Rants and Raves

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

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Matrix Revisited

Note: I have dusted off an old, unpublished review here as an introduction to a series of speculations on the Singularity, the Great Silence and the Great Filters.

By now everybody who is going to has seen the Matrix trilogy, so writing reviews with spoilers is no longer an issue.

The iconic status of the trilogy has been affirmed by an allusion from the films entering the English language, "Thanks for taking the red pill."

Mostly those who liked it were not disappointed and those who didn’t like it made up their minds after the first installment and watched the second and third only if they were being paid to pan, er, I mean review it.

Those who did like it point out that it has many levels of meaning. Some critical reviewers dismissed the final battle scenes as typical Hollywood FX action fare. I think they missed one of those levels of meaning there.

It is bangup action fare, the kind of guilty pleasure that we don’t want to admit we crave. But in a story about the conflict of the human and the nonhuman, what is more human than battle against hopeless odds to protect the people and things we love? Why else does the epitaph of the Three Hundred at Thermopylae still have the power to move us to tears?

And, it’s more complex and multileveled than that. The machines that attack Zion have no more personality than a landslide. It’s not a battle against competing tribes; it’s more like a battle against natural disaster.

But within the Matrix it is not just Man versus Machine. Humans have allies, programs with personalities who feel love, compassion, jealousy and hate, also traitors and fools who harm the cause of humanity from motives of greed, arrogance or self-delusion.

In short, I liked it very much. I’ll probably see it again many times and continue to find new insights into those levels of meaning. Like all good art, there is more to find in it than even the creators consciously intended to put there.

But… there is something I have to say about it that has haunted me from the first installment. It doesn’t detract from the pleasure I get from watching it but it nags at the back of my mind. Fortunately it also suggests a direction that it might go in any potential sequel, a possibility that the brothers Wachowski cleverly left open.

Surely the scientifically literate among the audience must have noticed that the major premise of the series is absurd? And I don’t mean obscure points of quantum mechanics wrong, I mean basic physics wrong.

Humans are plugged into the Matrix and kept ignorant of the true nature of their existence, we are told at the beginning, in order to harness the bioelectric and thermal energy of their bodies that the machines need to “live”. Early in the war, humans turned the sky black to cut off the solar energy that they ran on. So had we used up all the coal and oil by that time? Nuclear power?

When humans die, their bodies are recycled for nutrition for living humans. Anybody notice that this is a closed system, which by nature will run down in fairly short order? Without sunlight for photosynthesis there isn’t going to be any other food to keep the bodies plugged into the system alive. Not to mention the atmosphere getting bad after a while.

And how does Zion feed its people? Plants under grow lights? Powered by what?

Before the third installment came out, I wondered if the next surprise would be that Neo hadn’t escaped into the “real” world at all, but had instead broken through into a second order Matrix, i.e. that the world of Zion and the resistance was itself a program designed to catch those individuals who could recognize and break out of the first order Matrix.

I’m glad they didn’t do it that way, it would have been the kind of cheap conclusion that writing teachers call the “they all got run over by a truck” ending.

So what I’m going to suggest is this: the machines don’t need humans for energy, they need us so that they can be conscious and self-aware.

I am old enough to remember when Artificial Intelligence, i.e. self-aware machines, was just around the corner. Ten years they said, and we’ll have a machine we can meaningfully discuss the meaning of life with. Didn’t happen and now it doesn’t look like it will anytime soon.

It turns out that consciousness is not simply a matter of sufficiently complex circuitry (a theme brilliantly used in the Arthur C Clarke short story, Dial F for Frankenstein and in Robert Heinlein’s novel The Moon is a Harsh Mistress). There is something about self-awareness that goes very deep indeed.

An Irish cognitive scientist told me at a conference in Bulgaria he has come to believe consiousness goes right down to the quantum level of matter.

Maybe the Matrix is not slavery so much as it is symbiosis, it needs a certain number of organic brains plugged into it to be self-aware, otherwise it’s just a big computer.

Hey, did you ask your e coli if they wanted to live in your intestines?

In this scenario, the war is the process by which we and the machines are working out the terms of our coexistence – and notice that the Wachowski brothers chose to end with a truce rather than a melodramatic unconditional victory for humanity. But it is a victory for the most fundamental longing of humanity, for freedom. Henceforward, being plugged into the Matrix will be voluntary, humans will choose their destiny.

Next: From the Matrix to the Singularity.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day PS

On the myth of the $640 toilet seat, see Fred, certainly no friend of "militarization" here: http://www.fredoneverything.net/FOE_Frame_Column.htm

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Memorial Day, 2008

Note: Thursday before Memorial Day, I went to the local elder care facility to take pictures of a small celebration they had for vets living at the center, with a memorial for those who've died while resident there. I then went back to the newspaper office and wrote this, which appeared on the front page of the weekend edition.

AMVETS, Auxiliary host early memorial Day event

These in the days when heaven was falling,
The hour when earth's foundations fled,
Followed their mercenary calling
And took their wages and are dead.

Their shoulders held the sky suspended;
They stood, and the earth's foundations stay;
When God abandoned, these defended,
And saved the sum of things for pay.

Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries (1914)
Alfred Edward Housman

When the roll was called most couldn't stand to answer their names, so they raised their hands. About half couldn't leave their rooms to come at all.

