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Worse Than (Our) Vietnam

The number of people killed by the South Asian tsunami will likely exceed the number of Americans killed in the Vietnam War. The AP reports the casualty count has now passed 52,000. And it is going to be a lot worse.

The ministry statement said this figure did not include data from districts on Sumatra’s hard-hit western coast, including the town of Meulaboh — meaning that the final death toll will almost certainly rise significantly.

Earlier, the country’s national disaster director, Purnomo Sidik, said 10,000 people were killed in Meulaboh alone.

New Blog — Liberal Iraqi

Welcome Ali, Liberal Iraqi, to the blogosphere.

I am honored to be one of the first six linked on his blogroll. I consciously write to an American audience, and it never ceases to amaze me where in the world some of my readers live. When I first started this blog I had no idea people in Iraq would ever stop in to read it.

What does Ali mean when he describes himself as a liberal Iraqi? I’ll let him answer that.

I want to say that it’s a common knowledge that compared to the west, Iraq is a very conservative society, so being a liberal in Iraq caries a very different meaning than being a liberal anywhere in the west or more advanced countries. This does not mean that I’m against liberals anywhere, as on the contrary I find myself more close to them than conservatives, and I do have many friends on both sides as well as other centrists and independent people. I’m only against their view of OIF and the WoT in general. This is one of the few points where I do agree with the conservatives. I know that some conservatives have their own selfish motives behind their support for democracy in Iraq, but I believe that the majority of them just want Iraq to succeed and also want to have a friendly democratic government in the ME instead of a brutal mad dictatorship that has ties with terrorist organizations allover the world.

Back to Iraq and the main topic of this post, I and many freedom-loving Iraqis see traditions whether Islamic or tribal in origin as the main obstacle towards our march for a free democratic Iraq. You can count Arab nationalism as another obstacle in this field. We, those who call ourselves liberal Iraqis, are totally against such traditions and rotten ideologies. We see ourselves as part of humanity and that’s all. Some people in Iraq accuse us of being too liberal to the degree where we lack a real identity. This is not true, as we have one and it’s called humanity.

So there’s no sophisticated ideology that I endorse, I just support freedom of press, freedom of expression, women’s freedom, separation of “Church from the state”, freedom of religion and limited control by the government over economy. I do, however support strongly international aggressive interference in countries’ internal policies to save others from oppression and humiliation.

In Iraq, we longed for a revolution to save us from what we suffered at Saddam’s days. We made feeble attempts, but some Iraqis in the south and the north sacrificed and risked much more for the sake of our freedom, and the end was horrific. After that we almost went into total despair, and then the Americans came and our joy was beyond description. Still we do need a revolution, a revolution on the level of minds which without it, all the help we are getting from others and all the sacrifices that were given for Iraq to be free from tyranny, all these would be in vain. I still enjoy my freedom tremendously despite all the problems and dangers, and I have full trust in my people but I’m not ashamed of saying that we still need your help.

The last time I checked his Technorati profile, no one in the blogosphere had linked to him yet. Get the word out. Help promote this guy.

Thousands of Miles of Hell

Sometimes a picture is not worth 1,000 words. Even though it’s impossible, try to imagine thousands of miles of coastline looking like this. It boggles the mind as much as the death toll.

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(Photos from Yahoo slideshow.)

Shifting Geography

Whoa.

The magnitude 9.0 earthquake that struck off Indonesia on Sunday morning moved the entire island of Sumatra about 100 feet to the southwest, pushing up a gigantic mass of water that collapsed into a tsunami and devastated shorelines around the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea.

Tsunamis and Terror

John Hinderaker at Powerline wonders why the destruction wrought by tsunamis in Asia is somehow less shocking than acts of violence.

It’s always struck me that casualties resulting from natural disasters inspire less horror than those caused by violence. More people have been killed today by tidal waves in Asia than have been killed in the last year and a half of violence in Iraq. Yet it is unlikely that today’s earthquake will stay in the news for more than a day or two. I’m not sure why this is, but, frankly, I share the tendency to pay much greater attention to political violence than to natural disasters.

Political violence is more horrible. In part that’s because human violence of any kind is more horrible.

Think about it this way. Would you rather be killed by a tsunami or drowned by a hit man? Would you rather lose a loved one in a car accident or to an axe murderer? Which would be easier to accept?

Murder horrifies because it’s on purpose. It is tainted by evil. It causes more emotional damage because you know someone is happy your loved one is dead.

