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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Government Prayer

The Government is my shepherd, I need no work.

It allows me to lie down on good jobs. It leadeth me beside still factories.

It destroyeth my incentive. It leadeth me in the path of the parasite for politic's sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of laziness and deficit spending, I'll fear no evil.

For the Government, it's dole and it's vote getters they comfort me.

It prepareth an economic utopia for me by appropriating the earnings of my grandchildren.

It filleth my head with baloney. My inefficiency runneth over.

Surely the Government shall care for me all the days of my life.

And I shall dwell in a fool's paradise forever and ever and ever....

--author unknown

Our Principle Enemies

Roger L. Simon calls on conservatives and sort-of-conservatives to unite against Hillary Clinton, whom he labels as "the Principle Enemy."
And, whether they know it or not, Republicans, conservatives, libertarians, center-right folks, all those who favor smaller government and increased freedom, do have a principal enemy. But, surprisingly, it’s no longer Barack Obama. He is over. He was already a lame duck when Obamacare plucked most of his remaining feathers. The damage he can do may still be serious, but most of it will be reparable.

The principal enemy for the right and the center-right is now Hillary Clinton, the vastly favored frontrunner for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. She is so far in front, in fact, that her competitors are not even in hailing distance. Hillary is the one who can consolidate and solidify the “gains” of the Obama era in a way Obama himself never could because she is much more politically savvy — Obama was only savvy about getting elected, not governing — and has the backing of her even more politically savvy husband. Hillary is the one who can fully remake the United States into some version of Western Europe or, yet more frighteningly, China, a permanently stratified state capitalism governed by quasi-totalitarian bureaucrats. (We can call this system Soros Marxism, meaning a ruling clique of increasingly rich corporate czars employing a propagandistic veneer of socialist equality to keep the power and wealth for themselves.)
Calling her a Soros Marxist is, in itself, a revealing fact--that behind people like Obama and Clinton are other wealthy and powerful people that prosper through the crony-capitalism (or Soros Marxism, if you prefer). The problem, which Simon ignores, is that the RINOs are beholden to (or at least, smitten by) the Soros Marxists.

So, which way forward? Try and get the RINOs to act against their selfish interests, or try to replace the RINOs with people that actually represent their constituencies? The past several elections cycles have suggested that, left to their own devices, the RINOs will not select anyone to run for President that is capable of winning against even a moderately charismatic Democrat. The past several years have also shown that the RINOs will immediately run to their masters (the Democrats) if for any reason they do not fear for their jobs. I do not see cooperating with RINOs as a winning strategy.

I also think the Benghazi incident will come back to bite Hillary, no matter how much the New York Times tries to revise history. As Andrew Klavan writes:
But my question to the New York Times is this: What difference does it make?
Either the incompetent Mrs. Clinton engaged in a shameful cover-up of the truth or she shamefully sold out our values for the values of murderous scum. If the attack was committed by terrorists and she knew it, she’s a liar. If the murderers killed because someone insulted their filthy and violent creed with a video, she’s a collaborator with evil. Disgusting in either case.
 This needs to be hammered home over and over again. Will it matter to the die hard Democrats? No. Like ardent Nazis, they will support their leaders to the bitter end. But it will make it extremely difficult for the RINOs to provide tacit support for Hillary.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Stuck in the Ice

I was going to write about the ship carrying global warming fanatics that got stuck in the ice down near Antarctica (it is summer down there!); and are having to be rescued by helicopter since multiple ice breakers haven't been able to reach the ship. However, the DiploMad has done a better job than I could do, so just go there and partake of his wisdom and wit on the topic.

Repeating the Past?


Yet the parallels remain troubling. The United States is Britain, the superpower on the wane, unable to guarantee global security. Its main trading partner, China, plays the part of Germany, a new economic power bristling with nationalist indignation and building up its armed forces rapidly. Modern Japan is France, an ally of the retreating hegemon and a declining regional power. The parallels are not exact—China lacks the Kaiser’s territorial ambitions and America’s defence budget is far more impressive than imperial Britain’s—but they are close enough for the world to be on its guard.

Which, by and large, it is not. The most troubling similarity between 1914 and now is complacency. Businesspeople today are like businesspeople then: too busy making money to notice the serpents flickering at the bottom of their trading screens. Politicians are playing with nationalism just as they did 100 years ago. China’s leaders whip up Japanophobia, using it as cover for economic reforms, while Shinzo Abe stirs Japanese nationalism for similar reasons. India may next year elect Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist who refuses to atone for a pogrom against Muslims in the state he runs and who would have his finger on the button of a potential nuclear conflict with his Muslim neighbours in Pakistan. Vladimir Putin has been content to watch Syria rip itself apart. And the European Union, which came together in reaction to the bloodshed of the 20th century, is looking more fractious and riven by incipient nationalism than at any point since its formation.
I think the parallels are deeper than the author would admit. China has colonial ambitions and a yearning to become the dominant regional, if not world, power that equals or exceeds pre-WWI Germany. And, just as Germany aligned itself with a fading world power--the Austrian-Hungarian Empire--China is seeking closer ties with Russia.

NSA Exposé

Speigel Online has a couple articles on the NSA.

First, this article on the NSA's TSO hacking unit:

... the Office of Tailored Access Operations, or TAO. This is the NSA's top operative unit -- something like a squad of plumbers that can be called in when normal access to a target is blocked.

According to internal NSA documents viewed by SPIEGEL, these on-call digital plumbers are involved in many sensitive operations conducted by American intelligence agencies. TAO's area of operations ranges from counterterrorism to cyber attacks to traditional espionage. The documents reveal just how diversified the tools at TAO's disposal have become -- and also how it exploits the technical weaknesses of the IT industry, from Microsoft to Cisco and Huawei, to carry out its discreet and efficient attacks.
The article indicates that the Agency also uses more prosaic methods:

Take, for example, when they intercept shipping deliveries. If a target person, agency or company orders a new computer or related accessories, for example, TAO can divert the shipping delivery to its own secret workshops. The NSA calls this method interdiction. At these so-called "load stations," agents carefully open the package in order to load malware onto the electronics, or even install hardware components that can provide backdoor access for the intelligence agencies. All subsequent steps can then be conducted from the comfort of a remote computer.

These minor disruptions in the parcel shipping business rank among the "most productive operations" conducted by the NSA hackers, one top secret document relates in enthusiastic terms. This method, the presentation continues, allows TAO to obtain access to networks "around the world."

Even in the Internet Age, some traditional spying methods continue to live on.
 Second, in an accompanying article, Speigel describes the work of another NSA department--the Access (or Advanced) Network Technology (ANT):

These NSA agents, who specialize in secret back doors, are able to keep an eye on all levels of our digital lives -- from computing centers to individual computers, and from laptops to mobile phones. For nearly every lock, ANT seems to have a key in its toolbox. And no matter what walls companies erect, the NSA's specialists seem already to have gotten past them.

This, at least, is the impression gained from flipping through the 50-page document. The list reads like a mail-order catalog, one from which other NSA employees can order technologies from the ANT division for tapping their targets' data. The catalog even lists the prices for these electronic break-in tools, with costs ranging from free to $250,000.

In the case of Juniper, the name of this particular digital lock pick is "FEEDTROUGH." This malware burrows into Juniper firewalls and makes it possible to smuggle other NSA programs into mainframe computers. Thanks to FEEDTROUGH, these implants can, by design, even survive "across reboots and software upgrades." In this way, US government spies can secure themselves a permanent presence in computer networks. The catalog states that FEEDTROUGH "has been deployed on many target platforms."
 After describing some of the hardware devices listed, the author also observes:

The ANT division doesn't just manufacture surveillance hardware. It also develops software for special tasks. The ANT developers have a clear preference for planting their malicious code in so-called BIOS, software located on a computer's motherboard that is the first thing to load when a computer is turned on.

This has a number of valuable advantages: an infected PC or server appears to be functioning normally, so the infection remains invisible to virus protection and other security programs. And even if the hard drive of an infected computer has been completely erased and a new operating system is installed, the ANT malware can continue to function and ensures that new spyware can once again be loaded onto what is presumed to be a clean computer. The ANT developers call this "Persistence" and believe this approach has provided them with the possibility of permanent access.

Another program attacks the firmware in hard drives manufactured by Western Digital, Seagate, Maxtor and Samsung, all of which, with the exception of the latter, are American companies. Here, too, it appears the US intelligence agency is compromising the technology and products of American companies.

Other ANT programs target Internet routers meant for professional use or hardware firewalls intended to protect company networks from online attacks. Many digital attack weapons are "remotely installable" -- in other words, over the Internet. Others require a direct attack on an end-user device -- an "interdiction," as it is known in NSA jargon -- in order to install malware or bugging equipment.
Read both of the articles.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Confirmed--Obama Worst President Ever

http://www.coyoteblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/bad-chart-example.gif

The graph above shows economic growth in GDP for Obama and past presidents. See the "hockey stick" shape for Obama? We know what the "hockey stick," pointing the other direction means for global warming, so we know what it means for Obama.

