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Interview with Roger L. Simon

Roger L. Simon is one of my favorite bloggers. One reason is because he’s a friend, and another is because he probably agrees with me more than anyone else. So okay, I’m biased. But there you have it.

He says he’s the only American writer he knows of to be written about favorably by both Mother Jones and National Review. Could very well be. Here’s his profile and interview on NR. Everyone who reads my blog ought to be reading his. He’s like a more famous older brother.

My Other Roommates

Okay, I’ve finally given in after a year and a half. It’s pet blogging time. (With apologies to dog people.)

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Here is our cat Milo. He doesn’t have a job, so all he really does is lay around and complain. Good thing for him that he’s cute.

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And here in the pond behind the house is where our four little fishes live, two koi and two goldfish. They don’t care too much for our two cats.

This yard, by the way, was only a sad-looking patch of grass when we bought the house. Since then my wife turned it into her largest-ever art project.

Tilting at Science

Michael Crowly writes in The New Republic about how America is rapidly falling behind the curve in a key sector of biotechnology.

Last month, The Boston Globe published a science article, datelined from far away Brno, Czech Republic, that carried political implications for the Bush administration much closer to home. Surveying research laboratories around the world–including one in tiny Brno–the Globe found that embryonic stem cell research has blazed ahead in foreign countries since George W. Bush cut off federal funding for such efforts in the U.S nearly three years ago. According to the Globe, foreign scientists have developed nearly 100 new embryonic stem cell lines since Bush announced his policy in August 2001. That confirms one warning Bush’s critics issued at the time: that embryonic stem cell research would continue rapidly with or without U.S. sanction, and that Bush’s policy would make America–which has already been losing its scientific hegemony in other areas–a bystander in a vanguard field.

America most likely will benefit from the “wicked” stem cell research in the Czech Republic. In the era of globalization, there will be no keeping out biotech products unless religious conservatives somehow manage to pull a European-style freakout and ban them outright.

Virginia Postrel wrote about this phenomenon in The Future and Its Enemies. She divided people into two groups — dynamists and stasists. Dynamists are classically liberal, open, and tolerant. Most important, they aren’t control freaks. They let others do as they will, permitting creativity and innovation to flourish. Dynamic societies are vastly more successful than closed static societies. (You could say, although she did not because her book is too old, that the Terror War is an epic confrontation between dynamism and stasism.)

There are two kinds of stasists: technocrats and reactionaries. Communists are the ultimate technocrats. They are progressive rather than reactionary, but they insist on managing every last aspect of progress in the most controlling way possible. The Taliban were their evil opposite twins, resisting any and every sort of progress whatsoever.

This isn’t a partisan thing. There are right-wing technocrats, too. You could say Chile’s Augusto Pinochet was one of those. Left-wing reactionaries aren’t too hard to find. Look no further than Europe’s hysterical fear of genetically-modified food.

As far as the religious conservative objection to funding stem cell research, there might be a moral justification for it, but that doesn’t make it any less reactionary. The United States is arguably the most dynamic society on earth. Banning or restricting research and development of anything that isn’t unquestionably harmful goes against the American grain. We became great by unleashing freedom and creativity, not by restricting it, and not by sponging off the labor of more dynamic foreigners.

American conservatives can tilt at the supposed immorality of stem cell research if they really feel like they must, but it won’t change much from any perspective they care about. They can’t stop it, not really. It only means the Czechs or someone else will lead the way and export the results of their labor to us. America will benefit from the research and the products one way or another, at least in a strictly consumerist sense, but the Czechs will benefit more if we hand them that industry. The Bush Administration’s position amounts to little more than moralistic posturing and should be rescinded at once.

A Glass Half Full

Tonight (Tuesday) is one of those evenings where I don’t have time to write much, but I would like to highlight this from Andrew Sullivan.

If someone had said in February 2003, that by June 2004, Saddam Hussein would have been removed from power and captured; that a diverse new government, including Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, would be installed; that elections would be scheduled for January 2005; and that the liberation of a devastated country of 25 million in which everyone owns an AK-47 had been accomplished with an army of around 140,000 with a total casualty rate (including accidents and friendly fire) of around 800; that no oil fields had been set aflame; no WMDs had been used; no mass refugee crises had emerged; and no civil war had broken out… well, I think you would come to the conclusion that the war had been an extraordinary success.