A tsunami is a very bad thing that just happens. A murder, a rape, an act of terrorism, a campaign of genocide, is shot through with malice. We recoil not only at the event, but at the mindset behind the event. Tsunamis aren’t malicious, and nobody plans them.

The entire world can share in the grief and horror of the thousands dead in Asia. Thousands dead in an act of violence is different. The grief and horror of 9/11, for example, was not shared by everybody. Some people wanted 9/11 to happen. Some people celebrated the toppling of the towers. We all remember seeing Palestinians dancing in the streets that day. And we remember those who said we deserved it.

Some people hope to repeat 9/11. They have our undivided attention. (At least they have the undivided attention of some of us.) If someone had managed to trigger tsunamis in Asia it would be much the same. Partly this is because the event would have been much more horrible. But also because it would mean something is terribly, dangerously, wrong with the world — something that can and must be fixed.

UPDATE: The death toll is now over 19,000 and climbing. God. I can’t even process this yet. That’s just way too many people to die by a wave all at the same time.

UPDATE: Joe Gandelman has an Asian blog roundup. (Shudder.)

Extraverted Intuitive Thinking Perceiving

Nancy Rommelmann linked to a Meyers-Briggs personality test online and said the test results precisely captured her personality. I was a little suspicious. But the test only takes a few minutes, so I thought I’d give it a shot and see what it said about me.

Turns out I’m the Extraverted Intuitive Thinking Perceiving type. My “report” is pretty accurate, at least insofar as I see myself. The last sentence doesn’t really describe me, but the rest is either close or exact:

“Clever” is the word that perhaps describes ENTPs best. The professor who juggles half a dozen ideas for research papers and grant proposals in his mind while giving a highly entertaining lecture on an abstruse subject is a classic example of the type. So is the stand-up comedian whose lampoons are not only funny, but incisively accurate.

ENTPs are usually verbally as well as cerebrally quick, and generally love to argue–both for its own sake, and to show off their often-impressive skills. They tend to have a perverse sense of humor as well, and enjoy playing devil’s advocate. They sometimes confuse, even inadvertently hurt, those who don’t understand or accept the concept of argument as a sport.

ENTPs are as innovative and ingenious at problem-solving as they are at verbal gymnastics; on occasion, however, they manage to outsmart themselves. This can take the form of getting found out at “sharp practice”–ENTPs have been known to cut corners without regard to the rules if it’s expedient — or simply in the collapse of an over-ambitious juggling act. Both at work and at home, ENTPs are very fond of “toys”–physical or intellectual, the more sophisticated the better. They tend to tire of these quickly, however, and move on to new ones.

ENTPs are basically optimists, but in spite of this (perhaps because of it?), they tend to become extremely petulant about small setbacks and inconveniences. (Major setbacks they tend to regard as challenges, and tackle with determination.) ENTPs have little patience with those they consider wrongheaded or unintelligent, and show little restraint in demonstrating this. However, they do tend to be extremely genial, if not charming, when not being harassed by life in general.

In terms of their relationships with others, ENTPs are capable of bonding very closely and, initially, suddenly, with their loved ones. Some appear to be deceptively offhand with their nearest and dearest; others are so demonstrative that they succeed in shocking co-workers who’ve only seen their professional side. ENTPs are also good at acquiring friends who are as clever and entertaining as they are. Aside from those two areas, ENTPs tend to be oblivious of the rest of humanity, except as an audience — good, bad, or potential.

Try the test yourself. See if it’s accurate. I bet it will be.

Merry Christmas

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Killing Blog Spam Dead

This Web site has been flooded with an unspeakable level of spam in the comments section from jerks using automated spam-bots to promote everything from porn and viagra to vacations and car rentals. No more. It’s over. MT-CAPTCHA is now fully installed and operational.

From here on out, in order to post a comment you will have to manually enter a numeric code that first appears as a graphic. (Open the comments box and you’ll see what I mean.) Humans can read and enter the code. Spam-bots can’t. No more will that jerk who sends 1,000 spams at a time for mortgage refinancing be able to boost his business on the back of my bandwidth.

James Seng wrote the CAPTCHA plug-in and it’s free to download and install. (CAPTCHA stands for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart.)

