Rants and Raves

Opinion, commentary, reviews of books, movies, cultural trends, and raising kids in this day and age.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

They're going to chop Hady Mutief's head off

From my friend and colleague Ali Alyami, Executive Director, The Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia. Ali is himself a member of the Ismaeli minority.

Hady Muteif was accused of having offended Islam 15 years ago when he was a teenager. He was born and raised in Najran, southern Saudi Arabia. He belongs to the Ismaeli religious minority (offshoot of Shia-Shiites). Under Islamic traditions and teachings, offenders of the faith are forgiven after they repent. Sunni Saudis have slurred religion in the past, but have been pardoned and released from prisons. Religious minorities are considered apostates by the dominant Saudi-Wahhabi state religion.

Washington DC

Feb. 24, 08

To: His Majesty, King Abdullah,

Subject: Pending Chopping of Hady Mutief’s head

Chopping people’s heads for religious slurs is a crime against humanity.
Non-Muslims talk and make fun of their religions and religious leaders every where in the world and no one cares.

Are non-Muslims less human and less believers than Muslims?

On the contrary, non-Muslims have proven, time and again, to be more humane, creative, generous, magnanimous and caring than most Muslims have ever been.

They criticize and make fun of their religions, prophets and holy books without fear of losing their heads to their government’s swords.

Let’s face it your majesty, your family and its ferocious religious extremists use religion to terrorize their subdued and voiceless people for reasons other than love of God.

You use religion as a tool of oppression, torture, killing, squandering of people’s revenues, discrimination against women and minorities, severe gender segregation, incitements against non-Muslims and utter deprivation of all activities that bring joy and happiness to peoples’ hearts.

Using religion as a tool to kill, oppress and terrorize people is a religious barbarity, not religious tolerance, purity and forgiveness.

Chopping Hady Mutief’s head in a public square will only increase people’s fear of their faith not love for it.

Killing Hady has less to do with what he said about Wahhabi Islam and more to do with his religious orientation. Hady belongs to the unlucky Ismaeli religious minority of Najran who has been the target of your family and its Wahhabi vindictive religious fanatic’s wrath for centuries.

Finally your majesty, the medieval kings of Europe and other places killed and oppressed people in the name of God and at the end, they were beheaded, dragged on rough grounds and hanged on sticks until they shrunk to nothingness. It’s only a matter of time before the Saudi religious policies and practices at home and abroad bring colossal retribution to Muslims and their holy shrines.

Chopping Hady’s head in front of his mother and children will only make Islam that more hated by its adherents and the international community. It’s time to embrace civility, maturity, tolerance and respect for the sanctity of human lives.


Ali H. Alyami, Ph. D.

Executive Director, The Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia

1050 17 St. NW Suite 1000

Washington, DC 20036

Tel: (202) 558-5552; (202) 413-0084; Fax: (202) 536-5210

ali@cdhr.info; www.cdhr.info

Monday, February 18, 2008

Elect Obama or Michelle will be ashamed of America again

Obama now looks like he's got the Democratic nomination locked in. However, go have a look at John Derbyshire's interesting speculation "Al Gore is Inevitable" here http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=MWQxY2Q2ZWRmZGRkMDYwNzU1ZWQxMGU4YzY5ODY1YTQ=

Michelle Obama is "proud of America for the first time."

Poor girl, an oppressed minority woman, with nothing to comfort her but two Ivy League degrees and a few million dollars.

We'd better elect her husband or she'll be ashamed of America again.

Is she trying to guilt-trip America into electing her husband I wonder? There has been some speculation about the "white guilt" vote.

I think it's on the wrong track. Aside from Barack Obama's undeniable charm, he's got two things going for him - neither of which will take him all the way to the White House.

1) He's a blank slate, which people can write all their hopes and dreams onto.

The drawback of this is, a man who is not known for himself will be known by the company he keeps, and Obama keeps company with some weirdos. (Not neccessarily a condemnation. I have some definitely unsavory, but interesting, friends.)

2) I Don't think it's white guilt that makes white folks go for Obama, I think it's that the huge majority of us just want this whole race thing to be over.

The drawback to this is - Michelle. I think she may have shot down Obama's campaign right there with that dumb remark.

And what does "White guilt" say?

Some see just that, guilt. I've written elsewhere why I don't buy this this. Basically because the impression these people give is not guilt, but smug.

(See: http://rantsand.blogspot.com/2006/10/western-civilization-and-its_26.html )

Others see wimpy White intellectuals kow-towing to scary militant and aggressive minorities.