(Actually, the purpose of the graph is to show how misleading graphs of global temperature can be. Read more at the Coyote Blog).

Sowing Confusion

So-called "liberals" like to think that they are better than everyone else--especially the nasty "conservatives"--that they have to twist the truth on the most basic of things.

CJ Werlman writes at Alter Net that conservatives are Biblically illiterate. To illustrate his point, he cites a statistic stating that 95% of American homes have a Bible, then other polls showing that Americans (including high school students) have a poor understanding of certain topics in the Bible. From this, he makes the logic defying leap that, ipso facto, conservatives don't know what is in the Bible. Yet another example of how so-called "liberals" couldn't produce a syllogism to save their miserable, puny lives.

Werlman goes on to argue that "[i]t’s almost absurd to speculate what Jesus’ positions would be on any single issue, given we know so little about who Jesus was." That doesn't stop Werlman, though. He writes:
The truth, whether Republicans like it or not, is not only that Jesus a meek and mild liberal Jew who spoke softly in parables and metaphors, but conservatives were the ones who had him killed. American conservatives, however, have morphed Jesus into a muscular masculine warrior, in much the same way the Nazis did, as a means of combating what they see as the modernization of society.
So suddenly we have leaped from "the right-wing" and "conservative" to the Republican party, which contains the likes of John McCain. And this is a great one: "Jesus [was] a meek and mild liberal Jew...." Well, he wasn't "liberal" in the modern sense of the word, which is used to describe statist socialists and tyrants. Given the changes in political philosophy over the intervening centuries, it is shear stupidity to attempt to cast Jesus into any current political climate. However, we can look at some of his characteristics, traits and teachings:

He hated corruption and hypocrisy--this is the same person that overthrew the money-changers tables in the temple, driving the money-changers out with a whip, and was pointing out the hypocrisy of the various religious groups. The Tea-Party was formed to fight corruption and hypocrisy in our government and its officials.

He honored and taught charity, but only when given from a sense of love, and not to gain the favor of others. He noted that those who gave publicly where rewarded publicly, while those that gave privately were rewarded by God. Statistics show conservatives give more often and more generously to charities than "liberals."

Christ taught that the two great commandments were to love God with all your heart, might, mind and strength; and to love your neighbor as yourself. "Liberals" slight and dishonor God at every chance. Obama has been the most divisive president within memory. "Liberals" constantly mock and put down "conservatives" and those in the Tea Party, even using sexually crude terms to describe members of the Tea Party. Liberals persecute Christians for expressing their beliefs. Liberals relish in tyranny and persecution, whether it was the Nazi party, the KKK, or the Bilderberg group.

Christ hated sin, but was willing to forgive the sinner. For instance, when he saved a prostitute from being stoned, he did not praise her for her brave choice of careers, or exhibiting her sexual freedom, but told her to go and sin no more. He constantly warned of those that would preach "eat, drink and be merry" and that it was okay to commit a little sin. He taught that there would be many that would cry "Lord, lord," that would be rejected. Liberals extol sin and perversion as something to be looked up to and experienced as part of a full life.

Christ taught love toward the little children, and that such are of the kingdom of heaven. "Liberals" teach that it is okay to kill unborn children. Liberals also have fewer children than those of strong religious faiths. San Francisco, probably one of the most liberal cities in the world, is quickly becoming devoid of children.

Christ taught he was the son of God. "Liberals" deny his divinity.

Werlman also describes Christ  as a "brown-skinned liberal Jew, who gave away free healthcare and was pro-redistributing wealth." Actually, no-where does Christ give away free healthcare. He performed miracles of healing, but we read nothing of Luke, for instance, being told to provide healthcare for free. In fact, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, the Samaritan paid for the injured man's health care--he didn't expect the tavern owner to provide it for free. Also, Christ was "pro-redistributing wealth" through voluntary acts of charity. When the rich young man came to Christ, and Christ told him to sell all he had and give to the poor, Christ let the man leave sorrowing--He didn't hold a sword to the man's neck and demand that he give over a portion of his wealth to the poor.

Whether they know what the Bible says, liberals do not understand what it says, and they certainly don't believe it. I don't know what modern political grouping or class Christ would identify with, if any,  but I know he wouldn't be a "liberal."

Better Than Romantic Love

Dalrock has a post about how men often have unrealistic expectations of love (and vice versa, I would add). But he makes an interesting observation:
... Romantic love (desire, passion) is to a large degree involuntary, and in its feral (modern) form is inherently fickle. This is a nearly universal misconception of our era, and if you don’t truly understand this you would do well to allow Rollo to thoroughly disabuse you of foolish modern notions of romantic love.

Where Rollo would be mistaken is if he is applying this statement to both romantic and other forms of love. If Rollo is saying that women aren’t capable of loving their husbands beyond their immediate feeling of sexual desire/infatuation, he is wrong.

Sadly this is far more rare than it should be in our present culture, but women loving their husbands on more than a pure opportunistic (romantic) level is still something you can observe. The easiest way to observe this is with older couples, where the wife is fiercely protective of her husband especially in an area where he has a weakness. This is different than a woman being infatuated with a man and being in fundamental denial of the man’s faults; in this case the wife will be both aware of the weakness and fiercely protective of her husband in this regard. While this is tragically not the norm, I see this with some regularity. One example which comes immediately to mind is a woman I spoke with a few months back who was talking about her husband’s recent diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis. They are in the process of building their dream home, and she switched effortlessly from describing how capable her husband is as a designer and builder to her concerns for his health and the need to build the new home to accommodate the possibility of him becoming confined to a wheelchair. Very often when when women speak of a husband’s infirmity there is at least a tinge of disgust or contempt in their tone, but in this case there was nothing but love and protectiveness.

If you haven’t witnessed this and wish to see it for yourself, pay attention when groups of middle aged and older wives are talking amongst themselves. Out of a group of say 10 wives, 8 or 9 of them are likely to be busy discussing the long list of faults they perceive in their husbands. However, look for the one or two who either remain silent or (occasionally) redirect the other women into a discussion of the positive aspects of their husbands. It will take more time, but if you pay attention to the 1 or 2 women not complaining about their husbands you will find that at least some of these women display the kind of fierce protectiveness of their husbands which I describe. If you or anyone else puts down their husband (even subtly), especially in an area where he has some real weakness, you will see a white hot flash of protective anger directed at the person who put her husband down. These same women take great pleasure in small and large acts of kindness aimed at bringing joy and comfort to their husbands. While the average wife sighs in self perceived victimhood while cooking or cleaning for her husband (or children), the loving wife (and mother) does these things with a distinct joy at the opportunity to serve and care for the ones they love.

While the love I’m describing is often (quite pleasantly) mingled with feelings of romantic love, this is more accurately described as familial love. In addition to their feelings of romantic love, these women love their husbands the way a woman should love her parents or her children. To these women marriage isn’t a mercenary vehicle to extract resources from men or a formal certification of her feelings of romantic love; to these women marriage is a declaration that her husband is her man, for better or for worse. Just as a woman who loves her father will be fiercely protective of him especially when his manly strength is failing, a wife who loves her husband as family will retain loving and protective feelings for him even in cases where his lack of strength is at odds with her hypergamy.
I have observed, or had my wife relate to me, both of these in my church. I look around, and it is sometimes easy to see those couples that are most in love--at least from the woman's perspective. The intense and devoted look when they look at their husbands versus other men; the casual and easy way that a woman will begin rubbing or scratching her husband's back or shoulders. I also hear from my wife of the litany of complaints that some women will make when speaking privately to other women. I don't hear the same from the men, but I don't know if it is because they are more satisfied with their marriages, or better at hiding it.

Changes are Afoot in Turkey


Turkey is coming apart. The Islamist coalition that crushed the secular military and political establishment–between Tayip Erdogan’s ruling AK Party and the Islamist movement around Fethullah Gulen–has cracked. The Gulenists, who predominate in the security forces, have arrested the sons of top government ministers for helping Iran to launder money and circumvent sanctions, and ten members of Erdogan’s cabinet have resigned. Turkey’s currency is in free fall, and that’s just the beginning of the country’s troubles: about two-fifths of corporate debt is in foreign currencies, so the cost of servicing it jumps whenever the Turkish lira declines. Turkish stocks have crashed (and were down another 5% in dollar terms in early trading Friday). As the charts below illustrate, so much for Turkey’s miracle economy.