It’s a four-hour procedure, and that’s if you know what you’re doing. My Unix skills are pretty rudimentary so I paid Anthony Perez-Miller (who first installed it on his site) to install and set it up for me. If you have a blog and want to take care of this problem once and for all, send him an email. Hire him. He knows what he’s doing, he’s fast, and you can trust him.

The Worst Christmas Article

James Wolcott picked a fight with James Lileks over Christmas. I wouldn’t have done that. Not only because I’d hate to have Lileks rip me to pieces, but because Lileks is an eminently reasonable person. He’s not the kind of guy you’re supposed to pick fights with. You can disagree with him, sure. You can discuss things with him, yeah. But engage in a long-running public trading of insults? No. I’d advise against that.

Wolcott’s biggest error is in talking about Lileks as though he is this guy, Donald R. May, who wrote what is easily the worst Christmas article this year:

The Christmas Deconstruction Alliance just does not get it. They are dumbfounded as they have not been able to secularize Christmas. They throw tantrums because of the tenacity with which the vast majority of us hold onto our Christian beliefs and traditions. They do not understand why the United States does not roll over, accept the abolition of Christmas, close down our churches, and remove the crosses from our cemeteries.

I’d like to know…who is doing this? Who wants to abolish Christmas? Anybody? Who wants to close down our churches and remove crosses from cemeteries? Seriously. I’d like to know. But he doesn’t name names.

The (separate) argument about whether Christmas songs should be played in schools where non-Christian students attend is tiresome but, I suppose, worth having. But this is an argument about watering down the public culture to a lower common denominator. It’s not about abolishing Christmas. No one (at least to my knowledge) wants to open the school doors on December 25th so they can turn the kids into pagans. (Yes, Mr. May actually says “The liberal elite think their superior wisdom, and their control of education and the media, should convince us to become a bunch of pagans.”)

I thought about fisking his entire piece but decided to heck with it. This hysterical article (which Town Hall should be embarrassed to have on its Web site) isn’t worth my time or anyone else’s.

But I do want to zero in on one point he made because I’ve seen plenty of other people say the same thing.

Just what are some of the things opposed by those who would eliminate our Judeo-Christian heritage?… We definitely can’t acknowledge we are a God-fearing nation who’s Constitution is based on The Ten Commandments.

He really thinks the Constitution is based on the Ten Commandments. He and millions of others. So let’s go through the commandments one at a time.

1. I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt have no other God before me. The first ten words of the First Amendment explicitly knock the First Commandment aside: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…”

2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image. This one is also knocked aside by the First Amendment since it protects the freedom of speech. Making a graven image isn’t technically speech, but it’s expression, and it’s protected.

3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain. See above. Speech is protected by the First Amendment.

4. Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. You know what’s wrong with this one, Constitutionally speaking? The same thing that’s wrong with all the others. It’s a commandment. Unless I’m forgetting something, the Constitution doesn’t tell individuals to do anything. It certainly doesn’t tell them to slack off on Sunday.

5. Honour thy father and thy mother. Good advice, if your parents aren’t violent drunks or child molesters. But the Constitution doesn’t address family matters. It addresses matters of state.

6. Thou shalt not kill. A fine law, even if it’s not in the Constitution. Every nation – Judeo-Christian or not – prohibits murder. So the idea that we have this law on the books because it’s in the Ten Commandments strikes me as dubious at best.

7. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Adultery isn’t a crime in the United States. It’s not a good thing, and it can land you in trouble if you find yourself in divorce court. But you won’t go to jail and you won’t be fined if you cheat on your spouse.

8. Thou shalt not steal. Again, a fine law. Also, again, every nation – Judeo-Christian or not – prohibits stealing. So the idea that we have this law on the books because it’s in the Ten Commandments strikes me as dubious at best.

9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. This one is against the law, too. But, again, it’s not in the Constitution, not anywhere that I’ve been able to find. (If I’m wrong, show me where.) I don’t know for certain if bearing false witness is prohibited in every nation on earth, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it is.

10. Thou shalt not covet. This one is definitely not in the Constitution. The last thing the Constitution does is regulate the private thoughts of citizens. Only totalitarian regimes even try to do that.

I don’t see any overlap between these documents anywhere. But, hey, maybe I’m wrong. If the Constitution has some fine print that says something like Thou shalt have no other God before me I’d love to have someone quote the relevant text. Until then, I’ll assume anyone who says the Constitution is based on the Ten Commandments is either wallowing in wishful thinking or, as is obvious in Mr. May’s case, suggesting heathens like me are somehow not real Americans.