They are some of the local veterans of the Second World War and they spend their last days in the Sheyenne Care Center in Valley City. On Thursday afternoon, they were honored by the AMVETS and Auxiliary in advance of Memorial Day with coffee, donuts, small gifts and a speech on "The Soldiers Oath" by Valley City Commissioner and veteran Ken Everson.

The occasion was marked by the laying of a wreath in memory of all of the veterans who have died while living at the center.

This is the first such commemoration, and it's likely there won't be many more as their numbers grow fewer.

But while they are still with us, the AMVETS and Auxiliary help care for them, visit them on holidays and birthdays, and try to remind us that, when these veterans were young, they left the safest place in the world, to go to the most dangerous places in the world, and by doing so, saved the world.

Note: I was a bit concerned that the poem by Housman might be misconstrued, with the reference to "mercenaries," we'll see. It refers to German newspaper accounts of the battle of Ypres, where they refered to the English soldiers as "mercenaries." Housman was throwing it back in their face.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The McCain celebrity endorsements

In John McCaslin's column I found an account of Hollywood celebrities found to have donated to McCain: http://www.townhall.com/columnists/JohnMcCaslin/2008/05/22/allys_birthday

Among those opening checkbooks for Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign, according to Federal Election Commission filings, are Wilford Brimley, the mustached actor known for his Quaker Oats commercials and famous line, "It's the right thing to do." (Before acting, Mr. Brimley was Howard Hughes' bodyguard).

Wilford Brimley? Cool! Former bodyguard? Major cool!

Also supporting the Arizona Republican are Dick Van Patten; William Barron Hilton (famous of late for being Paris Hilton's grandfather); and Rip Torn, who played Artie on HBO's "The Larry Sanders Show."

Dick Van Patten: whitebread.

Rip Torn: pretty impressive.

William Barron Hilton: Will be dismissed as a typical fat-cat capitalist right-winger.

Our Hollywood insider says "this is just the beginning. You can look for other big names to hop on board the StraightTalk Express," referring to Mr. McCain's campaign bus.

I myself am not thrilled by the fact these these people contributed to McCain. What I am is really startled and pleased that the Hollywood Left Lip Lock has apparently been broken.

Some years back Kurt Russell spoke about being a libertarian and indicated that it was definitely not a career-neutral thing in the Big H. But let's look down the list and see what's shaping up here.

Among the notables she says lean right:

Britney Spears: This is an advantage?

Drew Carey: Said to be more of a libertarian. Some libertarians may vote for McCain -but if they do it's purely damage control.

Bo Derek: This affects me how?

Tom Selleck: Kinda cool, though he didn't come prepared to bitch-slap Rosie O'Donnell (rhetorically speaking of course) when she ambushed and insulted him on her show. Probably too much of a nice guy for these times.

Shirley Temple Black: We've known that forever.

Clint Eastwood: Said to be a libertarian. Has at least spoken approvingly of it.

Ben Stein: This is news?

Kim Alexis: Who?

Scott Baio: Well, if you've seen and liked 'Scott Baio is 45 and Single' you can see the story of an overaged boy finally growing up and facing reality and his responsibilities therein. The kind of story Yours Truly can relate to.

Adam Baldwin: Which one is he? I thought there was only one right-wing born-again Baldwin?

Robert Conrad: Didn't have to tell me, I would have guessed it.

Alice Cooper: Now that's really strange.

Shannen Doherty: This is good?

Robert Duvall: This is good.

Jamie Farr: Very cool. Nice dress Klinger.

Kelsey Grammer: OK now we're cooking. With Drew Carey you've got two masters of a particularly subtle wit. (Drew Carey? Subtle in concept, rather than execution.)

Dean Jones: He's still alive? Is he still working? I miss Ensign O'Toole.

Jimmy Dean: Kinda cool, but you would have known.

Shirley Jones: I love you madly, madly Madam Librarian. Now more than ever.

Don King: Poison - especially given that McCain is reportedly heavily invested in boxing. Which makes his hypocrisy in attempting to ban UFC (a.k.a. "human cockfighting") in his state especially well, hypocritical.

Heather Locklear: The Babe Factor at work - and surprisingly, she turned out to be one of those women who is far more attractive at a certain age than when she was an ingenue.

Chuck Norris: Uh, I'm not going to try and say anything funny about Chuck.

Freddie Prinze Jr.: Interesting. I'd actually like to ask him why.

Mickey Rooney: No surprise.

Jessica Simpson: Surprise!

Grace Slick: Double surprise!

Tony Danza: Might have guessed.

Kurt Russell: Libertarian. Con cojones.

Pat Sajak: Well duh? He writes a right-wing column after all.

Stephen Baldwin: OK, he's the one who got born again. Did he bring one other brother around?

Rick Schroder: Might have guessed. Schroder has some tragic law and order issues in his history. I believe a cousin went missing when they were both children. One overwheliming impression you get from the Left is that in general, they just don't believe in the existence of evil. (Or more likely, desperately don't want to believe.) Rick Schroder has had his nose rubbed in it.

Hilary Duff: Hey, wouldn't it be nice to see a recent graduate of the Disney stable turn out OK?

Cheryl Ladd: Bits and pieces I've heard about her over the years make this less of a surprise than it might have been.

Marilyn Manson: Did I hear something about him in a similar context before?

