20 January 2010

A second chance

Once Obama took office with a super-majority in both houses, the Democratic motto was, “They can do it our way or we'll do it without them.” Most notably, they passed a $700 billion+ pork bill lining their own pockets but leaving the Republicans (and their constituents) out in the cold — the most monumental case of corruption this nation has ever seen.

No more. Massachusetts independents decided to put an end to the one-party system, at least for the foreseeable future. If Obama wants to accomplish anything now, he will actually have to engage in diplomacy, instead of just setting his dogs loose.

For the record, I consider myself an independent, although I registered Republican as the lesser of two evils. I don't particularly care which party holds the White House or the Capitol. Indeed, I am inclined to agree with those who say that the government can only do lasting good when power is split between the parties, forcing politicians to talk to one another.

Obama has been given a second chance to bring about positive change. Let's see if he uses it this time.


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05 February 2009

Evangelistic Darwinism

Letter to the editor of the Economist:

Yet of all the discoveries of 19th- and early 20th-century science…only evolution has failed to find general acceptance outside the scientific world.

(“Unfinished business”, Economist, 5 Feb 2009)

There is an obvious explanation for this. No scientist attempts to draw from the theory of microscopic atoms the absurd conclusion that therefore there cannot be an intelligent mind behind the universe. Yet dogmatically atheistic Darwinists make such leaps of faith all the time. Such obviously irrational thinking undermines the credibility of their beliefs, to scientists and laymen alike.

If Darwinists wish their beliefs to be accepted, then they should stick to science, and not offer metaphysical assertions on matters of which they are ignorant.


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06 January 2009

Jihadist blogs

“I just can't envision a scenario where somebody posts to a message board, ‘I'm getting ready to launch an IED at this location,’ and the government will find that,” said terrorism analyst Matt Devost. A lot of postings about attacks are “fantasy, almost role-playing,” Devost said.

(Thomas Frank, “Feds consider searches of terrorism blogs”, USA Today, 23 Dec 2008)

As Mr. Devost is no doubt aware, searching blogs wouldn't be about finding the “smoking gun”. It would be about piecing together little bits of information that together suggest a credible threat.

The problem of internet search is not lack of information, but too much information — “noise” in the professional parlance. How do we sift through all of the false leads to identify the ones that really matter? In this, Mr. Devost's second point is entirely correct.

I am a bit surprised that the article does not raise potential ethical questions about scanning public blogs, as some of the follow-up user comments do. While I am as leery of the Patriot Act as anyone, in this case I see no ethical or legal dilemma.

Posting to a public blog is the digital equivalent of posting a signed announcement on a public street corner. A policeman strolling by would be well within his rights to stroll over and read what was written, and to act on the information if he thought it prudent.

This is not like tapping into email or phone conversations. It's not even on a par with sending undercover agents to activist meetings. This is simply reading what has already been placed on public display.

Of course, infiltrating “private” chat rooms is another matter. There due process would need to be followed, at least in the case of domestic groups.


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01 January 2009

Love and beat your wives

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy … In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.

(Eph 5:25-28, NIV)

[Wives who] you fear may be rebellious admonish, banish them to their couches, and beat them. If they then obey you, look not for any way against them.

(Sura 4:34; quoted in Michael Cook, The Koran: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 38)

Male dominance was far from being a novelty in monotheistic scripture.

(Michael Cook, The Koran, p. 38)

Dr. Cook apparently considers the Koranic teaching that men should beat their wives to be a natural extension of the New Testament teaching. This strikes me as odd.

It is also interesting that modern English translations of the Koran make vastly different interpretations of the relevant passage. For instance:

[Wives] whose perverseness ye fear, admonish them and remove them into bedchambers and beat them; but if they submit to you, then do not seek a way against them; verily, God is high and great.

(Sura 4:38, LookLex Encyclopedia)

As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (Next), refuse to share their beds, (And last) beat them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them Means (of annoyance): For Allah is Most High, great (above you all).

(Surah 4:34, IslamiCity)

The most extreme revisionist interpretation I've seen is:

Do Not Beat Your Wife*

[4:34] … If you experience rebellion from the women, you shall first talk to them, then (you may use negative incentives like) deserting them in bed, then you may (as a last alternative) beat them. If they obey you, you are not permitted to transgress against them. GOD is Most High, Supreme.

*4:34 God prohibits wife-beating by using the best psychological approach. For example, if I don't want you to shop at Market X, I will ask you to shop at Market Y, then at Market Z, then, as a last resort, at Market X. This will effectively stop you from shopping at Market X, without insulting you. Similarly, God provides alternatives to wife-beating; reasoning with her first, then employing certain negative incentives. Remember that the theme of this sura is defending the women's rights and countering the prevalent oppression of women. Any interpretation of the verses of this sura must be in favor of the women. This sura's theme is “protection of women.”

(Sura 4:34, Submission.Org)

I do not read Arabic, and thus cannot evaluate these translations against the original. However, I suspect that Dr. Cook may be essentially accurate when he says:

[I]t is apparent that the modern commentators divide into two broad groups. Commentators in the first group tend to be strongly affected by the relevant Western value [in this case, against wife-beating], and on occasion to bend their scripture to meet it. … Commentators in the second group brace themselves against the pull of the Western value, and make a point of not bending scripture to accommodate it.

(Michael Cook, The Koran, p. 41)


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