Two years ago I predicted a Turkish economic crash. Erdogan’s much-vaunted economic miracle stemmed mainly from vast credit expansion to fuel an import boom, leaving the country with a current account deficit of 7 % of GDP (about the same as Greece before it went bankrupt) and a mushrooming pile of short-term foreign debt. The Gulf states kept financing Erdogan’s import bill, evidently because they wanted to keep a Sunni power in business as a counterweight to Iran; perhaps they have tired of Turkey’s double-dealing with the Persians. And credulous investors kept piling into Turkish stocks.
... No more. Turkey is a mediocre economy at best with a poorly educated workforce, no high-tech capacity, and shrinking markets in depressed Europe and the unstable Arab world. Its future might well be as an economic tributary of China, as the “New Silk Road” extends high-speed rail lines to the Bosporus.

... Turkey was not in line to become an economic power of any kind: it lacked the people and skills to do anything better than medium-tech manufacturing. Its Islamists never were democrats. Worst of all, its demographics are as bad as Europe’s. Ethnic Turks have a fertility rate close to 1.5 children per family, while the Kurdish minority is having 4 children per family. Within a generation half of Turkey’s young men will come from families where Kurdish is the first language.

He concludes:
 Now that Turkey is coming unstuck, along with Libya, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq, we should conclude that the entire project of bringing stability to the Muslim world was a hookah-dream to begin with. Except for the state of Israel and a couple of Sunni monarchies that survive by dint of their oil wealth, we are witnessing the unraveling of the Middle East. The best we can do is to insulate ourselves from the spillover effect.
 Erdogan also lacks the ability to crush Gulen under his thumb. Not only is Gulen extremely rich, but he lives in the United States. He is beyond Erdogan's reach, and teaches a form of Islamic mysticism which has, so far, proved very popular in Turkey.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The RINOs and Their Cronies

Weasel Zippers cited to this story at The Hill, which reports:

The Chamber of Commerce is planning to spend at least $50 million on a campaign to boost establishment Republicans in primaries against Tea Party challengers, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The group's broader aim is to help the GOP win Senate control and block Tea Party Republican candidates who might lose otherwise winnable seats to Democrats.

"Our No. 1 focus is to make sure, when it comes to the Senate, that we have no loser candidates," Chamber political strategist Scott Reed tells the Journal. "That will be our mantra: No fools on our ticket."

The organization has been gearing up for a more confrontational approach toward Tea Party Republicans since the government shutdown. It has already been involved in some special elections for House primaries, and is supporting Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) against his Tea Party primary foe.
This is in line with an essay from Angelo M. Codevilla

Mitch McConnell, Senate Republican leader, confessed to big business bureaucrats that he and other Establishment Republicans want to remain their link to government money and favors. According to a Wall Street Journal story (December 16), he asked them to open their wallets lest his kind be overwhelmed — not by Democrats, but by those smelly little Tea Party conservatives — the real threats to the government spending and regulations by which big business thrives.

The confession was almost that forthright: “said one person at the McConnell fundraiser, held at a Capitol Hill townhouse. ‘The main message he was pushing was: Get involved, mainly to teach those who are primarying incumbents that it is not helpful to run against incumbents who are champions for the industry.’”

McConnell is just one of the dozen Republican Establishment senators who are facing challenges by conservatives, who are backed by organizations such as the Club for Growth and the several pro-life organizations. These challengers, always underfunded by huge margins, nevertheless frighten the well-heeled likes of McConnell because they bring to politics a source of votes that money can’t buy: credible commitment to substance. According to John Boehner, House Republican speaker and a stalwart of that Establishment, such challengers or merely the prospect that they might appear, have convinced many Republican congressmen to pay more attention to issues than to the Establishment’s priorities.


Money is the Establishment’s main weapon against challengers with small bank accounts but big followings based on issues. And indeed, big business is stepping up its defense of threatened Republican Establishmentarians.

Big money is forthcoming from classic sources for classic reasons. The Journal story continues: “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups have been stepping in to help business-friendly Republicans aligned with the GOP leadership… a sign of worries that tea party-aligned candidates might try to eliminate tax breaks and spending favored by businesses.”

The bargain is classic, and classically corrupt: Politicians vote taxpayer money to cronies, who then recycle part of the money back to the politicians. The corruption is especially evident in McConnell’s case. He made his confession and plea to representatives of the defense industry, who told the Journal’s reporter that their cooperation with the Establishment against the conservatives was all about mutual support for national defense: more money means more defense. But the corruption inherent in such back-scratching bargains is especially obvious and noxious in the case of national defense.
Read the whole thing.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Are We Creating Our Own Replacements?

After a seemingly dry period, significant advances have been in the last several years toward creating an artificial intelligence. But what if we succeed? Ross Andersen writes at Aeon Magazine:

[Nick] Bostrom isn’t too concerned about extinction risks from nature. Not even cosmic risks worry him much, which is surprising, because our starry universe is a dangerous place.
...
The risks that keep Bostrom up at night are those for which there are no geological case studies, and no human track record of survival. These risks arise from human technology, a force capable of introducing entirely new phenomena into the world.


... Nuclear weapons were the first technology to threaten us with extinction, but they will not be the last, nor even the most dangerous. A species-destroying exchange of fissile weapons looks less likely now that the Cold War has ended, and arsenals have shrunk. There are still tens of thousands of nukes, enough to incinerate all of Earth’s dense population centers, but not enough to target every human being. The only way nuclear war will wipe out humanity is by triggering nuclear winter, a crop-killing climate shift that occurs when smoldering cities send Sun-blocking soot into the stratosphere. But it’s not clear that nuke-levelled cities would burn long or strong enough to lift soot that high. The Kuwait oil field fires blazed for ten months straight, roaring through 6 million barrels of oil a day, but little smoke reached the stratosphere. A global nuclear war would likely leave some decimated version of humanity in its wake; perhaps one with deeply rooted cultural taboos concerning war and weaponry.
The technology that concerns Bostrom, and others, is the rise of machine intelligences.
An artificial intelligence wouldn’t need to better the brain by much to be risky. After all, small leaps in intelligence sometimes have extraordinary effects. Stuart Armstrong, a research fellow at the Future of Humanity Institute, once illustrated this phenomenon to me with a pithy take on recent primate evolution. ‘The difference in intelligence between humans and chimpanzees is tiny,’ he said. ‘But in that difference lies the contrast between 7 billion inhabitants and a permanent place on the endangered species list. That tells us it’s possible for a relatively small intelligence advantage to quickly compound and become decisive.’

To understand why an AI might be dangerous, you have to avoid anthropomorphising it. When you ask yourself what it might do in a particular situation, you can’t answer by proxy. You can't picture a super-smart version of yourself floating above the situation. Human cognition is only one species of intelligence, one with built-in impulses like empathy that colour the way we see the world, and limit what we are willing to do to accomplish our goals. But these biochemical impulses aren’t essential components of intelligence. They’re incidental software applications, installed by aeons of evolution and culture. Bostrom told me that it’s best to think of an AI as a primordial force of nature, like a star system or a hurricane — something strong, but indifferent. If its goal is to win at chess, an AI is going to model chess moves, make predictions about their success, and select its actions accordingly. It’s going to be ruthless in achieving its goal, but within a limited domain: the chessboard. But if your AI is choosing its actions in a larger domain, like the physical world, you need to be very specific about the goals you give it.

‘The basic problem is that the strong realisation of most motivations is incompatible with human existence,’ Dewey told me. ‘An AI might want to do certain things with matter in order to achieve a goal, things like building giant computers, or other large-scale engineering projects. Those things might involve intermediary steps, like tearing apart the Earth to make huge solar panels. A superintelligence might not take our interests into consideration in those situations, just like we don’t take root systems or ant colonies into account when we go to construct a building.’

It is tempting to think that programming empathy into an AI would be easy, but designing a friendly machine is more difficult than it looks. You could give it a benevolent goal — something cuddly and utilitarian, like maximising human happiness. But an AI might think that human happiness is a biochemical phenomenon. It might think that flooding your bloodstream with non-lethal doses of heroin is the best way to maximise your happiness. It might also predict that shortsighted humans will fail to see the wisdom of its interventions. It might plan out a sequence of cunning chess moves to insulate itself from resistance. Maybe it would surround itself with impenetrable defences, or maybe it would confine humans — in prisons of undreamt of efficiency.
It is a long article, but worth the read.

The Creator of Kwanzaa

We are now in the period where liberals celebrate Kwanzaa. What is Kwanzaa and why would black Americans (whose ancestors were mostly from Western Africa) celebrate it? To do so, you have to go to sources long thought destroyed by the Ministry of Truth. In this case, we have the assistance of Paul Mulshine, who wrote in 1999 in Frontpage Magazine:
ON DECEMBER 24, 1971, the New York Times ran one of the first of many articles on a new holiday designed to foster unity among African Americans. The holiday, called Kwanzaa, was applauded by a certain sixteen-year-old minister who explained that the feast would perform the valuable service of "de-whitizing" Christmas. The minister was a nobody at the time but he would later go on to become perhaps the premier race-baiter of the twentieth century. His name was Al Sharpton and he would later spawn the Tawana Brawley hoax and then incite anti-Jewish tensions in a 1995 incident that ended with the arson deaths of seven people.