I don’t want to pretend there aren’t any problems. There were always going to be problems in Iraq no matter what we did, whether we invaded or not, whether we invaded and occupied differently or not. But the fact that there are problems (which, again, was inevitable) doesn’t mean the project flopped. Imperfection isn’t evidence of failure, and it never has been.

Iraq is a better place this year than it was last year. If Iraq is better off next year than it is right now, it will be nice if the media notice. Anyway, if they won’t I will.

Matching Donations

One of my readers who goes by the handle spc67 offered to match donations (up to a maximum of 1,000 dollars) from others on this site who donate to the Spirit of America to help the people of Iraq. (See the next post down.) C.O.O. Marc Danziger says he’ll let me know how much money this site raises. So pitch in. Your contribution will be doubled.

I just donated 50 dollars. If anyone donates 100 dollars, let me know and I’ll pitch in another 50.

UPDATE: I’m not sure if the logistics for keeping track of this are in place yet. So if you donate, at least for now, please note the amount in the comments. Thanks all.

SECOND UPDATE: This site has already raised 3,000 dollars. See the comments. Wow. THANK YOU.

Spirit of America

Winds of Change blogger Armed Liberal finally came out of psuedoanonymity – his real name is Marc Danziger – because he’s the new C.O.O. of Sprit of America.

I’m teaming up with Marc, Jeff Jarvis, Roger L. Simon, and some others in a drive to give Spirit of America a boost.

Jim Hake, who started SofA, has already raised one and a half million dollars to help Iraqis out. Help give him (and them) another cool million and a half. Some people died to put Saddam Hussein in that cage and clear the way for projects like this one. I think you can spare 20 bucks.

For those of us who pushed for an invasion of Iraq to help transform the Middle East, it’s time to put our money where our mouths have been.

The Poem of Force

While we’re on the subject of movies, Victor Davis Hanson pens a review of Wolfgang Peterson’s new movie The Iliad – er Troy – on his blog. I read The Iliad, but only once and long ago in my college daze. Victor Davis Hanson, as you probably already know, is a military historian and a Classics professor. He is far more competent than I to comment.

(I do suggest bookmarking his blog while you’re over there.)

UPDATE: It looks like Honora Howell Chapman was the one who wrote that piece, not VDH. But it’s on his site, and no less worth reading. She, too, is a classicist at California State University-Fresno, where Hanson teaches.

The Weather Movie

Saw The Day After Tomorrow. You know, the weather movie. Global warming cooks up Antarctica which melts fresh water ice into the ocean causing a breakdown in the salinity level which makes the North Atlantic current to go all out of whack. Then these big huge hurricane-looking superstorms pound the Northern Hemisphere and suck cold cold cold air from the top of the troposphere down into places like France and Manhattan. It was, as Matt Welch put it in his five-word review, utter horseshit but damned entertaining.

This is one of those movies where the characters are every bit as dumb as the director.

Manhattan is suddenly submerged beneath fifty feet of water, right? (This just suddenly happens for no particular reason.) And a bunch of people hide in an upstairs floor of the New York Public Library. Then 20 minutes later the ocean freezes solid and a blizzard dumps a foot of snow on it. Okay, I’m thinking. That’s total crap. I’m no climatologist, but I did live in the Midwest for a few years and I know how long it takes moving water to freeze — and we’re not talking 20 minutes.

So then everyone in the library gets a bright idea. Hey! We can walk out of here now that the ocean is frozen. The hotshot kid of a bad-ass climatologist says “Wait!” (This is only an approximate quote.) “We’ll freeze to death if we go out there.”

A bespectacled man looks at the kid and asks, “Where did you get that information?”

And I’m thinking, dude. The ocean just froze solid in 20 minutes. It’s freakin’ cold outside.

The whole movie is like that.