Marie Osmond: Mormon. No surprise.

Bruce Willis: Yeah!!!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Dialog: Left and Right

Since I've been accused of being a Right-winger and a Conservative (though I must have missed it when that went from being a description of a political position to high crimes and misdemeanors) I thought I should find a representative Left-winger to have a civilized discussion on the problems and issues we face today, and see where we might find common ground.

I thought that we might at least define what the issues are so we could actually agree on the terms of the discussion. I've asked a journalist from the Main Stream Media to act as moderator and comment afterwards.

MSM Moderator: Mr. Browne, please open with your first point. The representative of the Left-Wing will rebut.

SB: First of all, I don't like the terms 'Left' and 'Right' or even 'Liberal' and 'Conservative' much. The former originally referred to the seating arrangements in the French parliament where the revolutionary Jacobins sat on the left side, and the supporters of the monarchy and aristocracy sat on the right.

As for the latter, only in America does it make sense to define 'conservative' as 'defender of traditional liberty.' In Europe, conservative once meant something far closer to 'royalist.'

Note that after the fall of the Soviet Union, the media started referring to old-line Communists as "Conservatives."

In Europe, I would call myself a Liberal, but in the US the term has come to mean something like what the English call a Fabian Socialist.


SB: Now there's an example of the confusion of terms I was talking about. Fascism, as defined by Mussolini, is a variety of Socialism that might be called "National Greatness Socialism."

Il Duce considered himself a Socialist till the day he died (with one of his comrades screaming at the firing squad, "Long live Mussolini! Long live Socialism!")

The old Italian Fascist program contained a great many planks later co-opted by so-called Social Democrats such as: old-age pensions, women's suferrage, etc.

In fact, most people who use the term pejoratively could not name a single plank of the Fascist platform - Mussolini's or the present-day Italian party, and mean by it no more than, "Political position I really don't like."


SB: Now there's another great misconception. Nazi is an anagram from Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei which means National Socialist German Workers’ Party. That hardly sounds Right-wing, wouldn't you agree?

National Socialism, like Fascism, is a non-Marxist variety of Socialism that held that the "natural" unit of a nation-state, consists of enough territory to contain all the natural resources necessary for their economy. It is Right-wing only in relation to the farther-Left Communist Party.

This was ridiculous even in the 1930s when the world was far less interconnected than today.

The Nazis also combined it with "eugenics," a popular pseudo-science of the day that combined a complete mis-interpretation of Darwin's theories with an ethnocentric doctrine of racial superiority.


SB: I utterly fail to see how philosophical Individualism, that demands that all men and women be treated, whenever possible, as individuals and judged solely on their character, as expressed in their demeanor, words, actions and accomplishments, can be construed as racist.

Racism, in the words of Ayn Rand, is "the crudest, most primitive form of collectivism" and the exact antithesis of Individualism and Classical Liberalism.


SB: Actually I'm an agnostic.


MSM: Well that concludes our discussion. As you can see, the representative of the Left demolished all of the pathetic arguments advanced by the so-called "Classical Liberal" racist bigot, with acerbic wit, humor and impeccable scholarship.

Case closed.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Review: Prince Caspian

We saw Prince Caspian last night - you do likewise.

(That's the review.)

My wife organized an expedition of mothers with a jillion kids who all enjoyed it immensely.

Scenery, special efffects, wonderful.

For SCA/history geeks; the arms and armor were functional-looking (except for a breast plate on the villian which looked a tad short to cover the abdomen.) None of this fantasy/parade armor you see in Xena and a lot of knock-offs.

Combat scenes were pretty good. (Except for Susan using her bow to whup bad guys at close range. A bow is too light and fragile to be effective as a contact weapon, especially against armored men.)

The young actors have matured nicely, and this is evidently the last we're going to see of Peter and Susan. (We're going to miss Susan. I look forward to seeing what the young actress does in the future.)

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is already in pre-production.

I have read the whole series, but have trouble remembering the details of the books. Unlike Tolkien, reading it once may be good enough for me.

I do know things about how it's going to turn out - and that I am forbidden to discuss until my wife has read them or seen all the movies. That could be next month or ten years from now.

I tend to agree with the reviewer who said the movie may be better than the book. We'll see about the next ones.

C.S. Lewis' fiction is kind of hit-and-miss with me. When I read the Out of the Silent Planet trilogy I loved the wonderful images of the river valleys and high plains of Malacandra (Mars) and the floating islands of Perelandra (Venus), while disliking the "planetary distances are God's quarantine regluations" philosophy.

Though I've read the third book in the trilogy, That Hideous Strength several times, I can't remember more than a few words of it.

My wife and I both read and enjoyed Surprised by Joy and like it very much. I think I may try to get ahold of A Grief Observed soon.

And perhaps I'll buy my lady a DVD of Shadowlands. There are worse gift ideas for your Significant Other.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

You should never underestimate the Austrians...

You should never underestimate the Austrians. After all, they convinced the world that Mozart was an Austrian and Hitler was a German.
- European saying

I received this comment under the previous post. This is from an Austrian woman, a professional translator. This had to be answered, but it gives me no pleasure. I know this person, she's the Significant Other of one of my oldest and best friends.

See also, her previous comment posted here: http://rantsand.blogspot.com/2006/12/western-civilization-and-its.html

Oh Steven....

