"You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out." - William Tecumseh Sherman

Name: The General
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Friday, February 18, 2005
  Bill Maher
Bill Maher was on MSNBC's Scarborough Country on Tuesday. Here's a link to the transcript. While I take issue with many of Maher's liberal positions, he is quite funny, and his attacks on religion are second to none. Here's some choice segments:
SCARBOROUGH: So, anyway, let‘s talk about something that Gary Wills wrote. And I think Maureen Dowd echoed with sentiment.

After the election when we found out that 22 percent of Americans, based on some exit polls, said morality was their top issue, Gary Wills said that any country with evangelicals that voted for George Bush who believe in the virgin birth more than they believe in evolution can‘t be an enlightened nation.

And Gary Wills basically compared America to al Qaeda. That‘s a little harsh, isn‘t it?

MAHER: That is too harsh.

SCARBOROUGH: People of faith can step forward, get involved in the process, believe in Jesus, and still vote for George Bush without being an ignorant peasant, can‘t they?

MAHER: Well, I think comparing them to al Qaeda is too harsh, but that‘s because al Qaeda is a terrorist organization.

But do we have more in common—and I am not the first one to say this. I have read this many times. We have more in common with the people, some of the nations who we are aligned against, when you look at beliefs in such things as, do you go to heaven, is there a devil, we have more in common with Turkey and Iran and Syria than we do with European nations and Canada and nations that, yes, I would consider more enlightened than us.

Yes, we are a nation that is unenlightened because of religion. I do believe that. I think that religion stops people from thinking. I think it justifies crazies. I think flying planes into a building was a faith-based initiative. I think religion is a neurological disorder. If you look at it logically, it‘s something that was drilled into your head when you were a small child. It certainly was drilled into mine at that age. And you really can‘t be responsible when you are a kid for what adults put into your head.

But when you become an adult, you can then have it drilled out. And you should.
Amen! Of course, I don't consider Europe or Canada to be "enlightened" nations.
SCARBOROUGH: So, I believe in Jesus. I believe in heaven. I believe in hell. I believe in good.

MAHER: Right.

SCARBOROUGH: I believe in evil.

Tell me how that neurological—and I am talking about myself. How does that neurological disorder impact me day in and day out? Because some people would argue it actually makes me healthier, makes me a better member of society, makes sure that I respect other people‘s opinions.

MAHER: Are you kidding? Respect other people‘s opinions?


MAHER: Would we be having this debate about whether gay people can lead their lives just like any other people if it wasn‘t for religion? Religion makes people not respect other people‘s lives.
Maher does a good job in this next segment of stepping out of the trap that Scarborough attempts to set for him, equating atheism with Hitler and Nazism:
SCARBOROUGH: I mean, come on. I mean, you look at all of these states. You can look at Missouri. Like, they had a vote on a referendum on gay marriage. My gosh, what, 70 -- I think 70, 75 percent of the people in Missouri voted against gay marriage. That wasn‘t because 75 percent of the people in Missouri are evangelicals.

What about the people that beat Matthew Shepherd to death in Wyoming? You think they were worshipping Jesus before they went out and beat him to death?

MAHER: Well, no, but why are you conflating those two things? It‘s one thing to beat someone to death. That‘s just a crime.

SCARBOROUGH: Because they‘re gay. No, no, it was hatred of him because he was gay.


MAHER: I understand that.

But, first of all, I think the vote in Missouri and a lot of other states is because people are religious. They don‘t have to be evangelical, but they‘re religious. They believe in religion, which as—I think it was Jesse Ventura who had that quote about religion is a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers.

SCARBOROUGH: Yes. I think Hitler also said that.

MAHER: No, not—well, Jesse...

SCARBOROUGH: No. Hitler said something—I remember when I heard Jesse Ventura saying that, I said, God, that sounds an awful lot like Adolf Hitler, doesn‘t it?

MAHER: Well, you know, even a broken watch is right twice a day.



SCARBOROUGH: So Hitler was right.


MAHER: The point is, well, even Ted Kaczynski was right about a couple of things. It doesn‘t mean I agree that he should be blowing things up. Tim McVeigh had some good points. It doesn‘t mean I agree with his method of putting those points across.

