30 October 2005

Recovery, not prevention, is what sustains

My “previous post”: reminded me of another facet of the compatibility of Islam and liberal democracy. One of the properties of Islam that makes its reformation to compatiblity is not such much that Islam encourages fanaticism more than other belief systems, but that it is lacking in corrective mechanisms. In other words, Islam has a weak immunie system to resist the inevitable loonies that occur in any belief system. If we look at the oher two great monothesistic religions, Judiasm doesn’t value conversion which strongly limits the impact of Jewish fanatis on other faiths. Chistianity has a number of limiters, such as “turn the other cheek” and “render unto Caeser”. In contrast, I’ve seen little evidence of any similar counter arguments to aggression in Islam. The personal examples of the founders of Christianity and Islam demonstrate this clearly — Jesus sacrificed self in the face of conflict with external faiths, while Muhammed sacrificed other in the same situation. Even most of the instances in which Jesus is agressive he is so against his co-religionists, not those of other faiths.

This is one reason while pointing out aggessive passages of the Bible (Old or New Testament) to how parallels to equivalent passages in the Quran paints a misleading equivalence. It is the lack of countervaling passages that is the problem, that makes it possible for the Caliphascists to “hijack” the faith in to violent intolerance. This, to me, indicates that any Reformation of Islam to render it compatible with liberal democracy will have to take the form of providing these defence mechanims against fanaticism rather than (say) toning down or discarding the agressive elements of Islam.

Chaterati Condensation

One of the important questions of our time is whether Islam can co-exist with liberal democracy. There are good arguments on both sides, but stories of banning Piglet and preferential treatment for wife-beaters certainly don’t help the argument for co-existience. The ability to accept the presence of cricism or even juvenile mockery is someting any belief system needs in order to persist at the End of History.

However, it’s less than clear how much of this kind of thing is driven by Islam or even the average Muslim and how much by grievance parasites (like CAIR) and condescending chatterati. When I look deeper at the Piglet banning sort of stories out of the UK, it almost always turns out to be the result of pre-emptive action by chatterati rather than any actual complaints. One wonders if those chatterati realize how much their actions contribute to the arguments of those who don’t beleive Islam is compatible with liberal democracy by portaying Mulsims as people who cannot tolerate the slightest disrespect. But of course, anyone who follows the follies of the chatterati realize that it’s never about the putative victims but instead is always about the internal psycho-drama of the chatterati. I find the grievance parasites more understandable, since obviously no grievances → no money/fame for the grievance parasites. Sleazy but comprehensible. The level of detachment from reality for the chatterati is what is beyond my poot ability to imagine.

22 October 2005

Spread sheet science

Over at the Brothers Judd there’s a post concerning a museum that has a exobiology exhibit in which the Drake Equation comes in for some mockery.

I think that mockery is undeserved, although I would certainly go along with mocking many of the people who have used the Drake Equation as if it provides any sort of hard number about extra terrestial civilizations. As noted, we have little to no information about the actual values of most of the terms in the equation so any number that comes out is a handwaved tangle of guesswork and assumptions.

However, this misses the actual utility of the equation, which is much more “meta”1. The equation is good science in two different but related aspects.

The first is as a strawman basis for argument about extra terrestial civilizations. Certainly in most of the technical discussions I’ve had in my career, it was far easier to make progress by throwing out something, anything, that was at least plausible as a basis for dicussion and refinement. That’s what the Drake Equation is, the first step on a long journey to knowledge.

Secondly, having an equation to describe something is useful even if you don’t know any of the values it requires. It’s the same thing as graphing an equation. It doesn’t tell you what the literal answer is, but it can illustrate which values are important and how they relate to one another. It also reminds me of why electronic spreadsheets were such a driving force in the early computer industry. A spread sheet wouldn’t tell you what actual numbers represented your business, but playing with the spread sheet could tell you which values were most important and how sensitive the final value was to changes in the inputs. And as with the Drake Equation, it was a non-trivial risk that people could lose that subtle level distinction and start confusing the hypothetical with the real.