And throughout the whole movie I couldn’t help but think how Western-centric it was. I wanted to know what was going on in South America. And what about the Equator? Was it hotter or colder than it’s supposed to be? Was everything peachy in Peru? Was it raining llamas? Or what? There were token scenes of minor weather anomolies in India and Japan – nothing I haven’t actually seen for myself in the Midwest, including the big whopping hail stones. (I lost my windshield to a fist-sized hailstone in July, and the same storm produced one thirteen inches across that was found on a neighbor’s lawn.) Other than the token scenes in Asia, almost everything happened in the US. We saw a little bit of Europe. It wasn’t obnoxiously Western-centric, but enough for me to notice.

Then at the end of the movie the suddenly “enlightened” Dick Cheney character had the audacity to lecture me about how Western-centric we are. That just about killed me.

Fun movie, though.

25 Years Versus a Month

Former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was stripped of his immunity from prosecution for mass murder, torture, and other crimes against humanity. He may face a trial after all, but we really don’t know. The Chilean Supreme Court has previously said Pinochet suffers from dementia and therefore is unfit to stand trial.

You don’t need to be a shrink to come up with that diagnosis. A dictator who turns a sports stadium into a concentration camp to torture and warehouse his political opponents obviously is demented.

Randy Paul has a great post up on his blog Beautiful Horizons. He cites this excellent excerpt by Dennis Roddy.

In power, Pinochet oversaw the murders of enemies real and imagined. One of them was Ronni Karpen Moffitt. Her offense was to sit alongside an exiled Chilean diplomat, Orlando Letelier, as they rode to work at a liberal think tank in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 21, 1976.

The car exploded.

Letelier was torn in half. Michael Moffitt, Ronni’s husband, was hurled out a rear door. Flying metal slashed open an artery in Ronni Moffitt’s neck. She drowned in her own blood on the streets of the western hemisphere’s oldest democracy, killed by the men who had overthrown its second-oldest.

It’s hard to improve on that, so I won’t even try.

Marc Cooper lived in Chile and worked for the Allende government when it was overthrown on (yes) September 11, 1973. (You can read all about it in what he calls his Chilean anti-memoir Pinochet and Me.) He was lucky to get out alive. Many of his personal friends were captured, tortured, and killed.

Marc (barely) lived through one of Chile’s darkest times. He’s written long and well about it. Comparing what that country went through and what we’re currently going through over Abu Ghraib he concluded:

[A]s testimony to the virtues of an open society, our response (with all its flaws) has been light years ahead of the Chilean reaction. What we have been debating the last month is what took the Chileans 25 years to achieve.

Go read the rest to see what he’s getting at. It’s important. (No, he’s not saying what happened in that prison is as bad as what happened in Chile. It isn’t.)

Torture

Click here if you want to see video of the Baath Party’s method of political science put into practice.

Warning: This is violent and sadistic. I am not linking to this for your amusement. This video is not for everybody. Some people need to see this. Most probably don’t.

Thanks (I think) to Andrew Apostolou.

Fisking Pat Buchanan

Pat Buchanan is being an ass again.

Fisking him may be, as Gerard Van der Leun likes to put it, one of those Fish. Barrel. Bang! type of deals. But still it’s something that needs to be done every couple of months to reduce the asininity quotient in American letters by an iota.

So here we go.

Pitchfork Pat has a new piece up at antiwar.com called What Does America Offer the World?

So, how do we advance the cause of female emancipation in the Muslim world?” asks Richard Perle in An End to Evil. He replies, “We need to remind the women of Islam ceaselessly: Our enemies are the same as theirs; our victory will be theirs as well.”

Well, the neoconservative cause “of female emancipation in the Muslim world” was probably set back a bit by the photo shoot of Pfc. Lynndie England and the “Girls Gone Wild” of Abu Ghraib prison.

He’s probably right about the setback. But it’s funny he bills female emancipation in the Muslim world as “neoconservative.” Not that it’s totally wrong, mind you. The neocons are all for it. But there are plenty of people who think of themselves as liberals, feminists, independents, centrists, and just plain old conservatives (not of the old right variety like Pat) who think female emancipation in the Middle East is a cause worth supporting. Last I checked, the neocon cabal wasn’t the only crowd that thinks a burkha is just another kind of ankle iron.