But when people say to me, you hate America, I don‘t hate America. I love America. I am just embarrassed that it has been taken over by people like evangelicals, by people who do not believe in science and rationality. It is the 21st century. And I will tell you, my friend. The future does not belong to the evangelicals. The future does not belong to religion. And I know that...
I share all too well in Maher's embarassment. Unfortunately, I don't think things will change rapidly enough to prevent the future from belonging to religion. The secular left is intellectually and culturally bankrupt, and the conservatives are rushing through the gates...
  One More Reason Not to Move to Arkansas
From the AP:
The state House on Friday voted against affirming the separation of church and state in a resolution brought by a legislator who said he was fed up with a religious undertone at the Capitol.

The House voted 44-39 against the proposal. Only two Republicans voted for it, and one of them, Rep. Jim Medley, said he had intended to vote no but didn't get to his machine in time to change his vote.

Democratic Rep. Buddy Blair said he offered the measure because he was tired of conservative colleagues "making every issue into a religious issue."

"It's unbelievable to me. They have just voted against the U.S. Constitution and the constitution of the state of Arkansas," Blair said.

Legislators have offered bills this session to keep gay people from adopting or serving as foster parents; define marriage in school textbooks as a one-man, one-woman union; require minors to get a parent's permission before an abortion; and offer "In God We Trust" license plates.

Republican Rep. Michael Lamoureux said Blair's resolution wasn't needed.

"It's clear that our founding fathers, that they wanted Christian beliefs," Lamoureux said. "The separation of church and state is not in our Constitution."
  Who Likes Bush?
I've really begun to wonder lately - who could possibly approve of President Bush? "Diplomacy" has failed miserably with North Korea - Kim Jong Il has withdrawn from the vaunted "six-party" talks, declaring that he now possesses nuclear weapons. Iraq is looking grim, with Shiites vaguely supporting a regime based on Islamic law and Kurds demanding virtual independence from the country. And now, Bush tops all his previous blunders, by proving that he can be wrong on just about every issue. From the AP today, Bush let's us know exactly where he stands on Iran:
"I hear all these rumors about military attacks, and it's just not the truth," said Bush, who leaves Sunday for Europe to mend fences with allies. "We want diplomacy to work."
Let's see - maybe my memory's getting rusty, but I think I just mentioned that diplomacy allowed North Korea to develop nuclear weapons. What in the hell does Bush think will make things work differently this time? To be fair, he did leave a carrot on a stick for his supporters, so that they'd have a "leg" to stand on when defending him:
Listen, first of all, you never want a president to say 'never.' But military action is certainly not — it's never the president's first choice. Diplomacy is always the president's first — at least my first choice.
And if you're looking for insightful, clever one-liner's that really show the measure of a man, Bush provides those as well:
Asked if he trusted Iran, Bush said, "Well, it's hard to trust a regime that doesn't trust their own people."
I can see the deadpan smile that must have accompanied that comment. And last but not least, here's Bush on Putin:
Bush said he would talk with Russian President Vladimir Putin about actions widely viewed as a retreat from democracy. "I mean, he's done some things that (have) concerned people," Bush said. But Bush also emphasized that he has "a good relationship" with Putin and would talk with him "in a friendly way" about Western values based on the rule of law, openness, freedom of expression and checks and balances in government.

"We don't need a fresh start in my personal relationship with Vladimir Putin," Bush said. "We're friends. And that's important."

Bush said Putin "sees clearly the common enemy" in the war on terrorism and "he knows you got to be tough and resolute and strong."
I'm sorry, but this President is a farce. These next four years are looking quite dismal. On all the issues where Bush needs prodding, his party smiles and let's him go on his merry way; and on one of the few issues where I sympathize with him, Social Security, the Republicans appear to be preparing to abort (albeit during the first trimester). I still believe Kerry would have been a superior President, given our current situation. The Republican majority would be giving Kerry hell right now for his actions, instead of giving Bush a free pass. And to be quite frank, I don't see how Bush is doing anything now that differs fundamentally from what Kerry would have done. The only difference is that Kerry in all his nudity would have been denounced, while Bush continues to receive praise for his fashion chic.