You are such an intelligent guy, and I've never met anyone in Europe who was as well educated and intelligent as you and as right-wing at the same time. That hardly exists, it actually hurts.

People as right-wing as you are normally uneducated in Western Europe (forget the East)..

I've had my share of east Europeans and their hangups due to my work, thank you very much. Since I like Monica, I won't comment on them.

And: Since I am dealing with them all the time at the highest political levels, I'd say that they have never arrived in the latter part of the 20th century, let alone the 21st. Even if their politicians pretend otherwise, the people to a large extent are as primitive in their thinking as people like your much-revered John Bolton is. So I wouldn't have minded at all - nor would most of the rest of the old EU, if one ever dared to coduct an honest poll about it - if they had joined the US instead of joining the EU. They wold have felt at home.

Yeah, Steven, you are the only one I've ever encountered who has got the knowledge and the brains but still would be considered extreme right-wing in Europe. The conclusions you are jumping to in your posts are unworthy of your brains, normally they are primitive, occasionally, they are outright fascist. Half of your country is fascistoid, so I am not surprised that you don't notice it yourself. But I do notice. And any European intellectual would notice it immediately. You are in league with people who've only got half your brain.

Still, what a waste of a good intellect!


It's always good to start an argument with the points both parties agrees on. So yes, I agree I'm smarter than you.

In your previous comment you said, "Do you need these lies to feel good about yourself or what?"

However, you never went into any specifics about exactly what I said that was a lie. As in the post above, you simply called me names.

Evidently part of the European heritage you consider dispensable is the legacy of Aristotle and Cicero, the disciplines of logic and rhetoric.

So since this seems to be the time for exposing lies and clearing up misunderstandings, lets start with lies, yours and ours.

First lie: conflating "Right-wing" with "Fascist."

"Fascism" is most often used these days as a term with no definition beyond, "political viewpoint I don't like" and usually conflated with Nazism, though they differed on issues such as anti-Semitism. But historically it does have a definition, and it is not Right-wing but Left.

Mussolini considered himself a life-long Socialist. He was only "Right" of the further-Left Marxists. By their lights Trotsky was a "Right-winger."

And try as you might, it's very hard to make a Right-wing trope from Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (National Socialist German Workers’ Party), which is why it is almost always referred to by its anagram 'Nazi.'

The lie of Right-wing Fascism has served the Left very well. It's possible that you have even convinced yourself of it, or are simply ignorant of history (the American vice, so you say.) That doesn't make it any less of a lie. The only difference is whether you are telling it or simply repeating it.

This is not a matter of opinion, but of historical facts.

First misunderstanding: The definitions of "Right" and "Left" have been distorted to the point of uselessness, but for the record, I'm what's called in Europe, a Liberal. In America I have to say, "Libertarian" or "Classical Liberal" since the term has been co-opted in the US by the Left to mean something like "moderate Socialist.

Second lie - ours:

At the end of the Second World War, and the beginning of the Cold War, it was expedient for our purposes to consider Austria a conquered nation, rather than the junior partner in the Third Reich. If you can consider it junior, given the nationality of Der Fuhrer.

The historical truth is that Austria never fired a single shot in resistance to the Anschluss and Austrians were shall we say, not all the Von Trapp family. They supplied the Third Reich with some of their best professional soldiers. As our non-professional citizen-soldiers learned, to the sorrow of their families.

Since Americans do in fact tend to have short historical memories, we might have considered this a matter of long ago and far away. But then you went and elected Kurt Waldheim, a known Nazi war criminal, as your president.

So which country is "fascistoid"?

During the Cold War, you and your West European buddies cowered behind a ring of American and British steel, while your Left intellectuals hedged your bets by throwing love notes across the Iron Curtain, telling the Soviets that if they managed to break through the line, you'd lie down for them.

Now that that threat is past, you feel free to insult us and say that the US was the greater threat, and that the Eastern Europeans were not captive nations - the third lie.

And your insults seem to have been directed entirely to the US. Not a peep about the Soviet Union, or these days the Islamic Fascists.

That is to say, you insult only those whose principles require them to tolerate free speech - not those who would kill you for it.

There are two possible interpretations of this: cowardice, or admiration and fellow feeling for mass-murdering Communists and jihadist Islamic Fascists. Which is it? Or is it both?

What you haven't realized yet, and we are only beginning to, is we don't need that expedient lie anymore either. We're free now to call you what you are.

Then there is a matter of opinion - your disdain for the Eastern Europeans.

(But oh by the way, another lie: "I've had my share of east Europeans and their hangups due to my work, thank you very much. Since I like Monica, I won't comment on them." Followed immediately by a lengthy comment. In charity we'll call that a mis-statement.)

As you know, I lived there for 13 years, married there, and learned to speak one language and get along in a few others. I like the Eastern Europeans, with a full appreciation of their flaws, just as I love my own country with a full and open-eyed appreciation of ours.

Obviously you don't, and seem to have had some bad experiences there while "dealing with them all the time at the highest political levels."

Well let's see, you are:

1) Officially, a representative of an EU, which is largely dominated by a Franco-German alliance. The latter of which started World War II, and the former which had a collaborationist government which voluntarily passed racial purity laws actually stricter than the Nazis demanded of them.