Indeed, the filmed orgies among U.S. military police outside the cells of Iraqi prisoners, the S&M humiliation of Muslim men, and the sexual torment of Muslim women raise a question. Exactly what are the “values” the West has to teach the Islamic world?

How, exactly, does the prison abuse raise that question?

I recall Pat Buchanan arguing on television (I forget which show) with Mona Charen about torture. Pat favored it, in the abstract. I’m glad to see he’s opposed to what happened at Abu Ghraib. If even pro-torture Pat is against it, clearly it’s over the line by our standards.

The abuse has not a thing to do with Western values. None. Zip. Nada. Zilch. Zero.

“This war … is about — deeply about — sex,” declaims neocon Charles Krauthammer. Militant Islam is “threatened by the West because of our twin doctrines of equality and sexual liberation.”

But whose “twin doctrines” is Krauthammer talking about? The sexual liberation he calls “our” doctrine belongs to a ’60s revolution that devout Christians, Jews and Muslims have been resisting for years.

Sexual emancipation is our doctrine. I couldn’t care less that he and his old-right reactionary pals here and in the Middle East haven’t even caught up to the sixties yet. The radical left may be stuck in the 60s, but geez, at least they got there. Maybe he just needs to accept that he’s a museum piece like the burkha will be some day.

What does Krauthammer mean by sexual liberation? The right of “tweens” and teenage girls to dress and behave like Britney Spears? Their right to condoms in junior high? Their right to abortion without parental consent?

We all know what sexual emancipation means. There’s no point in playing dumb. It means women and men are equal under the law and in society. It’s lower-case-f feminism, something the Middle East desperately, urgently needs. Charles Krauthammer isn’t agitating for condoms in schools in Riyadh. And neither is anyone else.

If conservatives reject the “equality” preached by Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, NARAL and the National Organization for Women, why seek to impose it on the Islamic world? Why not stand beside Islam, and against Hollywood and Hillary?

Pat Buchanan thinks he has more in common with Middle Eastern sexual apartheid practitioners than he has with Hillary Clinton. Well, Pat, I’ll just have to take your word for it. And the next time I hear mention of the “Taliban wing” of the Republican Party, I might have to let the comment pass without a rebuttal.

In June 2002 at West Point, President Bush said, “Moral truth is the same in every culture, in every time and in every place.”

But even John Kerry does not agree with George Bush on the morality of homosexual unions and stem cell research. On such issues, conservative Americans have more in common with devout Muslims than with liberal Democrats.

I guess that’s true, too. Then again, gay people in the Middle East are tortured and executed. It’s a good thing for Pat that he only aligned himself with them on the issue of homosexual unions.

The president notwithstanding, Americans no longer agree on what is moral truth. For as someone said a few years back, there is a cultural war going on in this country, a religious war. It is about who we are, what we believe and what we stand for as a people.

Does Pat mean to say there is no such thing as Western values despite our arguments about the finer points? Or does he say that he doesn’t believe in them himself? I really don’t know because he really doesn’t say. Either way, that isn’t so good for him. Most of us have a notion of what Western values are, and most of us aren’t too cool with those who reject or don’t believe in them.

What some of us view as the moral descent of a great and godly republic into imperial decadence, neocons see as their big chance to rule the world.

Take out the word “godly” and Pat Buchanan sounds like a tin-foil hat leftist. Let me know when someone floats a bill to annex Iraq and I’ll change my mind about our “imperial” decadence.

In Georgia recently, the president declared to great applause: “I can’t tell you how proud I am of our commitment to values. … That commitment to values is going to be an integral part of our foreign policy as we move forward. These aren’t American values, these are universal values. Values that speak universal truths.”

But what universal values is he talking about? If he intends to impose the values of MTV America on the Muslim world in the name of a “world democratic revolution,” he will provoke and incite a war of civilizations America cannot win because Americans do not want to fight it. This may be the neocons’ war. It is not our war.