... It was in newspaper articles like that, repeated in papers all over the country, that the tradition of Kwanzaa began. It is a tradition not out of Africa but out of Orwell. Both history and language have been bent to serve a political goal. When that New York Times article appeared, Ron Karenga's crimes were still recent events. If the reporter had bothered to do any research into the background of the Kwanzaa founder, he might have learned about Karenga's trial earlier that year on charges of torturing two women who were members of US (United Slaves), a black nationalist cult he had founded.
... ACCORDING TO COURT DOCUMENTS, Karenga's real name is Ron N. Everett. In the '60s, he awarded himself the title "maulana," Swahili for "master teacher." ... By the mid-1960s, he had established himself as a leading "cultural nationalist." That is a term that had some meaning in the '60s, mainly as a way of distinguishing Karenga's followers from the Black Panthers, who were conventional Marxists.
... In retrospect, it may be fortunate that the cult fell apart over the torture charges. Left to his own devices, Karenga might have orchestrated the type of mass suicide later pioneered by the People's Temple and copied by the Heaven's Gate cult. Instead, he apparently fell into deep paranoia shortly after the killings at UCLA. He began fearing that his followers were trying to have him killed. On May 9, 1970 he initiated the torture session that led to his imprisonment. Karenga himself will not comment on that incident and the victims cannot be located, so the sole remaining account is in the brief passage from the L.A. Times describing tortures inflicted by Karenga and his fellow defendants, Louis Smith and Luz Maria Tamayo:
"The victims said they were living at Karenga's home when Karenga accused them of trying to kill him by placing 'crystals' in his food and water and in various areas of his house. When they denied it, allegedly they were beaten with an electrical cord and a hot soldering iron was put in Miss Davis' mouth and against her face. Police were told that one of Miss Jones' toes was placed in a small vise which then allegedly was tightened by one of the defendants. The following day Karenga allegedly told the women that 'Vietnamese torture is nothing compared to what I know.' Miss Tamayo reportedly put detergent in their mouths, Smith turned a water hose full force on their faces, and Karenga, holding a gun, threatened to shoot both of them."
Karenga was convicted of two counts of felonious assault and one count of false imprisonment. He was sentenced on Sept. 17, 1971, to serve one to ten years in prison. A brief account of the sentencing ran in several newspapers the following day. That was apparently the last newspaper article to mention Karenga's unfortunate habit of doing unspeakable things to black people. After that, the only coverage came from the hundreds of news accounts that depict him as the wonderful man who invented Kwanzaa.
LOOK AT ANY MAP OF THE WORLD and you will see that Ghana and Kenya are on opposite sides of the continent. This brings up an obvious question about Kwanzaa: Why did Karenga use Swahili words for his fictional African feast? American blacks are primarily descended from people who came from Ghana and other parts of West Africa. Kenya and Tanzania—where Swahili is spoken—are several thousand miles away, about as far from Ghana as Los Angeles is from New York. Yet in celebrating Kwanzaa, African-Americans are supposed to employ a vocabulary of such Swahili words as "kujichagulia" and "kuumba." This makes about as much sense as having Irish-Americans celebrate St. Patrick's Day by speaking Polish. One possible explanation is that Karenga was simply ignorant of African geography and history when he came up with Kwanzaa in 1966. That might explain why he would schedule a harvest festival near the solstice, a season when few fruits or vegetables are harvested anywhere. But a better explanation is that he simply has contempt for black people. 

That does not seem a farfetched hypothesis. Despite all his rhetoric about white racism, I could find no record that he or his followers ever raised a hand in anger against a white person. In fact, Karenga had an excellent relationship with Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty in the '60s and also met with then-Governor Ronald Reagan and other white politicians. But he and his gang were hell on blacks. And Karenga certainly seems to have had a low opinion of his fellow African-Americans. "People think it's African, but it's not," he said about his holiday in an interview quoted in the Washington Post. "I came up with Kwanzaa because black people in this country wouldn't celebrate it if they knew it was American. Also, I put it around Christmas because I knew that's when a lot of bloods would be partying." "Bloods" is a '60s California slang term for black people.
More here.

The War on Christians

This ridiculous flailing by liberals is because they sense that their philosophy is circling the drain. People are tired of tyranny. So to hold on to their power, liberals come up with the most preposterous and paranoid threats to galvanize supporters. First, Kathryn Jean Lopez writes at the Corner of so called "liberals" attacking Legatus--a group of Catholic business leaders. One of the groups attacking Legatus is "Faithful America," a group financed by George Soros. Without a trace of shame, the group writes:
It’s hard to imagine an organization further from Pope Francis’ vision of “a Church which is poor and for the poor” than Legatus, whose stated mission is to “study, spread, and live the Catholic faith,” but whose membership is open only to top executives of multi-million dollar corporations.
Apparently, though, "Faithful America" has no problem with Soros attending the Bilderberg meetings, which are not know for open admission.

 Next we see Jesse Jackson joining the fray over Phil Robertson's paraphrase of the Bible. The Chicago Tribune reports:
Jesse Jackson Sr. has jumped into the controversy surrounding comments by Phil Robertson, star of A&E’s backwoods reality TV show, “Duck Dynasty.”In an announcement sent out Tuesday, Jackson Sr. compared Robertson’s recent comments about African-Americans, gay people and women to comments made by the driver of Rosa Parks’ bus.

"At least the bus driver, who ordered Rosa Parks to surrender her seat to a white person, was following state law,” he said in the release. “Robertson's statements were uttered freely and openly without cover of the law, within a context of what he seemed to believe was ‘white privilege.’”
My hat is off to anyone that can ever understand what the old blowhard was attempting to say. However, I'll hazard a guess--he is saying that the First Amendment is not the "law," but is "white privilege." While I often hear "liberal" associated with "delusional," I've yet to hear anyone criticize a liberal for excessive grasp of facts.

CBS News reports:
An Augusta hospital has adopted a new policy banning Christmas carolers from singing religious songs in public patient areas.

The Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center announced the new policy Monday according to the Athens-Banner Herald.

“Military service veterans, male and female, represent people of all faiths,” hospital spokesman Brian Rothwell said in a statement according to Athens-Banner Herald. “It is out of respect for every faith that The Veterans Administration gives clear guidance on what ‘spiritual care’ is to be given and who is to give it.”
 Of course this is all little stuff compared to what is happening in the Middle East. PJ Media's Andrew Sullivan notes:

The most underreported foreign news story of 2013 is the pogrom against Christians in Islamic countries. It is doubtful that there is a close second place finisher. The story is gruesome and the rationale for both the killing and the silence about it lies in a mainstream interpretation of Islam – one that is far more prevalent in the Middle East than the West will admit.

The pogrom is the inexorable result of Islamic teaching and Western indulgence. It is, after all, directed at Christians because there are no more Jews left to persecute. The latter have long made their exodus from Muslim countries where Jewish communities once flourished. Despite this fact, and despite that fact that Muslims living in Israel enjoy more freedom and self-determination than in any Arab country of the Middle East, the West – very much including the United States – has legitimized the premise that Jews should be driven from East Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, just as they were pressured to evacuate Gaza, in order to birth a Palestinian state.

The charter of Hamas, like the charter of Hezbollah, calls for the extermination of Jews. Yet the West increasingly treats these terrorist organizations as if they were regular political actors espousing respectable agendas. Moreover, all of the blather about a “two-state solution” always assumes an Israel in which Muslims live freely and a Palestinian state purged of Jews. The message to Islamic supremacists is clear: Aggression works and, for all our incessant chatter about toleration and diversity, there will be no comeuppance for the religious persecution and institutional discrimination innate in sharia governance.

Having established these principles, Islamic supremacists have now turned their hostile attention to the remaining Christian minorities in the Middle East. Life was no picnic for Copts in Mubarak’s Egypt, but at least they had some hope of the law’s protection. When Mubarak was ousted, the stepped up persecution of Christians was a direct result of the fallacy that popular elections serve to “democratize” countries bereft of democratic culture. Predictably, elections were contested on explicitly sectarian terms, with Christians portrayed as “enemies of Islam” and obstacles to the majority vision of a caliphate established pursuant to sharia tenets. Massacres against Christian communities and the torching of Christian churches and homes became standard fare. If anything, the situation has worsened since this year’s coup against Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, which Muslims blame Christians for supporting.