2) Personally a proud citizen of a country that had (in the case of Poland) its foot on their neck for 135 years, then participated in an invasion and occupation that killed 20 percent of their population, then ignored, or actively justified the suffering of your fellow-Europeans under Communism for two generations.

3) Intellectually dismissive, indeed admiring, of the tyrannical nature of the former Soviet occupation that reduced once wealthy and cultured countries to something like third-world slums.

And oh yes, one more thing.

At the celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz (the Nazi concentration camp located in an ethnic German village in Poland*), every major west European newspaper had articles referring to the "Polish death camp". Of all the examples collected by Polish actress and intellectual Kristyna Janda on her web site, not a damn one of them said the word "German" and precisely one said the word "Nazi."

Do you think it's possible they might resent your attitude just a bit?

You call the Eastern Europeans "primitive."

By "primitive" do you mean "ill-mannered"? (We will ignore for the present the issue of manners in say, loudly and persistently calling your hosts names while a guest in their country. Or contacting one's lover's friends to personally insult them behind his back.)

"Primitive" as say, when former Prime Minister of Poland, Jaroslaw Kaczynski bluntly violated the Euro-political taboo “Thou Shalt Not Mention World War II,” when he objected to a German-proposed proportional representation plan?

The Prime Minister pointed out that Poland’s population was considerably smaller than it might have been, had Germany not killed quite so many Poles in World War II.

You said:

"So I wouldn't have minded at all - nor would most of the rest of the old EU, if one ever dared to coduct an honest poll about it - if they had joined the US instead of joining the EU. They wold have felt at home."

And I personally would be proud to have them. And this was in fact suggested to me by a Polish scientist. (Nor an "intellectual", he actually had a doctorate in a real science, paleobiology.)

I think though, that it would be better to have them as allies.

We need allies with courage, not surly client states who we've had to occupy to keep them from killing each other, and whose defense we've had to subsidize at considerable cost for the past two generations.

And yes, I mean the courage to disagree with us. Something you seem to resent fiercely. (There's a name for that attitude. What was it? Starts with "F" I think.)

The Eastern Europeans were not liberated by the US, they freed themselves from the Soviet occupation. With some covert help from us, but they put their own lives and courage on the line to do it.

That's why they have my profound admiration and respect.

That's why I'm proud to have them among my friends.

That's why I'm proud to have one to wife, and what inspires me to strive for courage and integrity, to live up to what she expects of me.

That your West European soi disant "intellectuals" hate America is well known to us. And that's good. To hate, you have to respect - otherwise you simply despise.

I would be ashamed to be liked by the "intellectuals" you cite. The kind of "intellectuals" who have sucked at the teat of an education and media whose range of opinion is as narrow as the borders of their postage-stamp countries - but who couldn't change the oil of their cars or drive a nail to save their lives.

Are you beginning to get it now? We don't hate you at all. When we think of you at all, not often, we simply despise you.

But fortunately for you the options are simple: If you don't like America, don't come here. If you don't like Eastern Europe, don't go there.

We'll manage without you somehow.

And in the end it does not matter. You're not breeding.

Militarily and economically impotent, you have become barren as well. In a generation your young population will be half what it is now. If trends continue, you'll persist, if at all, as minorities in your own countries within a century.

You've got some very nice countries in the west of Europe, in a Disneyland sort of way. Life is beautiful, leisured and cultured in a way that we've never achieved here.

But then, you could have said that in 1900 as well.

* Historical factoid: The town called Oswieciem in the southwest of Poland had an ethnically German population, which is why it has a German name, Auschwitz. Jan Karski, hero of the Polish resistance and author of 'Story of a Secret State' remembered that when Poland was invaded by The Third Reich and the Soviet Union, he was ordered to report to his reserve unit in Oswiciem/Auschwitz. As their unit withdrew from the town towards the east, the inhabitants were taking pot shots at them from their windows.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Obama, target

Hey, something I said here a while back, has been noticed by Edward Luttwak in the New York Times of all places>

Look here:


Luttwak (author of the how-to manual 'Coup d'etat') points out how the Muslim world will interpret Obama as an apostate Muslim and be out a'gunning for him.

But remember, you read it here first: http://rantsand.blogspot.com/2008/02/why-barack-hussein-obama.html

Some excerpts:

Of course, as most Americans understand it, Senator Obama is not a Muslim. He chose to become a Christian, and indeed has written convincingly to explain how he arrived at his choice and how important his Christian faith is to him.

His conversion, however, was a crime in Muslim eyes; it is “irtidad” or “ridda,” usually translated from the Arabic as “apostasy,” but with connotations of rebellion and treason. Indeed, it is the worst of all crimes that a Muslim can commit, worse than murder (which the victim’s family may choose to forgive).


Because no government is likely to allow the prosecution of a President Obama — not even those of Iran and Saudi Arabia, the only two countries where Islamic religious courts dominate over secular law — another provision of Muslim law is perhaps more relevant: it prohibits punishment for any Muslim who kills any apostate, and effectively prohibits interference with such a killing.