1 Ah, you were waiting for me to get on that hobby horse, weren’t you?

21 October 2005

New developments on the self-petarding front

I ran in to this thread over at the People’s Cube (via Dean Esmay). I thought it was an interesting story of how CaféPress seems to have a warm spot for the openly pro-communist while harshing the mellow of anti-communists.

But what I found most interesting was a comment by someone pretending to be Paul Krugman (scroll down a bit past the “UPDATE”, or search for “Krugman”). I’d like to call it a parody but it’s not, because it uses literal quotes from Krugman himself. I think this will be an emergent phenomenon, an artifact of the way the Internet can not only preserve information but make it easy to find. For the chatterati, who are used to dropping last month’s arguments the way the glitterati drop last month’s style, it is likely becoming a source of increasing panic that so many can so easily dredge up those little embarassments. It must be even more mortifying to be mocked by your own words. I look forward to the future development of this new style mocking.

16 October 2005

"Political influence" – is that what they're calling it these days?

Our radio had NPR on this morning and there was a report from Iraq about the voting on the Iraqi constitution. What continues to stun me is the MAL’s treatment of the Sunni political factions in Iraq. NPR claimed that the Sunni were upset because they were concerned that they wouldn’t have “political influence” they had previously under the new constitution. I guess “influence” is NPR-speak for “repressive sectarian fascism”. NPR also seems to agree that it’s quite reasonable for the Sunni to not only reject the proposed constitution because it will prevent the restoration of Ba’athism, but that turning to supporting the insurgency would be a reasonable response to such a “loss of influence”. One is left slack jawed (but fortunately for my spleen, not slack handed).

I certainly don’t remember the MAL or NPR being so solitious about the fate of the white minority in South Africa after the change of government there. As someone asked on the Brothers Judd a bit ago, what makes anti-Americanism? This is what I’d consider a perfect example. The only constant in the MAL viewpoint is what the USA is on. At least American Conservatives came to accept or even support the transition in South Africa beforehand. Years afterwards in Iraq, the MAL is still rooting for fascism in order to humiliate their host country.

P.S. And of course, such sympathy for the insurgency shows complete indifference to the fate of the Sunni as well. Open, enthusiastic support for the insurgency by the Sunni after the new government takes power will only end up in the Sunni being cleansed from Iraq. Somehow that doesn’t strike me as a result the Sunnit should be encourage to engineer.

05 October 2005

Is there anybody out there?

Well three years, 1573 posts later, I still managed to get one out every now and then.

04 October 2005

Not Soutered for the Court

I read lots of posts about the USSC nominee Harriet Miers that go on about whether she is another Souter or not. That sets me wondering — what does Justice Souter think about that kind of commentary? To have your name come up in the discussion of new nominees as the defining instance of a mistake? Does it make him weep with frustration or laugh with the expression “too bad, suckers!” on his lips?

UPDATE: White House Press Conference

Q Thank you, Mr. President. You said several times now, sir, that you don’t want a justice who will be different 20 years from now than she is today. Given that standard, I wonder in hindsight whether you think the appointment of Justice David Souter, then, was a mistake? And even —

THE PRESIDENT: You’re trying to get me in trouble with my father, Baker. (Laughter.)

Q Well, I’m trying to understand what informed your choice this time?

THE PRESIDENT: Call him. (Laughter.)

03 October 2005

Needful things

Via Joanne Jacobs is this article about “humanitarian engineering”. As best as I can tell, the cirriculum is just engineering except there’s more emphasis on how it helps people rather than pure problem solving. Whatever.

I was struck by this quote, however:

At first, some faculty members complained that the new minor implied that the rest of engineering wasn’t humanitarian. Munoz said that while most engineers are working to “improve man’s situation on the planet,” not all engineering is humanitarian.

“What about weaponry?” he said. “It may be necessary, but it’s not humanitarian. It’s caused us to ask some interesting questions.” [emphasis added]

How can something be “necessary” for humans while the provision of it isn’t humanitarian? Isn’t providing that which is needful for humans the very definition of humanitarian?

01 October 2005

Sadly, I got a life

I just don’t seem to have the concentrated energy or time to put up the posts I want (I have piles of index cards laying about with post ideas). But, after my recent family related trip to Boston, I had to share this:

I gave them some money because they were at least original and amusing.