Meanwhile in Iraq, where the United States endorsed the adoption of a sharia constitution, the United Nations estimates that a million Christians have fled the country in the last decade. In Syria, Christians are systematically targeted by the Sunni jihadists waging a civil war against the Assad regime. Thousands of Christians were evacuated from Sudan this year because the Islamic-supremacist government regards them as enemies of the sharia state. Similarly in Shiite Iran, where sharia is the law of the land, Christians are systematically imprisoned for practicing and preaching their faith.

Sadly, we could have written this essay at the end of 2012, and the story will be no different at the end of 2014. If Muslim societies are not confronted about religious persecution, they are encouraged to persist in it. That is our shame.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

For You Downton Abbey Fans...

... a floor plan of Downton Abbey and description of the major rooms.

Pulling On Superman's Cape

The American Thinker reports:
Right at holiday time, a Muslim "charity" in Toronto has started a highly offensive advertising campaign in the Toronto subway declaring Jesus is no God. Just for a micro-second, imagine what hell would break loose if a Christian group on the eve of Ramadan (or heck, any day of the year), sponsored subway ads declaring Mohammed was no prophet.  
These Islamic "rights" groups are like the small yipping dogs that bark and annoy you as you walk along the street, but as soon as you make any threatening movement, run away to start yipping again from a safer distance. The problem is, if you ignore them, they get bolder and bolder until they bite your heel, and then someone has to kick the dog, so to speak.

Of course, they are not the only group dissing Christmas. Weasel Zippers cited to a couple stories today (here and here) about the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Army not allowing references to Christmas. The White House "Christmas" Card likewise contains no reference to Christ or Christmas. Even the Post Office's "Holiday" stamps ignore Christmas.

So, since this Muslim "charity" raised the issue: Jesus is Deity; and Mohammed was no prophet. And, by the way, Merry Christmas!

This Is Why The "Birther" Meme Will Never Go Away

Although the meme seemed to start with a Clinton smear campaign, the issue of whether Obama is an American citizen seems to have never gone away. Certainly there is something fishy about his past--there is some reasonably grounded speculation that Obama may be illegitimate (speaking of his parentage), and that he attended Harvard under the guise of a foreign student. Certainly there is no question but that his publicist for a long time had stated that Obama was Kenyan.

So, it was with some humor, that I saw the following stories about Obama's attempt to sign up for ObamaCare. For instance, Time reported:
“Over the weekend and in advance of today’s deadline, the President enrolled in a health care plan made available by the Affordable Care Act on the DC marketplace,” the aide said. “As you all know, the President is one of the 85 percent of Americans who gets his health insurance through his employer and, like previous Presidents, is privileged to receive health care from the military. The act of the President signing up for insurance coverage through the DC exchange is symbolic since the President’s health care will continue to be provided by the military. But, he was pleased to participate in a plan as a show of support for these marketplaces which are providing quality, affordable health care options to more than a million people. The President selected a bronze plan.”

The aide added that Obama only signed himself up, and not the rest of the First Family. Obama also did not enroll through the troubled Healthcare.gov or the D.C. exchange’s website. Aides signed him up in person over the weekend, due to the “complicated nature of the President’s case,” the White House aide said. Some of Obama’s personal information is not readily accessible on the government databases used by the website for identity verification.
(Emphasis added). Other reports also indicate that Obama could not be signed up via the website because the system couldn't verify his identity. Problems with his Social Security Number? Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

There is also the recent plane crash that killed only one person--Loretta Fuddy, the Hawai'i state official that reviewed and release Obama's birth certificate. All 8 other people on the plane survived.



Monday, December 23, 2013

EPA Muzzled Scientists

Why am I not surprised. From the Daily Caller:
The Environmental Protection Agency silenced scientific advisers who expressed concerns over the agency’s proposed carbon dioxide emissions limits for coal-fired power plants, House Republicans claim.

Republicans on the House’s science committee wrote a letter to EPA administrator Gina McCarthy expressing concern that the agency ignored scientists charged with reviewing carbon emissions limits for new power plants. Scientists said that the agency rushed through the regulatory process and that the underlying science of the rule lacked adequate peer review.

The Liberal Mindset

Much ink is being spilled over Phil Robertson pointing out that homosexual practices are a sin. This has started a discussion of the tactics of the so-called liberals to "de-normalize" conservatives. Mark Steyn, for instance, writes about the left's penchant for "re-educating" anyone that disagrees with them:
In the early days of my free-speech battles in Canada, my friend Ezra Levant used a particular word to me: “de-normalize”. Our enemies didn’t particularly care whether they won in court. Whatever the verdict, they’d succeed in “de-normalizing” us — that’s to say, putting us beyond the pale of polite society and mainstream culture. “De-normalizing” is the business GLAAD and the other enforcers are in. You’ll recall Paula Deen’s accuser eventually lost in court — but the verdict came too late for Ms Deen’s book deal, and TV show, and endorsement contracts.
Over at Red State, Erik Erickson compares so-called "liberals" to the orcs of Mordor, who cannot accept dissent. He goes on to observe:
Phil Robertson gave a pretty frank and candid explanation of what the Bible says about sin and these people, worried about being loved by the world, pounced on a Christian under assault. And much of it stems from a profound infatuation with this world’s definition of love.

According to the present age, if we love someone, we must love everything about them. An article the other day reported a preacher had been defrocked because he presided at his son’s gay marriage. The preacher declared he could not honor his Methodist Church’s book of church order — let alone the Bible — which prohibits gay marriage.

I mentioned this story on twitter and a self-proclaimed believer declared that if Jesus were here, he’d have married the two men. Another declared that no one could say what Jesus would do today. Actually, if you flip to the end of the Bible we know that when Jesus “Mr. Love” Christ comes back, he’s going to be loving with a sword in his hand, sending a whole host of souls into hell fire.

Too many people are worshiping the Jesus they created, not the Jesus who is. Christ said to love, but he also said to go and sin no more. To love someone and not share the gospel — which includes a call for a penitent heart — is not truly love. It is this world’s definition of love, which, like the orcs or Mordor, is a perversion of the real thing God created.

That is something Tolkien got so spot on with Middle Earth. The evil things are corrupted or perverted things made to mimic the light and the good. Mordor has its own yard stick by which things can be measured, but its metrics are all based on evil.

Phil Robertson did nothing wrong. He just did not shy away from the parts of accepting Christ that make people uncomfortable. He loves people so much, he is not willing to give people the fast pass to Hell by telling them they are not sinners.

He did not judge. He just held up the yard stick and a whole lot of people did not like seeing it and realizing they’ve fallen short. In Mordor, after all, falling short is measuring up and measuring up is being a hater, homophobe, and judging.
 Given the "liberal" penchant for equating "liberty" to "sexual liberty," it is at least debatable whether they mistake eros for agape.

In any event, another article from Mark Steyn actually sums it up quite well by quoting a Bob Hope joke:
... Bob Hope, touring the world in the year or so after the passage of the 1975 Consenting Adult Sex Bill [joked]:

“I’ve just flown in from California, where they’ve made homosexuality legal. I thought I’d get out before they make it compulsory.”

Discovery of Vast Fresh Water Reserves

I saw a few articles over the last couple of weeks on the discovery of large fresh and mostly-fresh water reserves in the Earth's crust. For instance, Science Daily reported:
Scientists have discovered huge reserves of freshwater beneath the oceans kilometres out to sea, providing new opportunities to stave off a looming global water crisis.

A new study, published December 5 in the international scientific journal Nature, reveals that an estimated half a million cubic kilometres of low-salinity water are buried beneath the seabed on continental shelves around the world.
 
The water, which could perhaps be used to eke out supplies to the world's burgeoning coastal cities, has been located off Australia, China, North America and South Africa.
"The volume of this water resource is a hundred times greater than the amount we've extracted from the Earth's sub-surface in the past century since 1900," says lead author Dr Vincent Post (pictured) of the National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training (NCGRT) and the School of the Environment at Flinders University.
 
"Knowing about these reserves is great news because this volume of water could sustain some regions for decades." 
Dr Post says that groundwater scientists knew of freshwater under the seafloor, but thought it only occurred under rare and special conditions. 
"Our research shows that fresh and brackish aquifers below the seabed are actually quite a common phenomenon," he says.
 At the American Interest, they observed this is just another kick to Malthus:
Water scarcity has been a favorite topic for the Chicken Littles of the world. Just 18 years ago the vice president of the World Bank was ominously warning that “the wars of the next century will be fought over water.” It’s easy to drum up fears of “water wars” some undetermined time in the future, but studies like this one, and discoveries of new water sources like this one in Kenya, or this one under the Sahara, suggest that these fears that have gripped Malthusians—and that Malthusians have in turn used to push through otherwise unworkable policy recommendations—are a lot less serious.
 Reading these, something else was tickling my mind, but it was a couple days until I realized what it was:
¶In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Georg Elser and the Attempt to Assassinate Hitler

Smithsonian Magazine has an interesting story about an attempted assassination of Adolf Hitler by Georg Elser on November 8, 1939, while Hitler spoke at  the site of his 1923 Beer Hall Putsch. Working alone, but with the right skills, motivation, and patience, he nearly succeeded in killing Hitler.
While Elser was in the bierkeller he noted the stone pillar just behind the speaker’s dais; it supported a substantial balcony along one wall. His rough calculations suggested that a large bomb placed within the pillar would bring down the balcony and bury both the Führer and a number of his chief supporters. The question was how to conceal a device sufficiently powerful to do the job within a piece of solid stonework.