Everyone, and I mean everyone including Pat Buchahan, knows George W. Bush isn’t thinking of MTV when he talks about values and freedom, especially when he mentions “universal” values. He isn’t referring to the right-wing opposition to stem-cell research, and he certainly isn’t talking about left-wing bra-burners.

It may not be true that everyone in this world wants to be free. But you can’t find a single country ruled by a despot where everyone loves their chains. It just doesn’t happen. The desire for freedom is universal in that sense.

When Bush speaks of freedom as God’s gift to humanity, does he mean the First Amendment freedom of Larry Flynt to produce pornography and of Salman Rushdie to publish The Satanic Verses, a book considered blasphemous to the Islamic faith? If the Islamic world rejects this notion of freedom, why is it our duty to change their thinking? Why are they wrong?

Now that is just astonishing. A tyrannical fascist regime in Iran orders the execution of a novelist in Britain. Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini sent death squads after a man who had never even been to Iran. And Pat Buchanan wants to know why that’s wrong.

It seems to me it ought to be self-evident to a man who writes books that it’s not cool if you’re executed by a foreign government because it doesn’t like what you’ve written. But I guess it isn’t self-evident if you’re a religious nutjob who can’t get past the word blasphemy.

When the president speaks of freedom, does he mean the First Amendment prohibition against our children reading the Bible and being taught the Ten Commandments in school?

I certainly hope so. Bibles and Korans can be read after school. Shuttering the radical Islamic madrassas would do more to stop terrorism than anything else I can think of.

If the president wishes to fight a moral crusade, he should know the enemy is inside the gates. The great moral and cultural threats to our civilization come not from outside America, but from within. We have met the enemy, and he is us. The war for the soul of America is not going to be lost or won in Fallujah.

Unfortunately, Pagan America of 2004 has far less to offer the world in cultural fare than did Christian America of 1954. Many of the movies, books, magazines, TV shows, videos and much of the music we export to the world are as poisonous as the narcotics the Royal Navy forced on the Chinese people in the Opium Wars.

A society that accepts the killing of a third of its babies as women’s “emancipation,” that considers homosexual marriage to be social progress, that hands out contraceptives to 13-year-old girls at junior high ought to be seeking out a confessional — better yet, an exorcist — rather than striding into a pulpit like Elmer Gantry to lecture mankind on the superiority of “American values.” [Emphasis added]

Here is where the wave of Pat Buchanan’s idiotarianism crests: He actually used the language of the left to say people like me are possessed by the devil.

I do what I can to combine the best of the left and the right. No one does better than Pat Buchanan in fusing the worst of both into a unifying and idiotic morass.

(Hat tip: Mike Nargizian via email.)

Hanging with Capt. Abby

I’m happy to report the troll fumugation program is going well. The comments are not only a lot more civil, but more engaging. I’m learning from my own commentariat again.

Yesterday a certain person said we war hawks really need to learn more about Arabs. I’ve been reading piles of books about the Middle East for years now, I’m currently trying to learn the Arabic language (boy, is it hard), and I’m going to that part of the world myself in couple of weeks. Perhaps I can be excused for thinking such a charge is arrogant nonsense.

Anyway, one commenter who goes by TmjUtah posted a terrific response that’s also a great story. The reason I took action to save the comments is because I love reading great posts like this one that get published, almost by magic, while I am sleeping.

I spent two weeks in Jordan, back in the eighties.

Since their artillery practice happens from hardpads with known locations and aiming posts set in concrete, surveyors didn’t have much to do. I ended up being the liasion NCO for our Host Officer. Nice guy, told us to call him Capt. Abby. He and his sergeant/bodyguard hosted us at the Amman/Baghdad truck terminal souk one evening. It was an excellent experience, and renewed my parents’ lessons for me while growing up: you cannot hate people in groups.

See, after burying my best friend after Beirut, my intended goal for any liberty time in Jordan was to catch an Arab or two in any convenient alley and gut them like fish. I had a lot of hate back then, and Capt. Abby caught the vibe. Of course I was properly respectful for our guest (superior rank, royalty, host, and all that) but there’s a difference between formal and agreeable.