I think there's a lot of that in it, but when they say "Oh we're so sorry for what our people did to you" what does that imply?

Could it be, "Never forget, we have the power to do this to you"?

Weird election all right

This is a weird election all right, and the parties haven't even nominated anyone yet!

Various pundits have been pointing out that the pundits have been consistently wrong about almost every major event. Gosh, it turns out that We the People are not as predictable as thought.

I don't know about you, but it kinda gives me warm fuzzies.

I'm sure more stuff will occur to me as this goes on, but here's two things that I find hilarious.

One, Hillary is trying to rig the nomination. See Armstrong Williams here http://www.townhall.com/columnists/ArmstrongWilliams/2008/02/18/its_about_to_get_real_ugly

The cold hard truth is that Clinton is in danger of losing the nomination despite going against her word and campaigning (and winning the non-races) in Florida and Michigan. Now, out of desperation, the Clinton campaign is lobbying the Democratic Party to reverse its prior decision and count the Florida and Michigan delegates in the final delegate count, despite their earlier disqualification. How outrageous!

After the Democrats kvetching about the Florida recount for the last seven years, this is a scream.

Somebody explain to them again, you aren't allowed to change the rules of the game after you lose.

Second, I'm having a lot of fun reading Dick Morris. Remember him? Former Bill Clinton handler who got dropped like a hot rock after a hooker* arranged to have him photographed sucking her toes on a D.C. balcony.

Morris is also author of a book he'd probably rather see forgotten, in which he predicted that this race would be a contest between Hillary and Condolezza Rice.

Morris is fond of telling us what a power-broker insider guy he is. Such as how, after one of Bill's career setbacks (I forget which one), grabbed him by the lapels and shook him to get him out of his funk.

Now he's supporting well, anybody but Hillary.

But, I've noticed that often when he describes Clinton-style dirty tricks he just can't help copping this attitude, "And I taught him that!"

I don't know when I've ever seen an election this fun.

I fear we're going to need the memory of that when it's over.

* Whose conduct by the way was shockingly unprofessional. Discretion is one of the services you are supposed to be purchasing. It's an implied contract thing.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

On physical pain

It's Sunday morning and I awoke with pain that makes it difficult to walk.

It's in the lower back, more on the left side, and particularly deep in the upper left buttock.

I seem to have strained something, perhaps when skating last week holding my daughter in my arms. It seems to have gotten worse yesterday when I was attempting to make another dent in the unpacked stuff we have lying around the living/ dining room.

I expect that in the course of time it's going to go away by itself, but in the meantime I may need to buy a cane.

(And isn't it ironic that as an Escrimador I have lots of sticks around but not one long enough to serve as a walking stick? The nearest thing I have that would serve is a Zatoichi-style sword walking stick - which would be a felony to carry on the street in many places.)

As one gets older I've noticed that the kind of sprains and pains that used to come from straining the muscles, joints and ligaments, now seem to well... just happen. Or perhaps happen from some minor effort, such as getting out of bed.

My wife is urging me to take a pill, but as a doctor's son I've got a certain suspicion of painkillers and prefer to avoid them when possible. I'm using IcyHot and Aspercream topical applications instead.

(Some studies have indicated that the least medicated sector of society is - doctors' families. Isn't that interesting?)

She's also suggested I go to the emergency room. For what? Again, something that's going to go away by itself in time, and in the meantime nothing can be done except take a painkiller.

Of course, there is that little voice that whispers "What if it doesn't go away, not ever?"

I've lived with chronic severe pain before. When I was 25 I had a case of arthritis in my hands that was an s.o.b. to live with. (I suspect, but cannot prove, that this may have been caused by exposure to PCBs.)

It eventually went away after lots of aspirin and getting out of a bad relationship - and there is so much of a correlation between the two that when you go to see a rheumatologist he's pretty quickly going to get around to asking how things are at home with you.

But how would I deal with it if it never went away? Would one get used to a comparatively minor pain like this? Or would one think seriously about suicide, as sufferers from dry tooth sockets are said to?

Remember that flick, The People v Larry Flynt? After an operation to kill the pain from his bullet wound, he stopped taking the (highly-addictive) painkillers.

"I want my mind back" was how he put it.

My late grandmother was prey to aches and pains and used to complain that she wanted something that would kill the pain, but didn't like feeling "goofy." (Towards the end of her life she was kind of hinting to me that she didn't think pot was so bad. To this day I regret... oh never mind.)