One other sentence stands out for its inanity:

We can’t have joy since the liberals and terrorists always are angry about something.

The conservatives and terrorists always are angry about something, too. Atheists and agnostics, for starters. Leave us alone. And understand this: most of us celebrate Christmas.

Meanwhile, Jonah Goldberg published a vastly more sensible article in the same online magazine. And he concludes:

Simply because there are more Christians than Jews or Muslims or atheists, doesn’t mean that Christians should always get the shaft. That said, Christians — or at least the politically organized ones — don’t do themselves any favors when they start talking like just another identity politics group. Christians seem to be complaining more this year than usual about the war on Christmas, even as they are finding more success. Arnold Schwarzenegger renamed the governor’s “holiday tree” a Christmas tree. George Bush is the first president ever to include a quote from scripture on his Christmas card. Besides, once “Merry Christmas” becomes a political statement, everyone loses.

What he said.

Fear of Santa

Click the image to see the funniest Christmas photo gallery of the year.

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(Hat tip: Callimachus.)

21st Century Dilemmas

Roger L. Simon found a speech by Haim Harari caled A View from the Eye of the Storm that was delivered and published in April. I missed it then and so did he, but it’s as valuable now as it was then.

The whole thing is worth reading, but here’s an excerpt:

The civilized world believes in democracy, the rule of law, including international law, human rights, free speech and free press, among other liberties. There are naïve old-fashioned habits such as respecting religious sites and symbols, not using ambulances and hospitals for acts of war, avoiding the mutilation of dead bodies and not using children as human shields or human bombs. Never in history, not even in the Nazi period, was there such total disregard of all of the above as we observe now. Every student of political science debates how you prevent an anti-democratic force from winning a democratic election and abolishing democracy. Other aspects of a civilized society must also have limitations. Can a policeman open fire on someone trying to kill him? Can a government listen to phone conversations of terrorists and drug dealers? Does free speech protects you when you shout “fire” in a crowded theater? Should there be death penalty, for deliberate multiple murders? These are the old-fashioned dilemmas. But now we have an entire new set.

Do you raid a mosque, which serves as a terrorist ammunition storage? Do you return fire, if you are attacked from a hospital? Do you storm a church taken over by terrorists who took the priests hostages? Do you search every ambulance after a few suicide murderers use ambulances to reach their targets? Do you strip every woman because one pretended to be pregnant and carried a suicide bomb on her belly? Do you shoot back at someone trying to kill you, standing deliberately behind a group of children? Do you raid terrorist headquarters, hidden in a mental hospital? Do you shoot an arch-murderer who deliberately moves from one location to another, always surrounded by children? All of these happen daily in Iraq and in the Palestinian areas. What do you do? Well, you do not want to face the dilemma. But it cannot be avoided.

Suppose, for the sake of discussion, that someone would openly stay in a well-known address in Teheran, hosted by the Iranian Government and financed by it, executing one atrocity after another in Spain or in France, killing hundreds of innocent people, accepting responsibility for the crimes, promising in public TV interviews to do more of the same, while the Government of Iran issues public condemnations of his acts but continues to host him, invite him to official functions and treat him as a great dignitary. I leave it to you as homework to figure out what Spain or France would have done, in such a situation.

The problem is that the civilized world is still having illusions about the rule of law in a totally lawless environment. It is trying to play ice hockey by sending a ballerina ice-skater into the rink or to knock out a heavyweight boxer by a chess player. In the same way that no country has a law against cannibals eating its prime minister, because such an act is unthinkable, international law does not address killers shooting from hospitals, mosques and ambulances, while being protected by their Government or society. International law does not know how to handle someone who sends children to throw stones, stands behind them and shoots with immunity and cannot be arrested because he is sheltered by a Government. International law does not know how to deal with a leader of murderers who is royally and comfortably hosted by a country, which pretends to condemn his acts or just claims to be too weak to arrest him. The amazing thing is that all of these crooks demand protection under international law and define all those who attack them as war criminals, with some Western media repeating the allegations.

Those who care about international law must do two things. First, fix international law and make it actually relevent to 21st century problems. Second, remember that some people don’t care a whit for international law because it gets in the way of fighting this war – so they won’t do the job for you.

New Column

My new Tech Central Station column is up: Marching Towards a Democratic Iraq.