At the very least, that would complicate the security planning of state visits by President Obama to Muslim countries, because the very act of protecting him would be sinful for Islamic security guards. More broadly, most citizens of the Islamic world would be horrified by the fact of Senator Obama’s conversion to Christianity once it became widely known — as it would, no doubt, should he win the White House. This would compromise the ability of governments in Muslim nations to cooperate with the United States in the fight against terrorism, as well as American efforts to export democracy and human rights abroad.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Giving the devil his due

"To give the devil his due"

Admit it when there is some good even in a person you dislike. This saying appears in Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes.

-The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition. 2002.

Constable: I will cap that proverb with 'There is flattery in friendship.'
Orleans: And I will take up that with 'Give the devil his due.'

-Henry IV Part 1

Some ways back in my post 'Can you think?' I set out a set of self-examination questions designed to tell if you're actually thinking or just reacting to stimuli like one of Pavlov's dogs or Skinner's pigeons.


Number five was: How often have you listened to two sides of an issue and concluded that you agreed with someone you disliked and disagreed with someone you liked?

Since then I've thought of a related point: How far are you willing to give credit for specific ideas and accomplishments of people who your are in general totally opposed to?

Years ago during the Reagan administration I recall talking with an insufferable youth who was heaping scorn on Reagan for saying that trees cause pollution.

Understand something, I didn't like Reagan either then. My opinion of him has since risen considerably, but at the time I feared that he would give free market/libertarian principles a bad name by applying them inconsistently, leaving us with a mess that socialists could point to and say, "Look what your free market has done."

However, what I pointed out was that soft wood trees do indeed cause pollution when their sticky sap sublimes into the atmosphere. That ain't factory smoke over the Great Smokey Mountains.

Unlike factory smoke however, when rain brings it down into the soil, it's fertilizer. But in the air it's just as bad for your lungs.

The kid didn't see why I'd say anything good about Ronald Reagan - even to correct a factual error said in criticism.

Obviously he wasn't thinking, he was reacting.

I mentioned recently that Gloria Steinem had a point about John McCain - albeit expressed in an obnoxious and utterly uncalled for manner, that McCain's suffering as a POW said nothing as to his credentials for executive office.

And in fact to McCain's credit, he has claimed nothing of the sort. Unlike John Kerry, who chose to run on his military record when it was so manifestly open to criticism.

Hey, whatever you think about the validity of the Swift Boat charges, it has to say something that virtually every individual who served with, above or under Kerry appears to intensely dislike him.

I also intensely dislike John Kerry, which is why I'll use him in a 'give the devil his due' exercise.

When John Kerry said, "I voted for that bill before I voted against it" he was ridiculed by the Right. The smooth-talking sophisticate trips over his own tongue!

Well, no. Perhaps he could have explained it better, but this happens all the time in congress, and for good reason.

A bill doesn't just get written, argued about, then passed - or not. It gets changed in committee. Things get added, often having no relationship to the purpose of the original bill.

"Hey, this bill is absolutely necessary to protect our country in dangereous times. It just needs this teeney-tiny appropriation for the imitation Camembert industry in my district to make it perfect!"

A more humorous example might be Tom Cruise.

(Give the devil his due by all means, but you can't find anything humorous about John Kerry.)

Tom Cruise, like all Scientologists, is nuts.

Ooooh, bad, bad, you made a generalization!

Yep. And a valid one at that. Yes, I know there are perfectly competent people among Scientologists. John Travolta may be one of the most widely qualified pilot alive these days for example.

And after all, you don't build a powerful multi-billion-dollar movement by being entirely stupid.

Nonetheless, they're nuts. And dangerous. As in bust your head and sue you down to your underwear dangerous.

It's been known in Sci-Fi circles forever, that Scientology (in it's original incarnation as Dianetics) started when L. Ron Hubbard bet Forrest Ackerman at a convention that he could start a new religion and make money at it.

So I'm going to defend Cruise for his widely-ridiculed jumping on the couch episode on Oprah.

Hey guys, he was (and we hope still is) madly in love with a pretty and charming girl who thinks the world of him. You go home and tell your Significant Other that you'd never lower yourself to expressing your love for her in such an undignified fashion in public!

I'd do it for you honey. And happy Mother's Day.

And while I'm at it, what about Oprah?

I know she's flakey New-Agey. Worse, she's naive to the point of idiocy sometimes.

She once had on her show (on one of the infrequent times I've caught it) the parents of a young American girls who is doing hard time in Peru, "Just because she wanted to help people."

She wanted to help people by aiding Shining Path, through one member who was evidently her boyfriend, a fellow with a fair amount of "direct action" credit to his name.

Now I've been in some tight spots where I devotely wished the US Embassy would show up threatening good old-fashioned gunboat diplomacy - but I say, let the bitch sit there.

But, with whatever else you could say about Oprah, she encourages people to read! That gets points in my book.

So why not try this for an exercise? Who do you have to grit your teeth for and say, "Well to give the devil his due..."?

Note: My wife reads these, usually a while after I've posted them. Notice the sneaky Mother's Day card?

Friday, May 09, 2008

That's progress for you - it's hard to be a snob anymore

Previously I wrote about how our democracy enables anyone to be a snob, these days. Most prominently these days the son of an African immigrant who's horrified by the price of arugula at Whole Foods, and a housewife not content to bake cookies while she could be doing so much for us. Noblesse oblige.

I was being facetious of course. It's actually quite hard to be a snob these days.

Consider... watches.

Clocks have been around for a long time. The ancient Egyptians invented water clocks and the Greeks refined them to tell time and date, and run an astronomical orerry as well.