There's a political dimension to this as well. (Oh come on, you knew there would be.)

When you have free government insurance that mandates the doctor has to see you whenever you walk in, it doesn't take long before the system gets overloaded with people with pains like this walking in and demanding that he fix this right now.

My father estimated in his (orthopedic) practice, that perhaps as high as 60% of his patients didn't really need to see him. They were either suffering from something that would go away by itself in time, or something stress-related. (People tend to store stress as muscle tension in either the lower back or across the forehead.)

Other doctors in other specialties have told me that the number for their patients could be as high as 90%.

Well, for now I'll just spend the day in bed with Aspercream and a hot pad. And durn it, I'm going to have to wait to try out those new rollerblades.

Why no durn Yankee peckerhead is ever going to make me ashamed of the South

In my posts on Rewriting History: This Lincoln Garbage, I outlined why I thought the "New Confederate" Civil War revisionism was nonsense. And in my series on Western Civilization and its Discontents I acknowledged my debt to Lincoln intellectually, so I guess it's no secret that I admire Lincoln as a man, a thinker and a leader.

I also pointed out that the South had legitimate and realistic fears about universal manumission. But in the end, it was their refusal to deal with and plan for eventual abolition of slavery and instead attempt to perpetuate and expand it, that made the war inevitable.

(In Europe I've actually been asked seriously which side I was on. In the Old World a civil war of that magnitude would still be an issue after only a century and a half.)

Now that being said, I'm going to explain why no durn Yankee peckerhead is ever going to make me ashamed of the South.

In 1864 when the South was on the ropes, they tried a new secret weapon to break the blockade of Charleston harbor, a submarine.

They figured if they could break the blockade, they could get vital military supplies from England, whose elites desperately wanted the United States to fail as a nation.

The CSS Hunley was a cigar-shaped iron tube fitted with bow planes and hand pumped ballast tanks for diving and an iron keel that, theoretically, could be dis-attached and dropped from inside to lighten the boat enough to float.

It was powered by eight men turning a hand crank.

While being towed in an early trial, the boat went down with six of her crew. On a later attempt, she went down with the full crew, including her designer Horace Hunley.

When I was a boy, I saw an episode about the Hunley on the American history series, The Great Adventure. I can still recall the chills that went down my spine when I saw the opening scene.

Winches are drawing the boat to the surface. A Confederate officer (played by Jackie Cooper) jumps on deck and opens the hatch. A voice says,

"This is the Confederate States submarine, the Hunley."

The officer reaches into the hatch, and lifts an arm, then lets it drop.

"And this is the body of the man who invented her."

That officer, Lt. George E. Dixon, then raises another crew and attempts yet again to sink a Yankee blockade ship.

At first they tried towing a floating mine. The idea being to dive below a ship and tow the mine into her. That proved unsatisfactory for the reason that the mine tended to drift toward the boat faster than they could crank away from it.

So what they tried next was a bomb mounted on a harpoon on the bow of the boat. The idea was to ram a Yankee ship below the waterline, then back away. A long lanyard would unreel and pull the detonator.

Does this sound insane to you? It ought to.

Consider, in 1864 when any damn fool could plainly see the war was lost, they found another eight men who would climb into a contraption that had already killed its crew and its designer, on the off chance that they could sink a Yankee blockade ship.

When the Hunley was found on the bottom of Charleston harbor in 1995 I was teaching in Warsaw. I tried to explain to my classes how moved I was by the discovery.

One of my students asked how a 19th century submarine was powered. When I told him, his jaw dropped and he said, "I don't believe you."

On the night of February 17, Lt. Dixon and his crew, most of whose histories are unknown to this day, set out into the harbor.

Observers on shore heard an explosion and saw the 1800-ton steam sloop USS Housatonic sink. But the Hunley never came back. She was the first submarine in history to sink a capital ship.

On August 8, 2000, the boat was raised, and on April 17, 2004, the Hunley's crewmen were interred in Charleston's Magnolia Cemetery, with full military honors.

I find it hard to understand how any American, northern or southern, could think of this without being overwhelmed with grief and pride.

And if anyone thinks I should be ashamed of these men because of the cause for which they fought, I'd invite him to kiss my Rebel ass.

Note: There is a pretty good movie about the Hunley, starring Armand Asante as Lt. Dixon. See: The Hunley http://imdb.com/title/tt0162897/

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Why Barack Hussein Obama

I've got to confess, I'm getting a lot of guilty pleasure watching Obama surge.