P.S. I almost forgot to mention Syria:
The president also said that he and his French counterpart, Jacques Chirac, should set their differences aside to focus on the Middle East, Lebanon and other issues. Bush said he and Chirac would send a clear signal to Syria that it must remove its soldiers from Lebanon and that "we're very serious about this."
P.P.S. To be totally objective, I should give Bush some marginal credit for signing the bill curbing class-action lawsuits. Let's see.... -99 + 3 = ...
Thursday, February 17, 2005
  Quote of the Day
What is called moral legislation must inevitably increase the alleged evil. The only way to prevent prostitution altogether would be to imprison one half of the human race; aside from this, the law can take a share of the prostitute's earnings, with a fine, and thus induce her to earn more and to pay for "protection." The drug traffic is made profitable by prohibition, and thus increased. The acts forbidden are those by which persons injure only themselves; hence, the law can only injure them further.

- Isabel Paterson, The God of the Machine, pg. 93
  Let's Get Ready to Rumble!
Microsoft chairman Bill Gates has recently revealed that Microsoft would be beta-testing a new version of its web browser, Internet Explorer this summer. The following story off of TechWeb covers some of the details:
In announcing that the company would begin beta testing IE 7.0 in early summer, Microsoft chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates (news - web sites) told attendees at the RSA Conference in San Francisco Tuesday that the upgrade would include additional defenses against phishing scams, worms, viruses and spyware, but did not give any details on new capabilities.

Security concerns have been a major impetus for consumers to switch from IE to alternative browsers, with the Mozilla Foundation's open-source Firefox benefiting the most. As of January, IE market share had fallen to 92.7 percent, while Firefox's share had risen to 4.8 percent, according to JupiterResearch, a division of Jupitermedia Corp. Other browsers, such as Netscape and Opera, accounted for the rest.

But JupiterResearch analyst Joe Wilcox believes Microsoft is also concerned with reports that rivals Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc. (Nasdaq:YHOO - news) may be preparing to launch their own branded browsers. Ask Jeeves Inc., a smaller competitor in the search-engine market, has said it is in discussions with Mozilla about launching its own browser based on open-source Firefox.
As someone who both uses FireFox and prefers it to Internet Explorer, I can only say, "Hooray!" The up-coming "browser-war" that article mentions (and somewhat bemoans), will only benefit consumers. One of the reasons I really appreciate the "open-source" movement in precisely their ability to challenge commercial entities to continually innovate, in areas that they otherwise might not. This is no exception. Internet Explorer is way overdue for a rehaul and retooling. Mozilla, and it's more elegant FireFox browsers employ many cutting edge technologies that have, to put it simply, invalidated Internet Explorer (not to mention the continuous vulnerabilities it has suffered from). Hell, I've even gotten my 85 year old grandfather, who certainly doesn't know very much about computers, to switch to FireFox.

If Microsoft can bring out a browser that would supplant FireFox, I will switch, without hesistation. But for now, FireFox is my browser of choice. Competition on a free market is opposite of the competition of the jungle. As consumers, we all benefit, regardless of who produces the best product. What FireFox proves is not that Microsoft is an unconquerable, monolithic giant with "monopoly" power. It proves that quality is what ultimately wins in the marketplace, when people are free to compete with one another.
  Perhaps Some Optimism is Warranted...
I've been a frequent skeptic of any progress towards a semi-free country in Iraq, but the following report from the AFP has made me reconsider (but only slightly):
Kurds have rejected the idea of an Islamic republic in Iraq following the victory of a conservative Shiite list in last month's historic elections.

"Kurds will oppose setting up an Islamic republic if this question is asked by other political forces in Iraq," Adnan Mufti, a senior member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan headed by Jalal Talabani, said Wednesday.

"Of course we are a Muslim people and we must respect our Muslim identity but we cannot pit religion against democracy," said Mufti, himself a candidate for speaker of the autonomous Kuridsh parliament.

Sami Shursh, the unofficial minister of culture within the other heavyweight Kurdish party, Massud Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party, agrees.