Aquarius Then and Now

Christopher Hitchens reviews a series of books on the 60s, hippies, Vietnam, and the commune movement for the New York Times. Lots of good stuff came out of that era, civil rights being only the most noted and obvious. (Also, Vaclav Havel – one of my absolute favorite people – considers himself a 60s person. That doesn’t mean nothing.)

But not all was well, and much of the era’s detritus is even worse. Just as I did yesterday, he’s not afraid to use the word reactionary.

If you look back to the founding document of the 60′s left, which was the Port Huron statement (also promulgated in Michigan), you will easily see that it was in essence a conservative manifesto. It spoke in vaguely Marxist terms of alienation, true, but it was reacting to bigness and anonymity and urbanization, and it betrayed a yearning for a lost agrarian simplicity. It forgot what Marx had said, about the dynamism of capitalism and ”the idiocy of rural life.” Earlier 18th- and 19th-century American communards had often been fleeing or preparing for a coming Apocalypse, and their emulators in the 1960′s and 1970′s followed this trope as well, believing everything they read about the impending crash, or the exhaustion of the world’s resources. The crazy lean-to of the Unabomber began to take dim shape at that period, even if many of the new pioneers were more affected by the work of the pacific Tolstoy or of C. Wright Mills (who used to recommend, if memory serves, that people should build their own cars as well as their own houses).

Is there a moral to point out here? Of course there is. Maybe more than one. The first is that, as Agnew deftly notes, more of her friends ought to have read about the Joad family before setting out. The second is that not all was wasted or futile. Everybody in society now has a better idea of our relationship with the natural order and our kinship with animals, and we are no longer so casual about what once seemed the endless bounty of our environment. In some ways, we have the ”love generation” to thank for this. Meanwhile, though, the anti-globalization movement has started to reject modernity altogether, to set its sights on laboratories and on the idea of the division of labor, and to adopt symbols from Fallujah as the emblems of its resistance. Conservatism cannot and does not, despite itself, remain static. It mutates into something far more reactionary than anything from which the hippies were ever fleeing.

I don’t know what anti-globalization has to do with Fallujah, but Gene over at Harry’s Place noted the movement’s connection to Hezbollah yesterday.

And God Rolled His Eyes

I have little time for writing tonight, so let me just hand it over (so to speak) to Jeff Jarvis for the moment. He wrote an essay on his blog about God, Christmas, and their discontents called And God Rolled His Eyes. He finds the right balance, I think, between the two often ridiculous sides in our annual holiday culture war.

Cities in Amber

If a place is frozen in time, how many years have to pass before it can fairly be called reactionary?

I lived in the Midwest in the mid-1990s. (Iowa City, in case you’re interested. Nice town. Not what most people on the coasts imagine when they think of Iowa. Kurt Vonnegut lived, wrote, and taught there for a while.)

Several of my left-liberal friends liked to make fun of Muncie, Indiana (a city which I have to admit I never visited) because it was supposedly stuck in the 50s. Maybe what they said was true, and maybe it wasn’t. I don’t know because, like I said, I never went there. But if it really was stuck in the 50s at the laughably late date of the mid-1990s I think it would qualify as reactionary. Four decades out of date is long enough. It’s longer than I’ve been alive.

Dr. Frank is reading The Voice of Guns, a book about the Symbionese Liberation Army, published in 1977. (I actually know one of the members of the SLA because I inadvertantly hired him.)

Frank cites an excerpt that describes the decade-old time warp that Berkeley was back in the 1970s. He says, and I agree with him, that Berkeley still hasn’t changed. (I have been to Berkeley recently, so I think I can say this.)

Berkeley is the ghost town of the Movement, the morgue of the New Left. It is a city dominated by the huge University of California Berkeley campus; a college town uniquely caught up in its own peculiar atmosphere in which swift, turbulent currents of the sixties still swirl, settling well outside the American mainstream. Once the premier capital of the counterculture, Berkeley is still mecca for those seeking to discover or re-create the angry, hopeful anarchism that surged across the nation in the youthful rebellion of the last decade…

Here the Revolution never failed, it merely fell into limbo… Among themselves, they created a time warp, an enchanted-village effect in which much of what constitutes time seems frozen in 1969.

I think it’s time we stop thinking of Berkeley as progressive and designate it reactionary instead. It’s the Muncie, Indiana (assuming the old Muncie really was the old Muncie) of our time. Four decades out of date is long enough. It’s longer than I’ve been alive.

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