"What on earth for?" you ask.

First let me recommend David Brin's blog here: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/

This is well worth reading - even though there is actually not much I agree with in regard to specific conclusions. Nonetheles, the guy is thinking.

I've made clear that (with some small/nagging reservations) I support Mr. Obama for the Democratic nomination and (with much greater reservations) Mr. Paul for the Republican. Might I add another reason to the long list that I've offered before?

I've just returned from Europe where, I must tell you, the prevailing attitude is not only disappointment with America, but also a certain amount of shadenfreude, or secret pleasure, over how far into silliness we seem to have fallen. The spectacle of two "royal families" reigning over the American political parties for almost thirty years is viewed as proof that we have become absurd, lacking any confidence in our ability to draw new leaders from the general population. An age-old trap that we used to accuse the Europeans of!

It is, frankly, part of the same sickness that prompts the directors of major corporations to hire CEOs only from the same, tedious list of unimaginative, uninspired and terminally greedy golf-buddies. An utter repudiation of the ideal that markets and democracy will find talent from a great and vast pool, amid a brash and brilliant populace.

I won't pretend that there aren't aspects of Mr. Obama I'd have preferred to see tested and proved for a while, first. I pray that he is what he seems. But still, what he seems is worth a gamble. Because, what he seems to be is the best of what America stands for. He seems confident, honest, eventempered, and willing to pragmatically negotiate, free of fixed dogmas, helping us to work out, among ourselves, answers to a myriad problems.

And a cute comment on Ron Paul:

And for those who are registered Republicans? Well, he may be crazy, but at least a vote for Ron Paul would help him get a speech at the convention -- a speech where he'd fire up the libertarian wing and propel them toward confronting the dark cabal that's tried to turn America into a Banana Republic. (If someone were to whisper in his ear, "damp down the psycho-ward stuff and stick to the things folks like about you!" That'd be cool, too.)

I've mentioned before, I have the highest respect for Dr. Brin, and his writings about the "Dogma of Otherness" have significantly shaped my thinking. http://rantsand.blogspot.com/2007/03/david-brins-otherness.html
But in a lot of ways I think he's just flat naive. And contrary to his scientific training he seems to reach conclusions on surprisingly little data.

A trip to Europe? Has he lived there or associated with people other than an author and scientist is likely to associate with? And which part of Europe is he talking about? Europe's a big place and more diverse than the US. And he seems to have learned their "secrets" awfully quickly.

Nonetheless I recommend reading him. Regardless of whether you agree or not, he'll make you think about things from a different perspective.

Now about Obama, the reason for my glee at Obama's success is less high-minded than Dr. Brin's. I REALLY want to see Hillary's absolute and utter humiliation.

I originally wanted to see her run for president and lose badly. But then she'd just blame it on the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. If she loses her own party's nomination, in spite of the well-oiled machine they've built over the years, to someone she has to consider a rank amateur - now THAT would be humiliating.

Hey, maybe she'd really lose it and use the N-word and get caught at it! (We have so far, pretty much only Dick Morris' word about the "F-ing Jew bastard" expletives.) Now wouldn't that would make her PC base absolutely squirm with discomfort.

And for a more high-minded reason, if Obama won - or maybe even doing as well as he's done so far is enough, it will make it plain to African-Americans and the rest of the world, that we are so over that racist B.S. Obama is kicking butt in areas where there is no significant black population.

Make no mistake, I think Obama is probably a nice, sincere guy whose world-view amounts to a collection of 60's-era cliches. He's managed to hang on to an idealism of unworkable ideals, likely because he hasn't had a lot of experience in the machinery of government so far.

Would experience in office mature him? Maybe - but even Dr. Brin refers to it as "a gamble."

And, what are the chances he'll live long enough to get experienced?

So far, I've only heard observed once what is going to become an important consideration, and awful temptation, in the event Obama becomes president.

His middle name, as Senator Kerry kept pointing out, is Hussein. His father was a muslim from Kenya. He spent at least some time in a madrassa in Indonesia.

To us that adds up to a colorful past. To muslims it adds up to apostate muslim. And the penalty for apostasy is death.

The Left pretty much ignored an attempt by Saddam Hussein on former president Bush's life. But if that wasn't a legal cassus belli I don't know what is. Could they ignore an attempt, successful or un-, on a president who was one of their own?

And here we get to that "awful temptation" I alluded to. Once conservatives realize this, that little voice inside is going to say, "Now THAT would wake them up..."