"What Kurds want is a republican regime founded on the principle of rotation of power, with a parliamentary system, a separation of powers and a separation of religion and the state," he said Wednesday.
While mere appeals alone are not sufficient to provide freedom in Iraq, the ideas mentioned here are much better than I had hoped for. Also, the Kurds are predominantly members of the Sunni sect of Islam, putting them in opposition to the Shiite majority (just imagine if the Protestants had to fight the Catholics for power; it wouldn't be ideal, but better than all Catholics or all Protestants).

For those who have heralded Bush's work in the Middle East (which isn't even worthy of a subdued, "Yay"), the real test will be how Bush acts in the coming days. If the Shiites attempt to enforce their version of Islam, and the Kurds resist, Bush will prove his true stance on freedom by whether or not he backs the Kurds (especially since both Turkey and Iran would like nothing better than for the Kurds to be put in their "place"). His father failed to do so; we'll see if the apple isn't as rotten as the tree which it dropped from.

Of course, this is really wishful thinking. Most likely some form of theocracy is going to take hold, it's really only a question of time, and degree. But you can't say I didn't hope otherwise, at least for a few minutes.
  Don't Judge a Book by its Cover...
When I first heard that a movie about sex researcher Alfred Kinsey was being released, I shrugged. I hadn't heard much about the man, but what I had heard indicated he was something of a hedonist and a pervert. And so naturally I had no interest in seeing the movie, even when it is released for rental. However, I will probably rent it now.

I was reading the blog Ego, one of my regulars; the post in question was Abortion is pro-life, a position I've agreed with for several years. So I proceeded to read through the post, and came across a link to another site I sometimes frequent, Box Office Mojo, which provides quality reviews of movies. The link in question was to the movie Kinsey.

Now, several questions popped into my head simultaneously. What does Kinsey have to do with abortion? Why would Ego link to a review of this movie, which I thought (without good reason) was probably garbage. So, curious, I followed the link, and I must say that the review has convinced me to at least see the movie. The gist of the review is that, whatever his flaws, Kinsey should be remembered for his courage in fighting against puritanical Christianity's dogma that sex is sinful and is not worthy of any form of study. That is a theme that rings true for me, and a context in which I can appreciate the man's work.

Go read the review for yourself, and make an informed decision before you decide to pass this movie by:
Considering Kinsey: Let's Think About Sex
Wednesday, February 16, 2005
  Indecent Proposal
The House of Representatives has just passed the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2005.
Chafing over racy broadcasts like Janet Jackson's infamous "wardrobe malfunction" at the 2004 Super Bowl, the House overwhelmingly passed a bill Wednesday authorizing unprecedented fines for indecency.

Rejecting criticism the penalties will stifle free speech and homogenize radio and TV broadcasts, bill supporters said stiff fines were needed to give deep-pocketed broadcasters more incentive to clean up their programs and to help assure parents that their children won't be exposed to inappropriate material.

The measure, which passed 389-38, boosts the maximum fine from $32,500 to $500,000 for a company and from $11,000 to $500,000 for an individual entertainer.
Jeff Jarvis provides a breakdown of those who supported the first amendment.
Monday, February 14, 2005
  The Right of Return...
I had always thought this particular idiocy was limited to the Palestinians, but apparently many of the Kurds have embraced it as well. Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, is one of the contenders for the Iraqi presidency:
A more immediate Kurdish concern are areas under the central government's control that Kurds want included within the boundary of a future federal zone, including the multiethnic city of Kirkuk.

Kurdish families displaced during Saddam's "Arabization" program must be allowed to return, and Arab families who replaced them must be sent back, Talabani said. The former dictator deported thousands of Kurdish residents in order to change the demography of the oil-rich city. "They must go back home, all of them," Talabani said.
  Defending Academic Freedom
Onkar Ghate explains why both sides in the Ward Churchill "scandal" are in the wrong: Professor Ward Churchill, The First Amendment and Free Speech on Campus.