Anyway, after listening to the truck driver’s and sheepherder’s songs and poems about life, dreams, family, and tribe over coffee (sloppy full cups) and the strongest tobacco I’ve ever smoked, I got the strangest feeling these boys could fit in at the Penwell Truck Terminal at the end of a long day…just they wouldn’t be drinking any Coors.

I believe that people are just people. Each man makes calls and every man is responsible for choosing his path. Without my experience driving that Jordanian around I would have been one of those people wanting to see the mideast east of Israel turned to glass.

I also believe that the conflict before us is one that is unavoidable; we are not consciously committed to ending Islam but our very existence ensures the death of the religion because societies that embrace it cannot compete with western, capitalist societies. They are the ones who adopted jihad.

Anyway, that was many years ago. I have read the Koran three or four times by now…read commentaries, learned the timeline of the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and the yeast tray explosion of that creed through the Arab mideast. We have a muslim center up in Salt Lake; I’ve spoken with imams there more than once since 9/11.

CAIR is the Sein Feinn of al Qaeda. No more, no less.

These days I’m just trying to keep up with the world and decide what to do with myself since I don’t survey any more. Capt. Abby got promoted out of zone, and now runs Jordan as King Abdullah.

Don’t tell me I need to know more about Arabs. Thanks.

Missing Iraq

Iraqi blogger Omar posts a photo gallery from a couple of places in Baghdad.

He also has the best photos of marsh reed huts I’ve ever seen. The huts are brand-new, made from nothing but reeds. Saddam dammed up the marshes in Southern Iraq and set them on fire. The smoke could be seen from the space shuttle Endeavor. Now that the ecosystem is being restored, the Marsh Arabs are moving back in.

Some of these places in Iraq are pretty nice. Omar’s photos make Baghdad look like a completely normal city. In many ways, I’m sure it is. Suicide bombs aren’t a constant on every block – or on any block for that matter. Most people and buildings will never be bombed. Perusing these photos makes me wistfully wish I were there.

My worst kept secret is that I was planning to go to Iraq in December. I am very sorry to say that I have put that on hold. I’m a little bit brave, but not that brave. Not right now, anyway. Since foreigners from several different countries have been kidnapped and executed — some of them on camera – I’ve decided I’d better go later.

I really do want to visit. I want to talk to people and ask how they’re doing. I want to breathe the free air of Baghdad. I want to see a ruined country reborn. I want to report back and let everyone know how it’s going.

The United States is not attacking Iraq. The United States is defending Iraq. That would be something to see. It would really be something to write about.

In the meantime, I have other plans. Libya is first on the list. I finally reached a breakthrough in the painstaking process of getting a visa today. I’ll be there in five weeks, Inshallah.

New Column

Here’s a new Tech Central Station column from me where I take a swing at everyone’s favorite punching bag: the media. Spinning for Al Qaeda.

Winds of Change

Tossing Saddam in the slammer keeps yielding intended benefits.

TUNIS (Reuters) – Arab governments, responding to a U.S. campaign for Arab democracy, have promised to carry out political and social reforms in an oil-rich region which includes some of the world’s most repressive rulers.

In documents read out at the end of a two-day Arab summit in Tunis on Sunday, the 22 Arab League members promised to promote democracy, expand popular participation in politics and public affairs, reinforce women’s rights and expand civil society.

Now, you can count me among those who are awfully skeptical that this crowd is serious.

What’s important here is they feel they need to at least give freedom and democracy some lip service. They absolutely are on the wrong side of history. And they know it. The days of maintaining their rank political slums are numbered one way or another.

Yeah, it’s probably all talk at this point. And talk is cheap, especially if you live in a police state and the best you get from your thug-in-chief is some posturing.

But think about it this way. Imagine how you would feel about the prospects for life as we know it if we felt so much pressure from the jihad that North American and European governments got together and promised to implement Islamic law “reforms,” even if the promise was only an empty one. You’d be right to say we were losing. And you’d be right to say it’s a direct result of the violence against us and has little to do with diplomacy.

(Hat tip: Instapundit)

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