On the other hand - it might be amusing

Pat Buchanan wrote here http://www.townhall.com/columnists/PatrickJBuchanan/2008/02/09/a_rapprochement_with_the_right

McCain has said he will stay in Iraq another 100 years if necessary, that Russia should be thrown out of the G-8, that he will do whatever it takes to halt Iran's nuclear enrichment program. He has told us: "There's going to be other wars. ... I'm sorry to tell you, there's going to be other wars. We will never surrender, but there will be other wars."

To the neo-isolationist crowd that sounds like the script for a horror movie. Others see tough-minded realism.

I tend toward the latter, but it doesn't matter. McCain is the anti-Ron Paul (who is great on domestic issues, hopelessly naive on foreign policy). He may believe that America must be strong enough to confront evil and survive in a dangerous world, but is absolutely clueless about how a nation's strength is maintained.

In a word, McCain hates capitalism and individualism - the source of our strength and incredible economic vitality.

To put it bluntly, if we don't have a healthy (i.e. free-market capitalist) economy we can't maintain a strong military. Look, for example, at National Socialist Germany. They had what may have been the best trained and equipped military in the world at the time - which didn't matter in the end as the US out-produced their economy and strangled it by cutting off essential resources.

I won't belabor this point, the essays cited in the previous post do enough of that. What I will do is to point out something I believe eveybody has missed so far, how much McCain and Hillary are alike personality-wise.

Both have less-than-stellar academic credentials* but seem to consider themselves wiser than everyone else around them. Both disdain success in the private sector (McCain going so far as to insult Romny for his). Both have problems cooperating with those they disagree with, indeed seem to see disagreement as prima facie evidence of villany, and explosive tempers they controll with difficulty.

McCain has proven courage, but then I think Hillary probably does too. In this respect she's the anti-Bill (intellectually brilliant but undisciplined and cowardly).

McCain does have one significant difference with Hillary. The chances are better that the job will kill him fairly soon. The frustrations of dealing with people who stubbornly hold to their own opinions in the face of his unshakable rightness may make him blow a gasket.

Hillary will probably just send them to Guantanamo, after she's emptied it out so it can house all the real villains (i.e. people who disagree with her.)

Of course, Hillary despises and McCain idolizes the military, but then again Hillary wants to regiment American society into something very much like a military organization anyway.

Of course, people who are this much alike, in this way, generally don't get along. Or to put it another way, they hate each other's guts.

If it comes down to these two, this might be the best show in town for the next year.

Of course, after that wild party we'll be cleaning up the mess for some time.

Next: the advantage of an Obama presidency. (Now if THAT doesn't get you going...)

*Full disclosure: my academic record has been spotty in the past - and I obviously don't consider myself a dummy. In future posts I'll go into factors of academic success and related subjects.

Friday, February 08, 2008

It's McCain, we're screwed

Amiable wishy-washy Romney is out. It's McCain. We're screwed.

Others have gone down the list of reasons why McCain is, or is not, unacceptable to conservatives. Not being one I'll just say that McCain-Feingold is the deal breaker for me. Argue about else anything you like, but try to tell me what I can or can't say, print or donate money to someone else to say or print, and it's war - and I mean the kind that leaves blood on the streets.

We can work out most anything, as long as we're free to argue about it.

Now having said that I'm going to appear to be inconsistent on the issue in the future. Have patience, all will be revealed.

Three thorough disections of McCain are Bob Bidinotto's thoughtful analysis here http://bidinotto.journalspace.com/?entryid=670

Ilana Mercer's angry rant here http://www.ilanamercer.com/MittsGoneBillsBack.htm

and Ann Coulter's savagely witty http://www.anncoulter.com/

Next: Why support Obama and maybe McCain wouldn't be so bad

(Now THAT got you going didn't it?)

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Back on line!

Got home from work today to find the cable hooked up. We're back on line!

North Dakota is... cold this time of year. It's also eerily beautiful at dusk driving through the snow-covered hills.

Pursuing a local story, we found a delightful family pub in a town called Fort Ransom, population 105. It's at the entrance to a state park and has (at least) one guest house, featuring what they claim is the only guest yurt in North Dakota.

Got to see democracy in action covering the meeting of the city commission (more on that form of city government later) - and found it fascinating, no foolin'.

We're enjoying ourselves tremendously, doing new things and meeting new people . I believe we'd fallen into a rut. We don't do ruts in this family.

Watch this space for further developments.