In the Middle Ages pendulum clocks were developed in monasteries so monks could keep the times for prayer. Clock makers created marvelous works of art with figures that came out of doors and performed for audiences on the hour. You can still see some of these wonderful clocks in old towns throughout Europe.

But a timekeeping device that you could actually carry on your person wasn't developed until a few centuries ago. A pendulum gets kind of out of whack when you move it around a lot and a water clock would be inconvenient to carry, (Though it might be a fun Rube Goldberg exercise to try and invent one that runs off a camelpack.)

That's why navigation remained a by-guess-and-by-gosh proposition for a long time. You can tell latitude to a good enough degree with a device you can build out of sticks and twine, but determining longitude requires a clock set to the time of the port you left from - or a place everyone agrees on as the standard for maps. Pendulum clocks don't work at all well on the rolling deck of a ship.

For portable time pieces there used to be pocket sun dials you could take out, orient and use. If the sun was shining. If you knew the compass directions.

Then mainspring wound clocks were invented and sure enough, pretty soon clock makers tried making them portable enough to carry in your pocket.

So what the hell has this got to do with snobbery?

Just this.

The first watches were expensive and didn't work all that well. Some gentlemen of fashion used to carry a pocket watch and a backup pocket sundial.

Then watch technology got good enough to produce excellent, and expensive, mechanical watches that told pretty exact time, losing only minutes, then seconds, per day, then week, then month...

As I said, these were expensive and the very best were of course, made by the watchmakers of the Jura region of Switzerland. We still use the phrase, "run like a Swiss watch" to indicate excellence of design.

I believe this was about the time they started mounting watches on little belts so people could wear them on their wrists.

Along with these expensive watches were cheaper ones that regular folks could afford, but they didn't tell time as well. As the manufacturing technology advanced and cheap watches got more accurate, the makers of expensive watches added features such as day of the week and month displays. So your social status and wealth could be displayed by the watch you wore.

So where are we now?

For a buck, or as a toy given free with a Happy Meal you can get an electric digital watch that tells better time than the most expensive mechanical Swiss watch ever made or ever could be made.

Features? For a price well within any workingman's budget you can have your choice of watches with calendar, alarm, compass, barometer/altimeter, thermometer, calculator... am I missing anything?

Now days if you want to display your wealth with a watch, you have to buy obsolete technology, and adornment with precious metals and jewels that are entirely irrelevant to function.

Understand, I think the art of the mechanical analog watch is breathtakingly beautiful and ingenious, and I'm very glad that Cartier, Rolex, et al are keeping it alive. But none of that makes it a better time piece.

This applies to a long and growing list of consumer goods. For those old enough to remember the Playboy lifestyle sections decades ago, the stereo equipment that produced equivalent sound fidelity to fairly cheap CD players cost thousands back then.

Heck, we don't even bother to label sound equipment 'Hi-fi' anymore.

Yes of course, you can still display wealth with a BMW, but I think even that gap is narrowing. At least as concerns function. I'm sure it's more comfortable, but does a beamer actually drive better on city streets better than my ancient Honda?

I mean what's a poor little rich, or noveau riche boy or girl to do these days to show they're better than the rest of us boors?

We'll just have to make him/her ruler of the free world I guess.

Note: This essay stands alone as a humorous diversion, but could be considered a footnote to my series: 'Western Civilization and its Discontents'

Martial law?

Have a look here when you get a spare 10 minutes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K3dAnSMzUlo&feature=related

A journalist has uncovered what he interprets as a plan by George Bush to declare martial law and cancel elections.

Well, I've been hearing this kind of stuff for... a long time now. Nixon was going to do it, the Clintons were going to do it, the old Japanese-American internment camps were being refurbished for all the political enemies etc etc.

I really don't consider this terribly likely for a number of reasons. The guvmint doesn't have a corps of fanatical loyalists who would arrest masses of their fellow-citizens - and if they did there are still the various armed services who take their oath to the Constitution seriously, state and local police who have quite a bit of autonomy and resentment of federal agencies such as the FBI (a.k.a. "the feebs"), and in extremis there are an awful lot of guns in private hands.

Understand, I'm not denying there are any number of politicos who would do it if they thought they could get away with it. But our country just isn't centrally organized enough for a successful coup d'etat like the Latin American and European countries have with monotonous regularity.

What I wonder is, could this be a plan of action for the day the no-name nuke detonates on American soil?

I've written about this before. We know for almost certain sure it's coming, and we know where - D.C. and Manhattan. The when is the big if. And what we do afterwards.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Musings on scouting

We enrolled the boy in cub scouts and took him to his first Camporee this weekend. So I'm going to indulge myself in some nostalgia.

I was both a Cub and a Boy Scout, my wife just missed scouting in Poland and regrets it. I believe it was banned during the communist days and reestablished at end of the Soviet occupation.

Historical note: during the Nazi occupation, the Polish scouts assisted the Armia Krajowe (Home Army) as couriers, and in the Warsaw Uprising carried food, water and amunition. They were called "the Grey Legions." (The color of Polish scout uniforms.)

A splendid time was had by all. The baby sister also got to run around the campground in an ecstasy of delight. My wife says this is exactly the kind of activity she wants the kids into.