Here again Elser proved to have precisely the qualities needed for the job. Knowing that he had a year to prepare, he went to work methodically, obtaining a low-paying job in an arms factory and taking whatever opportunities presented themselves to smuggle 110 pounds of high explosives out of the plant. A temporary job in a quarry supplied him with dynamite and a quantity of high-capacity detonators. In the evenings, he returned to his apartment and worked on designs for a sophisticated time bomb.

In April 1939, Elser returned to Munich to carry out a detailed reconnaissance. He made sketches of the beer cellar and took more precise measurements. He also visited the Swiss frontier to work out an escape route, finding a stretch of the border that was not patrolled.

That August, as Hitler stoked up tension with Poland and Europe slipped toward war, Elser moved to Munich and began the final preparations for planting his device. The work involved huge risks and revealed an imaginative side to the bomber’s personality that few who knew him realized he possessed. Taking advantage of the Löwenbräu’s lax security, Elser became a regular customer. Each evening he would take his dinner there, order a beer and wait until closing time. Then he would slip upstairs, hide in a storeroom and emerge after 11:30 to get down to the crucial job of hollowing the pillar.

The work was astonishingly painstaking and slow. Working by flashlight, Elser first neatly cut a hole in some wood cladding; this job alone took him three nights. Next he attacked the pillar itself. The noise of a chisel striking stone echoed so loudly through the empty bierkeller that Elser restricted himself to single blows every few minutes, timing the descent of his hammer to coincide with the passing of a streetcar or the automatic flushing of the urinals. Every fleck of stone and piece of dust had to be swept up to leave no evidence of his work; then the panel he had cut out of the wood had to be seamlessly replaced before Elser made his escape through a side exit early the next morning. The carpenter returned to the bierkeller evening after evening, working on his plan for 35 nights in all. On one occasion he was nearly caught; a waiter found him inside the building as the place was opening and ran to tell the manager. Questioned, Elser insisted he was simply an early customer. He ordered a coffee, drank it in the garden and left unmolested.

It was typical of Elser that he labored to produce the most efficient bomb he could. By modifying a clock, he created a timer that would run for up to 144 hours before activating a lever; that would trigger a system of springs and weights that would launch a steel shuttle into a live rifle round embedded in explosive. Next, Elser added a second timer to act as a fail-safe, then enclosed the whole bomb in a beautifully built box designed to fit precisely into the cavity he had excavated. He minimized the risk of discovery by lining the cavity with cork, which muffled the noise from the bomb’s clock, and then placing a sheet of tinplate inside the wood panel to prevent any bierkeller worker putting up decorations from unknowingly driving a nail into his delicate mechanism. When he was finished, he returned to the bierkeller with the box he’d made and discovered that it was fractionally too big. He took it home, planed it down and went back again to make sure it fit.
It was only bad luck--that Hitler left his engagement a half-hour early--that the plot failed. Elser was soon arrested while attempting to escape from Germany. However, because the Germans could not believe that Elser acted alone, they kept him alive for years.

Of course, given our knowledge of what Hitler was to do, we can view Mr. Elser in a heroic light. At the time he was arrested, he was nothing more than a "terrorist." If it wasn't for the Nazi officials taking a stance akin to "truthers"--that, notwithstanding all evidence to the contrary, Mr. Elser could not have accomplished what he did without the assistance of a government--Mr. Elser would have been tried and executed almost immediately.

The Deadliest Earthquake

The most lethal earthquake in history is probably one that you never heard of--a May-July, 1201 earthquake that struck the eastern Mediterranean, including Egypt and Syria. It is estimated that more than 1.1 million people were killed. (See here). The earthquake is detailed in an article entitled "The historical earthquakes of Syria: an analysis of large and moderate earthquakes from 1365 B.C. to 1900 A.D." published in 2005 in the Annals of Geophysics vol. 48 (3) p. 347-435 (available at http://hdl.handle.net/2122/908).

Really large earthquakes rarely are an isolated event, but that there are generally a series of earthquakes and aftershocks that may last weeks or months.

In the case of the 1201 earthquake, there apparently was a series of earthquakes between late May and extending into August. The primary quake--i.e., the most damaging--appears to have been on May 20, 1201, which destroyed Nablus, and heavily damaged Damascus and Tripoli. It also caused a destructive tsunami along the coast of Syria and on Cyprus. It was felt in as far separated places as northern Iran, Mesopotamia, and Sicily. This first earthquake apparently had little impact in Jerusalem and Egypt, though it seemingly caused the failure of the Nile floods.

There was a subsequent earthquake in June or July that caused destruction in Tyr, Beirut, Damascus, Baalbak, several towns in Palistine, Homs (in Syria) and caused a tsunami in Cyprus. A later earthquake in July-August collapsed monuments and temples in Baalbak (perhaps weakened previously?).

The article notes that many of the deaths may have been the result of the resulting famine, rather than directly as a result of the earthquake(s).

As for other quakes, this site has a list of the 12 worst earthquakes in history.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Spengler: About Those Israeli Settlements

David P. Goldman (aka, Spengler) discusses why maintaining the Israeli settlements are so important to keeping the peace. Read the whole thing.

The Importance of the Cultural War (Updated)

As I wrote yesterday, exercising your First Amendment Rights can have consequences. Phil Robertson, the star of A&E's Duck Dynasty program was "suspended indefinitely" by A&E after making remarks about homosexuality being a sin. In doing so, A&E stated that they stood firmly with the LGBT community. Presuming their actions don't violate a contract, they have a right to do what they did. But it, too, carries consequences. It now looks like A&E may be loosing the most popular television show on cable TV. The other stars of the show have indicated:

The Duck Dynasty stars have issued a statement amid the controversy surrounding family patriarch Phil Robertson's anti-gay remarks. The Robertson clan says they "cannot imagine" the show without him, and that they are "in discussions" with A&E about the future of the series.

"We want to thank all of you for your prayers and support. The family has spent much time in prayer since learning of A&E's decision. We want you to know that first and foremost we are a family rooted in our faith in God and our belief that the Bible is His word. While some of Phil’s unfiltered comments to the reporter were coarse, his beliefs are grounded in the teachings of the Bible," reads a statement posted on the family's Duck Commander website. "Phil is a Godly man who follows what the Bible says are the greatest commandments: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart' and 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' Phil would never incite or encourage hate. We are disappointed that Phil has been placed on hiatus for expressing his faith, which is his constitutionally protected right. We have had a successful working relationship with A&E but, as a family, we cannot imagine the show going forward without our patriarch at the helm. We are in discussions with A&E to see what that means for the future of Duck Dynasty. Again, thank you for your continued support of our family."
 And there is a call on FaceBook to boycott A&E for its decision. So far, it has received 1.4 million likes. As I indicated yesterday, A&E executives may have breached their duties to the company shareholders by terminating Phil Robertson and, thereby, killing their most popular program.

But why should all this matter? Bryan Preston writes:
Wittingly or not, A&E has chosen a side in the culture wars. The network said as much in its statement last night, when it said that it strongly stands with the LGBT community, against a man whose offense was quoting the New Testament. That’s a significant statement, one that Christians should not ignore.

Many on the right have seen the trajectory of the gay rights movement and concluded that it’s wise to surrender on the marriage question to be “on the right side of history.” The lesson of Phil Robertson suggests that once the marriage battle is won, groups like the Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD will simply move on to a new battlefield. They will not stop. They do not exist to stop. They exist to keep on pushing. The next battlefield may well be codifying the idea they expressed last night, that quoting mainstream Christian beliefs that have been in place for a couple thousand years amounts to hate speech that should be banned.

But discrimination against Christians is perfectly ok.

Unless GLAAD has a theological division, it’s in no place to dictate Christian values. But that won’t stop it from trying. The end game for GLAAD and its allies is among the most intolerant goals possible: They want to drive all Christians and Christian values and ideas from the public square in America. They want to persecute and oppress. They admitted as much when they supported Robertson’s suspension for saying something that they didn’t like.