Money quote:
Freedom of speech is an individual’s right to express ideas without coercive interference from the government. Free speech does protect an individual who voices unpopular ideas from governmental force, but it does not require that other citizens support him. If an individual wants others to finance the expression of his ideas, he must seek their voluntary agreement. To force another person to support ideas he opposes violates his freedom of speech.

A journalist, for instance, has the freedom to write what he pleases, but he has no right to demand that Time magazine publish it. That decision belongs to the owners of Time. Similarly, a professor has the freedom to teach any view he wishes, but he has no right to demand that Harvard employ him. That decision belongs to the private owners of Harvard. Freedom of speech is not the right of a Ph.D. to have other citizens provide him with a university classroom.
Sunday, February 13, 2005
  Quote of the Day
ALL THINGS ARE SUBJECT to the law of cause and effect. This great principle knows no exception, and we would search in vain in the realm of experience for an example to the contrary.

- Carl Menger, Principles of Economics
You can find that quote and the rest of the book here. I'm almost finished with first chapter, and I'm loving it. Here's a quote from a student of Menger's. Makes me wish I could have attended just one of his lectures:
Professor Menger carries his fifty-three years lightly enough. In lecturing he rarely uses his notes except to verify a quotation or a date. His ideas seem to come to him as he speaks and are expressed in language so clear and simple, and emphasised with gestures so appropriate, that it is a pleasure to follow him. The student feels that he is being led instead of driven, and when a conclusion is reached it comes into his mind not as something from without, but as the obvious consequence of his own mental process. It is said that those who attend Professor Menger’s lectures regularly need no other preparation for their final examination in political economy, and I can readily believe it. I have seldom, if ever, heard a lecturer who possessed the same talent for combining clearness and simplicity of statement with philosophical breadth of view. His lectures are seldom ‘over the heads’ of his dullest students, and yet always contain instruction for the brightest.
  Back to Blogger's Commenting System
Wouldn't it figure, shortly after I go to all the trouble to change my commenting system so everyone can post comments, Blogger wises up and adds that feature to its commenting system. So now I am switching back - HaloScan was great, but it has two inherent limitations that make it too cumbersome now:
  1. Comments are archived after like 4 months (you can pay to make them availableb, and
  2. The number of characters a commenter can type is limited to 1000-3000 (depending on if you pay).That might seem like a silly reason for me, since few people comment on my blog. But I can always hope :-).

So now, people can comment who don't have a blogger profile, without limits to the length of their comments. Go to it!
  Oh, So That's What We Learned From 9/11...
Charles Krauthammer gives the conservative justification for the "war on terror":
After 9/11, we finally understood that helping build decent, representative, tolerant societies in the Middle East is ultimately the only way to prevent endless generations of young Arab men from finding fulfillment by crashing airplanes into buildings filled with infidels.
  The Notebook - a Recommendation
About five years ago, my wife and I read Nicholas Sparks's book The Notebook. We both instantly fell in love with the passionate, romantic characters of Noah and Allie, and their deep, enduring love for one another. What made the book so thoroughly enjoyable was its celebration of romantic love, as a selfish value, and the admirable choices the characters make in the face of extraordinarily difficult circumstances.

And so after having received several good reviews from people I respect, I was salivating over my copy of the movie version as I slid the DVD into my DVD player. Gone were the admirable characters, making heroic choices while pursuing their values. In there place were two teenagers, with superficial similarities but obviously edited, watered-down into conventional types you could meet at any bar.

The outrage and betrayal we both felt were visceral, and nearly incommunicable. This book holds a special place in our hearts, and the movie betrayed the essence of the book. Beautiful, romantic scenes and lines were totally excised, without any justification. And totally irrational, disconnected, confusing and unnecessary ones pasted in. We both got the feeling that the screenwriter or director, upon reading the book, felt, "This is too far-fetched, this isn't how real people act, let's make it more palatable to the general public". What they overlook is the fact that "the public", like ourselves, yearns for the kind of the love the book celebrates.

So this is a warning - if you have read the book, DO NOT SEE THE MOVIE. For everyone else, don't even see the movie either- buy the book instead. It's only about 200 pages, but I promise you it will be 200 pages of love and romance like you have rarely seen. If you value passionate, romantic love, this book is for you.
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