Me too. And, well I'm not going to cop an "In my day we were REAL scouts attitude" but...

Baden-Powell was a British spy during the Boer War, and the old scout manuals used to go into some details of his career. Including the fascinating story about how he used to pose as an eccentric butterfly collector and conceal drawings of fortifications in elaborate drawings of butterfly wings.

Baden-Powell asked his good friend Rudyard Kipling if he could borrow characters from 'The Jungle Book' for scouting. Which is why you find Akela, the Head Wolf showing up in Cub terminology. Kipling also wrote The Boy Scouts Patrol Song.

Scouting originally was supposed to be just that - an organization to teach the skills of a military scout, and the character and fortitude necessary to survive and keep functioning during wars and emergencies.

It was also supposedly inspired in part by the age regiments of the Zulu nation. How's that for multi-culturalism?

In an online edition of one of the first scout manuals I came across instructions on what to do if you find a dead body! (They amount to "don't disturb a potential crime scene, note the area and fetch the pros.)

A late 1950s scout manual I used to own (and sorely miss) was chock full of inspiring scout stories such as the French boy scout who was tortured and murdered by the Gestapo rather than tell where Dad and his buds in the Resistance were.

When I was at Boy Scout camp, we used to (gasp!) shoot guns! I think they've got BB guns for the Cubs here. I don't know if gun handling is still a part of scouting in this part of the country but I mean to find out. I read once that scouts in the UK used to teach quarterstaff fighting.

Robert Heinlein incorporated scouting into one novel, 'Farmer in the Sky' and one novella, 'Lost Legacy' (found in 'Assignment in Eternity.')

Scouting is, of course, under attack by certain elements of the reinvent-human-nature Left. I think that says more about them than it does scouting.

And just for fun, here's

The Boy Scouts Patrol Song

by Rudyard Kipling 1913

These are our regulations--
There's just one law for the Scout
And the first and the last, and the present and the past,
And the future and the perfect is "Look out!"
I, thou and he, look out!
We, ye and they, look out!
Though you didn't or you wouldn't
Or you hadn't or you couldn't;
You jolly well must look out!

Look out, when you start for the day,
That your kit is packed to your mind;
There is no use going away
With half of it left behind.
Look out that your laces are tight,
And your boots are easy and stout,
Or you'll end with a blister at night.
(Chorus) All Patrols look out!

Look out for the birds of the air,
Look out for the beasts of the field--
They'll tell you how and where
The other side's concealed.
When the blackbird bolts from the copse,
Or the cattle are staring about,
The wise commander stops
And (chorus) All Patrols look out!

Look out when your front is clear,
And you feel you are bound to win.
Look out for your flank and your rear--
That's where surprises begin.
For the rustle that isn't a rat,
For the splash that isn't a trout,
For the boulder that may be a hat
(Chorus) All Patrols look out!

For the innocent knee-high grass,
For the ditch that never tells,
Look out! Look out ere you pass--
And look out for everything else!
A sign mis-read as you run
May turn retreat to a rout--
For all things under the sun
(Chorus) All Patrols look out!

Look out when your temper goes
At the end of a losing game;
When your boots are too tight for your toes;
And you answer and argue and blame.
It's the hardest part of the Law,
But it has to be learnt by the Scout--
For whining and shrinking and "jaw"
(Chorus) All Patrols look out!

Friday, May 02, 2008

Ruminations 05/02/08

* The Rev. Jeremiah Wright cited Hiroshima and Nagasaki as examples of how evil America is.

If Wright knows how to Wiki, he might have looked up a few figures.

Estimated casualties of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima:

Immediate casualties, around 70,000 killed. Post-attack figures rise to around 90-100,000. Delayed deaths from radiation effects may have risen to 200,000 by 1950.


Immediate casualties, 40-75,000. By 1945 they may have risen as high as 80,000.

Number of Chinese civilians killed by Japanese forces in the Rape of Nanking: est. 200,000 over six weeks. Iris Chang gives the figure of 300,000 and some US government estimates for Nanking and the surrounding area in the battle and the six-week looting are as high as 500,000.

Has anyone noticed that figure exceeds the combined casualties for Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and that the Japanese Army did it up close and personal by shooting, bludgeoning, bayoneting, burying alive and raping to death?

Gosh, it must have been America's fault.

* About the foofraw about Miley Cyrus' Vanity Fair pics, I think Annie Leibowitz did a great job. Beautiful, tasteful and sensual at the same time.

Just three observations:

1) Though Miley's figure is mature, her face is that of a child, lacking any trace of experience or character. And don't bring up her age (15.) My great-grandfather, or even grandfather would have said she was husband-high. And I suspect he'd have added that we'd better get her one.

2) Once you realize that the guy in those pics is her father, they go from artistic to creepy in a split-second.

3) Everybody is talking about whether they damn pictures set a bad example for kids, when the character she plays on 'Hannah Montana' is vain, self-absorbed, cruel and obsessed with trivialities. Some example.

* And also from the indispensable Wikipedia.

Ronald Reagan, age at his inauguration: 69 (he turned 70 within a month.)

John McCain (assuming): 72.

Two years gets to be a big difference around that age - and Reagan didn't have the North Vietnamese working him over on a regular basis for 5 1/2 years either.

Maybe our best hope is that McCain chooses a decent running mate.

How about John Bolton?