... Courts have recently clouded the freedom of association, mandating that wedding cake bakers and photographers cannot choose whom they associate with. If they can’t, why can A&E? If A&E can, why can’t the bakers and photographers? Is tolerance just a one-way street now? And if it’s a one-way street, is it really tolerance at all?
There is more to this than gay rights, or the right to kill babies, or all the other perversions supported by the left. Each of these particular issues is merely a stick used to beat Christians. Stepping back, there is the deeper strategy of eliminating Christianity. In July this year, Ed Driscoll quoted the following from an essay by Lee Congdon, professor emeritus of history at James Madison University:

Following Gramsci, Leftists know that Christianity remains the greatest obstacle to their total victory in the culture war. “The civilized world had been thoroughly saturated with Christianity for 2000 years,” the Italian had written; something, he insisted, had to be done about that, and something has. The de-Christianizing of America and the West that he advocated is by now well underway. Inspired by the anti-Christian French Revolutionary calendar, publishers now insist upon the secular “B.C.E.” (Before the “Common Era”-whatever that means) rather than “B.C.” and “C.E.” (the Common Era) rather than “A.D.” Booksellers, popular magazines, and television treat with respect anti-Christian screeds such as The DaVinci Code. Courts, including the Supreme Court, declare most displays of the Decalogue to be “unconstitutional.” The media repeat the mantra according to which Islam is “the religion of peace” (daily evidence to the contrary notwithstanding), find nothing to criticize in Buddhism, and remain “non-judgmental” concerning scientology and other cults, while at the same time they portray Christianity as the religion of “crusaders,” bigots, and yahoos. Members of the Christian clergy have themselves joined in the relentless attack on orthodox Christianity.

Few thoughtful people deny that we are living in a time of decline. Judge Bork entitled one of his books Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline. Pat Buchanan recently published The Death of the West. The only question that remains is: Is the decline reversible? There are a few signs of hope, including the much commented upon challenge to the “mainstream” media presented by talk radio, bloggers, and Fox News. That is something, but not enough. Gramsci counseled his side to begin a “long march through the institutions,” by which he meant the capture of the cinema, theater, schools, universities, seminaries, newspapers, magazines, radio, television, and courts. It is past time to begin a long march in a new and better direction.
There is some hope. Although the mainline denominations that have allowed themselves to be carried by the winds and currents of political correctness are on the rocks, certain Christian sects are doing quite well. And this article indicates that Pentecostalism seems to finding a foothold, even in Europe. It is time that Christians learned lessons from the fight over gun rights, namely, compromise does not work with the left because the left does not compromise. There comes a time to say "no more."

Update: Case in point about the futility of compromise with the left--Lockheed Martin pulls donations to the Boy Scouts, notwithstanding they now will admit homosexual boys into the organization, because they continue to exclude homosexual leaders.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Scholarship Envy

The American Studies Association has voted to boycott Israel. According to this article at Slate:
The resolution approved by a plurality of ASA members cites as a rationale the lack of “effective or substantive academic freedom for Palestinian students and scholars under conditions of Israeli occupation” and calls for the association to boycott Israeli higher education institutions, which are described as being “a party to Israeli state policies that violate human rights and negatively impact the working conditions of Palestinian scholars and students.”

“I think what the vote indicates is that people recognize the illegal occupation of Palestine as one of the major civil rights issues of our time globally,” said Bill Mullen, a professor of English and American studies at Purdue University and a member of the ASA’s Caucus on Academic and Community Activism, which first put forward the boycott resolution. ...

... In its press release approving the resolution the ASA included statements from prominent scholars endorsing the boycott in light of their personal histories and areas of professional scholarship. Among the scholars who endorsed the resolution was Eric Cheyfitz, an American studies professor at Cornell University who wrote, “I am a Jew with a daughter and three grandchildren who are citizens of Israel. I am a scholar of American Indian and Indigenous studies, who has in published word and action opposed settler colonialism wherever it exists, including of course the Palestinian West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. It is worth noting in this respect that just as the myth of American exceptionalism seeks to erase the genocide and ongoing settler colonialism of Indigenous peoples here in the United States so the myth of Israeli exceptionalism seeks to erase Israeli colonialism in Palestine and claim original rights to Palestinian lands.”
 Peter Beinart writes a thoughtful article at the Daily Beast that is critical of the ASA's decision. He notes that the decision presents a double-standard when comparing Israel against countries that truly abridge academic freedom. (Although, I believe it is an important point--Alinsky's rules about making your opponents live up to their standards, and all).

He also doesn't believe that the ASA is motivated by anti-Semitism, although he believes it is motivated by the left's knee-jerk hostility to the West. He explains:
Because for the global left, imperialism is the great sin of the modern world. And only Western governments and institutions—the United States, South Africa, the World Bank, IMF and now, Israel—can commit it. For institutions like the ASA, Israel’s real crime is not being a country where Jews rule non-Jews. It’s being a country where, in their view at least, whites rule non-whites.
But what disturbs him is the ultimate aim of the boycott:
The best argument against the ASA’s boycott isn’t about double standards or academic freedom. It’s about the outcome the boycott seeks to produce. The Association’s boycott resolution doesn’t denounce “the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.” It denounces “the Israeli occupation of Palestine” and “the systematic discrimination against Palestinians,” while making no distinction whatsoever between Israeli control of the West Bank, where Palestinians lack citizenship, the right to vote and the right to due process, and Israel proper, where Palestinians, although discriminated against, enjoy all three. That’s in keeping with the “boycotts, divestments, and sanctions” movement more generally. BDS proponents note that the movement takes no position on whether there should be one state or two between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. But it clearly opposes the existence of a Jewish state within any borders. The BDS movement’s call for “respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties” denies Israel’s right to set its own immigration policy. So does the movement’s call for “recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality”, which presumably denies Israel’s right to maintain the preferential immigration policy that makes it a refuge for Jews. Indeed, because the BDS movement’s statement of principles makes no reference to Jewish rights and Jewish connection to the land, it’s entirely possible to read it as giving Palestinians’ rights to national symbols and a preferential immigration policy while denying the same to Jews.

This is the fundamental problem: Not that the ASA is practicing double standards and not even that it’s boycotting academics, but that it’s denying the legitimacy of a democratic Jewish state, even alongside a Palestinian one. ...
Even with this, Beinart doesn't believe it is anti-Semitic.

I disagree, because I believe that any position that rules out an Israeli state is ipso facto anti-Semitic. Prof. Cheyfitz, supra, may term Jewish settlement as "settler colonialism," but, in fact, the area has been inhabited by Jews since ancient times, up through and including the post-WWI partition. Jews are not "aliens" to Israel. Moreover, Cheyfitz ignores the moral imperative, following the Holocaust, of having to establish a Jewish homeland to the future safety and security of Jews. Despite his wearing his Jewishness on his sleeve, his rejection of a Jewish state is, in effect, a rejection of Jews as a unique and separate people.

(As a side note, his term, "settler colonialism," doesn't even make sense. Israel is no "colony." If what Israel is doing is "settler colonialism," than the influx of illegal aliens into the United States is likewise "settler colonialism").

However, there is a deeper, metaphysical level, to anti-Semitism generally, and the hostility to Israel specifically. As David P. Goldman writes:
Something else about the Jews, however, gnaws at the soul of Europeans as well as Muslims. The heart of the problem is the world's perception that the Jews truly are an eternal people, not subject to the curse of mortality that hangs over the heads of the peoples of the world. Writing of Europe's population crisis on April 8 (Why Europe chooses extinction)I cited the theologian Franz Rosenzweig: "All religion, Rosenzweig argued, responds to man's anxiety in the face of death [against which philosophy is like a child stuffing his fingers in his ears and shouting, 'I can't hear you!']. The pagans of old faced death with the confidence that their race would continue. But tribes and nations anticipate their own extinction just as individuals anticipate their own death, he added: 'The love of the nations for their own nationhood is sweet and pregnant with the presentiment of death'. Each nation, he wrote, knows that some day other peoples will occupy their lands, and their language and culture will be interred in dusty books."

Under globalization, the world faces a great extinction of the peoples, the worst since the collapse of the Roman Empire, I have argued on numerous occasions. Every week two languages of the 6,000 spoken on the planet become extinct forever. Most of these are tribal tongues from New Guinea, with only a few hundred speakers. At present birth rates, several European languages will be at risk some time in the next century.

Apart from China and India, of how many cultures can we say that they are not at risk? Despite its high rate of population growth
[ed., which has now also tanked], the Muslim world feels fragile. Few Muslim countries have adapted well to globalization, and the Muslim world feels besieged by the encroaching culture of the West. Jewish theology states that God elected the Jews as his people, and that the covenant between God and the descendants of Abraham never would perish as long as the Jews remained true to it. Most modern Jews are profoundly uncomfortable with this notion ("God of Mercy, choose a different people!" goes the joke). 
Yet the Jews have existed for well over 3,000 years, and Hebrew is the only language West of the Indus that is spoken today more or less as it was spoken 3,000 years ago. How improbable is it that a nation of former slaves, a race of shepherds rather than city builders who had to hire outside contractors to build a temple to their God, is the sole survivor of the civilizations of the time?

