of difference becomes undeniable. It is organized religion, with its emphasis on “chosen people,” fate and personality assigned by birthdate that keeps us locked in this death spiral.

For those who seem intent on turning this faucet of hate, I beg you to please stop. What do you expect to gain?

There Is Something Wrong With Mel Gibson

Celebrity gaffes can seem fairly meaningless. Celebrity behavior is normal human behavior: from pistol whipping (Eminem) to drug addiction (Robert Downey Jr.) to weird familial marriage (Woody Allen), the sort of human transgressions that would be at most private gossip among civilians becomes the world’s top news.

Given that, I think there is an underlying political importance to Mel Gibson’s continued episodes of hate. I don’t think Mel Gibson is just an eccentric, angry actor in the way Russell Crowe is. I think he and his father follow a continuous line of political thought that starts as far back as the Middle Age persecutions, moves toward Adolf Hitler and his stateside apologists and ends up at the like of David Duke, Pat Buchanan (coincidentally, or perhaps not, a Traditionalist Catholic fellow traveler of Hutton Gibson and his son who continues to appear on MSNBC despite having published a pro-Hitler revisionist screed), the Muslim Brotherhood and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. (Lines of political thought are a really good way of assessing your own political beliefs and making sense of the chaotic political spectrum. Generally speaking mine follow the line of Leon Trotsky, George Orwell and on toward Christopher Hitchens.)

It would be one thing if Gibson’s rough rhetoric were a personal problem. Unfortunately his father shares it:

In his interview on WSNR radio’s Speak Your Piece, to be broadcast on Monday, Hutton Gibson, argued that many European Jews counted as death camp victims of the Nazi regime had in fact fled to countries like Australia and the United States.

“It’s all — maybe not all fiction — but most of it is,” he said, adding that the gas chambers and crematoria at camps like Auschwitz would not have been capable of exterminating so many people.

“Do you know what it takes to get rid of a dead body? To cremate it?” he said. “It takes a litre of petrol and 20 minutes. Now, six million of them? They (the Germans) did not have the gas to do it. That’s why they lost the war.”

Gibson’s homoerotic sadomasochistic torture flick The Passion of the Christ can be found in evangelical households across America, watched as frequently as geeks re-watch Star Wars. Watching Gibson’s film is a constant reinforcement of anti-Semitism; the film portrays the Romans as a helpless bureaucratic body that is forced in to crucifying Jesus Christ in order to appease bloodthirsty Jews. Gibson’s portrayal of the Jews is a narrative as old as Christianity itself and played no small role in their historical persecution.

In that film, Gibson wasn’t just channelling his own madness. Despite the pretty overwhelming support of the worst elements of Israeli messianism, American evangelicals, devout Catholics and other stringent followers of Jesus of Nazareth are not without strong shades of anti-Semitism. (After all, they don’t believe in the savior!) Jerry Falwell was known for making crass jokes about the fiscal habits of Jews while plopping out gems like “The Jews are returning to their land of unbelief. They are spiritually blind and desperately in need of their Messiah and Savior.” In a public spat with his friend and the very intelligent religious/political commentator Dennis Prager (who is also Jewish, as it happens), Little Green Footballs blogger Charles Johnson was able to get Prager (who has done no small act in addressing anti-Semitism) to admit that Pat Buchanan and other elements of the Right are anti-Jewish.

When you hear about Gibson accosting a Jewish police officer or hear a tape of him ranting about how his wife will get “raped by a bunch of niggers” or rallying against “wetbacks,” you’re not just hearing a crazy person. You’re hearing the sick, intolerant, tribal and morally vacant core of Christianity.

It’s Still Charlie Wilson’s War

In the fantastic Tom Hanks film Charlie Wilson’s War, Hanks’ character is seen frequently bringing up the deteriorating post-Soviet situation in Afghanistan to his fellow congressmen. Having been active in funding the American involvement in combatting the Soviets during their invasion of the Southwest Asian country, Wilson found it very irresponsible to quickly abandon the country once the Soviet Union had fallen apart. Other lawmakers derided him as being the “congressman from Kabul” in the film. Given the events of 9/11, his maintained concern over Afghanistan seems quite prophetic.

The hard part in life is that there are no solutions, only trade-offs. Seemingly endless wars understandably are quite unaffordable, with record unemployment and enormous deficits. On Twitter, I caught Joe Scarborough saying “What is the end game in Afghanistan? What is our goal?” Not a bad question. I also caught O’TooleFan saying
“Does anyone seriously believe we’re ever going to be able to turn things over to the Afghan army?” Another good question, but one that needs to be coupled with consideration for long term responsibility and rational self-interest.

I am only a twenty something writer. I hardly know the answers. I do, however, have enough knowledge of history to know that troublespots in the world do not stop calling us just because we stop calling them. With Kurdistan showing considerable promise as a home for modernity in the Middle East and a strong amount of blood and treasure spent in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is foolish and irresponsible to think we can just abandon it wholesale. It would not be shocking to witness those whose familes or loved ones fall victim to the tyrannical dictators or roaming ethno-nationalists that will inevitably fill that sort of power vacuum blame it on America.

The strongest alternative, in my view, is to try to recruit the budding powers of the world stage who also share an interest in a stable and non-volatile Middle East to become involved. This requires a level of diplomacy that will require considerable improvement in ties with growing superpowers like Brazil and strengthening of ties with India. It may also, as Stephen Kinzer has suggested in his prescient book Iran, Turkey, America’s Future, require the courting of natural but untraditional allies.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali Supports Missionaries?

I’m on the mailing list of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the humanist and author of Infidel. In the latest newsletter from her AHA Foundation I got this message:

“Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the former Muslim human-rights activist who lives under armed guard for fear of her life, is author of the powerful new book “Nomad.” As secular as they come, she advocates that Christians become more active in countering the growing reach of Islamic radicalism in the Western world with their own outreach program.

“Next to every mosque, build a Christian center, an enlightenment center, a feminist center,” Hirsi Ali explained. “There are tons of websites, financed with Saudi money, promoting Wahabism. We need to set up our own websites – Christian, feminist, humanist – trying to target the same people, saying, we have an alternative moral framework to Islam. We have better ideas.”

Uh…yeah. This is a really bad idea. Many developing countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, already have quite a few Western Christians preying on their weaknesses in order to foment fundamentalism. I recommend Ali read about the anti-gay laws in Uganda which were strongly supported by US evangelicals.

Ali really needs to be careful. Her personal past with Islam could easily lead her into the hands of fundamentalist Christians, many of which are as intolerant and nefarious as the worst Muslim fundamentalists of her Somalia. Islam and Christianity both originated from elsewhere and became widespread in Africa through aggressive proselytizing.

As for humanist and feminist centers, I’m all for the former and possibly for the latter, depending on what kind of feminism it is that we’re talking about.

1 2 3