Every people wishes to be eternal, to be, as it were, God's chosen. Adolf Hitler's notion of the Master Race, some commentators aver, is an adaptation of the Jewish notion of election. Hitler's determination to destroy the Jews stemmed from his belief that Germany could not really be the Chosen People as long as the Jews remained in existence. The more vulnerable become the fading peoples of Western Europe, the hotter burns their wrath against the Eternal People. Americans, of course, are not a people but a concept. America is where individuals go to abandon their culture, language, customs and history, to be recast in the melting-pot and emerge as Americans.

As I have argued previously in this space, America comes closer than has any other political entity towards fulfilling the Christian idea of an ecclesia, of an assembly of souls called out of the nations. That is why Americans have no fundamental issue with the Jews. Americans enjoy the newborn's sense of immortality, because they have exchanged cultural memory for the promise of a new beginning.

Indians and Chinese, for that matter, rarely take an interest in anti-Semitism, because their cultures are both ancient and robust. It is the peoples whose love for their own culture is sweet and pregnant with the presentiment of death that have deep cause to detest the Jews.
The political and educational elite in the United States are not "American" in the sense that Goldman uses the term. They are, heart and soul, European--part of the Faustian civilization, as Oswald Spengler would have described it--and subject to the same fits of anti-Israeli fervor.

There may be a more basic issue as well:
 20% of Nobel Prizes have been awarded to Jews. This despite the fact that Jews are only 0.2% of the world’s population. In other words Jews are represented at a rate 100 times higher than strict proportion to population would suggest.
 (Source). This is in line with Israel's overall success despite being a resource poor country compared to the surrounding nations. There is, in the attacks on Israel, a feeling that the critics believe that Israel's success is unfair ... and perhaps a little jealousy at Jewish academic achievements.

Al Qaeda in Syria May Have Sarin Gas

The Debka File is claiming that Al Qaeda in Syria has sarin gas, and may be planning on using at the Sochi Olympics:
[T]he ruler of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, announced Monday, Dec. 4, the formation of a special unit to deal with “Syrian radicals”- both within the North Caucasus republic and abroad. 
He added: “Members of the special unit will be ready to interfere in the Syrian conflict if such operation is authorized by the Russian president.” 
DEBKAfile’s counter-terrorism sources explain that President Putin is loath to drop a Russian intervention force into Syria and risk upsetting his sensitive understandings with the Obama administration on Syria. He is therefore planning to send out a Chechen force to deal with the Chechens and other North Caucasian jihadists who are fighting under the al Qaeda flag in Syria and now gearing up, according to Russian and Syrian intelligence, for a spectacular attack on the Sochi Olympic Games.

According to some reports, Al Qaeda in Syria has got hold of sarin nerve gas and is ready to use it.
 
This was confirmed by the investigative journalist Seymour Hersh in an article he published in London on Dec. 8. 
He quoted “a large number of American intelligence officials” who said that “the chemical attack on the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta on Aug. 21, in which more than 150 people died, may not have been carried out by Bashar Assad’s army but by Jabhat al Nusra [Al Qaeda’s Syrian branch].” 
A senior intelligence consultant told the reporter: “Already by late May… the CIA had briefed the Obama administration on al-Nusra and its work with sarin, and had sent alarming reports that another Sunni fundamentalist group active in Syria, al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI), also understood the science of producing sarin. At the time, al-Nusra was operating in areas close to Damascus, including Eastern Ghouta.” 
DEBKAfile reports that both these organizations have enlisted many Chechen and North Caucasian members to fight in Syria.

Feel Good Story of the Day--Rwanda's Future Looks Bright

From Slate:
Under President Paul Kagame—who put an end to the genocide with his then-rebel group the Rwandan Patriotic Front when the world hesitated to intervene—the country's GDP has grown by an average of just over 8 percent every year since 2001, raising a million people out of poverty. The World Bank ranked Rwanda as the second-most business-friendly place on the continent (32nd globally), behind the island nation of Mauritius; Transparency International named it the least corrupt state in the region (49th globally); and the advocacy organization ONE, co-founded by Bono, placed it in the lead alongside Mali as the closest to fulfilling the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals, which cover everything from increasing education to reducing poverty to expanding health care. And when it comes to gender equality, at 64 percent, Rwanda currently has the highest proportion of female lower-house MPs in the world.

Yet all these achievements appear humble in comparison with the country's long-term aims. The government’s mission statement, Rwanda Vision 2020, lays out a path for the nation to reach middle-income status by skipping an industrialization period altogether, fostering an economy based instead on communications and information technology.

Recipe for a Universe--Add Heat and Stir

From the Daily Galaxy:
When time and space are heated, an expanding universe can emerge, without requiring anything like a “Big Bang”. This phase transition between empty space and an expanding universe containing mass has now been mathematically described by a research team at the Vienna University of Technology, together with colleagues from Harvard, the MIT and Edinburgh. The idea behind this result is a remarkable connection between quantum field theory and Einstein’s theory of relativity.


Everybody knows of the transitions between liquid, solid and gaseous phases. But also time and space can undergo a phase transition, as the physicists Steven Hawking and Don Page pointed out in 1983. They calculated that empty space can turn into a black hole at a specific temperature.
 
Can a similar process create a whole expanding universe such as ours? Daniel Grumiller from the Vienna University of Technology looked into this, together with colleagues from the USA and Great Britain. Their calculations show that there is indeed a critical temperature at which an empty, flat spacetime turns into an expanding universe with mass. “The empty spacetime starts to boil, little bubbles form, one of which expands and eventually takes up all of spacetime”, explains Grumiller.


For this to be possible, the universe has to rotate – so the recipe for creating the universe is “apply heat and stir”. However, the required rotation can be arbitrarily small. In a first step, a spacetime with only two spatial dimensions was considered. “But there is no reason why the same should not be true for a universe with three spatial dimensions”, says Grumiller.
The researchers make clear that they are not challenging the Big Bang theory for creation of our universe, though.

(H/t Woodpile Report)

The Victory of Western Civilization

As demonstrated by photographer Martin Adolfsson's pictures of McMansions from all around the world.

Has A&E Crippled "Duck Dynasty"? (Updated)

The Daily Mail reports that A&E has decided to indefinitely suspending Phil Robertson--the head of the "Duck Dynasty" family. The reason is that Robertson had the temerity to speak his mind as a Christian, and decry homosexuality as a sin. Gay groups were in a tizzy over Robertson's comments:
GLAAD spokesperson Wilson Cruz told E! News: 'Phil and his family claim to be Christian, but Phil's lies about an entire community fly in the face of what true Christians believe.

'He clearly knows nothing about gay people or the majority of Louisianans - and Americans - who support legal recognition for loving and committed gay and lesbian couples.

'Phil's decision to push vile and extreme stereotypes is a stain on A&E and his sponsors who now need to reexamine their ties to someone with such public disdain for LGBT people and families.'
 
Mr Cruz later praised A&E for their swift actions to combat this, and said: 'What's clear is that such hateful anti-gay comments are unacceptable to fans, viewers, and networks alike. By taking quick action and removing Robertson from future filming, A&E has sent a strong message that discrimination is neither a Christian nor an American value.'
Cruz can say all he wants about the Bible, but I've read it and it clearly condemns homosexuality as a sin--in both the Old and New Testaments.

I've noted before that free speech comes with responsibility and accountability; that your employer or customers may not like what you have done. For instance, Guns & Ammo magazine recently terminated two of its editors for publishing an anti-gun editorial that angered many readers and potentially could have led to a serious drop in revenue. And many of us remember the Dixie Chicks' naive belief that they could insult their audience, yet still sell their music.

The potential difference I see here is that it is not at all clear that A&E's reaction has anything to do with viewers. I'll admit that I've never looked into the show's demographics, and never watched the show myself, but it seems self-evident that Duck Dynasty is not a program that draws a large part of its audience from the gay and lesbian demographic, or even from so-called liberals in general. I suspect that the majority of its audience probably have beliefs that coincide with Robertson's--as Obama described them, those "bitter clingers" with their guns and religion. A&E's decision may well alienate Duck Dynasty viewers.

So this brings us to the question of whether A&E acted correctly. Milton Friedman maintained that the duty of management of a company was to maximize the value of their shareholders. In other words, businesses (at least publicly traded corporations) exist to generate profits, not advance or retard social causes. The question is whether A&E's executives are advancing the interests of their shareholders, or their personal viewpoints. If A&E's management is merely acting on its personal viewpoints, and causes a drop in viewership (and, thus, revenue), then its executives acted improperly and, in my opinion, breached their fiduciary duty to the company's shareholders.

Update: Matthew Yglesias at Slate also recognizes the general principle that you don't have a Constitutional right to have your television show produced. Let's hope he remembers this when the winds blow the other direction.